The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 15, 2013

Destinations: Oklahoma City offers affordable cuisine, classic accommodations and mid-American history

— My relationship with Oklahoma City goes back a long way. My first visit was in 1986 when a much younger — and red-headed — Dave Woods was hustled through the halls of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on the way to Navy boot camp.

Less than a decade later, that same building would be the target of a tragic bombing that claimed 168 lives.

Today, the Oklahoma City National Memorial downtown peacefully reminds Americans of the devastating domestic terrorist attack. It’s a must-see if you get down that way.

Oklahoma City has seen it all — boom and bust. From the Land Run of 1889 to the Dust Bowl days; from oil and natural gas good times to the economic crashes that led one-time petroleum magnates to sell their gold and diamond jewelry simply to survive, Oklahomans are a hearty bunch. Add the challenges presented by tornados, and you get the picture.

Amid an economic and cultural renaissance, Oklahoma City is an underestimated destination for a quick and easy getaway. Just three hours down the road from Joplin on Interstate 44, the former cow town offers great restaurants, affordable high-end accommodations and a variety of attractions. It’s fit for families that are looking for a new vacation experience or couples that want to send the kids to summer camp while they escape for a weekend of poolside relaxation or a Thunder basketball game.

I headed that direction recently — there were no traffic delays, by the way — and was reminded of the fun that can be had in Oklahoma City. Here are just a few recommendations:

OKC options

Bricktown is the downtown entertainment and nightlife district. Located in the shadow of the state’s tallest building, the Devon Energy Center, Bricktown offers dozens of restaurants, nightclubs and a canal walk reminiscent of San Antonio’s famed water attraction. Easy parking will set you back around $10 a day. Walking through Bricktown is as easy as parking there. Take the canal walk, and check out the restaurants. Many offer outdoor dining options with views of the man-made river, which snakes through the district.

Have a hankering for red meat? Check out Mickey Mantle’s Steak House. Locals tell me it’s a good deal. There is even a street named after Mantle in Bricktown, but I’m not sure what The Commerce Comet world think about it. His namesake drive intersects with an alley named after The Flaming Lips, Oklahoma City’s local-boys-done-well rock band. Either way, I think he would love his statue on Mickey Mantle Plaza in front of Bricktown’s minor league baseball stadium, home of the Triple-A Oklahoma City Redhawks.

The city also has a growing Hispanic community and long-established Asian communities.

Several Bricktown restaurants offer their take on Mexican cuisine, Spanish tapas, Italian dishes, Asian cuisine and seafood. Freedom fries and live music are staples at Toby Keith’s I Love this Bar and Grill. Good food and great T-shirts are within walking distance.

Don’t feel like walking? Take a water taxi and cruise the Bricktown Canal. All-day adult passes are $9.50. Kids under 5 years old float for just $2. Military and senior discounts are available.

On an adults-only vacation? Stay downtown and walk Bricktown and the city. The water taxi will float you from restaurant to bar to pub and back again. The Bricktown Brewery offers a variety of craft beer options and a “tap table.” The table allows small groups of visitors to belly up to a special beer tap-tower bar, put a credit card on file and serve themselves. It’s a unique option for a group of adults vacationing together. Tapwerks Ale House and Café offers a huge selection of craft and import beers on draught, and Put a Cork in It wine bar caters to lovers of the grape.

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