My family and I were ready for a vacation. Thankfully, one was nearby in Oklahoma City. My husband, Mike, and I couldn’t stomach another summer of watching our kids spend their waking hours in front of screens, so we needed a place that was packed with a variety of activities that we would all enjoy. That’s why we chose Oklahoma City for our three-day weekend.
Day 1: The Boathouse District and Bricktown
“Now this is what I’m talking about,” said Jack, my 13-year-old son, staring at the frothing water. Mike and our daughter, Sophie, 10, sat behind us.
“Are you scared, Sophie?” Jack goaded. Sophie, ever defiant, rolled her eyes at her big brother. “Nope.”
White foamy peaks danced ahead of us at RIVERSPORT Rapids. Our guide sat in the back, counting out our paddling rhythm. “Get ready. Get your feet locked in,” he called.
The roar of the water intensified, and so did my grip on my oar. As we hit our first rapid, water splashed up, soaking our life vests. Sophie shrieked with glee and Jack laughed. “Pull forward!” The guide shouted, and we dipped our paddles into the froth. “One! Two! Three! Four! Five!” We dragged the oars through the rough waters on his count. A big rapid hit our raft and knocked us so we faced backward, much to everyone’s delight. Water splashed us as we fought the rolling rapids to turn ourselves around.
“Lean in, Sophie!” Mike instructed. Sophie did as she was told as we paddled like mad, and the raft turned around. “Great job!” The guide called. “Didn’t realize I was working with a crew of professionals!”
“Nicely done, Sophie!” Jack gave his sister a high five.
After several rafting runs, it was time to eat. Luckily, Bricktown sits on the other side of the highway and is the perfect place to take a family for dinner, especially after a day spent exerting energy. The bustling district was full of people going to restaurants, the movie theater and the minor league baseball game. We decided on some authentic Tex-Mex food from Chelino’s.
“Everything smells so good here,” Sophie said, taking a bite of the complimentary chips and queso. “I’m so hungry.”
The friendly staff refilled our drinks and chip basket often, and the food hit our table before we knew it. Just as we started to dig in, the melodic sound of an acoustic guitar made its way to our ears. We spotted a group of musicians serenading each table, making that the best enchilada dinner we ever had.
After dinner, we headed to the Bricktown Water Taxi and enjoyed another water adventure for the day, only this one was much calmer. We sat back and enjoyed a tour of the district, as the guide pointed out attractions and we watched people make their way through the brick-paved streets.
Day 2: Downtown and Stockyards City
The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum sits in the middle of the city, a welcoming, green space with monuments dedicated to those lost in the 1995 Murrah Building bombing. I downloaded their app on my phone, and we used its audio and video features to tour the museum and memorial.
As we made our way through, sunlight glinted off the water of the reflecting pool, and a nice breeze made the grass dance around the Field of Empty Chairs. Jack and Sophie asked questions about the day of the bombing as we gathered under the Survivor Tree.
Then, as we made our way through the museum, the interactive exhibits took us through the events of the bombing and the events that followed. We were all moved by the story and absolutely in awe of the spirit and heart of Oklahomans who overcame so much.
After touring the memorial, it was time for lunch. Historic Stockyards City is close enough to downtown Oklahoma City that it’s an easy trip, but far enough away that it feels like a whole new world. As we drove under the Stockyards City arch, we were transported back in time to the wild, wild West. Well-preserved storefronts dotted the street, and it was easy to see what Oklahoma City probably looked like more than a hundred years ago.
We made our way through various shops, taking time to enjoy the cowboy art and smell the fine leather of the saddle makers and boot sellers. But the best part was sitting down at Cattlemen’s Steakhouse and taking the first bite of a medium-rare rib eye. The meat was so tender and juicy, even Sophie finished hers. And we made sure to save room for apple pie à la mode, which was the perfect end to the meal.
Day 3: The Adventure District
The Oklahoma City Zoo sits on the other side of the city and is the perfect way to spend an afternoon with kids who need to burn some energy. The zoo offers great walking trails, many attractions and some hands-on experiences that are hard to find anywhere else. Sophie insisted on the Wild Encounter with the elephants, which gave us a behind-the-scenes experience and let us get up close and personal with the majestic animals.
But what both Jack and Sophie liked most was the Explorikeet Adventure. We purchased cups of nectar to feed the birds and entered the enclosure. Almost immediately, Jack became a perch.
“This is so cool,” he said, as a green, blue and orange bird sat on the top of his head.
Sophie held out her cup of nectar, and one of the lorikeets landed on her thumb to dip its beak in. “The feet tickle,” she said, giggling at the sensation.
I made sure to snap a picture because I wanted to remember these brightly colored birds forever, and I wanted proof that my children could have fun together.
After the zoo, it was time to get some air conditioning, so we headed a mile down the road to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
As we entered the museum, we were struck by the beauty of the End of the Trail statue. The large plaster piece sits in the entrance and sets the stage for the rest of the exhibits. We all stopped and marveled at the size of the piece.
“How much do you think that weighs?” Jack stared directly up, craning his neck, the shadow of the statue dwarfing him.
We could’ve easily spent a week inside the museum because there’s so much to see. Not only are there great works of art celebrating Native American and cowboy history, but there are exhibits dedicated to the history of rodeo as well as cowboys in the movies.
We left the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and made our way up the road to Science Museum Oklahoma. After keeping their hands to themselves all day, the relief on my children’s faces was visible when they walked in. With so many hands-on exhibits, they were able to enjoy this museum in a completely different way.
The Curiocity exhibits were fun and interactive, and even had us adults thinking about science in a completely different way. But the best part was sitting down as a family inside the Kirkpatrick Planetarium.
Jack pointed up at the domed ceiling and whispered something to Sophie. She giggled and pointed to something else in response.
I sat back and smiled. Maybe it was the white water rafting or the lorikeets. Whatever it was, I was so happy my kids got the chance to bond in Oklahoma City.