Why You Should Visit Tulsa This Summer

The Oklahoma city is looking forward while reckoning with its legacy.

Why You Should Visit Tulsa This Summer

At Greenwood Rising, visitors can make a personal commitment toward racial reconciliation.

Photo by Mel Willis/Local Projects

America’s cities are back: bigger, bolder, and packed full of exciting events, new outdoor spaces, and reimagined dining. Check out Cities We Love for inspiration this summer.

In May, all eyes were on Tulsa as the city marked the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. The attack—in which mobs of white residents attacked Black residents and businesses in the city’s 35-block Greenwood District—is believed to be the single deadliest and most destructive act of racial violence in U.S. history, and its scars are still evident in Oklahoma’s second-largest city, which sits on the Arkansas River. But for travelers looking to understand what it means to see “America,” perhaps there is no better city than one like Tulsa, which is looking forward while reckoning with the legacy of its past.

On May 28, Tulsa debuted its new Pathway to Hope walking path—which connects core sites in the district; in early July, the much-awaited Greenwood Rising—a history center that will commemorate the legacy of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street—will open its doors. Elsewhere in the city, Dylan fans will want to head straight to the new-as-of-2021 Bob Dylan Archive at the University of Tulsa, which comprises 6,000 items, including writings, memorabilia, and recordings. (Though famous folk singer Woody Guthrie was born one hour south of Tulsa, in Okemah, his archives are also in Tulsa, housed in the Woody Guthrie Center, which bills itself as a “repository for Woody’s writings, art, and songs.”)

Looking for a little time outside? You could hardly do better than Tulsa, which has one of the most extensive park systems in the country, crowned by the Gathering Place, deemed Best City Park in the Country by USA Today in 2021. Spread across 100 acres, it includes lawns, ponds, public sculpture, sports courts, a skate park, interactive water cannons and fountains, a swing perched atop a 56-foot hill, and kayak, canoe, and paddleboat rentals.

The Mayo Hotel

The Mayo Hotel

Photo by John Amatucci

Where to stay

The Mayo Hotel originally opened in 1925 with two-story Doric columns and a terra cotta facade; soon, it became known for its champagne brunches and martini lunches, frequented by everyone from Lucille Ball to John F. Kennedy. Although it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, it fell into disrepair and sat vacant until it was given a $42million renovation and reopened in 2009. Today, it has 102 guest rooms (as well as 76 private residences), and its penthouse bar—formerly the Presidential Suite where Elvis stayed—offers the only unobstructed 360-degree view in Tulsa.

Stay at the Mayo Hotel: from $119/night, expedia.com

For a more low-key stay, look no further than 21 1/2, a boutique hotel situated smack dab in Tulsa’s walkable Arts District (and helpfully, located around the corner from some of Tulsa’s top eats, including Sisserou’s Caribbean Restaurant, Amelia’s, and Chimera Cafe). Each of the hotel’s 12 tastefully decorated, minimalist units is a stand-alone apartment, which includes a bedroom, living room, and small kitchen.

Stay at the 21 1/2: from $99/night, 21andahalftulsa.com

Go deeper

In Tulsa, vendors set up shop outside on the first Saturday of each month in the Meadow Gold District, showcasing wares made in the city. Travelers can also visit the Boxyard, a collection of repurposed shipping containers home to nearly 20 locally owned small businesses, including a specialized science store that sells fossils, trinkets, and lab equipment. Each year, TulsaPeople magazine also publishes its list of Black-owned businesses, which are organized by type (“arts and entertainment,” “goods,” etc.) and include hours, addresses, websites, and contact information; another resource is the Tulsa Black Owned Business Network.

Says Onikah Asamoa-Caesar, the founder of Fulton Street Books & Coffee, Tulsa’s only Black-owned bookstore: “I want people that are coming here [to Tulsa] to learn more about the history of 1921 to be very intentional about where they spend their time and their dollars. If you frequent places that are not owned by Black folks or descendants, what have you done for that history? What have you done for the present? What have you done in terms of supporting Black futures in Tulsa?”

>> Next: The Best Cities in the United States in 2021

Katherine LaGrave is a deputy editor at AFAR focused on features and essays.
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