Oklahoma at a Glance
From the Wichita Mountains to the Ozark plateaus, the windswept, oil-rich state of Oklahoma may be one of the least understood in the union. With its unusual geographic position — touching Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas — and roughly half of Oklahoma’s land belonging to Native American tribes, the Sooner State belongs wholly to no region.
Oklahoma has had a difficult history. It was the terminus of the shameful Trail of Tears and the heart of the manmade and natural disasters of the Dust Bowl era. But it is also the home of some of the most industrious, enterprising and resilient citizens in the nation, who have capitalized on natural resources to create a productive, family-oriented community.
The state’s remarkable geographic diversity is equally matched by its cultural diversity, especially in its two largest cities: Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Both have lively cultural scenes and actively cultivate the arts. The Indigenous nations that comprise the eastern half of the state are diverse and well-integrated — there is hardly a sphere in which Native Americans in Oklahoma do not have influence. And their cultural influence is profound.
Oil, gas and coal have made and kept Oklahoma an energy giant. Its rich and diverse terrain has made it agriculturally dominant, especially in wheat, cattle and peanuts. But with disagreeable weather and depleting fossil fuels, Oklahoma is once again trying to reinvent itself, this time as a prime hub for diverse industries, including manufacturing, aerospace and technology. If city growth is a sign of success, Oklahoma’s plan is working — the two largest cities have gained nearly 200,000 new residents in the last decade and the cost of living in the state has remained affordable.
If you’re considering a move to this unexpectedly beautiful, family-friendly state, here are some things to guide you on your journey.
Living in Oklahoma
Oklahoma has the second-lowest cost of living in the United States. Housing, food, healthcare, utilities and transportation, all cost much less in the Sooner State than anywhere in the country, except Mississippi. The statewide median home value is $150,800, and prices in the state’s large metro area — Oklahoma City and Tulsa — are lower than the national average. But the state also has a lower median household income. At $56,956, Sooners bring home $12,000 less than other Americans. And poverty in Oklahoma is nearly five points higher than the national average.
Unemployment in Oklahoma (3.2%) is slightly lower than in the rest of the nation. The state added 47,000 jobs in 2022. It may surprise some to learn the government of this right-to-work state is the largest single employer, accounting for over 350,000 jobs, including an addition of 5,000 new government jobs last year alone.
The state is actively working at diversifying its fairly homogenous economic base, which has been dangerously dependent on just two areas — petroleum and agriculture — at the expense of all others. This reliance has repeatedly caused catastrophic failures during the state’s history, from the decade-long drought in the Dust Bowl to the oil and gas crisis in the 1980s, which caused banks to fail and the exceptional drought of 2011, when the governor appeared on television asking viewers to pray for rain.
To that end, the state is exploring solar, geothermal and wind power as a natural progression away from fossil fuels. Thanks to this investment, 40% of Oklahoma’s electricity is now generated by renewable energy sources. Three Oklahoma 3 OK headquartered companies made the 2022 Fortune 500 list in the Energy sector. And what a turn of events — a state that has previously only been plagued by pernicious winds out of the west has now managed to harvest its power for good. Oklahoma now ranks fourth in wind energy jobs in the nation and has the second-largest wind farm in the country.
In addition to renewable energy, the government is hoping to increase the state’s economic prowess in manufacturing, aerospace and defense, tourism, arts and heritage, and information and financial services, some of which are already showing promising returns on the investment.
Oklahoma’s weather is …well … not what people move to Oklahoma for. Known for its recurrent, severe droughts in the west, tornadoes in the midsection, and wind and heat almost everywhere you go, the climate of Oklahoma is something that residents seem to simply make peace with. Nobody’s perfect, right?
The climate varies as widely as the state’s terrain, which encompasses river valleys, mountains, plains and grasslands. Generally speaking, the climate of Oklahoma gets higher and drier as you move east to west.
The eastern half-third of the state is humid, hilly and wet, receiving up to 56 inches of rain annually and seeing more than 85 days a year above 90 °F. The southwest area sees even more hot days, averaging 115 °F annually. Days above 100 °F are increasingly common wherever you go in Oklahoma.
The southeast region experiences a few days below freezing. Residents can expect the mercury to drop below 32 °F only 60 days a year. But the Oklahoma panhandle is a different story. Rainfall here averages only 17 inches a year and this region sees measurable precipitation only 45 days a year. However, this area sees significantly more snow — around 30 inches annually. In an exciting year, the southeastern corner might receive a whopping two inches of snow.
