Dubbed the “Oil Capital of the World,” Tulsa is Oklahoma’s second largest city and a popular stop along Route 66. Whether you’re passing through on a road trip or spending a day or two in the city, check out the best FREE attractions like the Gathering Place, America’s #1 best new attraction!
Tulsa sits in Oklahoma’s northeast corner near Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas on Route 66, America’s Main Street. This former territory for relocated Native Americans boomed in the early 1900’s when oil was discovered. Hard times followed including a massive race riot in 1921 and devastation caused by the Dust Bowl.
Today, Tulsa is a thriving city boasting a number of entertainment districts, with world class sporting and cultural venues for families. And many of them are totally free! Here’s a list of the wonderful (and wacky) free activities.
16 FREE Things to Do in Tulsa
- Check Out The Gathering Place
- Pose with the Golden Driller
- Take the First Friday Art Crawl
- Smell the Roses at Woodward Park and Garden
- Hike Turkey Mountain Wilderness Area
- Take a Free Fitness Class on Guthrie Green
- Get Your Kicks on Route 66
- Walk the Art Deco District
- Visit the Center of the Universe
- Play on Funday Sunday at the Gilcrease Museum
- Wander the Blue Dome District
- Enjoy Second Saturdays at the Philbrook
- Ride the Tulsa Downtown Trolley
- Say “Hello!” to Buck Atom, Space Cowboy
- Check Out the Neon Signs
- Snap the Tulsa Art Alley
Voted America’s #1 Best New Attraction by USA Today, Tulsa’s Gathering Place is a unique recreational complex for all ages. Sited along the Arkansas River, the Gathering Place will eventually provide Tulsans and visitors with over 100 acres of play space. Phase 1, built with $465 million in corporate and individual donations, has climbing castles and giant herons, a boathouse with rentals and, at the summit, Swing Hill, where you can see the entire park, the river and the downtown skyline.
If quiet’s more your thing, there are outdoor waterfront seating areas or funky indoor lounges for reading, playing board games or napping. The Gathering Place is popular, so I recommend going at either end of the day; hours are 9 a.m. – 10 p.m., 7 days a week.
What stands 76-feet tall, weighs 45,000 pounds and wears a 393-DDD shoe? Tulsa’s Golden Driller, an iconic symbol of Oklahoma’s oil drilling industry. The driller’s right hand rests on a replica of an oil derrick and his belt buckle is emblazoned with the city name. After making appearances at petroleum industry expos in the 1950’s, the Golden Driller was permanently anchored in 1966, adopted as a state landmark in 1979 and re-gilded in 2011. Parking for the Golden Driller is in Expo Square, off of E. 21st Street.
Tulsa’s downtown has several designated neighborhoods. The Arts District is one of them and hosts a popular Art Crawl on the first Friday of every month. Besides exploring the district’s art galleries, you’ll want to visit the Woody Guthrie Center; it’s open until 9 p.m. on First Fridays. The Center’s permanent exhibit celebrates the life and achievements of Oklahoma-born Woody Guthrie, including his master work, “This Land is Your Land.” Admission is $12 for adults, $11 for 55+, $10 for military families (up to 4 persons), $8 for college students, and FREE for 17 and under. Don’t miss the Dust Bowl virtual reality experience, included with your admission.
Surrounded by historic neighborhoods, Woodward Park and Gardens is a manicured public space with over 40 acres, anchored by the Upper and Lower Rock Gardens and the Tulsa Rose Garden. Families visiting Tulsa with children should check out the programs offered at the Linnaeus Teaching Garden inside the park. A popular free event is Thursday morning story time at 10 a.m., followed by a garden activity.
A unique feature of Tulsa’s downtown is the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area. Maintained by the city’s River Parks authority, the space offers visitors miles of dirt trails and climbing boulders for children. The park welcomes leashed dogs and horses. The red trail is an easy .8 mile loop for families with small children and a paved trail runs alongside the Arkansas River. The main parking lot is located at 67th and South Elwood.
In the heart of Tulsa’s Arts District, you’ll find Guthrie Green, a wide open expanse of lawn with a stage and seating areas. Free concerts and movies on Guthrie Green are popular but the real value is found in the free fitness classes, offered through a partnership with the Tulsa YMCA. I live in New York. A drop-in yoga class is $22. Give me free every day of the week.
Route 66, the Mother Road, runs right through Tulsa. Road trip devotees should consider making a pilgrimage to check out the remaining motels, neon signs and attractions. They’re free to photograph; wear some cat’s eye glasses and a circle skirt to go full vintage. Perhaps the most beloved Route 66 attraction in Oklahoma is just outside of Tulsa in Catoosa. The Blue Whale was once a popular swimming hole for local kids. Now, it’s a silent reminder of summers past.
Tulsa boasts a significant number of Art Deco buildings you can view on a FREE walking tour. Clustered in the city’s Central Business District, 50 sites are included in a printable map that details information about their historical and architectural significance.
If you and your kids enjoy quirky attractions, head to 1 S. Boston Avenue in downtown Tulsa. A bridge was removed in the 1980’s and was replaced with a pedestrian pathway. The construction created an unintentional acoustical phenomenon. When you stand in the decorative circle and speak, your voice echoes back as if it’s amplified. One of the weird, fun and free things to do in Tulsa!
The Gilcrease Museum is home to an important collection of art celebrating the American West. Over 35,000 pieces have a home here and manicured themed gardens occupy 23 of the museum’s 460 acres, including ones dedicated to the Pioneer, Colonial and Victorian eras. And fans of Bob Dylan can catch a temporary exhibit of the songwriter’s drawings and sketches. The art will find a permanent home in Tulsa in 2021. Admission to the Gilcrease is free on the the third Sunday of every month – Funday Sunday!
When I think of blue domes, I remember Santorini in Greece. Tulsa’s got one too – the Blue Dome Building, built in 1924 and the heart of a lively entertainment district. Head to 2nd and Elgin for evening fun and games. The neighborhood also hosts festivals throughout the year and the latest event info is available on the Blue Dome District website.
The Philbrook Museum of Art is the restored home of oilman Waite Phillips and houses a collection of over 8500 works of art. The 23-acre grounds are also worth a visit and, if contemporary art is more your thing, visit the museum’s downtown location. Time your trip correctly and tour on the second Saturday of the month when admission is free!
Operating on Friday and Saturday nights, the Tulsa Downtown Trolley offers FREE rides between 6 p.m. and midnight. The complete loop takes an hour and a half to complete but riders can hop on and off at any point along the way. A GPS feed is live on the Trolley’s Facebook page when operating, so you can time your ride.
Window shopping is one of my favorite, free travel activities. In addition to art galleries, Tulsa has a couple of fun souvenir shops worth a visit. Ida Red General Store is popular, with two locations, but I preferred tiny and quirky Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios. Opened in 2018, the former Route 66 gas station carries a line of Tulsa gifts emblazoned with the shop’s namesake, who stands a full 21-feet tall outside the shop.
The neon lights are bright in Tulsa. Many vintage signs are still intact and provide a nostalgic feel to the city’s stretch of Route 66. The Tulsa Route 66 Commission has matching funds available for local businesses who want to rehab their signs. Local favorites include the Desert Hills Motel, Brownie’s Hamburgers and Meadow Gold.
Looking for an Instagrammable moment in Tulsa? Teens will have fun in the alley that connects 5th and 6th Streets between Maine Street and Boulder Avenue. It’s full of bright, beautiful wall murals ready for your close-up and it’s one of the many great free things to do in Tulsa.