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Westward Expansions in Oklahoma

Across Oklahoma, abundant new offerings and experiences warrant a first visit or a repeat trip to the Sooner State. Oklahoma City continues to transform itself into a thriving tourism destination. It will be even easier for groups to get around because of the newly opened OKC Streetcar that links approximately six miles of downtown and touches its major attractions and districts, such as Brick Town.

Tulsa touts its newest attractions, The Outsiders House Museum and the Gathering Place, a multiuse park. In Idabel, the Museum of the Red River focuses on art and archaeology and opened a $7 million, 18,000-square-foot addition this past April. And several farms offer the chance to stay in reconstructed Conestoga wagons and get close to alpacas in Newcastle.

Oklahoma City Zoo

Oklahoma City

Home to endangered Asian elephants, red pandas, raccoon dogs and cassowary birds, Sanctuary Asia opened August 2018 at the Oklahoma City Zoo. Within this $22 million expansion, groups can gather at the restaurant and event space, which has floor-to-ceiling windows that frame views of the elephant, rhino and Komodo dragon habitats. Sanctuary Asia is one phase of $71 million of new infrastructure slated through 2028. In addition, the Wild Encounters package invites guests to go behind the scenes and feed the grizzly bears, pet an elephant and much more.

Orr Family Farm

This spring, the Orr Family Farm added 13 Conestoga wagons for overnight stays. Year-round, the reconstructed wagons can accommodate up to 88 guests. Each of the eight wagons accommodates eight guests, and five additional wagons sleep either four or six. Temperature-controlled interiors, private restrooms with showers and a signature swim spa round out the “glamping” experience. Charcoal grills and picnic tables are available, too. Groups can participate in activities such as a life-size game of foosball, pedal boats on the pond, a vintage carousel, fishing and zip lining. Fall activities include a pumpkin patch, zombie paintball and a maze.

“One of the advantages of staying in the wagons is guest access to the farm during off hours and offseason,” said Tabbi Burwell, senior manager of destination communications for Oklahoma City. “Located just 20 minutes from downtown, groups will find seclusion and lots of outdoor activities at their fingertips.”

Oklahoma Contemporary

In January, Oklahoma Contemporary will open its new arts center on a 4.6-acre campus in downtown. The center will offer a multitude of programs and exhibitions in its 6,000-square-foot gallery, classroom studios and performance spaces. Groups can gather in the community lounge, the cafe and outdoor spaces. When the center opens, three major visual arts exhibitions will feature the works of artists from Oklahoma and beyond. Admission to exhibitions and much of the new programming will be free. Outdoors, the art encompasses a sculpture garden with rotating works, and Campbell Art Park will host large-scale sculptural installations.

Coop Ale Works

In the fall of 2020, the Coop Ale Works will be completed. More than $20 million will update and transform the historic 23rd Street Armory into a state-of-the-art brewhouse and speakeasy where visitors can watch how the brewery produces and makes its beer. Also planned, will be a 34-room boutique hotel with event space and a full-service restaurant and taproom.

“Their Las Vegas-style pool will be open year-round with cabanas and a swim-up bar, and it will be open to the public and guests of the hotel,” said Burwell. “The brewery behind this project is putting a lot of thought into the entire complex, which will offer a unique experience for groups.”

Outsiders House Museum


This summer, Tulsa unveils the Outsiders House Museum, dedicated to the preservation of the home and memorabilia used in the movie “The Outsiders.” In 1982, the movie was filmed in Tulsa by Francis Ford Coppola. The restored home offers a behind-the-scenes layer of trivia and background information. Fans can stand in the living room where Ponyboy and Darry quarreled, and visit the kitchen and recall all the talk about chocolate cake for breakfast and see Dallas Winston’s leather jacket. Visitors will hear about the mysterious disappearance and reappearance of Coppola’s director’s chair.

