Your Guide to Tulsa’s Many Fabulous Museums
BY BEA BAKER, MATT CARNEY & MADELINE ROPER
About This List
Tulsa is bursting at the seams with museums. We've got big ones and small ones, outdoor and indoor, museums that cover the obscure and the grand. Museums of history, art, music and nature. Exciting, hands-on learning zones for kids and reverential halls of splendor for adults.
Many of the grounds and buildings for these museums were donated by Tulsa's early philanthropists, whose oil fortunes enabled them to amass world-class collections of artifacts, books and art. Crucially, Waite Phillips put Tulsa on the international art map in 1938 when he donated his magnificent residence, Villa Philbrook to the city. In fact, according to the Oklahoma historian Danney Goble, one of Philbrook's early directors, Robert M. Church, left San Francisco for the job in Tulsa "because there's a more cosmopolitan attitude here."
Fast forward to today and your typical Tulsa museum experience may include a burger night, a free film showing on a lawn, live performance art or a DJ. Philbrook in particular has lead in this recent effort toward openness and inclusivity.
In this guide we may have stretched the categorization a bit—after all, what’s an aquarium if not a big, wet museum?—but we think you’ll find what you’re looking for all the same. —Matt Carney
Please note that programming at many of these Tulsa places may have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Social distancing is recommended and wherever you go, please take a mask.
2727 S. Rockford Rd., Tulsa, OK 74114
One of Tulsa's top destinations of any kind, Philbrook is a modern art museum for the whole family.
Oilman Waite Phillips donated the 72-room mansion and its surrounding 23 acres of grounds—then his private residence—to the city of Tulsa in 1938. It's served Tulsa as an art museum ever since, making great strides in recent years to cater to younger and more diverse audiences by expanding its programming. In a given week visitors may find garden tours, movie screenings, workshops with local artists or even a burger night.
The result is a more social museum experience that still takes its art quite seriously. Visitors can spend hours exploring Philbrook's permanent collection—which includes some of the original Italian Renaissance pieces that Phillips donated with the villa as well as a stunning Kehinde Wiley portrait installed in 2017—or its modern exhibition series, which has recently shown work by Andy Warhol and Pakistani artist Anila Quayyum Agha. —Matt Carney
3900 Tulsa Botanic Dr., Tulsa, OK 74127
A short drive down the L.L. Tisdale parkway from downtown, you will find a little piece of nature tucked away in the Tulsa Botanic Garden. With their mission to create a more sustainable and harmonious world, the garden offers a space for all Tulsans to appreciate the beauty and importance of plants.
Resting on a beautiful lake, the garden showcases a variety of plants native to Oklahoma and areas with similar climates. In the Children’s Discovery Garden, you’ll find playful sculptures, waterfalls and green growing all around.
The A.R. and Marylouise Tandy Floral Terraces overlook the entire garden. The terraces feature blooming perennials, roses and shrubs and the garden cascade, a water runnel that flows through the terrace and into the lake.
Just west of the terraces in Persimmon Grove, you’ll find the cross timbers trail. Visitors can trek through the native flora and fauna of the open prairie. These trails are just the beginning of Tulsa Botanic’s 25-year expansion plan. The master plan includes 110 acres of sprawling gardens and lakeside views that will emphasize Oklahoma’s natural beauty. —Madeline Roper
5 S. Boston Ave., Tulsa, OK 74103
Recognized by the Oklahoma Legislature in 1988, the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame moved to its current home in the historic Union Depot Building in 2007. Previously housed in the Greenwood Cultural Center, the Jazz Hall has inducted more than 100 musicians and groups recognized for their contributions to jazz, blues and gospel music.
Zelia N. Breaux (1880-1956), who dedicated her life to advancing music education in Oklahoma’s African American schools, was the first inductee. Since the first induction, the Hall of Fame has continued honoring Oklahoman musicians of many different cultures and backgrounds each November.
Live jazz events are held at the Hall several times a month and admission is free. —Root staff
102 E Reconciliation Way, Tulsa, OK 74103
The Woody Guthrie Center, home to the Woody Guthrie Archives, preserves the legacy and life story of Woody Guthrie.
Located directly across from the Guthrie Green in the Tulsa Arts District, the Center works to communicate the social, political and cultural values found in his vast body of work. It is also a repository for Woody’s writings, art and songs and an educational resource for teachers and students everywhere. Visitors will find artifacts like Woody's original handwritten lyrics to "This Land Is Your Land," as well as instruments he owned and original recordings of his work. —Root staff
101 E. Archer St., Tulsa, OK 74103
Founded in 1961 as the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa, ahha has evolved into a vibrant organization headquartered smack in the middle of the downtown Tulsa Arts District.
Contemporary exhibitions (many featuring the work of local artists) cycle through THE GALLERY on the first floor. The third floor, THE STUDIO, provides classes, artist workshops, and open-ended creative exploration for everyone, even if they have no experience in the arts. Visit ahha on the First Friday of every month for discounted admission or pick up a new hobby at one of their many regularly scheduled open lab sessions. —Root staff
300 Aquarium Dr., Jenks, OK 74037
The Oklahoma Aquarium is a nonprofit marine museum on the Arkansas River featuring more than 100 exhibits and thousands of animals.
