I fly home to Oklahoma several times throughout the year to see my family. Usually, with enough flight stalking and points accumulation, we can get there four times a year or more without overspending too much. But when we started looking at flights for our most recent trip, we had sticker shock. I don’t know if it was the fact that there was a high-profile football game going on that weekend, the Oklahoma State fair or maybe a combination of the two but flights were nearly twice what we were used to and selling out quickly.
In desperation, we decided to go the far less convenient route of flying into Dallas and then driving three hours to Oklahoma City. Even with the expense of the rental car, this ended up saving us a ton of money. Thus our Red River Road Trip was born. The Red River, for those that don’t know, flows along the border of Oklahoma and Texas. It’s not much to look at, blink and you might miss it, but it’s a landmark with which I’m mighty familiar.
Tom had never seen that stretch of highway I spent many, many hours on in my formative years (we went to Dallas for big shopping trips, getaways and the infamous Red River Shootout fairly regularly). So we decided to make the most of the drive and take a couple of detours along the way.
Two Fun Stops Between Dallas and OKC
To be honest, it’s far from the world’s most beautiful drive. Although once you get into Oklahoma, you’ve got our modest Arbuckle Mountains to gaze upon (if you follow my Instagram stories you might have gotten a peak at them) and the actually-pretty-if-you-look-at-them-right plains beyond that. If you have a lot of time to spend, I highly recommend a stop at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area with its serene waterfalls and natural springs (if you like crowds, go to Turner Falls, but Chickasaw offers much more peace and quiet).
We didn’t have much time for adventuring, but chose two quick stops that were surprisingly fun and enjoyable.
Lunch in Historic Downtown Gainesville, Texas
Gainesville is a good halfway mark between Dallas and Oklahoma City. I’d previously only known the city for its outlet mall, where we often went to buy new school clothes. I had no idea that they also had an adorable downtown area.
Although the city has a horrific Civil War history, some of the preserved architecture is worth a look.
We chose to eat at Sarah’s on the Square, mainly because it was so damn cute but also because there aren’t exactly a bevy of options in the area.
Sarah’s is definitely one of those little cafes where most of the patrons have known each other for years. We probably stuck out like sore thumbs with all of our questions, but the service was as friendly as could be. I also loved the decor, which was the perfect median between elegant and quirky.
The menu covers a lot of ground, but I noticed a lot of fellow diners ordering the soup and salad trio and immediately followed suit. Who doesn’t love variety?
My trio included a delicious chicken salad, Sarah’s salad with pears and gorganzola and a cup of tomato gin bisque.
Tom ordered the other item that seemed especially popular, the fried chicken special with mashed potatoes and corn.
Comfort food doesn’t get more classic than this. We washed everything down with black currant iced tea and a little regret that we didn’t have room for pie.
I definitely recommend Sarah’s if you’re driving from Dallas to Oklahoma City, or if you’re visiting the Winstar Casino and want a change of scenery.
After lunch we walked around the square a bit more to stretch our legs and enjoy the small-town charm a moment longer before hopping back in the car.
Wine Tasting at Canadian River Winery
This is actually a quick enough drive that you don’t technically need to make any stops along the way, but what fun is that? We had just enough time for one last detour, and it was a good one.
A friend of mine who travels all over the country for work insisted that we stop by Canadian River Winery in Lexington, Oklahoma. Funny enough, this little gem is a mere 20 minute drive from where I went to college but I had no idea it existed until he recommended it.
Canadian River has actually been around for 16 years and has a pretty impressive vineyard right on the property. I was a little shocked and very impressed to discover they were growing their own grapes in Oklahoma’s dusty, windy and stormy climate.
Not all of the wines were to our taste (there are a lot of sweet wines here) but a few really surprised us. If the weather had been nicer (a monsoon started as we pulled up), we might have sat outside to enjoy a glass of Chardonnay (our favorite on the list) amongst the vines. Looks like we’ll need to return someday to make that happen.
While I may not have been very enthusiastic about this trip at the start, I’m glad we did it. With such entertaining detours, the drive slipped by in a wink and we hardly noticed the inconvenience of our money-saving endeavor.
At a Glance – Stops Between Dallas and OKC
Here are a few more suggested stops for your next Red River road trip.
- The Red River Wine Trail
- Sarah’s on the Square in downtown Gainesville, TX
- Winstar Casino (check out their concert lineup if you don’t gamble)
- Two Frogs Grill in Ardmore, OK
- Lake Murray, Lake Texoma or Lake of the Arbuckles
- Arbuckle Mountain Fried Pies
- Chickasaw National Recreation Area or Turner Falls
- Arbuckle Wilderness (great for kids)
- Canadian River Winery
- The University of Oklahoma (even if our football team is infuriating, the campus is lovely)