Editor’s note: This list has been updated to reflect 2015.
Summer in Oklahoma isn’t for the faint of heart. Between the heat, the never-ending hours of sunshine, and the kids climbing the walls at home, it’s easy to start filling your calendar with trips to the nearest lake and evenings alone with your air conditioner.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But between road trip ideas, activities the kids will love, and opportunities for some adults-only fun, there’s just too much to do in Oklahoma this summer to fall into an entertainment rut. Whether it’s Bigfoot, dinosaurs, the stars, or even just some popcorn and a good movie that you seek, you’ll find the trail that leads to the best 75 things to do in Oklahoma this summer right here, fresh from This Land Events editor Natasha Ball.
Free Summer Fun in Tulsa
1. 5.2 million kids can’t be wrong. Like them, you can get bowled over—for free—at Andy B’s. Register at kidsbowlfree.com for two free games of bowling every day all summer long, a value of over $500 per child.
2. Indulge in a range of silver-screen classics, from Toy Story to Jumanji, shown free as part of the Movie in the Park series at Guthrie Green. Showtime is 8:30 p.m. every Thursday through Oct. 22.
3. Meet some 500-year-old trees on a hike at the Keystone Ancient Forest Preserve, a section of the cross timbers open west of Sand Springs on the second Saturday of each month.
4. Listen to Tulsa’s Starlight Band as they play out the stars at Tulsa’s Guthrie Green beginning Tuesday, June 16 at 8 p.m. Themes range from Americana Night to Jazz Under the Stars and more.
5. Scope out the various foo-foo pups and designer lawn blankets at the Summer’s Fifth Night free concerts series in Tulsa’s Utica Square. Featuring on stage every Thursday night, 7-9 p.m., are local mainstays from Mid-Life Crisis to Grady Nichols.
6. Trade the tennis courts and the running trail for The Gardens at LaFortune Park in Tulsa, the venue for the free First Friday Concerts. May through September, 7-9 p.m.
7. Take nature up on her offer for a summer stroll at Redbud Valley Nature Preserve, where admission is always free.
8. Tulsa is cut through with bike trails, and not a one of them is a toll road. Get a map of Tulsa trails. No wheels? Bikes rent free as part of the RiverParks Trails system.
9. Parking is scarce in the Brady Arts District on the first Friday night of the month—that’s because the monthly First Friday Art Crawl event blows open the doors of every museum, art gallery, and music venue in the district—but why would you care? You’ve got your sneaks.
10. Guthrie Green isn’t just for kicking back at an outdoor concert or film. Tai chi, boot camp, and family fitness sessions are held for free throughout the week. Check out the summer schedule.
11. Visit the grave of Bob Wills, the king of Western Swing, the man credited for putting Tulsa’s Cain’s Ballroom on the map. Find it in Memorial Cemetery Park.
12. Take a long lunch and hike the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area, where the trailhead is just seven miles from downtown Tulsa.
13. Sing the National Anthem before the first post time at the horse races at Fair Meadows in Tulsa. Your back-up singer will be Whitney Houston, whose cassette-tape recording crackles from the loud speakers just as the sun begins to set.
Make Oklahoma better. Subscribe to This Land and support local journalism in your community.
14. Make sure the acoustics of the Center of the Universe, in downtown Tulsa just north of the BOK Tower, are in good working order. Be sure to visit the Artificial Cloud, too.
15. Binge on popcorn at the Tulsa area’s newest megaplex, Broken Arrow Warren Theatre, which is offering free kids’ films and concessions all summer long starting in June. Showtimes are Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m.
16. Find a whole herd of flowers at the Tulsa Rose Garden and the neighboring Linnaeus Teaching Garden, home of the largest collection of roses in the state and a sprawling heirloom vegetable garden.
Free Summer Fun in Oklahoma City
17. Second Friday Circuit of Art is a monthly, citywide celebration of art in Norman. Whether it’s dance, painting, photography, or music that’s your thing, it’s free at this monthly art crawl.
18. Drinks, music, shopping, and sometimes a Bigfoot-call contest. LIVE on the Plaza, a celebration of the revitalized Plaza District in OKC, serves it up once a month, free and open to the public.
19. Lend your years as the Sunday Twilight Concert Series, held every Sunday starting at 7:30 p.m., June 7-Sept. 27, plays the sun to sleep. Bring blankets, chairs, picnic baskets, and the kids along.
20. Art is wherever you are. And thanks to the Art Moves series of daily art stops in OKC, it’s also free.
21. Whispers come in a world’s worth of accents at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Add yours.
22. Hum with the 8,000 bees who make their work and their home in Oklahoma City’s first observation beehive, at Martin Park Nature Center in northwest OKC. It’s said that, when content, they buzz in the key of A.
23. Petunia No. 1 is plugged, but what’s perhaps the state’s most famous drilling rig is still accepting visitors from her spot on the front lawn of the Oklahoma State Capitol building. 2300 N. Lincoln Boulevard is still the only state capitol boasting active oil rigs.
