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OKLAHOMA CITY – Is Oklahoma part of the Midwest, Southwest or southern United States? Ask three different people residing in the Sooner State and you'll get three different answers.
It's a question with no solid answer, and so Oklahoma has taken a little bit of culture from each and made it its own. It's where people say y'all and wave as they pass by in a driving car. It's where you'll still hear references to cowboys and Indians, and where the state meal is made up of chicken-fried steak, fried okra and squash.
Nowhere is the melding of cultures more noticeable than in Oklahoma City, the state's capital and largest city.
Home to nearly 600,000 residents, Oklahoma City is becoming a booming urban area, with a popular major basketball team, The Thunder; a 50-story skyscraper (the Devon Energy Center), and a host of options for dining, museums and recreation.
Here are five free things to see and do while in Oklahoma City.
RED EARTH MUSEUM
Oklahoma is home to 39 Native American tribes. The tribes come from all over the country, having been forced to relocate here in the 19th century to what was known as Indian Territory. They still have many different cultures, languages and beliefs. Visiting each of the tribal headquarters within the state makes for a daunting task, but their influence is felt throughout Oklahoma City, including at the Red Earth Museum, a small nonprofit gallery in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City.
The Red Earth Museum displays more than 1,400 Native American items, which includes fine art, pottery, basketry and beadwork. More than 1,000 American Indian artists and dancers from across North America turn out each year for the annual Red Earth Festival, next scheduled for June 5-7, 2014; http://www.redearth.org .
PASEO ARTS DISTRICT
Developed in the late 1920s, the two-block Paseo Arts District is lined with stucco buildings showcasing their Spanish influence. More than 20 art galleries, a handful of restaurants and a few boutiques and gift shops line the street, which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Paseo celebrates a First Friday gallery walk each month in which visitors can see new work and enjoy live music and wine; http://www.thepaseo.com .
Stroll along the brick streets of this major entertainment hotspot converted from a warehouse district. While patronizing the businesses in Bricktown will set you back a bit in the wallet — think upscale restaurants and nightclubs — going just for the people-watching and photo ops on a Friday or Saturday night is worth the trip. In Bricktown, men wearing boots and cowboy hats stroll alongside 20-somethings out for a night on the town. Watch visitors take a water taxi down on the Bricktown Canal or a horse carriage carry passengers past the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, where the minor league Oklahoma City RedHawks baseball team plays; http://www.welcometobricktown.com .
MYRIAD BOTANICAL GARDENS
The 17-acre (7-hectare) Myriad Botanical Gardens offer a bit of reprieve from the hustle and bustle of urban life in downtown Oklahoma City. Trees, shrubbery and other landscaped areas surround a small lake. A children's garden, splash fountains, off-leash dog park and paths for running and walking offer visitors a variety of activities. In the summer, free concerts, movies and children's events are held throughout the gardens; http://www.myriadgardens.org .
THE OKLAHOMA CITY NATIONAL MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM
Even people who don't know much about Oklahoma City will likely recall the Oklahoma City bombing. The memorial is where visitors can pay tribute to the people who were killed and those who survived the bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. While the Memorial Museum has an admission fee, the outdoor memorial, full of symbolism, is free and open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Monuments at each end of the memorial note 9:01 a.m. and 9:03 a.m., framing the destruction that took place at exactly 9:02 a.m. Once inside the grounds, visitors can walk along a reflecting pool. Nearby, 168 chairs represent the number of lives lost, with 19 of the chairs smaller, representing the children who perished in the bombing; http://www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org . (The federal shutdown has not affected this site.)