Nestled in the southern United States between Texas to the south and Kansas to the north, Oklahoma is a low-key destination in the United States that packs a mean punch when it comes to tales of the Wild West, producing Hollywood stars and learning more about Native American history and customs. A fairly young state, Oklahoma only gained statehood in 1907 and is home to the University of Oklahoma, a national leader when it comes to research and sports.
Dubbed the Sooner State, Oklahoma celebrates the cultural uniqueness of five distinct Native American tribes within the state’s borders and is one of the leading producers of oil and natural gas in the United States. Defined by its wide open plains and contemporary urban centres, Oklahoma is a state still very much on the American frontier, with great food and even better hospitality the norm wherever you go in Oklahoma. Here’s what Oklahoma is famous for….
- What Is Oklahoma Known For?
What Is Oklahoma Known For?
1- Oklahoma City
The cultural, economic, political and legislative heart of the Sooner State, not to mention the state’s official capital, Oklahoma City is a must-visit city in Oklahoma and perhaps the first place people think about when imagining Oklahoma.
Situated right in the geographical middle of the state, “OKC” as the city is affectionately nicknamed, is a modern and cosmopolitan former frontier city which boasts a surprisingly large collection of attractions and distinct neighbourhoods to fully explore and experience.
OKC’s Little Saigon and Paseo districts are great spots in the city for dining, shopping and roaming art galleries, while downtown bars and late-night entertainment options keep locals and travellers busy long after sunset.
While OKC is great for enjoying excellent dining, shopping or live entertainment options, the city’s most-visited landmark continues to be the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, which was erected following the aftermath of the tragic 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to remember the 168 victims who lost their lives due to the event.
2- Native American Culture
Home to 5 distinct Native American tribes, Oklahoma is perhaps the best state in the United States to experience Native American traditions and culture.
The Sooner State was a former Indian Territory and is shared by members of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole, Creek and Cherokee people, with each group acting as an independent and self-governing territory with their own by-laws and cultural norms.
Several towns and minor cities throughout Oklahoma boast rich Native American roots and culturally significant attractions, such as Muskogee in eastern Oklahoma, which treats travellers to the Five Civilized Tribes Museum where people can learn more about the Sooner State’s 5 largest Native American tribes.
First used following the Land Run of 1889, the term ‘Sooner’ has been synonymous with Oklahoma and its people since before the territory became an officially recognised US state and can be seen and heard in pop culture throughout Oklahoma.
The term originated as a nickname for the participants of the region’s land claim races of 1889 and was quickly adopted by the wider Oklahoma public in recognition of the pioneers and settlers’ can-do spirit and attitude.
While most proud Oklahomans refer to themselves as Sooners, the term is most commonly associated with the University of Oklahoma, whose collegiate sports teams and athletic programs have been known as the Oklahoma Sooners since the university adopted the nickname in 1908.
4- Tornado Alley
Used to refer to the loosely defined region between the south-central United States and the Canadian border, Tornado Alley is a term all too familiar among those who happen to reside within it.
Tornado Alley cuts right through Oklahoma from north to south and practically envelops the entire state from east to west, with large and destructive tornadoes a matter of when and not if in central Oklahoma.
Most active between May and early June, Tornado Alley spills into 17 US states and remains one of the most mysterious parts of the United States, with the term first coined back in 1952 as part of a research project.
5- Route 66
Take a nostalgic road trip across Oklahoma along the longest drivable stretch of the historic Route 66 available to motorists and adventurous road trippers in the United States.
Route 66 was completed back in 1926 and connected the Midwest to the West Coast via Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, opening up the American West for seamless travel and cross-country cargo hauling.
Defined by its quirky roadside attractions and old bride crossings, Route 66 was a vital artery between the Midwest and the West Coast before the US Interstate System made the 2,448-mile-long (3,665 km) route obsolete virtually overnight.
Route 66 is little more than a large tourist attraction today, yet remains a captivating part of Oklahoma pop culture, with more than 85% of the original route still driveable today.
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6- Brad Pitt and Chuck Norris
Despite its small population relative to its size, Oklahoma has produced some of the largest icons in sports and entertainment, none more so than Brad Pitt and Chuck Norris, two incredibly talented and beloved Hollywood stars who both share a special connection to the Sooner State.
Born William Bradley Pit in Shawnee, Oklahoma on December 18, 1963, Brad Pitt moved to Missouri with his family at a young age before departing for Hollywood to pursue a career in front of the silver screen.
Pitt has been the recipient of 2 Academy Awards, 2 Golden Globe Awards, 2 British Academy Film Awards and a Primetime Emmy Award, and is regarded by many as one of the most influential figures in the US entertainment industry.
A black belt in 3 different martial arts disciplines, Carlos Ray Norris, better known as Chuck Norris, is a fellow Sooner hailing from Ryan, Oklahoma, who has been an idolised American action hero and actor since beginning his acting career with “The Wrecking Crew” in 1969
7- The University of Oklahoma
The largest public university in the state of Oklahoma and a national player when it comes to sports and scientific research, the University of Oklahoma is among the most prestigious educational institutions in the Southwest.
