The first time we visited Pawhuska, Oklahoma, in the summer of 2017, we went directly to The Pioneer Woman Mercantile to taste Ree Drummond’s frontier cooking for ourselves. It was nothing short of amazing!
We spent a day and a half sipping coffee and eating cinnamon rolls upstairs in the bakery, shopping for kitchen supplies in the general store, and savoring every last bite of the most delicious chicken fried steak we’ve ever had.
Needless to say, we left Pawhuska with full bellies, tissue filled bags, and great memories of the small town known as the gateway to the Tallgrass Prairie. But since then, we’ve been back to Pawhuska twice and have learned for ourselves there is so much more to see and do there.
Pawhuska has rich history, incredible art, unique shopping, and some of the most genuine hospitality we’ve come across in all our travels. It would be a shame to visit this frontier town without staying long enough to see some of those things for yourself.
Bottom line — if you come to Pawhuska and leave without dust on your car, you’ve missed out! Admittedly, this does not include everything, but here is our growing list of 70+ things to do in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, after you’ve eaten at The Mercantile. (Along with pictures of Steve doing most of them.)
1. Pour a pop at Handy’s
Handy’s is a convenience store that doesn’t sell gas or have a public restroom. Stop there anyway! What they do have is the best fountain pop in Pawhuska (that’s what the sign out front says) thanks to three choices of ice — cubed, pellet, or shaved and another little secret you can read about HERE.
2. Roam the Osage
Every trip to Pawhuska should begin with a guided tour by Roaming the Osage Historic/Scenic Tours. Casey and his crew deliver a fantastic 90-minute overview of the community and its history while you sit back and relax in a comfortable Mercedes sprinter van with a retractable roof.
You’ll tour the town, learn the history of the Osage, visit the Tallgrass Prairie preserve and drive by the now-familiar entrance to the Drummond Ranch. Call Casey at (918) 440-5312 to book a tour before you come or just stop by 429 E. Main to see if they have open seats.
3. Follow the mooing orange Cadillac
Trust us on this one, if you see an orange Cadillac pulling a trailer with a saddled pink flamingo in the back, follow it to the Buckin’ Flamingo — it is a must-see! What started out as a pawn shop/bail bonds business has grown into a world-famous retail store that specializes in metal yard art, decor, unique items, as well as vintage and retro pieces. The store has lots of cool stuff to take home or give as gifts.
We loved walking around the store, looking at all of the different pieces and seeing how they were displayed (yard ornaments stuck in sand in a canoe, for instance). Everyone who works there is super nice and interesting. If nothing else, just making their acquaintances is worth the stop.
4. Admire art
Located in the heart of downtown on Kihekah Avenue, Tallgrass Art Gallery showcases pieces from artists and fine craftspeople of the Tallgrass Region. The gallery, owned and operated by silversmith Bruce Carter, features the work of several nationally known artists, as well as those newer to the scene with a primary focus on Native American, wildlife, and western art.
When you go there, be sure to ask Bruce to see the John D. Free bronze called “The Land Seekers.” It is a beautiful piece of art by a flint hills native.
5. Buy the best plastic wrap dispenser on earth
Have you ever tried to tear off plastic wrap only to have it stick to itself and not behave making you want to cuss a blue streak? At the Pioneer Woman Mercantile, you can get the best plastic wrap dispenser ever made.
We’ve bought the plastic wrap dispenser as well as the parchment paper dispenser and love them both. They also make a great gift idea for that difficult-to-shop-for person and are reasonably priced at $12.
6. Swing on the bridge
Be adventurous and try the swinging bridge! A favorite attraction of locals for years, the swinging bridge crosses Bird Creek just four blocks south of the Mercantile. Once the only way to get from one side of town to the other, the swinging bridge has been a favorite of visitors, and crossing it is a rite of passage, so to speak.
The signs at the ends of the bridge tell you not to jump up and down, though locals will later ask you if you did. If you’re wondering how scary can it be, watch this video to find out. Or better yet, try it for yourself.
Crossing the swinging bridge in Pawhuska, OK
Posted by Postcard Jar on Thursday, October 5, 2017
7. Stand in awe of stained glass
We have been to Europe and have toured some of the most famous and impressive cathedrals in the world. None have stained glass windows quite like those at the Immaculate Conception Church in Pawhuska. The most famous window shows Father Shoenmaker bringing Catholicism to the Osage people.
