Discovering Norman, Oklahoma
Whether you’re considering moving to Norman in the near future or have been a resident for some time, we thought it would be an excellent idea to write a short guide just for you. With this guide, we aim to be a primary resource when it comes to discovering Norman.
History of Norman
In 1870, the territory of Oklahoma was to be surveyed. A young surveyor by the name of Abner E. Norman was head of the central survey area. When the “Sooners” (those who decided to head west before the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889) arrived in central Oklahoma and eventually settled there, they decided to name the area after the young surveyor. And thus the city of Norman, Oklahoma was born.
As a matter of convenience, Norman developed around the Santa Fe Railroad. Its position along the route made it a prime spot for loading both passengers and freight goods, and eventually, Norman grew to become a headquarters for the railway. As time passed and businesses grew, Norman expanded several times alongside them, with the final expansion taking place in 1909. To this day, the Santa Fe Depot serves as a historical site that functions as is maintained as both an art space and a rental facility for banquets, meetings, and parties. The depot also serves as an Amtrak station.
Norman’s growth led to the flourishing of a prominent city. While neighboring towns were more concerned about which would be the capital of Oklahoma during this time, the mayor of Norman decided to pursue a bill which cemented Norman as the site of the state’s first higher learning institution: the University of Oklahoma. Residents of Norman donated a collective 40 acres of land to accommodate the campus site. By 1895, the university had 100 students enrolled; quite a small number compared to today’s count of over 30,000.
To this day, the City of Norman is still a place where history is made. Norman is one of the most progressive cities in Oklahoma, and the Norman Public School system is known as one of the best in the state. Norman prides itself on maintaining its image with projects such as downtown revitalization and Norman 2025 and strives to make history with each passing year.
Good Eats In Norman
Alongside a rich history, Norman boasts a rich variety of food options! Not overly-saturated with fast food joints, Norman has become a home to several independent restaurants, ranging from classic Italian to delicious Tex-Mex! The following are a handful of places you must try, whether you’re a resident or just visiting!
Led by Executive Chef Anthony Compagni, Benvenuti’s high-end menu takes full advantage of local ingredients to feature delicious Italian meals. The restaurant has a classic feel to it, being housed in an older building. It even features a patio out front where you can enjoy your meal outside. Speaking of meals, Benvenuti’s caters to a variety of tastes with a wide range of salads, pizza (gluten-free available), and pasta (made in-house daily); Not to mention other Italian classics such as their grilled lamb rack and chicken marsala. Make sure to save room for dessert as well! Their creme brulée and triple chocolate mousse cake are amazing!
Tarahumara’s Mexican Cafe
A family-owned cafe, Tarahumara’s serves up delicious Tex-Mex fare that never ceases to impress. Located near Frances Cate Park, this cafe is a favored spot for not only food but drinks as well! It’s not a rare sight to see the cafe packed and buzzing with energy, with its patrons having a margarita or bloody mary in hand. It’s large-portion dishes come with sides of rice and beans, cheese sauce, and homemade salsas. Some of the local favorites are the fajitas, the enchilada, and for dessert, the traditional sopapillas! Be sure to stop by, as this restaurant is excellent for dine-in and take-out.
Ray’s Smokehouse BBQ
We’ve mentioned Ray’s Smokehouse BBQ before, and there’s no reason not to again! This family-owned establishment continues to live up to its reputation as a relaxing place to eat some delicious food. When it comes to choice, you really can’t go wrong, though our recommendation (and theirs) would be the brisket or the ribs, with a side of baked beans, collard greens, or fried okra. Ray’s continues to impress the locals and has become a hotspot for students as well! Great for dine-in, carry-out, and even catering, this restaurant is committed to getting their food on your table.
Outdoor Activities in Norman
While Norman is host to some incredible dining establishments, it also features over 55 neighborhood and community parks that offer a variety of outdoor activities to the locals. Here are some of our choice spots!
Lake Thunderbird State Park
Lake Thunderbird State Park features two marinas (Calypso Cove Marina and Little River Marina), nine boat ramps, and two swim beaches. These amenities make it the go-to spot for water activities of any kind! Not a fan of the water? This park also includes over 200 RV sites, as well as restroom facilities and traditional campsites. A collection of picnic sites and playgrounds also make it a desirable spot for family day trips. Some of the picnic areas are even available for reservation through the park office! Lastly, this park features several miles of walking, hiking, and mountain biking trails for your enjoyment!
George M. Sutton Wilderness Park
If you enjoy spending your time among wildlife, the George M. Sutton Wilderness Park is the place for you! Travelling along the wooded trails of the park you’ll be able to spot locals such as Texas horned lizards, white-tailed deer, and a variety of foxes. Visitors often bring binoculars in hopes of spotting a few of the 200 species of birds that frequent the park.
If searching for wildlife isn’t your style, the George M. Sutton Wilderness Park is an excellent place to roam around. Comprised of over 160 acres, visitors often lose themselves in the natural beauty of the various plantlife of the park.
Arts and Culture in Norman
As a city steeped in history, it’s only natural that Norman developed a thriving arts and culture environment. From a variety of museums and theaters to public art displays, finding a place to scratch that arts itch isn’t hard.
Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art
As a part of the University of Oklahoma, The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is considered one of the nation’s best university art museums. This museum boasts a permanent collection of over 16,000 pieces, containing examples of French Impressionism, 20th-century American sculptures, contemporary art, Native American art, Southwestern art, photography, and Asian Art ranging from the 16th century to the present. This museum also offers temporary exhibits that rotate every few months. The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is an excellent spot for a family outing, mainly since admission is free for all ages.
The Sooner Theatre
Opened in 1929, The Sooner Theatre cemented itself as the first movie theatre in the region built for cinema. This Spanish Gothic-Style theater was a gem of Norman, as no expense was spared in its construction. Located on Main Street in Norma’s historic arts district, today the theater offers year-round events including musical theatre productions, touring concerts, and art classes! If you glance at their events page, you will find that something is almost always happening at this historic arts center.
If you’re a fan of new music, then you should expect to visit The Opolis, a local indie music venue regularly. Billed as a “micro venue,” The Opolis features local, regional, and national acts every month. The whimsical atmosphere and full bar cater to a crowd that loves to live it up a bit at weekly trivia nights and lounge shows. The Opolis has an added benefit of being an official venue for the Norman Music Festival, cementing itself as a hotspot in the Norman Music Scene.