Oklahoma and Route 66: the quintessential US road trip adventure

Loved for its cowboy culture and strong connection with Native American Indian tribes, the US state of Oklahoma is so much more than a flyover state.

Located in the heart of southwestern USA, a road trip on Oklahoma’s Route 66 will introduce visitors to larger-than-life characters, memorable locations, unique experiences and a culture as rich and diverse as its landscapes. Route 66 is one of the most famous roads in the United States, and the nation’s longest drivable stretch of it cuts through Oklahoma while passing charming towns, roadside diners and quirky attractions. From Oklahoma City, Tulsa and everywhere in between, this is the ultimate guide to unmissable Oklahoma road trip attractions. Expect to encounter fabulous food, culture, shopping and experiences alongside neon signs, quaint motels and drive-in movie theatres.

Oklahoma scenery
Old meets new in Oklahoma © Raychel Sanner/Unsplash | Historic gas station © Ingo70/Shutterstock

Oklahoma fast facts

Where is Oklahoma?

Oklahoma is a state located in the heart of the southwestern United States of America. Positioned in the South Central region, it’s bordered by Texas on the south and west, Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, New Mexico on the west, and Colorado on the northwest.

How to get to Oklahoma

United Airlines flies Australia to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston with connections through to Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

What is Oklahoma known for?

Oklahoma is known for Native American heritage, Route 66, cowboy culture, spectacular natural landscapes and historic charm. Oklahoma is also known as the ‘Sooner state’ due to the large number of settlers, known as ‘Sooners’, who staked a claim on Indian Territory land before it officially opened to settlement.

What is the weather like in Oklahoma City?

With mild seasons and an average annual temperature of around 16 degrees Celsius, Oklahoma City enjoys bright and sunny summers, crisp winters, enjoyable autumns and typically pleasant springs. Most days in Oklahoma City are clear and have a little sun, regardless of the season.

Where is Tulsa, Oklahoma?

Tulsa is the second-largest city in Oklahoma and has a cosmopolitan character. Tulsa is located on the Arkansas River in northeastern Oklahoma.

How far is Tulsa from Oklahoma City?

The drive between Tulsa and Oklahoma City takes around two hours to complete and, depending on the route taken, spans 170 to 200 kilometres.

Route 66: the most famous road in Oklahoma

Route 66 is known as the ‘Mother Road’, or ‘Main Street of America’. The highway connects Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California and was one of the United States main thoroughfares for almost five decades. Romanticised in books, music, television shows and films, driving along Route 66 has become an iconic and quintessentially American experience.

How long is Route 66?

Oklahoma has more Route 66 than any other US state, with about 640 of the 3,940 kilometres crossing through it. The drive from Oklahoma City to Tulsa is a fabulous stretch.

Route 66

Quintessential Oklahoma road trip attractions

Choctaw Cultural Center

Begin your cultural journey 90 minutes south of Oklahoma City in Calera where you’ll find the Choctaw Cultural Center. Dedicated to exploring, preserving and showcasing the culture and history of the Choctaw people, exhibits are immersive and told from the perspective of this tribe. You can also walk around a ‘living village’ to learn about their traditional ways of life.

Choctaw Labour Day festival
Cherokee National Holiday

Chickasaw Cultural Center

Drive on to Davis and you’ll find the Chickasaw Cultural Center, one of the largest tribal cultural centres in the United States. The 33-hectare ‘campus’ has an interactive exhibit and a large Kochcha’ Aabiniili’ (amphitheatre) at its centre where you can watch dance demonstrations, concerts and cultural presentations.

Chickasaw Cultural Center, Davis
Chickasaw Cultural Center, Davis

National Route 66 and Transportation Museum

Take a walk through the history of all eight states through which Route 66 runs at the National Route 66 and Transportation Museum in Elk City. Here, visitors can hear the tales of those who contributed to the development of this road and the businesses that characterise it while perusing artefacts, antique cars and rare historical documents about transport in the region. Be sure to visit the other members of Elk City Museum Complex, such as the Old Town Museum, Farm & Ranch Museum and Blacksmith Museum.

Oklahoma Route 66 Museum

Learn about the ideas, images and myths of the Mother Road at the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton. The museum takes visitors on a journey through the history of this famous road, educating guests about the construction, use and challenges faced by the people who worked on – and travelled along – Route 66. The museum has changing exhibits that are interactive.

Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma
Route 66 Museum in Clinton

National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

Cheer on skilled cowboys and cowgirls at an excellent Oklahoma rodeo, like the Will Rogers Memorial Rodeo or the Freedom Rodeo and Old Cowhand Reunion. Head to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City for authentic modern cowboy culture. Here you’ll see epic displays of internationally renowned Western art by masters such as Remington, Russell and Bierstadt. Browse top-notch exhibits detailing life as a ranch hand, or watch singing cowboys on the silver screen.

Oklahoma National Stockyards

Visit the Oklahoma National Stockyards early in the morning, around 6am, to watch cowboys corral 10,000 head of cattle through the arena at Oklahoma National Stockyards – the biggest stocker and feeder cattle market in the world. The constant rumble of hooves is hypnotic and the gallery of humongous hats hilarious. It’s free to visit, but sit on your hands unless you want to buy a herd of cattle.

Just along the road, the place to break your fast is 100-year-old Cattlemen’s Steakhouse. The three-egg omelette comes with the biggest, crispiest hash brown, and cowboys, celebrities, tourists and locals buddy up in the booths, bars and benches. Everything feels wonderfully worn and deeply loved.

