Oklahoma: Tulsa—Built by Oil
Tour opulent art deco masterworks—the Philcade high-rise and the Boston Avenue Methodist Church, for example—built during Tulsa's first oil boom in the 1920s. Then discover what else petrodollars have done for this city of 384,000. Browse the Remingtons and Russells at the Gilcrease, the former mansion of an oil baron housing a huge collection of American art, and, similarly, the Philbrook Museum of Art, a 72-room Renaissance-style villa situated on 23 acres of gardens. Want more? Tulsa also offers the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, the Tulsa Ballet, and the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. "There's not so much culture for hundreds of miles in any direction," says writer K.M. Kostyal.
•Logistics: Tulsa is in northeastern Oklahoma, a hundred miles from Oklahoma City. Lodging: Kennedy Mansion B&B. Elegant, 1920s oil boom property serving French breakfasts, five rooms, from $99; www.kennedymansion.com. Dining: The Wild Fork. Gourmet American fare including steaks and seafood; www.wildfork.com. Best link: http://visittulsa.com.
Texas: Make a Pilgrimage to Yesteryear
Jefferson, a quaint town of 2,000 on Big Cypress Bayou, was once a thriving steamboat port. Today you can tour 19th-century homes, some of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Ride the Historic Jefferson Railway, a narrow-gauge train that courses along the bayou among bald cypress trees. Take a backwater tour of nearby Caddo Lake, the state's largest naturally formed lake, which remains a mysterious maze of bayous, channels, and thickets, attracting birdlife and canoeists. "Carry a good map or a GPS, or hire a guide, so you can find your way out," says Dallasite Scott Daniels, who likes to paddle Caddo's canoe trails.
•Logistics: Jefferson, Tex., is three hours east of Dallas by car, or an hour northwest of Shreveport, La. Lodging: The Excelsior House Hotel. Two-story, New Orleans-style brick and timber hotel built in the 1850s, from $60. www.theexcelsiorhouse.com. Dining: Lamache's Italian Restaurant. Fine Italian cuisine in a restored Victorian-era hotel; http://historicjeffersonhotel.com/lamaches.htm. Best link: www.jefferson-texas.com.
New Mexico: Rustic, Refined Taos
Perched at almost 7,000 feet, this picturesque town of 5,000 lucky souls balances guilty pleasures with a legacy of ancient cultures. Stroll upscale galleries, sample exquisite Southwestern cuisine, find a room in a luxurious adobe-style hotel or B&B. Then head a few miles north of town to the Taos Pueblo, a thousand-year-old Native American community centered around a multilevel adobe building. To the west, peer into a 650-foot-deep canyon at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. "The beauty and abundance of the landscape is reflected in the people who live here," says Summer Wood, a 20-year resident. "Taos is a small and friendly town with a really local feel."
•Logistics: Taos is 21/4 hours by car northeast of the Albuquerque airport. Lodging: Casa Gallina. Artistic inn run by a former New York restaurateur and licensed masseur, from $115; www.casagallina.net. Dining: Orlando's. Cozy local favorite, family run, classic New Mexican menu; 1114 Don Juan Valdez La., 575-751-1450. Best link: http://taosvacationguide.com.
Texas: Fort Worth Loves Fine Art
Catch a cattle drive at the Stockyards National Historic District, tour the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, and stop in at Billy Bob's honky-tonk for some barbecue brisket. Then, for something completely different, head to the Fort Worth cultural district to tour the Amon Carter Museum, with its notable Western art and photography collections; the Kimbell Art Museum, and the Modern Art Museum, with several smaller gallery choices around town and the cooling Fort Worth Water Gardens to boot. "For every afternoon you spend looking at O'Keeffes and Picassos," says Fort Worth native June Naylor, "there's an evening you can two-step in a vintage saloon, go to a rodeo, or see Willie Nelson on stage."
•Logistics: Forth Worth is a 30-minute drive from the Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport. Lodging: Stockyards Hotel. Turn-of-the-20th-century hotel with spacious rooms in historic district, from $189; www.stockyardshotel.com. Dining: The recently opened Grady's Restaurant offers gussied-up comfort food from favorite cowboy cook Grady Spears, including crunchy tostadas topped with quail. 2443 Forest Park Blvd., +1 817 922 9980. Best link: www.fortworth.com.
Published in the May/June 2009 issue of National Geographic Traveler.