Art and Cowboys: The Modern Frontier in Oklahoma City

By Samantha Weck · July 14, 2021

When thinking of cowboys, many people instantly think Texas. Then maybe Arizona and New Mexico. Cowboy culture, however, is also deeply rooted in Oklahoma. This guide will take you through some of that culture as well as introduce you to the many artistic ways Oklahoma as grown as its made its way through their Modern Frontier.

Where I Stayed

Instead of staying in the city, I chose to stay about a half hour south in a town called Norman. I stayed at the NCED Conference Center and Hotel. It is a federal building owned by the United States Post Office. The hotel was very grand. It has an outdoor pool, fitness center, bar, game room, and a cafeteria style restaurant on-site. I stayed in a quite suite. The furniture is a little dated, but for the price, everything was perfect. I loved how it was outside the hustle and bustle of the city. However, if you are looking to stay in Oklahoma City itself, then I recommend Omni Oklahoma City Hotel, Bradford House, and Montford Inn.

The Art Scene

Oklahoma City is known in the west for its art. The best place to experience this is the Oklahoma Museum of Art. While it is small, it contains some powerful and beautiful collections for you and your companions to enjoy. OKCMOA has three floors full of galleries. The first floor also has a gift shop if you’re looking to find a unique gift for yourself or someone else. When I visited they had many different types of art such as Italian landscapes, postwar abstraction, a Dale Chihuly exhibit, and more. Each exhibit lasts a few months so it is always good to check out the museum’s website to see how long a certain exhibit will be there.

My favorite part of my visit was seeing the Dale Chihuly Magic and Light exhibit. I never new glass could be so pretty or fascinating. This work of art went way past simple vases or flowers. There were forests of glass, boats filled with unique designs, and glass sculptures that looked so realistic, that it takes you a second. OKCMOA did an amazing job displaying the exhibit as well as all the other ones that were there.

What’s also great about the museum is they take their education seriously without it being overwhelming or just blocks on texts on a wall. Throughout the museum are videos and interactive activities to keep people of all ages engaged. Whether you’re looking for a family activity or a nice quiet activity, this is the place to do it. The building is small so this will only take up a morning or afternoon of your time. Perfect if you have other plans for the day.

Oklahoma’s Dedication to Western Heritage

I will admit, while I find cowboys to be a little fascinating, I never would have thought that I would step into a cowboy museum and love it. When you’re in Oklahoma City, visiting the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum is an absolute must. Not only is it fun for families, but it’s great for couples or solo travelers. My only regret when visiting this museum was that I did not block more time for it. I honestly thought it would be around the same size as the Oklahoma Museum of Art but boy was I wrong. The entire facility is 220,000 square feet and all of that encompasses a Western art gallery, an American Indian art gallery, six galleries interpreting various historical aspects of the West, a thirteen thousand-square-foot replica of a turn-of-the-century Western town, an interactive children’s museum, and a ten thousand-square-foot changing exhibition space that hosts several special exhibits each year. The exhibits are both inside and outside which really immerses you into the experience. My favorite exhibit was the nod off to western films. I had a lot of fun playing the interactive game of naming which opening song matches which western. I loved that they even included the famous women in those productions.

Learn to rope to cattle at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

One of my favorite outdoor activities was learning how to rope cattle! They had rope available and instructions on how to throw and loop around the horns. It was a lot of fun and yes, it definitely took me a few tries, but I got it! What’s also great is they really highlighted Native American history and heritage here. I really loved learning about their culture and how they lived. Lots of thought and dedication was put into this museum. There is also a cafeteria on-site if you’re looking for some lunch. As I mentioned earlier, this is almost a full day’s worth of activities. I ended up having to rush through the museum before they closed as I was not prepared for how big it was. Volunteers were stationed throughout the museum in case you got lost. When they offer you a map, be sure to take it! The museum also offers many events throughout the year, so be sure to visit their website if you’re looking to participate in any festivities.