Hundreds of rare and never-seen photos and movie artifacts will be on display. The photos provide a glimpse into how the cast worked and played on set. They also document the filming locations throughout the city, some that still remain and others that are long gone.

Gathering Place

Opened last year on the banks of the Arkansas River, the Gathering Place transformed nearly 100 acres into an oasis for play and education. The multiuse destination features nature trails, a large lawn for concerts and the Oneok boathouse. At the boathouse, groups can check out paddleboats, kayaks and canoes for cruising along Peggy’s Pond. The Boathouse Restaurant offers an elegant dining experience. On the top floor of the building, the Overlook Deck provides views of the Arkansas River and downtown Tulsa, and there is an outdoor terrace where groups can dine as they enjoy the panorama.

Anchoring it all, a glass and stone lodge will host numerous park activities and includes a cafe, changing cabanas, educational activity rooms and indoor lounge spaces. Upon arrival, lodge visitors are welcomed in the reception space for orientation and information. The great room provides a gathering space for functions with comfortable seating and a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace.

Museum of the Red River


A new addition at the Museum of the Red River allows curators to show more of the 33,000 pieces in the permanent collection. The museum exhibits primarily North, South and Central American items used in daily life, including a wide range of pottery, basketry and textiles from everyday clothing to mummy bundles. Of the four renovated galleries, one gallery displays the staff’s favorite pieces that were donated by the founders.

Another gallery houses a replica of the Oklahoma state dinosaur, Acrocanthosaurus atokensis. The original skeleton was unearthed by amateur paleontologists less than 20 miles from the museum in 1983. At nearly 40 feet long, this dinosaur ranks as one of North America’s largest predators and looks similar to the T-rex.

“Although we don’t consider ourselves a dinosaur museum, the Acrocanthosaurus is quite a draw, and the addition rebuilt and enhanced our dinosaur gallery,” said business manager Vickie Smith. “A docent-led tour takes groups through our four galleries that rotate exhibits every six weeks.”

Magnolias and Prayers: Everything Alpaca


Since last year, Magnolias and Prayers: Everything Alpaca has opened Magnolia Blossom Ranch to the public. Kerry and Terri Bates own Magnolia Blossom Ranch, and Gail Stymerski owns neighboring Answered Prayers Ranch. Through a partnership, the two ranches maintain a herd of more than 40 alpacas. Visitors can see the huacaya alpaca, or teddy bear type, and the suri alpaca with its long locks.

“When groups take our hourlong farm tour, they can pet the alpacas and feed them food that we provide, which is always a huge hit,” said Terri Bates. “We also show them our mill room where we clean and keep our fleece.”

Fleece is sheared in the spring. In the mill room, the fleece is cleaned and processed into batting, roving and yarn for retail sale and handmade items. The ranch store sells alpaca fiber products made by Stymerski, who specializes in fiber arts. She creates hats, scarfs, fingerless mitts, shawls, carpets and jewelry.

Special events such as wine tastings, yoga and painting classes take place in the pasture surrounded by the alpacas.

Spring and fall, their Alpaca Farm Days hosts food trucks, wineries and vendors for shopping. Activities include an alpaca obstacle course, lots of up-close interaction.

Old Silo Winery


Opened last September between Tishomingo and Milburn, the Old Silo Winery operates on a 20-acre farm. Overlooking the pond, the tasting room is housed in a former silo. For groups of 20 or more, owners Jim and Michele Reilly can set up a larger tasting room next to the silo.

Grapes grown on-site are primarily chambourcin, but merlot, cabernet and vidal also flourish in the vineyard. Wines include a chambourcin estate label and fruit wines such as Peach-O-Nay, a peach chardonnay, and blackberry merlot. Small batches of between six and 10 cases each ensure consistent quality standards. Everything is hand processed, and lucky groups might get to watch bottling, labeling and corking.

“At our wine tastings, we offer six samples and a souvenir Old Silo wine glass,” said Jim Reilly.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.