To even be created, the window required special dispensation from the Pope because it depicts people who were alive at the time it was made. More impressive than that, though, is the 3D effect you see when you look at the windows up close. You can make your visit Tuesday-Friday from 10am to 3pm. The door on the north side at the top of the ramp is typically open and a volunteer guide can show you around and answer questions.
8. Indulge in Indian Tacos
Every year on the first Saturday in October, dozens of home and professional cooks compete for fry bread bragging rights at the National Indian Taco Championships in Pawhuska.
Throughout the day, downtown is chock-full of Indian Taco stands, craft and retail vendors, as well as games for kids, and entertainment. They also have Powwow dance competitions for all ages. If you go, be sure to pace yourself and wear stretchy pants. You can read about our experience judging the competition in 2017 HERE.
9. Learn about the Osage Nation
Start your study of the Osage Nation with a visit to the Osage Nation Museum. The museum is closed Sundays, Mondays, and holidays and admission is free (but free will donations are accepted). Wah-zha-zhi Spirit: A Celebration of Osage History and Culture is a permanent exhibit there. It showcases themes including but not limited to pre-history, government, warfare and traditional arts.
10. Try something on
If you are looking for a unique pair of custom made cowboy boots or a cowboy hat that fits just right (yes, they steam and shape the hats right in the store at the hat bar), look no further than Osage Outfitters.
Owners Joey and Callie have created an amazing store just a stone’s throw away from the Mercantile on Kihekah. Osage Outfitters carries dozens of quality boots for men, women and children, made from the finest ethically sourced animal skins, including ostrich, hippo, and alligator. They also have some of the highest end western fashion in the area. If you see saddles on the sidewalk, you’re at the right place.
Joey told us this was his first “inside” job, so he has a good understanding of what type of clothing real cowboys and ranch hands need and want. He said his wife Callie has great style and by browsing through the racks of modern and fashionable women’s apparel, we think he’s right. We loved this store, the owners’ hospitality, and the boots … oh, those boots.
11. Salute the start of Boy Scouts
Outside the Osage County Historical Society Museum sits a bronze statue of a few boy scouts with their scout master. Pawhuska claims it was the place where the first Boy Scout troop in the United States was organized in 1909. The museum also has displays and information on the history of Osage County.
12. Savor a skillet
If you like Mexican food, you’ll love El Vallarta’s. Their lunch specials are delicious and are delivered to the table quickly. We especially enjoyed the grilled chicken and rice skillet (splurge and get it topped with queso) and the fried beef burrito. You can’t beat the prices. Our lunch for two, which included chips and drinks, was under $20.
13. Search for sculptures
Pawhuska is a city where the arts are important, and a quick look around town proves it. Throughout the town you’ll find number of bronze statues and sculptures, including several by famed sculptor John D. Free and his son John. See if you can find at least five of them.
14. See a show
The historic (and allegedly haunted) Constantine Theater in downtown Pawhuska is the second oldest performing arts center in Oklahoma. Originally a hotel, the building was converted into an opera house in 1911 and remained a theater until it closed in 1970. In 1987, a group of concerned citizens got together and restored the building, reopening it as a performing arts venue. Check the schedule and catch a show!
15. Furnish your home
LOREC Ranch is a home furnishing/decorating store just down the sidewalk from the PW Mercantile on Kihekah Avenue. Inside, you’ll find creative decor with a western bent, much like what you’ll see inside the Merc. This makes sense, because the LOREC Ranch provided many of the furnishings found there, including the couch and tables upstairs near the bakery. We loved the dyed cowhide placemats and huge dining room table and chairs.
There are also lots of other small treasures hidden around the store like branding irons for your steak. Friendly staff, like manager Gay Kincaid, also make every visit a special one.
16. Hunt for rocks
Pawhuska is home to an ongoing game among locals that includes the hiding and finding of painted rocks. When you’re in town, keep your eyes peeled for brightly painted rocks.
According to the rules listed in the Pawhuska Rocks Facebook Group, if you find a rock you like, you may keep it, but you have to replace it with another rock of your creation. Alternatively, you may just re-hide the rock. Either way, though, you’re asked to take a picture and post it to the group so the rock’s creator gets to see where it is. When we were in town, we hid a Postcard Jar rock … so keep your eyes open!
