Last year I got to experience the most quintessential Oklahoma summer when I spent two weeks with my long time friends, Ryan and Stephanie, in their home state. I’m here to share what we got up to and what you can do too!
Ever since I met Ryan and Stephanie back in Korea (in 2015) and I found out they were from the Sooner state, I knew I wanted to visit this state with them. Fast forward eight years with plenty of meet-ups in Yeosu, Oregon, and Philly, we were finally able to make a little Oklahoma summer trip work!
It’s kind of funny because even though we’re all part of the United States, I felt like I was prepping to visit a brand new country. Oklahoma is SUCH a large state with an entirely different history, culture, and climate to the Northeast, I had no idea what to expect. Luckily, I had these two to show me around, and, of course, I was reminded that we all pretty much beat the heat in similar ways.
Below is all we got up to!
15 Ways to Enjoy an Oklahoma Summer
1. Float on down a river
One of the things Ryan and Stephanie said was a must for an Oklahoma summer is river floating. The premise is pretty simple – you and a few of your friends pack a cooler full of drinks, snacks, and sunscreen. Rent a raft from a local outfitter (we went with Riverbend Floats) who will also drop you off up river, and then simply float until you get back to them.
I’ve only floated in a river once in my life, and that was when I was about eight and on my own in an inner tube. However, as any millennial child, I watched Drive Me Crazy and the scene of the girls all floating and gossiping has been ingrained in my memory as “something cool teen girls do and I will do someday.” Obviously, I never did have a floating gossip sesh as a teen girl, so when Ryan and Stephanie suggested meeting up with their friends outside of Tulsa to float, I was all in.
2. Go four-wheeling
Listen, ever since I got used to riding motorbikes in Vietnam, I’ve been all about non-car modes of personal transport. While I think ATVs, etc should be banned in crowded areas like Tulum (don’t get me started), I think they’re an absolute blast when you have plenty of wide open space! And who has more wide, open space than Oklahoma?
There’s something crazy fun about off-roading and letting those intrusive thoughts win just a little bit. I can see why people love doing driving them around so much.
Now, I drove around on Ryan’s family’s ranch, so I don’t have any specific recommendations for places you can go. However, Travel OK, has a bunch of listings!
3. Head to one of the state’s parks
Guys, Oklahoma’s nature is S-T-U-N-N-I-N-G. And I only got a taste of it in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and Chickasaw Recreation Area. There are truly a ton of gorgeous parks all over the state, and I personally still want to visit Black Mesa.
If you go in June like we did, you should be able to see fields of buttery yellow wildflowers at some parks, and it is truly a sight to see. Seriously, if you go to Wichita, hike Dog Run Hollow at golden hour for the full effect.
4. Go camping
If you can’t tell by now, the general theme for my Oklahoma summer recommendations is simple – get outside. Camping is yet another great (and super affordable) way to enjoy the warm weather and gorgeous nature. We camped in the Wichita Mountains and it was so lovely to just get off the grid and just hang out. Bring a hammock, a book, and some good, ole fashioned card and board games for a great time.
5. Enjoy an evening campfire
What says summer like an evening campfire? We had one most nights whether we were camping, at Ryan and Stephanie’s house, or at one of their family members’ houses. There’s just something so perfect about ending a nice day outside with a campfire – marshmallows or not.
6. Go swimming in nature
Oklahoma has a ton of great swimming, and I was more than happy to jump right in! (Okay, jumping off the edge in Chickashaw took some literal hand holding). Bring sandals and get ready to jump into all sorts of icy cool bodies of water! Chickashaw especially has some great swimming holes, and you can pretty much find them all over the state.
I recommend packing some board games and cards, a book, a hammock, and plenty of sunscreen.
7. Explore all the outdoor murals
This is especially for Oklahoma City and Tulsa. There are a ton of great murals all around both cities, and it’s worth mapping some out to stop by! My favorite definitely had to be Abstract Passages by Kris Kanaly (partially seen above). There are hidden figures all over the mural, so take time to look for them!
8. Get out on the trails
We did a few trails while in Oklahoma (specifically in Wichita), and the scenery was simply breathtaking.
Just make sure you leave early in the morning as it can get scorching midday and many trails won’t offer much in the way of shade. Bring a LOT of water and wear sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, etc! We even had Clif bloks for a little bursts of energy.
9. Have some cowboy boots made
Okay this is a little out there but one of the things I was determined to do was get some cowboy boots in Oklahoma! Turns out having thick calves (18 inches) means most boots will never fit me no matter how I try. We went to a cowboy boot shop that was filled to the brim and not a single one would fit properly.
So, I got a custom pair made. Yes, it was expensive, and I will be wearing these boots for the rest of my life and passing them on to someone else with thick claves when I die!
The prices start to make sense when you realize how much artistry goes into making a single, custom pair. I had mine made with Flora Knight, who’s apprenticing under Lisa Sorell in Guthrie, and saw just how much goes into it.
I loved the experience of going and getting fitted and then waiting getting them in the mail a few months later. I’m obsessed and I’ve been wearing them around to break in the sole. So far they’ve come with me to a Philly and NYC trip!
