Call me peculiar, but I spend a good deal of time thinking about Enid.
I've tried my darnedest to put this northwestern Oklahoma beaut in a box, but it deftly defies cubby-holing. Is it a cowboy-frontier-pioneer sort of town? You bet. But it's also a jet-flying, music-making, rail-riding, cuisine-creating kind of place. The upside for wanderers is: The same dizzying range of character that makes Enid tough to label also makes it an enchanting vacation destination.
Known as a watering hole along the legendary Chisholm Trail, Enid was later settled by land run in 1893. Stake your claim to this piece of Oklahoma history at Enid's Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center, a hands-on Smithsonian-quality museum named “Oklahoma's Best New Attraction” for 2012. Hear stories from those who made the run and stand where history happened in the Run's only surviving land office. “The Homesteader” sculpture by renown (and local) artist Harold Holden marks the entrance to the Heritage Center and was picked by True West Magazine as one of the “53 statues you need to see before you die.”
There's a vein of cowboy culture pulsing throughout Enid, but perhaps nowhere stronger than at Simpson's Mercantile and Old Time Museum. Inside, brothers/owners Larry and Rick Simpson mingle family collections alongside working movie sets. Their Skeleton Creek Productions cranks out family-friendly westerns and here you can pick up DVDs of their films.
Since 1941, Vance Air Force Base has provided the reassuring daily soundtrack of jets swooshing overhead. The impromptu air shows, along with other imagination-grabbers like Leonardo's Discovery Warehouse, make Enid an easy vacation sell for kiddos.
Harmonizing with the hum of jet engines is the melody of music. Enid's Symphony Orchestra is the state's oldest, and has played continuously for more than a hundred years.
Model trains click along inside the Railroad Museum of Oklahoma. Although my railroad knowledge would be considered remedial, I swoon for cups and saucers and this museum holds the world's largest collection of dining-car china!
Of course, all china is prettier when holding fabulous food, and here's where Enid (“Dine” spelled backward, by the way) really soars, boasting nearly 50 “unique to Enid” eateries.
For upscale dining (where you'll look 10 years younger, thanks to flattering lamplight), don't miss Costello's for steaks, seafood, signature chicken entrees and luscious, almost-too-pretty-to-eat desserts.
At Panevino wine and tapas bar, enjoy a pot of bubbling swiss fondue, savory crab-stuffed mushrooms, and a goblet of something light and fruity from the extensive wine list.
I can't even type “Napoli's Italian Restaurant” without my mouth watering. Try anything drenched in their famous pink sauce (the ingenious balance of creamy and zesty).
Adventurous palates should head for Sula Korean cuisine. If this is your Korean food “initiation” opt for the less-foreign Bulgogi, thinly sliced rib-eye steak marinated in a sweetish sauce. Sula's kimchee (spicy, pickled cabbage — a Korean staple) is the best I've eaten anywhere.
As you can see, you're going to need to stay awhile.
Even with nearly 900 hotel rooms, northwestern Oklahoma's current oil boom keeps Enid's lodging booked during the week, so plan your overnight stay for the weekend.
Now you can see why I spend so much time pondering Enid. It's a place nearly impossible to define. But perhaps instead of pigeonholing this town as either a land-running, jet-flying, railroading, musical, cowboying, or foodie kind of city, I should just embrace the broad-yet-obvious categorization: Enid is a destination.
Shel Wagner is the executive producer and segment host of the weekly TV travel program AAA's Discover Oklahoma.