24. Stand under the flags of each of the 36 tribal governments with headquarters in Oklahoma, flying above Tribal Flag Plaza on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol. The bare flagpole represents the Kickapoo tribe, whose tradition prohibits the use of flags.
25. Admission is free for kids on the first Mondays of June, July, August, and September at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, home of the largest Apatosaurus skeleton, a bison skull that’s the oldest painted object in North America, and the skull of a Pentaceratops, the largest-known skull of a land vertebrate.
26. Ask to swim in the Oklahoma-shaped pool at the Governor’s mansion (hey, it never costs anything to ask).
27. Ogle a Van Gogh (and a Pissarro, a Renoir, a Monet, and a Giordano) at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, where admission is always free.
28. Admission and events are always free at the 45th Infantry Museum, home of artifacts from what General George S. Patton called “one of the best, if not the best division in the history of American arms.”
29. Ride on a real passenger train at the Oklahoma City Railway Museum. Rides are available the first and third Saturday starting in April and ending in August.
Free Fun Beyond
30. Go fish. Oklahoma anglers are invited to wet their lines free, without requirement of a fishing license, during Free Fishing Days, June 6-7.
31. Picnic under the monkey tree and swim in the waterfalls (there’s one called Little Niagra) at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, a national park which is actually two—the Platt Historic District and the Lake of the Arbuckles—in one.
32. Dip your toes or get wet as a lake at one of the 17 spraygrounds in OKC (they open Memorial Day weekend or one of the 29 splash pads and water playgrounds in Tulsa (they are open by June 13).
33. Walk the moonscape that is the Great Salt Plains State Park in Jet, the evaporated remains of an ancient ocean that once covered the state. It’s now a prime spot for birding and crystal digging.
34. See Kenton before it’s gone.
35. Retrace Oklahoma’s stretch of Route 66, where you’ll be able to drive more of the original road than in any other state. Make sure the Blue Whale, the Blue Hippo, and the Round Barn are on your list.
36. Make like Jesse James and Belle Starr and find the perfect hiding place at Robbers Cave in Wilburton, just off the Talimena National Scenic Byway.
37. See where one of northeast Oklahoma’s major natural wonders spreads and folds under the horizon around you. A drive through the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve doesn’t cost a thing. The buffalo sightings are free, too.
38. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation offers free summer fishing clinics. Kids and adults alike can learn how to catch, clean, and cook fish at the Jenks Casting Pond, the Arcadia Conservation Education Area Kids Pond near Edmond, and beyond. Be sure to pre-register.
39. Embark on a Saturday family-friendly hike through part of the 15 miles of trails at the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, where chances are good that you’ll see bison, elk, prairie dogs, or the endangered black-capped vireo.
40. Visit a waterfall. Oklahoma is home to several, but the ones at Natural Falls State Park near West Siloam Springs and Turner Falls Park in Davis are the largest, both measuring 77 feet.
41. It’s always free to argue. Debate the facts at Heavener Runestone Park, where the result of either a clever trick or a long-lost visit from the Vikings is carved into a cave.
42. Witness the birth of fresh ice cream, cookies, and milk on a free tour of the Processing Plant and Bakery on Braum’s Family Farm in Tuttle. Be sure to make reservations.
43. Settle your gaze on where the corners of four states meet, viewable from the state’s highest point at Black Mesa State Park. Black Mesa is also home of the best stargazing around.
44. Float the 60-mile Illinois River, a time-honored rite of passage for the youth of Oklahoma. The kayak is on you.
45. Visit the home of the inventor of the Cherokee syllabary. Find Sequoyah’s Cabin in Sallisaw.
46. See 10,000 guns daily at the J.M. Davis Gun Museum in Claremore, home of the largest private gun collection in the world.
47. Hike the trails at Ouachita National Forest.
48. Wet your toes in one of the three natural springs at Roman Nose State Park in Watonga, one of the original seven Oklahoma state parks. If you’re staying overnight, forego the cabins and rent a teepee for your lodging.
49. Touch the robe of Jesus, a larger-than-life statue of whom is perched over the Holy City of the Wichitas in the oldest mountains in North America.
50. See how many of the 600 miles along the shore of Lake Eufaula you can hike without having to scale a cliff, snorkel, or change shoes.
51. Sample Oklahoma’s largest (and the nation’s third-largest) collection of barbed wire at the Hinton Historical Museum & Parker House, which doubles as the home of the largest buggy collection.
52. Dorothy 1 is now accepting visitors at Twister: The Movie Museum in Wakita. Dorothy was the star prop in the 1995 film, and the museum building itself served as the film’s production company on-location office, set dressing, and art department.
53. After scuba diving in the crystal-clear Broken Bow Lake, dry off under the canopy of oaks and 100-foot pines at Beavers Bend State Park.
Free Oklahoma Summer Festivals
54. A day is the only cost to see the demonstrations of martial arts, traditional drumming and dance, a Japanese Tea Ceremony, and Asian arts and crafts for kids at the Asian American Festival in Tulsa, at the Martin Regional Library. Snacks from India Palace, Sushi Train, and Nam Hai will be available for purchase. June 6.
