I’ll be the first one to agree with you here.
Oklahoma? Have you ever heard of anyone taking a vacation in Oklahoma?
But here I was, traveling to Stillwater, Oklahoma for a long weekend fam trip with my new husband and Seven, my son. My second time ever in the state, only preceded by the time we crossed in as quickly as possible in an effort to get back to Virginia after a 3 week cross country adventure. I can’t even say we stopped. I just don’t know.
That was an error in judgment.
You see, Stillwater, Oklahoma, is just about one of the most charming towns I have ever encountered. There’s a camaraderie amongst the citizens, like they are all in one the same joke. As if they all know something we don’t know, but are waiting for us to ask the right question.
Stillwater may not sound familiar to you, but I bet you’ve heard of it. It’s the home of Oklahoma State University, where the Cowboys play. It’s a big, beautiful school, and we were fortunate enough to get to stay in the heart of campus, at the Atherton Hotel. After closing for a several million dollar revamp, and reopening only this past August, the Atherton is simply perfection. Our suite, located in the eaves, offered dormer windows with stunning views, a large bedroom with comfortable queen sized beds, a lot of storage, calming colors, and a bathroom with a ton of charm. The design scheme was ideal for a college hotel – subtle school colors showed up in the bedding and throws, but never obtrusive. It was just right – just like the rest of the town.
When we arrived in Stillwater, we flew in to the new airport, serviced only by private planes and now – American Airlines. Again, it seems everything opened in August, and American started twice daily service into town. The airport is so small and quaint – a breeze to get into and out of. And thanks to Avis Rental Car, and the owner, Pam, we were greeted with a great rental car with no fuss, no worry, and no waiting. Vacations should never be a hassle, and Pam made sure that it wasn’t.
From the airport we headed quickly over to the Visit Stillwater Welcome Center, where the folks who invited us – Visit Stillwater – had some surprises for us. Hot Cocoa, sweets, and the opportunity to make our own set of Eskimo Joe’s Cup Lights.
Eskimo Joe’s is as important to Stillwater as the college, and maybe more so. A seriously bizarre phenomenon, this Eskimo Joes. They are famous for their collector tees, and their plastic cups of many colors.
So. Many. Colors.
As it turns out, the residents of Stillwater collect these cups for all sorts of reasons, including measuring, drinking, and stringing up as lights. Seven was given the duty of feeding a half dozen cups onto a string of light bulbs, creating a festive, colorful garland like no other. He’s since strung it in his bedroom, turning what used to be a typical 9 year old boy space into what I fear will soon be a precursor to his college dorm.
After a quick meet and greet, and a nap at the Atherton, we headed down to the original Eskimo Joes where we waited (at 5pm!) for a table. The line to eat was crazy, and only got worse! The crowd waited patiently in their pajamas (more on that later), never fussing, but instead shopped at the huge gift shop. We picked up a few souvenirs, including a special edition Polar Express tee shirt for Seven to wear on Sunday when we got to take the train trip ourselves!
When it was our turn to eat, we were seated and immediately ordered the cheese fries. EVERYONE told us we had to, that it’s the specialty, along with their milkshakes. So of course we had one of those, too! (Mint Oreo, to be sure.) So how were they?
Mmmm. Cheese fries and a milkshake?
Yesss. Very good! Stringy, melty cheese atop perfectly cooked fries? A milkshake full of Oreos and mint? OF COURSE it was great!
After a wonderful night of sleep, we woke and headed out to tour the factory where the Eskimo Joes apparel is made. Such an enterprise! We saw tees being printed and folded, boxes ready to ship across country (EJs tees are the number 2 most collected tee in the country, beaten only by Hard Rock Café!) and we learned about the process from start to finish. A great start to our day!!
We found ourselves ready for a late breakfast, and were in for one of our favorite meals at Granny’s Kitchen in downtown Stillwater. We found another crowd, and for good reason! Granny’s breakfast was GINORMOUS and so well priced. The biscuits were my absolute favorite, so thick and fluffy. And the cinnamon rolls were a real treat, and fed all 3 of us with one serving! I wish we had had more time in ton, as we would have eaten there everyday!
There are lots of adorable shops to hit in downtown, all offering a variety of gifts and collectibles. Park and walk versus driving between each – so many things to get into. And – if you are there when it isn’t freeeeeezing, like it was when we were there, you should stop in for gelato – who doesn’t love that?
Later that evening, we stayed in the Atherton and had dinner at the incredible Rancher’s Club. Regal, and exactly what Oklahoma fine dining should look like. Steaks are the specialty, and wow, were they ever special. And too big to finish. We had a perfect meal, with great company, and all the while, the snow was falling outside the windows. My two fellas HAD to run out and play, despite in only being 6 degrees!
IN case you are awake and hungry late into the night, never fear. Stillwater has a solution for you – Insomnia Cookies. Fresh baked cookies delivered to you until 3am. No joke! How cool is that? We each got a different kind, but my chocolate chunk was the best!
Sunday was the day we had all been looking so forward to – because Sunday was Polar Express day! BUT…we had lots of other fun to get into first!
A trip to the Wondertorium for an afternoon or kiddo time, with slides and art and rock walls and imagination play were elevated by Mrs. Santa reading a Christmas story and decorating cupcakes with the kids. Sev had a ball, and we loved watching him play on things other than the iPad.
From there we went for a quick dinner at another Eskimo Joes property, called MoJos. Here the specialty isn’t fries, it’s tots! Cheesy tots in so many varieties, it’s hard to choose! But, decide we did, and ate them up while we bowled. Yes…Bowled! A few lanes of bowling are a feature of MoJos, and we had a blast playing and enjoying our dinner.
Our next stop was to meet a couple of reindeer. Yep! Reindeer! A local gentleman raises reindeer and brings them to the area near where the Polar Express boards. We got to meet them up close, and at the same time, write letters to Santa, take a few pictures, and chit chat with the owner. What a nice man!
Next up…All Aboard the Polar Express!
Remember when I mentioned all those folks at Eskimo Joes in pajamas? Well, turns out, most of them had been on the Polar Express, where wearing your PJs is completely appropriate! However, a bitter temperature on Sunday had us NOT in pajamas, but in every coat we brought! It’s such a fun concept though, and everyone seemed to love being a kid again wearing silly pajamas with their friends and family.
We boarded our train (there were 7 cars, I believe) and headed out to the “North Pole” to pick up Santa and a few elves while the story of the Polar Express was read and acted out right in our train car. The staff served us hot cocoa in specialty mugs (which we got to keep!) and before we knew it, Santa was on board with us! He took his time with each and every child, making each one feel special, and gave them all a silver bell, just like in the movie.
In fact, THIS Polar Express is actually from THE MOVIE. It’s one of the few licensed versions of the experience, and it really makes it special. And in Oklahoma! Who knew?!?
Well, we ALL do now!
SO, as you can see, Stillwater has a lot to offer. From food, to shopping to entertainment. If you happen to find yourself passing through, or, need a weekend away, give it a try! There’s something for everyone…and as for me, I would love to return in the summer, when it’s warmer, and maybe check out more of the town and campus. And maybe see an OSU football game – I LOVE college football, and OSU has a great team!
Disclaimer: A huge thank you to VisitStillwater for inviting us to town and hosting us. All thoughts and opinions are my own.