Tulsa Travel Information

United States > US City Index > Tulsa > History

From its early settling, through its glory days as an "oil boom" town and up to the present, Tulsa has been a city striving to move forward. Even with the laid-back southern charm that prevails in this region, Tulsa breathes an atmosphere charged with anticipation --having made the turn from a town dependent on oil money to a thriving crossroads for business. Visitors to the city will find a mixture of grand new developments and reminders of the past--all bearing the common threads of high hopes and great expectations.

With few exceptions, metropolitan Tulsa is as easy to navigate, having been laid out in a grid system with square-mile increments. Virtually all the major streets of Tulsa are east-west or north-south, and set a mile apart from each other--and the east-west streets are numbered. This grid system is important, since most business owners in town will give you directions according to the nearest cross-street. Each area has its own distinct personality and points of interest; and some parts of town, like midtown, have several distinctive neighborhoods worth mentioning.

Downtown

As is common with river towns, Tulsa's downtown is set near the river, so rather than being the geographical center of town, it sets in the north central section. Much of the district is pleasant to walk in, especially the Main Mall -- a pedestrian-only area around 5th and Main -- which serves as the focal point of many downtown events such as Mayfest and is beautified with decorative waterways and sitting-places. In addition, a number of restaurants and cafes dot the area. Many of the older buildings downtown are very ornate -- remnants of the extravagance of the oil boom days. The Hotel Ambassador, a Tulsa landmark, actually began as a temporary housing facility for oil tycoons who were building their mansions. Functioning as a full-service hotel today, it gives its guests a taste of the luxury of the glory days. Like many growing metropolitan cities, Tulsa has seen a decline in its downtown area in recent years, particularly with regard to nightlife. The city is taking definite steps toward revitalizing the area, however, one aspect of downtown nightlife has continued to thrive rather than dwindle: the fine arts, particularly the Performing Arts Center, home to no less than seven musical and dramatic companies including the Tulsa Philharmonic Society. The PAC hosts a multitude of cultural events through the fall, winter and spring.

Midtown 

The west central portion of Tulsa is known as 'midtown', beginning just south of the downtown area until about 51st Street and extending east toward Memorial Drive. This is the crown jewel of Old Tulsa, home to some of Tulsa's oldest and favorite business establishments and neighborhoods, lined with classic old houses dating to the art-deco period and earlier. Here, especially near the Arkansas River, you'll find Tulsa mansions where the old-money families lived -- and, in some cases, still live. This upscale history survives today at Utica Square at 21st and Utica, which is still known as Tulsa's chic place to shop. Woodward Park, Philbrook Museum and other landmarks only add to the district's character.

Several of Tulsa's most popular neighborhoods are found in midtown. Three specific areas are worth mentioning here: Brookside, Cherry Street and Expo Square. The area known as Brookside extends east from the Arkansas River to about Peoria. Its defining strip is South Peoria between 31st and 41st Streets, where visitors find a variety of shopping delights, fabulous restaurants (many with patio seating), and a bustling nightlife. The atmosphere here is chic and eclectic, appealing to the younger, more progressive set. Scenic Riverside Drive, which parallels the east bank of the river, and River Parks, the park that stretches along the river bank, are also highly popular sections of Brookside. The Cherry Street District is set near downtown in the northern midtown area, defined by a portion of 15th Street dubbed 'Cherry Street'. Visitors to this neighborhood find great shopping -- particularly antiques and collectibles -- and a variety of local eateries, as well as some fabulous old homes in the surrounding residential areas. The Expo Square complex, between Harvard and Yale on 21st Street, encompasses the huge Expo Center and Pavilion, Big Splash Water Park, Bell's Amusement Park, Drillers Stadium (home of the Tulsa Drillers baseball team), and more. This one area has probably more things to do per square foot than anywhere else in town -- especially during the summer months! There is almost always some sort of exhibit or show going on, and the Tulsa State Fair makes its home here every autumn.

North Tulsa

The main highlights of north Tulsa are the Tulsa International Airport and the massive Mohawk Park, which includes the Tulsa Zoo and other outdoor activities. The airport area includes numerous hotels and highway junctions to other parts of the city -- downtown being the most accessible. Also found near the airport is the Tulsa Air and Space Center -- a great educational, hands-on museum for kids and adults.

South Tulsa

The part of town most commonly referred to as 'South Tulsa' is the area south of 51st Street and east of the Arkansas River. This area, especially in the south and east, is where Tulsa's new growth is, and where most of the new building currently takes place. Here you will find the world-famous Oral Roberts University complex and the Prayer Tower, the highly popular Mabee Center arena, and, across the street, the CityPlex Towers (the tallest building in Tulsa). In the eastern sector, at 71st and Memorial, is Woodland Hills Mall, and mile after mile of shopping centers extend along 71st Street toward Broken Arrow. This has become one of the busiest and most popular areas of Tulsa in recent years. In addition, south Tulsa contains some of the most beautiful homes in town, many of them having been built recently. Particularly worth noting is the Southern Hills area, which, as the name suggests, consists of numerous neighborhoods built in the rolling green hills of south Tulsa. Some of the mansions are landmarks worth visiting in their own right, and many have spectacular views.

East Tulsa

This part of town is generally defined as east of Memorial Drive and north of Broken Arrow and 71st Street. Although most of Tulsa's attractions are in other sectors of the city, there are some hotels near the freeways, and a few points of interest can be found here, such as Eastland Mall on 21st Street and the Carl Smith Sports complex. This part of town seems to place an emphasis on youth and amateur sports -- several sports facilities can be found among the aluminum industrial buildings here, including an indoor soccer club and an ice skating rink.

West Tulsa

In general, 'west Tulsa' refers to the part of town west of the Arkansas River and downtown Tulsa. Much of Tulsa's major industry can be found here, such as the huge electric plant along the river's west bank, and other manufacturing companies around the railroad tracks and old Route 66. The hills in the northwest corner of this district hold the Gilcrease Museum complex, one of the finest donation-only museums around. Just west of town is Sand Springs and its famous Discoveryland! outdoor amphitheater. This part of town isn't always as pretty as the more trendy neighborhoods, but those looking for a true sense of Tulsa's history will find it here.

Outlying Areas

Not all the great things in Tulsa are actually in Tulsa proper. A short drive northeast along historic Route 66 takes you to Claremore, the home of Will Rogers, and one of the fastest-growing towns in Oklahoma. Various historical sites dot this area, such as the Will Rogers Memorial, his birthplace in nearby Oologah, and the J.M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum. A short drive west of Tulsa takes you to Sapulpa, where you will find the famous Frankoma Pottery Factory, and Sand Springs, home of Discoveryland!. A little further west takes you to the popular Lake Keystone, and just southwest of Tulsa is the historic town of Jenks -- an antique-shopping hotbed.

Visitors to this city find Tulsa to be a place rich in heritage and history, as well as a place of progressive growth and development. Districts have their own individual culture and flavor, and with all main areas designed for simple navigation, you can easily explore each one. Whether your interests are in art or history or fine dining; whether you've come to close a deal or see the sights; whether you're here for business or pleasure, you can find something in T-town to delight you!

Weather

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Mean 35° 40° 51° 62° 68° 78° 84° 82° 74° 62° 50° 38°
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