10. Get a milkshake at Braum’s
When does a milkshake taste better than when you come in from the heat and have it freshly made? I feel like most states have their popular franchises and for Oklahoma that’s Braum’s. While you can find Braum’s in five different states, it began in the 1960s in Oklahoma City and is very much a part of a quintessential Oklahoma summer.
We went quite a few times while I was visiting but I didn’t think to snap a photo once, so enjoy this stock image in the meantime.
11. Enjoy Live Music Whenever and Wherever
You know, it took me until this year to really understand why people loved live music so much. I actually kind of hated it because to me it was always someone singing songs I didn’t know in a small restaurant with bad acoustics. I don’t go to a sit-down restaurant to shout at the waiter and my dinner companions just to be heard, ya know?
Anyway, I soon realized that when you have good acoustics and good music, it’s a completely different vibe. My friends have always talked about how often they go to concerts when they were home, and I quickly realized why. Oklahoma, and Tulsa especially, have a TON of live music options for incredibly inexpensive prices.
While I visited we went to a festival that was completely free and had a great time even though I didn’t know a single performer or song. (However – if you ever see anything with Ghostland Observatory – they were absolutely epic live).
Tulsa is especially known for its music history whether it’s the historic Cain’s Ballroom or the fact that both the Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan centers are here. Seriously – do NOT skip!
12. Travel along Route 66
Speaking of music – did you know Oklahoma has the longest drivable stretch of historic Route 66? Much like other states on the route’s path, there are a slew of quirky landmarks that make for a fun stop, and I went to one of them – Pop’s 66. It’s in Arcadia and has a 66-foot-tall soda bottle!
13. Escape the midday heat in any one of Tulsa or OKC’s incredible museums
As I’ve mentioned, midday during an Oklahoma summer can be downright boiling. Escape the heat and enjoy any one of the world class museums the state has to offer. Below are all the ones we stopped into in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
- Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum – A somber spot that remembers the Oklahoma City bombing. We didn’t go in but we did walk around the memorial.
- National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum – Great museum for western and indigenous exhibits. Good overview for anyone
- Oklahoma Museum of Art – Such a great art museum. Not only is their permanent collection solid, their rotating exhibits are world class. Were were there for the Chihuly one and it was so extensive!
- Factory Obscura – The COOLEST museum/experience. You have to, have to, have to make time to visit. If you’ve heard of Meow Wolf, this is in that same vein.
- Woody Guthrie Center – Everything you’d want to know about the one and only Woody Guthrie – also does a great job giving context to the Dust Bowl
- Bob Dylan Center – Like the fanboy he is, Bob Dylan had his center built literally right next to Woody Guthrie’s. If you’re a fan of his music, this is a MUST.
- Philbrook Museum of Art – Gorgeous museum. It’s in the former mansion of oil pioneer Waite Phillips and besides the art, the gardens are both extensive and stunning!
14. Go to a Honky TOnk
Guys, I LOVE dancing and I love line dancing because you already know what to do. This was one of my only requests when Stephanie asked me what I wanted to do when I came! We spent one evening practicing different honky tonk dances and then went over to Oklahoma Ranch after a day of hanging out around Oklahoma City.
This place was so fun and even had a disco ball shaped like a bison’s head! Happy to report there were also no crazy Confederate flags or anything suspect. (My friend, Autumn, who is from Tennessee later showed me a honky tonk she went to in her youth and as soon as I clicked the Google Maps location, there was a giant Confederate flag right up on stage, so…)
Anyway, from what I’ve learned, honky tonks are mainly partner dancing with a line dance every few songs. I’m so curious how many people down south met a partner at one of these. There’s cowboy boots and hats and country music aplenty and I LIVED with the line dances even though I knew none and even Stephanie said a lot of these dances were different from the ones she learned.
If you go to a honky tonk, here are some songs to learn:
- Church Clap by KB
- Burn it to the Ground by Nickelback
- Fake ID by Big & Rich ft. Gretchen Wilson
- Footlose (country version) by Blake Shelton
- Boot Scootin’ Boogie by Brooks & Dunn
- Shivers by Ed Sheeran (REALLY!!!)
- Whiskey Drinkin’ by Mikel Knight
- Wop by J. Dash
- Cotton Eyed Joe by Rednex (but they do it differently than I learned)
Honestly, Gen Z does so many dances now, just go on Tiktok and you’ll see them create line dances to all sorts of songs!
15. Always stop for fried pie
If you’re driving around and see handmade signs for fried pie, do yourself a favor and stop in to pick yourself up some of these delicious snacks. Nothing quite says Oklahoma summer like fried peach pie.
And that’s that on a perfect Oklahoma summer! What things would you recommend doing? Let me know below!
For more great US summer destinations, read these next:
- 18 Fun Things to Do in Truckee in the Summer (Hint: Lots of Outdoors!)
- How to Plan a World Class Vacation in the Finger Lakes
- 23 Unique & Fun Things to Do in Cleveland, Ohio
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