17. Throw a disc
With two of the top ten disc golf courses in the United States and three overall, Pawhuska is quite the destination for disc golf enthusiasts as well as those new to the game. The city maintains a public disc golf course in a park, but the real action takes place a few miles south of town at The Lodge at Taylor Ranch.
There they have two championship courses (a round costs $5) including one hole on which players must clear a water hazard. Taylor Ranch also offers everything from Zumba classes to homemade apple butter and they even have a cabin for rental on Airbnb that is down by the water.
18. Take a picture by a mural
As we’ve said before, Pawhuska is home to lots of public art including several murals. Take a moment to search them out and snap a photo like this one by the Osage Language building near Matthews and Main.
19. View the vista from Lookout Mountain
Head out of Pawhuska a few miles on Okesa Road and when you come to a fork in the road, keep to the right. You’ll immediately see a gravel road heading up a loooong hill. Drive up that road and you’ll be on the top of Lookout Mountain. There, you’ll find the memorial and gravesite for Chief Fred Lookout and his wife, Julia. Take a moment and pay your respects. You’ll also find an incredible, 360-degree panoramic view of Pawhuska, Bird Creek Valley, and Osage County. This view is definitely worth the trip.
20. Caffeinate with a Cowboy Coffee
There’s no better way to start to the day than with a Cowboy Coffee at The Pioneer Woman Mercantile. While The Merc may be best known for its food, don’t overlook the coffee. The Mercantile offers two world-class coffee bars with beans sourced and roasted exclusively for the store through a partnership with Topeca Roastery in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Ann loves starting the day with the Cowboy Coffee, served “shot in the dark” style, infused with Sarsaparilla and topped with frothed milk. The Spicy Cowgirl has a hint of cayenne and is also a a treat. The best part is that both the coffee beans and the flavorings are for sale at The Mercantile so you can also try your barista skills at home.
21. Launch a rocket
Every September, Pawhuska plays host to the the High Frontier Amateur Rocket Launch. Hundreds of hobby rocket enthusiasts gather at the Pawhuska airport to launch more than 300 rockets over two days’ time. Some are small rockets built by kids. Others are large rockets made of fiberglass that can reach altitudes of 10,000 to 15,000 feet! Sounds to us like a high-flying event that shouldn’t be missed.
22. Scale the stairs
Need to burn off a few extra calories from that indulgence in queso dip at The Mercantile? Run some steps. There are two long sets of steps in downtown Pawhuska. If you start near the China Cafe, 129 steps will take you to the top of the hill where the courthouse sits.
While you’re up there, take in the commanding view of downtown Pawhuska and surrounding area, catch your breath, and remember the 129 steps are much easier heading down. You’ll burn about a calorie and a half for every 10 steps you climb.
23. Compliment your cottage
The Prairie Cottage is a fun decor boutique located on Main St. just a block or so from the Merc. The folks there have traveled far and wide to bring unique items back to town, but they also have a selection of Pawhuska items in case you’re hunting for a souvenir to take home with you.
24. Appreciate the prairie
At 39,650 acres, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is the largest protected remnant of native tallgrass prairie on earth. With about 2,500 free-ranging bison, any visitor to the preserve has a good chance of spotting one or more of these majestic creatures. If you do, please remember the three rules for bison viewing the prairie’s conservancy has: 1. Stay in your car. 2. Stay in your car. 3. Stay in your car. In addition to being incredibly beautiful animals, bison are speedy, large, powerful and a little unpredictable. No human on earth can outrun them. Follow the rules.
25. Dress to impress
If you like leather, you MUST step inside Wild Fusion Leather, also on Kihekah. This beautifully designed store has a wide array of unique leather clothing items, as well as one-of-a-kind, handmade leather bags.
Owner and designer Tonya Nilson has made clothing for music sensations Carrie Underwood, Steven Tyler, and Miranda Lambert. Ann loved the simple t-shirts with sayings like, “She needed a hero, so she became one” matched with custom leather jackets and vests in a variety of shades.
26. Pamper yourself
Take time out to get pampered at a local salon/spa. Pawhuska has a number of places to go including Ambition Salon & Country Road Boutique, Hair Razors, and Thairapy. Whether you just need your hair styled or want to go home with a brand new cut and color, these salons offer it all. Some even offer mani/pedi services that can make your day of pampering complete.