Exhibits range from some of the aquatic life found in Oklahoma to “Marvels and Mysteries” with jellyfish, electric eels and piranhas. The aquarium houses one of the most impressive shark collections in the world, where guests enter a walk-through tunnel and dome beneath the largest bull sharks in captivity. Touch tanks in the “EcoZone and Coral Reef” allow guests to feed and pet stingrays. Across seven exhibits, the Oklahoma Aquarium allows guests a glimpse of the life hidden in our world’s oceans, rivers, lakes and streams. —Root staff
322 N. Greenwood Ave., Tulsa, OK 74120
Dubbed America's "Black Wall Street" by Booker T. Washington, the 35-block Greenwood District surrounding the corner of Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street became a prosperous center for black commerce in the early 1900s. It was also a hotbed for jazz and blues, and the site where Count Basie first encountered big-band jazz.
When the violent Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 destroyed much of the district, the black community rebuilt from the ashes. Today, the Greenwood Historical District showcases its heritage through the Greenwood Cultural Center and the Mabel B. Little Heritage House.
In the early 1970s, Tulsa leaders began efforts to re-stitch the unraveling fabric of the Greenwood District. The Greenwood Cultural Center, begun in 1983, became the centerpiece of the community. It soon evolved into more than a mere venue, taking on important programmatic leadership, particularly in the areas of educational and cultural experiences, intercultural exchanges and cultural tourism.
Today, the Greenwood Cultural Center works to preserve African-American heritage and promote positive images of the African-American community by providing educational and cultural experiences, promoting intercultural exchange and encouraging cultural tourism. —Root staff
2445 South Peoria, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74114
Focused on building, preserving and presenting a broad based general collection of Tulsa’s history, the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum is located within a 28,000-square-foot facility and grounds, formerly the site of a historic home in Woodward Park.
The museum has eight rotating exhibit galleries, the Tribune Research Library and the Vintage Garden with its collection of architectural artifacts and bronze sculptures depicting Oklahoma’s five internationally famous Native American ballerinas. The Society manages information requests from the public, provides lectures for schools and civic groups, exhibits collection materials and sponsors educational programs.
Established in 1963, the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum holds an extensive collection of resources on Tulsa's rich past. The collection contains nearly 150,000 still photographs, books, maps, documents, graphics, historical costumes and architectural remnants, and fine and decorative arts. From 1985 until 1998, the Society had its headquarters in the Thomas Gilcrease house on the grounds of Gilcrease Museum. In December of 1997, with funds made available through the Tulsa Tribune Foundation, the Society purchased the historic Sam Travis Mansion off Peoria Avenue, just south of the Tulsa Garden Center. The mansion has been expanded and renovated to serve as the Society’s new home. - Root staff
2021 E. 71st St., Tulsa, OK 74136
A Tulsa mainstay for more than 50 years, the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art houses a permanent art collection, traveling exhibits and more than 10,000 Holocaust-era Jewish artifacts. The museum contextualizes the reality and effects of the Holocaust on Jews and marginalized individuals with the Kaiser Holocaust exhibit, which chronicles Jewish life before, during and after World War II. It also details the history of how Jews came to settle in Oklahoma. The SMMJA also boasts a moving photo collage of images of Anne Frank, displayed alongside excerpts of her now-famous diary.
From a religious standpoint, the SMMJA is required viewing for anyone interested in gaining a more expansive understanding of world religions and history, and how they’ve developed in Tulsa. Venture upstairs for a detailed look at relics, mementos and objects depicting cultural mainstays within Jewish life and tradition, including objects used in celebrations life and death, worship, family traditions and cultural rites of passage. The second floor also houses the SMMJA’s non-permanent collections, which run the gamut from modern art to pop culture.—Matt Carney
3624 N. 74th E Ave., Tulsa, OK 74115
The Tulsa Air and Space Museum story begins in 1998 in a 1940s hangar on the Spartan School of Aeronautics’ campus. While the museum has grown since then, the mission is the same—preserving Oklahoma’s aerospace heritage to inspire science-based learning through discovery.
By 2005, TASM moved into its own facility on a 17.8-acre campus on the north side of the Tulsa International Airport. With the help of Tulsa County’s Vision 2025 proposition, the James E. Bertelsmeyer Planetarium opened in 2006, providing many Oklahomans their first experience in a planetarium. The planetarium continues to bring an engaging state-of-the-art interactive experience to people throughout the region.
In 2013, TASM opened the doors of the new Discovery Center, featuring a gift from American Airlines—the MD-80 aircraft. Currently used for educational activities and private events, the MD-80 Discovery Center includes a one-of-a-kind interactive experience showcasing the wonder of flight. —Root staff
1925 Woolaroc Ranch Rd., Bartlesville, OK 74003
Hidden away in the rugged Osage Hills of Northeastern Oklahoma, Woolaroc was established in 1925 as the ranch retreat of oilman Frank Phillips. The ranch is a 3,700 acre wildlife preserve, home to many species of native and exotic wildlife, such as buffalo, elk and longhorn cattle. Woolaroc is also a museum with an outstanding collection of western art and artifacts, Native American material, one of the finest collections of Colt firearms in the world, and so much more.
Perhaps the vision of Woolaroc can best be summed up in Frank Phillips' own words: 'This isn't all a dream about something, but a place where I can get back to nature. The great difficulty with the American people today is that they are getting too far away from the fundamental things in life. Too much time and money are spent on things which leave no record and which add nothing basically to the present nor to the future. To build permanently and wisely is to benefit all mankind. The conservation of wildlife now will mean much to future generations.'
The name "Woolaroc" is derived from three words—the woods, lakes and rocks that make up the beautiful Osage Hills of northeast Oklahoma where Woolaroc is located. —Root staff