Best of OKL 2019

Oklahoma Living magazine readers voted for their “best of the best” places, businesses and foods in Oklahoma!  OKL is proud to feature these eight local favorites chosen completely by magazine readers. 

Best of OKL 2019

Best Extreme Sport | Water Sports at RIVERSPORT, OKC

By Jenna Mazzoccoli

Adventure awaits at RIVERSPORT OKC, voted the best extreme sport by OKL readers. The Boathouse Foundation and RIVERSPORT Adventure Parks is a world-class destination right here in Oklahoma. Executive Director Mike Knopp was one of the founders in 2005.

“It was the start of the reinvention of the Oklahoma River,” Knopp says. “And since then, the Boathouse District has grown into an organization that oversees youth and community programs, hosts Olympic and Paralympic training, and fosters an outdoor, adventure-seeking culture.”

Among its many programs is the Youth Rowing League.

“Four hundred kids from urban schools are taking part in an excellent athletic and character-building program,” he says of the free program for kids. “It’s changing lives and opening up a world of opportunities.”

They are also committed to enhancing public safety.

“OKC Respond supports first responders, police, and firefighters through fitness programs in the high-performance center,” Knopp says. 

Thirty-three percent of first responders in Oklahoma City have signed up to participate in this program. RIVERSPORT and the Boathouse Foundation are serious about investing in the future of Oklahomans. There are programs at the adventure park for anyone and everyone, even if it’s just for a day on the white water rapids. RIVERSPORT encourages you to come, try something new, and live a happy, healthy outdoor lifestyle.

“This not just an attraction. It is a development that truly is changing lives,” Knopp says.

For more information visit

Best U-Pick Farm | Owasso Christmas Tree and Berry Farm

By Laura Araujo

It might not be berry season yet, but mark your calendars for June, when OKL readers’ choice for best u-pick farm will be in full swing. 

For more than 40 years Verdigris Valley Electric Cooperative members Bill and Paula Jacobs have tilled the soil at the Owasso Christmas Tree and Berry Farm. They started out as Christmas tree farmers, and 21 years ago expanded to offer a summer crop: berries 

Today, they farm 5 acres of berries including six varieties of blueberries and three varieties of blackberries. Blueberry season starts the last week of May and runs for six weeks; blackberries ripen in early June and last for four to five weeks. 

Bill Jacobs says they are meticulous about soil and tissue testing to ensure berries are sweet and high quality. Blueberries are grown in above-ground pots, which means there’s no bending down to pick. Blackberries grow on a rotating trellis system, allowing them to be shaded during the harshest sun of the afternoon so they don’t get scorched—and there are no thorns to deal with. 

“It makes for really unique, easy picking. The berries are all hanging there ready to be plucked,” Jacobs says. “You can pick a gallon in 10 to 15 minutes.” 

The Owasso Tree and Berry Farm furnishes everything a family will need for a morning of berry picking, including buckets and cartons.  

“All you need to do is show up and pick,” Jacobs says. “Bring your kids and your pets on a leash. It’s a family experience.” 

For more information visit

Best Stargazing | Black Mesa State Park and Nature Preserve

By Laura Araujo

Where the westernmost reaches of the Oklahoma Panhandle meet New Mexico and Colorado, the Black Mesa Plateau rises to the highest point in the state. During the day, outdoor enthusiasts make the 8.4-mile round-trip hike to the mesa’s summit. When the sun sets—if they’re not too tired from a day in the backcountry—the night skies beckon.

The Black Mesa State Park and Nature Preserve, served by TCEC, boast some of the darkest skies in the nation. The area attracts visitors from across the country and internationally to gaze at the unobstructed nighttime views.

“The thing I’m most astonished with is the Milky Way,” says park manager Tucker Heglin. “On a calm, dark night you can see the Milky Way in its entirety with the naked eye.”

Like our galaxy, much can be viewed with the naked eye, though Heglin says stargazers often bring special equipment—everything from binoculars to high-tech telescopes. 

According to Heglin, fall and spring are the best seasons to watch the night skies. One of the highlights of the year is the Perseid meteor shower. It typically starts at the beginning of August and runs for 10 to 14 days, with a couple peak nights.

“We welcome anyone who wants to come out and view the stars,” he invites. 

Before making the trip, however, he recommends keeping a close eye on the weather as clouds and rain will impede potential views. 

For more information visit

Best Craftsman | Darrel Carender, Ridge Instruments

By Hayley Leatherwood

A fine piece of wood not only has a unique look and feel, but to Darrel Carender, OKL’s “Best Craftsman” winner, the wood also creates its own sound. 

Carender is a luthier, a person who builds stringed musical instruments. He first fell in love with music after hearing Earl Scruggs play “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” as a high school student in 1972.

A craftsman and carpenter by trade, he spent his career running his own company. After selling his business in 2000, Carender returned to his first love: music. However, he didn’t have to trade in his tools—he found he uses the same tools to build a guitar as he did a cabinet. 

Carender, along with his wife Melanie, purchased a neglected building in Pawnee, Oklahoma. It took four years for the couple to completely gut the space; then, each weekend after they restored and rebuilt the storefront to its current glory. The building now serves as The Music Shop, home of Ridge Instruments, and stands as a testament to Carender’s woodworking skills. 

“The instruments Darrel builds are just beautiful,” Tom Briggs, city of Pawnee chamber manager says. “It brings people from far and wide to Pawnee.” 

