Best Towns 2013: Oklahoma City

With killer farmers’ markets, quick access to adventure, and bike shares galore, these 17 towns redefine living well

river Oklahoma River rowing downtown buildings architecture skyscraper cityscape OKC Oklahoma City day horizontal water water sport Finish Line Tower scenic photography skyline outside magazine best towns 2013

Rowers pass by the Oklahoma City skyline during the Head of the Oklahoma Regatta on the Oklahoma River.     Photo: Alonzo J. Adams

Population: 599,199 (metro area: 1.3 million)
Median Household Income: $44,973
Median Home Price: $129,300
Unemployment Rate: 4.8 percent
Votes: 178

Before you spit out your wheatgrass smoothie, let us explain. Six years ago the city, a longtime oil-and-gas hub, was dubbed one of the fattest in the country by Men’s Fitness. This wasn’t too surprising. The official state meal includes chicken-fried steak and pecan pie.

What is surprising is how the city’s government responded. It has since funded youth fitness programs, built a 70-mile-and-growing trail system, expanded the historic farmers’ market, and collectively shed a million pounds—even the mayor chipped in and lost 40. In other words: it’s on its way to being one of the heartland’s best places to be active.

Voters raved about the running opportunities—like the Thursday-night 5K Pack Pint Runs, which end with free beer from Coop Ale Works—though the wind can prove challenging. “But that makes for wonderful sailing, kiteboarding, and windsurfing at Lake Hefner,” notes 26-year-old Arts Council employee Liz Blood.

Most of the action is centered around the Boathouse District on the Oklahoma River, where you can paddle rented kayaks and SUPs. But the city also has urban rock climbing at Rocktown—a grain elevator turned climbing gym where outdoor and indoor routes run nine stories high and there’s ice climbing in the winter.

Food and Nightlife: It’s no surprise that OKC has great beef—it’s long been an epicenter of the ranching industry. But there are also dozens of ethnic eateries like Inca Trail. “The ceviche is out of this world,” says Blood. And the Blue Door, a BYOB venue, hosts some of the city’s hottest bands. That’s not to mention the NBA’s exciting Thunder.

Access: The 2,500-foot Wichita Mountains, one of the nation’s oldest ranges, is just two hours southwest of the city. Park at the Treasure Lake parking lot and follow the creek to a hidden water-fall. The area is home to the best rock climbing in Oklahoma, with routes up to 5.11c.

Biking: One benefit of being flat—OKC is perfect for two-wheeled commutes, even if the scene is still growing. “It’s easy to find a shower and a place to lock up your bike,” says reader Russell Bainbridge. Mountain bikers hit the Bluff Creek Trail, a 3.5-mile singletrack loop with natural obstacles and hairpin turns. “You’re in the middle of the city, but you wouldn’t know it,” says Blood

From Outside Magazine, Sep 2013 Get the Latest Issue

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