Cattlemen's Steakhouse, Oklahoma
Cattlemen’s Steakhouse © James Kirkikis/Shutterstock

Route 66 Interpretive Center

This museum is more than an educational history display. Route 66 Interpretive Center in Chandler complements the Route 66 showcases at the museums in Elk City and Clinton while taking the experience further. Here, installations are interactive and engaging, and education is facilitated through video and sound. The Interpretive Center takes visitors on a time-travelling drive from the 1920s through to current-day Oklahoma.

First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City

At the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City you can step inside a magical ‘pop-up book world’ where you’ll discover hands-on activities, physical challenges and media-rich interactive displays. In the Xchange Theater, watch live demonstrations, performances and video presentations, and before you leave pick up some art made by Oklahoma native artists in the on-site store.

First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City
First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City

Tulsa

On your way to Tulsa, visit the Sooner Pecan Company store in Bristow, devour a buffalo burger at the Rock Café in Stroud, and on approach to Tulsa expect big things to happen. The city is home to the world’s largest Praying Hands – 30 tonnes of pure bronze; the seven-metre-high Buck Atom – the space cowboy muffler man who fronts the Cosmic Curios souvenir shop; and the 23-metre-high ‘Golden Driller’ a statue celebrating Tulsa’s history when it was the ‘oil capital of the world’.

Buck Atom, Oklahoma
Buck Atom © Jametlene/Unsplash

Harwelden Mansion

Glorious art deco buildings are evidence of the oil barons’ prosperity. Earl Harwell was one. He built Harwelden Mansion, an English Tudor-style home that is now a luxury bed and breakfast. The exterior is impressive. The oak front door awesome. But the chevron-patterned foyer is a thing of beauty. There’s a sweeping staircase, enormous leadlight windows and chandeliers that lead up to the guest rooms.

POPS 66 Soda Ranch

‘Food, fuel and fizz’ is the tagline of this drawcard in Arcadia, east of Edmond. With an ultra-modern architectural design and a four-ton, 20-metre-tall sculpture of a soda bottle covered in multi-coloured LED lights out front, POPS is hard to miss. This fuel station and food stop is famous for its dazzling collection of more than 600 kinds of soda. Stop for the photo op and stay for a soda pop experience.

POPS 66 Soda Ranch in Oklahoma
POPS 66 Soda Ranch

Parklands on river

It’s a two-minute drive to The Gathering Place, a parkland on the banks of Arkansas River. The 26-hectare development is the dream of billionaire George B. Kaiser (yes, oil) who wanted a place for Tulsa citizens to reconnect – not only with nature, but each other. The adventure playgrounds are outrageous creations. For big kids, there’s beauty in kilometres of paths that weave through native gardens, over ponds, lawns, stonework creations and restaurants. And thanks to Mr Kaiser, it’s free – he gifted the park to the city.

Philbrook Museum of Art

Philbrook Museum of Art is another Tulsa garden gem. The gallery is inside Villa Philbrook, a 72-room Italian Renaissance-style mansion that was the home of tycoon Waite Phillips (yes, oil) and his wife, Genevieve. The competition for your attention is fierce – the architecture, art and gardens all fight for a spot on your Instagram story.

Philbrook Museum of Art
Philbrook Museum of Art © Mick Haupt/ Unsplash

Bob Dylan Center and recording studios

The Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa pays homage to Dylan and has more than 100,000 items spanning his career – handwritten lyrics, audio recordings, his famous tambourine and never-before-seen film performances and photographs.

Next door is the equally impressive Woody Guthrie Center and close by the historic recording studio of Leon Russell – The Church Studio, where artists Willie Nelson, JJ Cale and Tom Petty have recorded, along with Air Supply and Tommy Emmanuel.

The Woody Guthrie Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma
The Woody Guthrie Center © Susan Elliot

Durant

Drive to Durant for the Choctaw Nation Annual Powwow. The drumming is thunderous, the stomping of feet just as loud, and the arena is a flurry of feathers flying off troupes of dancers from 55 Native American tribes.

Events, festivals and markets

Coordinate your visit with one of many festivals, events and markets held every year to celebrate the First American Nations. From June through November, there’s a whole calendar of events to choose from. Northeast of Oklahoma City, in Tulsa, is the Cherokee Art Market which celebrates more than 150 Native American artists. Browse fine Native American paintings, pottery, beadwork, sculptures and textiles. While in Oklahoma City each June you’ll find the Red Earth Parade & Festival with Native American tribes in full regalia. And in September, experience the annual Standing Bear Powwow in Ponca City. All events are colourful feasts for the senses, and you’ll leave a whole lot richer for them.

Cowboys and cowgirls still shine in a state where one of the greatest showmen once lived. Once a year, Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show stages the ultimate cowboy event. Witness trick roping, trick shooting and trick riding. Watch demonstrations in blacksmithing, flint knapping, gunfighting and sharpshooting. Hear Oklahoma musicians croon for thousands of screaming fans. It’s one show worth travelling for.

To learn more about Route 66 and Oklahoma, visit the Travel Oklahoma website to find more hotels, restaurants and attractions.

Get your kicks on Route 66 with these special DealsAway packages.

Read more:

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This article was produced with content supplied by Oklahoma Tourism and is a Vacations & Travel digital exclusive. Be the first to see more exclusive online content by subscribing to the enewsletter below.

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