Other Fun Things To Do

If you love nature and plants, the Myriad Botanical Gardens is the place to be. It is free and open to the public. They have a tropical conservatory, a crystal bridge you can walk on, and a carousel for your family or to unleash your hidden child. Another fun activity is to visit the Oklahoma Axe Factory. For $20, you can spend the hour with your friends or partner learning how to throw an axe. They serve beverages here so you can really get the party going. The Oklahoma Axe Factory does not serve food, however, they do allow you to bring your own if you don’t want to drink on an empty stomach. Another activity on my trip was to visit a store called Sandalwood and Sage. This is a kind of store that sells crystals, books, statues, incense and more. While I do like those types of stores, I visited because the town it’s located in is known for Rose Rocks. It is a huge part of the culture and I wanted one for myself to commiserate the trip. The store was a lot of fun and I indulged myself in their wares. Definitely, a fun trip to end the day after a lot of museum walking.

Where to Eat

Lemon Poppy Seed Pancakes from Syrup

For breakfast, I recommend, Syrup, Sunnyside Diner, and Carol’s Kitchen. I absolutely adored syrup. They took classic dishes and gave them some extra oomph. I got their lemon poppy sees pancakes and they were to die for. I did not even use the maple syrup they gave me because it didn’t need it. My companion got a traditional breakfast on top of a waffle. They have a great mix of savory and sweet dishes for those that have a preference. Syrup prides itself on its coffee. It wasn’t bad, but nothing extraordinary. They offer a variety of latte options. Sunnyside Diner is perfect for those that just want a traditional breakfast. They have a great variety, so there is something there for everyone. Carol’s Kitchen is similar to syrup in the fact that they add a twist to their dishes, but the atmosphere is a lot homier there where Syrup felt like it was instagrammable. I got the butterscotch pancakes and they were absolutely delicious. The pancakes were so huge that you could not see the plate underneath them.

For lunch, The Mule, El Huevo Mexi-Diner, and Garage Burgers & Beer are all great options. The Mule has some amazing artisanal sandwiches that are absolutely to die for. If you’re not a picky eater, I highly recommend checking this place out. They are known for their beer, but they also have a cocktail menu for those that aren’t a fan of beer such as myself. El Huevo-Mexi diner is perfect for those who love Mexican cuisine. They have all the traditional dishes, plus some fun unique ones and of course, they have margaritas and other cocktails for your group to enjoy. Finally, Garage Burgers & Beer is an absolute must stop on your trip. You have to order at the counter before taking a seat, but they have a fun variety of craft burgers to choose from. Fries do not come with your burgers here, so I took the liberty to get the queso fries. It was literally the best fry dish I’ve ever had. You will not regret getting these fried if you like a little spice. I loved my meal here so much that I contemplated going there again before flying back home to New York.

For dinner, I recommend, Kendall’s, Cattleman Steakhouse, and Boomerang Diner. Kendall’s is famous for their chicken fried steak. It is a local hotspot that is constantly busy. I will warn that they are cash only, so if you visit, make sure to have some on you. They do have an ATM on-site if you do forget. The food was phenomenal. Each dinner comes with a complimentary cinnamon bun. I absolutely swear that these were the best cinnamon rolls I’ve ever had in my entire life. I actually bought a small tray to-go because they were that good. They do not ship, so get your cinnamon roll fix in while your there. Cattleman Steakhouse is the place to be if you’re looking for a traditional steakhouse. Everything is always cooked perfectly and is just a great restaurant to visit. Boomerang Diner is a local chain. They are famous for their breakfast and dinner. I went there for dinner and I absolutely loved the retro theme of the place. The burgers were fantastic and I was obsessed with their onion rings. Overall, you cannot go wrong with choosing any of these restaurants.

Planning Your Trip

If you’re flying in, I highly recommend you rent a car. Oklahoma City is not super walkable. Their grid system is a little weird. I will also warn that Oklahoma in general has really long roads. You make one wrong turn you can easily add an extra 20 minutes to your drive time, so plan accordingly. The weather is a bit unpredictable there. According to the clerk at the car rental agency, they had a seriously bad hail storm the week before my arrival, yet it was hot and humid my entire stay with random rain showers mixed in. Some museums require buying tickets online to pick a time slot, so make sure to check out the websites before visiting. I personally liked having my hotel outside of the city as it allowed me to do more of the tuff I wanted to do. I recommend using Tripvector to map out your trip so you have an understanding of how much you’ll need to travel. Overall, Oklahoma City is a surprisingly fun place to be and should definitely be a stop at least once in your life.