Thunderstorms are prevalent across the state. Between 45 and 60 days per year are stormy. These powerful fronts carry the danger of damaging winds, astounding hail and, yes, tornados. As part of Tornado Alley, Oklahoma suffers roughly 53 tornadoes a year, most occurring in the early evening hours from April through June.
Best Cities to Live in Oklahoma
The state capital of Oklahoma City is a fast-growing, diverse metropolitan area of 687,725 people.
Oklahoma City has grown by well over 100,000 people in the last 10 years, but housing in the area is still far more affordable than the U.S. average. In 2020, the median home value fell just below $169,000 and rent averaged $933 per month. Following national trends, home prices have jumped significantly in the last two years, according to the National Association of Realtors, so the median home price for 2022 was $235,300 — still over $150,000 below the national level.
The cultures of the American West and the Indigenous Nations create a unique spirit in this frontier city. As such, you’d be hard-pressed to find a metropolitan area with a more varied array of museums and attractions. You’ll find everything from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum to the Science Museum of Oklahoma, the American Banjo Museum and the highly regarded Oklahoma Museum of Art. If you’re looking for more action-packed entertainment, take in an OKC Thunder game at the Paycom Center or see an OKC Energy FC at the newly refurbished Taft Stadium, which was originally constructed in 1934 as a WPA project.
The greater metro area of OKC is home to two of the state’s most prominent universities, Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma, located just 21 miles south in Norman. This Big 12 school combines high-ranking athletics with important research. It houses separate colleges for 19 distinct academic fields, from architecture to public health to atmospheric and geographic sciences — a critical area of study in this tornado-battled state.
Key industries in Oklahoma City include aviation and aerospace, energy, bioscience, logistics and shared services. Sonic, AT&T, Bancfirst, Paycom and Hobby Lobby are just some of the major corporations with headquarters or bases in the city.
With a population of 672,858, Tulsa is Oklahoma’s second-largest city. It has gained roughly 70,000 new residents in the last decade and. Much like Oklahoma City, Tulsa’s population is remarkably diverse. Tulsa prides itself on being “the world’s biggest small town,” which means that residents get all the benefits of a friendly, close-knit community with the cultural resources of a large urban center.
Housing in Tulsa is on par with prices in Oklahoma City. The median home value in 2020 was $168,000 and the median gross rent was $929. But prices have spiked in the last two years. In 2022, houses averaged $246,500, but the appreciate rate appears to be slowing down now.
The Tulsa Botanic Gardens is a true oasis, notable for its spring bulb displays and its two-acre children’s garden. The Philbrook Museum also has picturesque gardens that are popular with prom-goers and brides-and-grooms-to-be, but the art collection alone is worth a visit.
In the Tulsa Arts District, you’ll find contemporary galleries and museums, great restaurants and clubs, and two major venues for music fans, the Bob Dylan Center and the Woodie Guthrie Center.
Two large universities are based in the Tulsa area, Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology—Okmulgee and the University of Tulsa. Aerospace, technology, energy, manufacturing, transportation and health care sectors are all strong industries here. Dozens of large corporations are headquartered in Tulsa and many others have bases here, including QuikTrip, American Airlines’ maintenance base, the Bank of Oklahoma (BOK Financial), Nordam Group and Ascension St. John. But Tulsa is also a destination for entrepreneurs. In 2020, Tulsa was named one of the top 50 cities in which to start a business by Inc.
Encircling the state’s major metropolises are the Choctaw Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Seminole Nation, Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Cherokee Nation, and the Osage reservation. These are self-governing, Native American entities and comprise a sizable part of Oklahoma’s population.
Considering a move? Get a quote from Mayflower on moving to Oklahoma.
Unique Things to Do and Places to Visit in Oklahoma
The Sooner State is one of the family-friendliest places in the country. So, no matter where you’re moving in Oklahoma, you’ll never run out of fun things to do with your crew.
Agritourists will love getting to know the land on one of the many working farms and ranches in Oklahoma, where you can ride through the Ouachita National Forest, learn to feed cattle or pick your own fruit. If you prefer to leave the picking to professionals, you can get the locally grown organic bounty from one of the many farmer markets.