Founded in 1890, the university predates Oklahoma’s statehood by 17 years and is spread out across 3 campuses with Norman, Oklahoma being home to OU’s main campus.
Few things are as synonymous with the University of Oklahoma as Sooners football, with OU’s collegiate football team having been crowned national champions 7 times, most recently in 2000.
Driven by the state of Oklahoma’s large-scale cattle industry, wheat is the most commonly grown crop in the Sooner State, with winter wheat primarily used as cattle feed.
Oklahoma is ideally suited to Agriculture, with the Sooner State enjoying access to the large agricultural marketplaces of Missouri, Texas and Kansas just across its state borders.
Dating back to before Oklahoma’s admittance to the Union in 1907, agriculture remains big business in the Sooner State, with more than 62,000 independent farms scattered throughout Oklahoma.
9- Chicken-Fried Steak
Chicken-fried steak, or country-fried steak depending on who you ask, is a popular American delicacy which involves coating beefsteak or cube steak in seasoned flour and deep-frying it.
Prepared and cooked the same way as regular fried chicken, chicken-fried steak shares a unique connection to Oklahoma, with the dish declared the official state meal of Oklahoma back in 1988.
While the exact origins of chicken-fried steak remain murky at best, the most widely accepted version involves Austrian and German immigrants in Texas adapting regular Wiener schnitzel recipes to incorporate readily available Texan beef.
10- Ranching and the Wild West
A former frontier state and a region steeped in Native American history, Oklahoma treats travellers to a unique slice of life as it was during the height of the Wild West days of the 19th century.
Ranching in Oklahoma has been one of Oklahoma’s biggest economic drivers since before it was accepted into the Union and continues to be a major aspect of modern-day Oklahoman pop culture.
Much of Oklahoma’s romanticised Wild West mystique and ranching culture can be experienced at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, which boasts a collection of more than 28,000 artefacts and items which helped define Oklahoma’s ranching, Wild West and cowboy identity.
One of the most iconic symbols of the American West, bison or buffalo are large furry bovines that historically roamed the wild plains of the United States and Canada.
Oklahoma’s climate and open plains provide the ideal habitat for bison to thrive, with the Sooner State at the forefront of current preservation efforts to help restore bison populations and protect them from becoming an endangered species.
Bison continues to hold a special place in Sooners’ hearts and can be spotted in large numbers at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, a 60,000-acre (24,281 ha) nature preserve that’s home to roughly 650 roaming bison.
12- Fried-Onion Burgers
The fried onion burger, specifically Oklahoma-style fried onion burgers, is an authentically Oklahoman culinary delight which was originally invented in Oklahoma City during the 1920s.
According to urban legend, the burger was first prepared at the Hamburger Inn in El Reno, about 28 miles (45 km) outside downtown OKC, as a cost-cutting technique by owner Ross Davis to use less beef in the restaurant’s 5-cent hamburgers.
Typically made up of 2 beef patties, a generous topping of fried onions and a slice of cheese on a lightly toasted hamburger bun, the classic Oklahoma fried onion burger is a pretty interesting take on the regular cheeseburger and is practically a rite of passage for first-time foodies visiting the Sooner State.
The second-largest city in the Sooner State after OKC and the official county seat of populated Tulsa County, Tulsa is a large urbanised metro situated near Oklahoma’s northeast corner.
Tulsa was originally settled by members of the Creek Native American tribe during the 1820s and 1830s and is renowned for its large selection of cultural and historical landmarks and attractions in and around the city’s downtown district.
More than just another mid-sized southwest city, Tulsa is respected for its flourishing contemporary art scene, which visitors to the city can experience and learn more about at the Brady Arts District, the Philbrook Museum of Art or 108 Contemporary.
14- Fried Okra
A popular side dish option in restaurants and at BBQ cookouts across Oklahoma, fried okra is typical southern soul food made by coating okra pods in a generous amount of seasoned cornmeal and frying until golden brown.
Most fried okra recipes are fairly spare when it comes to seasoning, however, for a little bit of extra spice, many add a sprinkling of cayenne pepper to enhance the flavour profile of the dish.
Included as part of Oklahoma’s official state meal, okra and fried okra are most often served alongside typical Sooner dishes such as BBQ cuts, chicken-fried steak or fried onion burgers.
15- Oil and Natural Gas
Home to several large oil fields, Oklahoma is among the largest producers of oil and natural gas in the United States, with oil accidentally discovered in the Sooner State back in 1859.
Oklahoma was pumping out the most oil of any state or territory in the nation in 1907 and was competing with California for the title until 1930 when oil drilling in the Sooner State began to decline.
There’s plenty of gas in Oklahoma too, with the Sooner State estimated to be home to about 6% of the entire United States’ total natural gas reserves and among the top 10 largest producers of natural gas annually.
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