The storefront displays instruments, but Carender also creates them right in the back of the building. Altogether, he has 30 years of experience building banjos and 18 years of experience crafting guitars, mandolins and dobros. 

“With a custom-made piece, you get a better sound than a mass producer,” Carender says. “I listen to the wood and the sound you’re going to get out of it.” 

In addition to Carender’s instruments, he also works individually with customers and restores existing instruments. Altogether, it takes about 8 to 10 weeks to make an instrument from start to finish. 

To learn more, visit

Best Pet Groomer | Pawsh, LLC

By Taryn Sanderson

OKL readers gave local pet grooming business, Pawsh, LLC, five paws! Its owner, Marie Habecker, began the business nine years ago, going from home to home with her personal goal to break the barrier that exists between pet owners and groomers.

“The biggest difference between us and other groomers is no dog is the same,” Habecker says. “There’s no right way to groom a dog, but you have to help them through the process on their own terms. Catering to each dog’s needs is absolutely key to a positive grooming experience.”

Habecker took a leap of faith, and in May 2016 she opened a permanent location in Edmond. Pawsh performs any and all grooming services, such as washing, brushing, haircuts, nail trims and more. What began as a “teeny tiny dream” now serves more than 150 dogs per week.

Habecker says she’s humbled by Oklahomans trusting her and her groomers with their special furry friends. Longtime Pawsh client Thomas Cheatham says he wouldn’t think of taking his pup anywhere else. 

“Marie is always available, prompt and communicative with a wonderful, creative eye,” Cheatham says. “Do yourself and your animal kiddos a favor and take them to Pawsh.”

For more information visit

Best Homemade Pies | Arbuckle Mountain Fried Pies

By Jenna Mazzoccoli

Just east of the Arbuckle Mountains is a favorite Oklahoma destination. It started as a service station, turned into a restaurant, and has made its final transformation into a fried pie shop. Currently owned by Jerry Pletcher, it has been a family business since the early ’90s.

“It really took off at the turn of the century,” Pletcher says. 

Now, Arbuckle Mountain Fried Pies is considered a staple by Okies and Texans alike, and has been voted best fried pie in the state by OKL readers. 

On road trips, travelers stop for a stretch and a snack. On any given weekday, the pie shop produces 1,200 pies. On a busy weekend though, they can sell as many as 4,000 pies per day.

Jerry’s uncle, A.C. Pletcher, and business partner Nancy Fulton developed the fried pie years ago. It started as a humble pie shop and has grown into an extensive production. Arbuckle Mountain Fried pies are now sold at 38 locations throughout Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri. Even though the company has grown and expanded through the decades, it’s still a homemade fruit pie—just like grandma used to make.

Stop by their location on I-35 south of Davis, Oklahoma for a hot, fried treat. For more information visit

Best Camp | Falls Creek Summer Camp

By Taryn Sanderson

When the final school bell rings announcing that summer is here, young Oklahomans can’t wait to get to Falls Creek Summer Camp. Former camper and Davenport local, Mattie Mattheyer, says it’s the absolute best way for kids to spend their summer in our great state.

 “It’s amazing how so many lives are changed at Falls Creek,” Mattheyer says, “spending time with your church family and watching people give their lives to Jesus—plus all the fun activities they have for campers to do.”

The camp started in 1917, when two men saw a picture of the property, now known as Falls Creek, on the wall of a barbershop in Davis, Oklahoma, and thought it would be an ideal place to build a youth camp. This year, about 44,000 campers were on camp grounds during the eight-week camp. During that time, Falls Creek offers two swimming venues, an elaborate ropes course, open play disc golf, tournament recreation, multiple concession venues and several biblical sessions appealing to today’s youth.

“To know that Oklahoma Living readers find Falls Creek Summer Camp appealing, valuable and an overall fun experience is very gratifying,” says Andy Harrison, Falls Creek Conference Center director. “It’s a true honor to share the Gospel and to see people come to Christ.”

Best Performing Arts Group | Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma

By Jenna Mazzoccoli

Oklahomans come from far and wide to see Broadway-caliber performances at the Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma. Lyric has brought theatre and arts education, not only to Oklahoma City, but the entire state for the past several decades.

In 1962, 14 notable Oklahomans joined together to form the first professional theatre company in the Sooner State. Since then, Lyric has become a nationally recognized theatre. Artistic Director Michael Baron joined the Lyric family in 2010.

“In my time with Lyric, I have seen the venue in the Plaza District revitalize the area and rejuvenate the community,” Baron says. 

Baron has worked tirelessly to provide programming that will benefit the state as a whole.

As well as giving local talent and technicians year-round employment, the Thelma Gaylord Academy has been nurturing young artists for the past 14 years. Their partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs allows more kids to get involved on stage through scholarship programs.

“We are giving kids the tools to excel in life and seeing them blossom into adults working in the theatre or as civic leaders in other professions,” he says.

Lyric Theatre’s Musical Interactive program brings live theatre to kids across Oklahoma. A small company of professional actors travels all the way from the Panhandle to southeast Oklahoma and everywhere in between, performing an interactive program to elementary school kids.

There’s something for everyone at Lyric, whether it be children’s theatre or the big, summer musicals at the historic Civic Center. Don’t miss out on the fun at the theater this spring or summer season. Visit for tickets and more information. OKL Article End