At the Woolaroc Wildlife Preserve in the Osage Hills, visitors can learn about the rugged life of 19th-century fur traders in the Mountain Man Camp or just enjoy the 30 types of animals from around the world that call this 3,700-acre home, including bison, elk, llama, zebras and pigmy goats. Baby bison are awfully hard to resist, though. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Hikers and bikers will want to steer their wheels and heels toward Turner Falls Park in the Arbuckle Mountains, where Oklahoma’s largest waterfall plummets nearly 80 feet into a serene natural swimming pool — a welcome respite from the oppressive Oklahoma sun in the summertime.
If you venture near the Arkansas border, you and your family can stay in one of five well-appointed yurts in Natural Falls State Park. The park’s 77-foot falls are just one of the attractions in this Ozark Highlands destination. Natural Falls has great fishing, hiking and movie-worth mountain views — it also happens to be the site where the movie “Where the Red Fern Grows” was filmed.
If you prefer the beaten trail to the road less taken, the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton is a drive through time, from the hard-trod Dust Bowl Days to the early days of rock ‘n’ roll. The on-site diner lets you really take in the Americana, one French fry at a time.
Oklahoma City’s Adventure District is home to more attractions than you could hope to visit in a month. Here you’ll find the Oklahoma City Zoo, the botanical gardens, the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex and the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, along with so much more.
One of our favorites is the American Pigeon Museum & Library. This offbeat establishment tells the little-known story of one of the world’s humblest and surprisingly heroic birds, who are best known for their prodigious park gatherings.
The Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum is a thoughtfully designed space honoring the victims of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The outdoor symbolic memorial is a contemplative retreat anchored by a reflecting pool and the survivor’s tree — a specimen that narrowly survived the blast — and a children’s area, where smaller visitors can share their feelings on chalkboards.
In the small town of Enid, Leonardo’s Discovery Warehouse makes for a terrific daylong adventure for the smaller set. The outdoor science playground is the centerpiece of this children’s museum, and it features a 30-foot-tall wooden with all the slides, bridges and swings your kiddo can handle. There’s even a maze and a dinosaur dig.
To learn about the area’s earliest civilizations, take a trip to the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center. This 150-acre site and its 12 mounds preserve the remnants of a prehistoric community and the highly sophisticated culture during the Mississippian Period, which established a permanent residence on the site from roughly 800-1450. There are interpretive trails and an on-site archaeologist leads tours.
The strong agricultural base of Oklahoma means great eats for Sooners, but because the state occupies a kind of no-man’s land geographically — it’s a little bit Western, Midwestern, Plains and Southern (not to mention a little bit rock ‘n’ roll) — the unifying principal is authenticity. Time-honored traditions never die in Oklahoma cooking: Great steak and fried chicken, five-napkin barbeque and great produce.
One of the best ways to experience the cuisine of Oklahoma is through the many annual festivals, like the Watonga Cheese Festival and the Rush Springs Watermelon Festival. During El Reno’s Fried Onion Burger Days, your family can see the world’s largest patty of this uniquely Oklahoman variety — smashed and covered in charred onions and pickles.
These festivals attract upwards of 20,000 visitors and usually feature musical entertainment and rides along with art and craft exhibitions and unbeatable people-watching. The ubiquitous fair food of the state is the fry bread taco, made by topping a pillowy piece of dough with a decadent mound of seasoned beef or chicken, cheese, onions, lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream. If you’re craving them outside of fair season, head to FireLake Fry Bread Taco in Shawnee. If you’re searching for innovative tacos of the tortilla variety, try Taco Nation in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City also has noteworthy fare from outside its continental borders. Nunu’s Mediterranean Café serves light and bright Middle Eastern staples that are fresh and veggie-forward. In the city’s Asian District, you’ll find exceptionally good sashimi at Sushi Neko and cheekily named and unforgettably good sandwiches at Rivière Modern Bánh Mì in Midtown. Save room for the Vietnamese coconut milk waffle for dessert.
Barbeque snoots will want to point their hooves toward Van’s Pig Stand to try an Oklahoma classic, the pig sandwich. This juicy concoction of smoked ham and seasoned ham jus was originally a Texas export, but it quickly settled into the hearts (and stomachs) of Oklahomans.
If you’ve worked up your appetite hiking in the Arbuckle Mountains, take a load off at Smokin’ Joes Rib Ranch If you’re in the northern reaches of the state, Dink’s (est. 1982) is famous for its brisket, ribs and — most especially — its sauce. Get the full order of their famous onion strings, or their chefs will be fighting at your table.
Ready to Relocate to Oklahoma? Let Mayflower Get You There
If you’re ready to move, Mayflower is ready to get you there. Get a quote from Mayflower on moving to Oklahoma.
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