Fun-Filled Weekend: Turn to Tulsa

Tulsa shines this month with gardens, shopping, great food, and near-perfect weather.
Tanner C. Latham

Tulsa surprises us each time we return. With a nationally recognized zoo, a new public garden renovation, and a quaint outdoor shopping village, you'll find plenty to fill a weekend. This month, while the colors and fragrances of spring still linger, discover all this city has to offer.

Friday--Where the Wild Things Are
When you first get into town, drive north on Sheridan, almost until you get to the airport, and have a late lunch at one of the city's best-kept secrets, the White River Fish Market & Restaurant. Order your lunch from the fresh fish spread on ice in a glass case inside the door.

Now that you're ready to enjoy some sunshine, head to the nearby Tulsa Zoo. The newest permanent exhibit features 16 African penguins you can enjoy viewing from above or underwater through a glass wall. Feel like a polar shift? Stroll through the zoo's "Rain Forest," a steamy building designed to resemble a South American rain forest. Jaguars, howler monkeys, and free-flying tropical birds live among a backdrop of replicated Mayan and Inca artifacts.

For an elegant stay, try the Ambassador Hotel at the edge of downtown. Built in 1929, the Art Deco structure evokes the spirit of the city's oil boom days. Rates start at $129; (918) 587-8200 or www.hotelambassador-tulsa.com.

For a more affordable option, consider the Doubletree at Warren Place on South Yale Avenue. Weekend rates start at $79; (918) 495-1000, 1-800-222-8733, or doubletree.hilton.com.

Go ahead and splurge tonight with dinner at the Polo Grill, which is located in Utica Square, Tulsa's outdoor shopping village. Its extensive wine list, fine steaks, and excellent service has kept it a city landmark for more than two decades. Try either the 6-ounce fillet ($29) or the Berkshire Pork Chop ($21) as an entrée.

Saturday--Slip Into Your Shopping Shoes
Queenie's remains one of the classic breakfast joints in Tulsa. You can't lose with the Q-HOP ($6), featuring two buttermilk pancakes, an egg, and bacon or sausage links.

Because you're in Utica Square, take advantage of its wonderful shopping. It's designed like a village, so you can walk outside to your favorite stores. Be sure to check out locally owned shops such as The Elephant Trunk Company for luggage, The Snow Goose for toys, and The Gadget Company for knives and fly-fishing equipment.

For lunch, drive to the Brookside area of town for a blast from the past. You can't miss Weber's--it's the bright orange burger shack right on the side of the road. Owner Rick Weber Bilby's great-grandfather started the place in 1933, and Rick still uses the original grill to cook up juicy half-pound cheeseburgers ($5.15). You can't leave here without trying their homemade root beer.

The afternoon holds more shopping on Cherry Street, the city's antiques and interiors mecca. One of the best antiques shops in this seven-block district is Robert's Antiques & Fine Furniture, which specializes in French Country and European pieces. Duck into The Olde House & The Porch for a few antiques but mostly home decor items, including contemporary lamps, clocks, and wrought iron pieces. Then drop by La Donna's Fancy Foods to sample a selection of gourmet specialty products.

For dinner, reserve a table at the Palace Café, where Seattle-born chef James Shrader shares Pacific-rim flavors. Try the Lobster Tagleatelle ($22), featuring homemade lemon-pepper pasta steamed with lobster, shrimp, and clams; (918) 582-4321.

Sunday--Walk Through the Gardens
"All of our art galleries are now extended to the outdoors," says Brian Ferriso, executive director of the Philbrook Museum of Art. "There is a visual conversation between the patterns and designs that are inside the villa and out in the gardens." Lucky for you, floor-to-ceiling windows in la Villa, the museum's restaurant, afford views of the recently restored and renovated gardens. You're here for brunch ($17.95 adults, $8.95 ages 5-10) at one of Tulsa's jewels.

Until last spring, only 6 of the 23 acres surrounding the 1920s Italian villa were groomed and easily accessible. Walking trails now trace paths throughout the entire property and lead to outdoor sculptures incorporated into the landscape. The new wrought iron meditative niches provide perfect places for reflecting on your wonderful weekend here.

For more information contact the Tulsa Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2 West Second Street, Suite 150, Tulsa, OK 74103; 1-800-558-3311 or www.visittulsa.com.

This article is from the May 2005 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.