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Oklahoma City: Land of Light and Water

Courtesy Oklahoma City CVB

A lot of serious business takes place in Oklahoma City. But even though this town is a center of politics, history, industry and culture, traveling church groups will also find it’s a destination full of serious fun.

Travelers will discover the soul of Oklahoma during a stay in this city. Museums and cultural institutions present world-class exhibits on a wide range of subjects, from classical art to Oklahoma’s history and cultural influence. The spirit of the West resides here as well at America’s pre-eminent cowboy museum. And visitors can touch the heart of the city at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, which tells the story of the community’s triumph over tragedy.

There’s also a lively side to Oklahoma City. Its Bricktown entertainment district buzzes with energy and is one of the country’s best models for downtown redevelopment. The exciting downtown area — and the Oklahoma River that runs through it — has become the lifeblood of growth in this exciting destination.

Bricktown and the River
There’s no better place for Oklahoma City fun than Bricktown, a former warehouse district downtown that has been transformed into the city’s premier dining and entertainment zone.

The district gets its name from the red brick of the old warehouses, which sat empty for several decades at the end of the 1900s. But a new development surge in the early 2000s brought a number of high-profile entertainment venues. Among them are the Brick, home of the minor league Oklahoma City Redhawks, and a large Bass Pro Shop.

The signature feature of Bricktown is the canal that winds its way through the district. Visitors can tour this offshoot of the Oklahoma River on water taxis that transport guests from one side of Bricktown to another. Along the way, guides point out highlights, such as a series of 25 statues beside the canal that depict scenes from Oklahoma history.

Bricktown and the canal have become one of the area’s most popular destinations for visitors, especially during the evening. This year, though, a new development called Oklahoma City Riversport is giving groups a reason to explore in the daytime as well.

“We now have two boathouses and a four-story finish-line tower on the river,” said Sandy Price, tourism sales director at the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The U.S. canoe and kayaking teams have moved their headquarters there, and you can walk through and watch the teams train.

“They can also do group activities there. They can put your group on a barge boat or on a dragon boat that won’t move unless everyone is pushing in the same direction.”

Groups can also opt for traditional canoeing or kayaking excursions. Projects planned for 2013 and 2014 will bring white-water rafting and a zip-line course that crosses the river.

Myriad Museums
There’s a lot of fun to be had at Oklahoma City’s many museums, as well. Located right in Bricktown, the American Banjo Museum displays a collection of more than 300 instruments.

“The gentleman that runs it was an international champion about a year after he took up the instrument,” Price said. “You can arrange a private performance for your group. He interacts with the audience very well.”

Not far away, the Myriad Botanical Gardens have reopened after a yearlong closure for a complete renovation. This 17-acre outdoor site features thousands of plants both domestic and exotic, along with a spring-fed lake. An indoor tropical conservatory, known as the Crystal Bridge for its innovative architectural shape, re-creates rain forest and desert environments from the warmest parts of the world.

The renovations bring a number of new features and experiences for groups to enjoy.

“They have an area where you can go through a simulated thunderstorm,” Price said. “It starts with a mist; then you hear thunder and see a light show that looks like lightning. For groups, they will do a flower-arranging demonstration or something connected to botanicals.”

The Oklahoma History Center also offers hands-on and interactive experiences for groups. The museum has a series of galleries that depict the history of the state, from pioneer expansion to current pop culture, and group activities can be designed to tie into multiple aspects of the Oklahoma story.

“They do a lot of living history there and talk about how Oklahoma was settled,” Price said. “They can talk about church expansion, prairie churches and how they operated. And they do a hatmaking class, which would be fun for a women’s church group.”

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art and the nearby Blue Sage Studios present even more activity options for groups. This museum is known for its collection of Dale Chihuly glass art and can arrange for groups to have a hands-on glass art project. Artists at Blue Sage studios do glassblowing demonstrations for groups and send one lucky traveler home with a piece of original artwork.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.