Oklahoma City is my hometown. Well, actually, Jones, Oklahoma, is my hometown. Go Longhorns!

Now that I write about travel destinations, I wanted to take look at my old stomping grounds. How things have changed!

Oklahoma City once felt like the Eastern Bloc with streets littered with fast-food bags and broken-down cars. Even though it was headquarters to Sonic and Devon Energy, nobody wanted to move here. Then,  a 1993 program called MAPs improved Oklahoma City’s infrastructure, national image and has made it an enjoyable Southwestern city destination. Now, OKC has an NBA Team, a fake river flowing through downtown and the best National Park in the Oklahoma City Bombing Museum.

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Built in 1911, Skirvin Hilton is Oklahoma City’s oldest hotel. In the heart of downtown, the Skirvin boasts a breathtaking English Gothic lobby with carvings of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, to show the hotel was “safe” during Prohibition (One Park Ave. 405-272-3040). Finding decent cocktails in Oklahoma City is tough. The lobby bar has a very professional staff and was the only bar in the city that could make a Sazerac cocktail

The downtown Hampton Inn features a family friendly atmosphere with a mini waterpark equipped with slides and whirlpools (300 E. Sheridan. 405-232-3602).

My top pick for restaurants in Oklahoma City is the Mickey Mantle Steakhouse, not to be confused with the Mickey Mantle Bistro. It's one of the few places in the country where you can still smoke cigars. And if you're a Yankees fan, you'll love the collection of Mickey Mantle memorabilia.

My top pick for restaurants in Oklahoma City is the Mickey Mantle Steakhouse, not to be confused with the Mickey Mantle Bistro. It’s one of the few places in the country where you can still smoke cigars. And if you’re a Yankees fan, you’ll love the collection of Mickey Mantle memorabilia.

Food Fix

Taste meats smoked to perfection and slathered in homemade barbecue sauce at Spencer Smokehouse & BBQ, where the cornbread is as good as the ribs (9900 NE 23rd St. 405-769-8373). I’ve always thought Oklahoma barbecue played second fiddle to Texas and Kansas City. Spencer’s gives them all a run for their money.

Mantel Wine Bar & Bistro perfects Oklahoma City fine dining with its reductions over Certified Angus Beef steaks, several risottos and market-fresh fish selections (201 E. Sheridan. 405-236-8040).

The RePUBlic Gastropub showcases 300 beers, more than 100 on tap, and delicious beer cocktails, but the creative American contemporary cuisine makes it a hopping place for lunch and dinner (5830 N. Classen Blvd. 405-286-4577). They make beer cocktails as good as any place I’ve been. I’m not a fan of beer cocktails, but these were decent.

Night Out

Smack in the middle of the historic downtown Bricktown district, Bricktown Brewery showcases its award-winning beer, 12 high-definition televisions and a 15-foot projector for sports (1 N. Oklahoma Ave., 405-232-2739). If you want to watch a game, this is where you go.

At Graham Central Station, two separate clubs give boot-scooting cowboys and cowgirls a chance to line-dance the night away, while hot techno and DJ-spinning grooves can be found on the Zazoo dance floor (3700 W. Reno. 405-949-1117). Be warned, if you stay in the parking lot past midnight, you may see unspeakable acts taking place on the hood of somebody’s car. It’s that kind of place.

Operated by Chickasaw Nation and opened in 2006, the Riverwind Casino is the largest casino in Oklahoma and regularly features live local music and well-known performers (I-35 and Highway 9, Norman.  405-322-6000).

Can’t Miss

A tribute to victims of Oklahoma City Bombing April 19, 1995, the Oklahoma City Memorial provides an interactive exhibit that displays the horrors of the bombing, while showing how the United States came together to support this small city (600 N. Harvey. 405-235-3313). I personally experienced the OKC bombing. My friend’s parents owned the day care inside. So maybe I’m biased, but this is the best museum I’ve ever been to. With that said, I spoke to several locals who can’t muster the power to visit. I encourage you to find the power to overcome, because it’s a dedication worth seeing.

The family friendly Cowboy Hall of Fame links spectators to the gun-slinging, cattle-wrangling heroes of yesterday and shows beautiful western art (1700 NE 63rd St. (405) 478-2250). But, they’re obviously not proud of the cowboy’s whiskey heritage. There was not a single mention of how cowboys used whiskey as currency.

Stone’s Throw

Oklahoma’s first capital, Guthrie is an historic town with lovely bed and breakfasts, live theater, banjo picking and diners and shops that connect you to the Oklahoma of yesterday.

A small town once a path for gold rushers, Meers now boasts one of America’s top burger joints. In a small shack, the Meersburger uses its own herd of Longhorn cattle to make 97-percent lean hamburgers served in a tin.

Note: Portions of this story were originally intended for Frontier Airlines’ magazine. But, the Wild Blue Yonder went out of publication shortly after this was written. I was a guest of the Oklahoma City Visitors Bureau.