55. The summertime Route 66 Blowout in downtown Sapulpa lures hot rods and custom cars from every great era of the American automobile down the Mother Road for a day of reminiscing and tire kickin’. Route 66 Blowout. June 6.
56. The old chautauqua brought entertainment to Oklahoma in the form of theatre, lectures, and concerts—just about anything too vulgar for Sunday morning—all aimed to edify rural audiences. The programs for the modern Oklahoma Chautauqua, a production of the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa and Oklahoma Humanities Council, are free and open to the public, held on Tulsa Community College’s Southeast Campus. 2015 dates TBA.
57. Downtown Tulsa’s Blue Dome District and the Brady Arts District are good places to watch the Saint Francis Tulsa Tough Ride & Race—and don’t forget Crybaby Hill. But the best vantage point is from the seat of your own bike. Grab a pal or even the kids and register for the annual Tulsa Townie ride. June 12-14.
58. Chalk dust goes flying at the new, improved, and even bigger Chalk It Up festival, the best time with myriad colors of water-based temporary chalk in Oklahoma this summer. On Main Street in Broken Arrow. Dates TBA.
59. A picnic basket, a cocktail, and Twelfth Night: A bombshell summer combo. The annual Shakespeare in the Park celebrates its 31st season in Oklahoma City.
60. Take a dip in the Bath Lake Park at Medicine Park, Oklahoma’s first planned tourism resort, ca. Independence Day 1908. If you’re around June 13-14, check out Pork in the Park, Medicine Park’s annual BBQ meat festival.
61. Noodling. Catfisting. Hillbilly handfishing. No matter what you call it, it’s the sport the Okie Noodling Tournament made famous. Find it free at Wacker Park in Pauls Valley, where the fishermen will be pulling out mad-as-hell flatheads the size of a kindergartner. June 20.
62. The river-sweetened farmland in Bixby grows the corn like sugarcane. It’s just one reason to check out the annual Bixby Green Corn Festival—that, and they have lemonade. Plus, it’s free. June 25-27.
63. Get your chance at some ink in the Guinness Book of World Records at the World Championship Watermelon Seed Spitting Contest in Pauls Valley. Oral-projectile professionals from all over descend on the city’s annual Fourth of July festivities in an attempt to smash the standing record of 67 feet. July 4.
64. Watch the sky explode with color at the ONEOK Freedomfest in Tulsa, one of the largest Independence Day celebrations in Oklahoma where the show, the face painting, kids’ festival, and old-fashioned family picnic will lighten your wallet not one iota. July 4.
65. You’ll be hard pressed to find another blackberry pageant if you miss the annual Blackberry Festival in McLoud. The town is so convinced of the superiority of its berries that it once sent a crate of them to President Harry Truman. July 3-5.
66. Sign up for the root-beer chugging contest at the annual Huckleberry Festival in Jay, a celebration of the small, deep-purple orbs which serve bravely and selflessly as the state fruit of Idaho. July 4.
67. Cowboy crooners, screenings of Western films, roping demos, and a chance to meet the Miss Rodeo Oklahoma Scholarship Pageant contestants are freely given at the National Day of the American Cowboy Celebration in OKC. July 25.
68. Ditch the room at the local hotel and pitch a tent at the Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival, where the sounds of strumming guitars and the singing voices of your fellow campers and festival-goers plays on until well after first light. July 8-12.
69. The Porter Peach Festival is where cobbler means a layer of the almond relative prunus persica bubbling between two crusts. It also means free peaches and ice cream. July 16-18.
70. The invitation to join in the stomp dance at the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Festival is offered with no strings attached—it’s the same with the corn-stalk shoot, fast-pitch softball, kids’ fun fair, all-Indian rodeo, horseshoes, the art market, Muscogee hymn and gospel singing, and live music (headliners this year are Smokey Robinson and Natalie Cole). June 26-28.
71. The hawg sandwich giveaway serves as the centerpiece of the Whole Hawg Days festival, held on the shore of Eufaula Lake. Load up on carnival games, a rodeo, a parade, and a car show between bites. July 23-25.
72. Greet the 22-foot bronze statue of Ponca City Chief Standing Bear, watching over 63 acres of native grasslands and wildflowers. After reflecting on the monument, check out The Standing Bear Museum and Education Center, which houses traveling art exhibits.
73. Get in on a 77-year tradition when you line up for the Old Cowhand Reunion and Chuck Wagon Feed in Freedom, a standing invitation for cattle drivers and ranch hands to return to town each summer to reunite and reminisce over a free lunch of beef and beans. For atmosphere there’s the Great Freedom Bank Robbery and Shootout. A street dance follows the evening’s rodeo. Aug. 13-15.
74. At the River Rumba Regatta, a homemade cardboard-boat race held each year in Muskogee’s Three Forks Harbor, it’s always free to see who wins the Titanic prize, which is awarded to the team that fails most fantastically. August 28-29.
75. Close out the summer with a weekend of fiddling competitions, a kids’ fishing derby, a blowgun contest, bingo, and a powwow. It’s all free and in plenty supply at the annual Cherokee National Holiday festival in Tahlequah. Sept. 3-6.
Molly Evans contributed to this article.