Once a picturesque, quiet college town on Oklahoma City’s southern doorstep, Norman has assumed an identity of its own – and with an estimated population of 124,000, is Oklahoma’s third-largest city.
Home to the University of Oklahoma, Norman offers residents and visitors a smorgasbord of educational opportunities, shopping, dining, entertainment, two world-class museums and, oh yeah, big-time college athletics.
Much of Norman’s life has been shut down or slowed considerably over the past year because of restrictions imposed by COVID-19, but organizations are anticipating a gradual reopening this spring and summer.
“We are really excited to reopen Norman,” says Stefanie Brickman, communications manager for Visit Norman. “Some things are already scheduled.”
On local calendars thusfar are three events scheduled for the Oct. 2-3 weekend when the University of Oklahoma Sooners football team is visiting Kansas State. (Brickman explains that in planning fall events, organizers tend to focus on open dates or away games.) Happenings that weekend include the Aviation Festival, Oct. 2; the Wells Family Christmas Market at the Wells Tree Farm, Oct. 2; and the Farm Girl Fair, an open-air arts and crafts event on Oct. 3.
Activities such as these have helped solidify Norman’s reputation as a “city of festivals and events,” says Brickman. She also noted that two other longtime events, canceled last year because of the pandemic, will be back – the annual Jazz in June festival, June 17-19, and the second Friday Art Walk, beginning May 14 in downtown’s Walker Arts District.
OU, however, continues to be a major tourist draw and a community focal point, although campus tours continue to be restricted due to COVID, says Danielle Dunn, director of communications for the division of enrollment management.
“The University of Oklahoma’s campus as a whole is a great place to visit,” she says. Named a tier one research institution by the Carnegie Foundation and a Best Value College by Princeton Review, OU boasts over 170 undergraduate degree programs and 550 student organizations.
For visitors, Dunn says the campus is flat and walkable. The city’s two major museum attractions, both connected to OU, are the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and the Sam Noble Natural History Museum.
Fred Jones is free to all visitors and is home to more than 20,000 permanent pieces, including rare works of French Impressionism, Native American art, along with 20th century American paintings and sculptures.
Dunn calls attention to the Bizzell Memorial Library, a National Historic Landmark that sits at the heart of the campus and features unique Cherokee Gothic architecture. It’s Oklahoma’s largest research library and houses a number of rare books.
Brittany Belli with the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum says the institution is unique because it’s not only a natural history museum, but also a university-related museum and is Oklahoma’s designated natural history museum.
“It’s a trifecta, and most museums don’t have that,” she says.
The National Weather Center is also located near the OU campus. There, more than 550 scientists, meteorologists, climatologists, students and staff work to improve the understanding of the Earth’s atmosphere and severe weather events.