27. Notice the architecture
Pawhuska’s unique history and its ties to oil and the money it brings mean that there are many beautiful, stately homes in town. Take a drive and admire the historic mansions that line the streets. Then, head downtown to see the triangle building and other historic structures, noting the decorative brickwork near the tops of the buildings. Built in 1914, the courthouse at the top of the hill is also worth a visit.
28. Sidle up to the Pig Stand
T-Bone’s Pig Stand is really just a food trailer on the west side of town with an awning over it. Apparently, the original building burned down years ago and they brought the trailer in as a temporary fix. After working in it, the owner liked it so he decided to make it permanent and put the awning up.
Don’t let the facade fool you, the food is great. Steve had the chopped pork sandwich with fresh cut fries and Ann loved her burger that was greasy in all the right ways. Locals also tell us you need to get there early if you want to enjoy the fish fry on Fridays.
29. Get your dawgs up
Pawhuska has quite a lively sports scene for a town its size and there is a great deal of local pride in their teams. While in town you should check out the school’s activities calendar and head to an event. With football, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, track and more, there has to be something to pique your interest. While there cheering for the Huskies, don’t forget to get your dawgs up! A local will be glad to explain how.
30. Drive by The Grandview
Or better yet, stay there! Back in 1923, The Grandview Inn Bed & Breakfast was a private residence owned by Drummond family. We learned that Ladd and Ree Drummond also lived here when their girls were young and in 2004, the home was purchased by historical home preserver, Charlotte Rhineheart. She replaced windows, updated central heating and air, refinished the beautiful wood floors and gave the interior a new design.
In 2012, the property was purchased by Steven and Tiffany Poe, who have made their home in Pawhuska and become innkeepers of this gorgeous and stately bed and breakfast. Simple and wholesome breakfasts are served daily in the dining room and are complimentary with each night’s stay.
31. Play the piano
We noticed several upright pianos near business fronts in Pawhuska and asked about their significance. One local business owner told us it was just a way to bring something arts and craftsy to downtown and business owners were encouraged to create their own unique piano display for passersby. See how many you can spot (and play) in Pawhuska.
32. Visit the Drummond Lodge
As you may or may not be aware, the Drummonds have opened up for tours the Lodge where The Pioneer Woman shows are often filmed. Check the Pioneer Woman Mercantile website for open dates and details. Visitors can explore the Lodge on self-guided tours where you’ll get an inside look at the pantry, cozy guest rooms, and the two-sided fireplace with a boot-lined mantle.
Be sure to take your camera or camera phone, as pictures are not only allowed, but encouraged. You’ll want to be sure to snap a shot of the women and girls (and a few brave men) playing kitchen in Ree’s beautifully designed space. You can read all about our first visit to the Lodge HERE.
33. Check out a book at the library
Pawhuska has a wonderful public library that is open every day but Sunday. Check out their website for their exact hours. Anyone is welcome to come in out of the heat (or cold), use the restroom, and settle down in a comfy chair with a book, magazine, or newspaper.
Several copies of the New York Times Bestseller Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann are available there if you’re interested in this newly released true crime novel about the Osage murders and the birth of the FBI.
34. Visit the Blessed Kateri Shrine of the West
Kateri Tekakwitha was the first Native American to be canonized as a saint, and there is a shrine in her honor outside the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church at 721 E. 19th Street. She was canonized in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI and is the patroness of ecology and environment, people in exile, and Native Americans.
35. See where movies were made
Believe it or not, Pawhuska has played host to Hollywood more than once. August: Osage County was filmed there as was To the Wonder. Because of this, you should know that George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ben Affleck, and Rachel McAdams were all in and around the town during filming. Even more special, if you visit the original Mudpies as you head west from downtown, you can sit on the wicker couch used as a prop in the filming of August: Osage County.
CLICK HERE for even more things to do in Pawhuska. (Part 2)
Have you been to Pawhuska? If so, what did you enjoy most and what have we missed? Let us know. We’d love to hear from you. Also, we’d like to thank Reba Bueno, Joni Nash, and all of Pawhuska’s residents and business owners we’ve met for your incredible hospitality and assistance. Until next time …