City Lifestyle

Want to start a publication?

Learn More
"The Incredible Hulk" diorama (Photography Lindsey Davies)

Featured Article

Food & Fun

Toy & Action Figure Museum and Roma's Italian Restaurant Only 2 of Many Reasons to Visit Pauls Valley

Looking for a unique road trip destination?

Based on the recommendation of a friend, my niece, Lindsey Davies, her 4-year-old son, Liam, and I in early March took I-35 south to Pauls Valley, about a 45-minute drive from Norman. Pauls Valley, population 6,000-plus, is the county seat of Garvin County.

Pauls Valley also is accessible via the AMTRACK Heartland Flyer passenger train that runs between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas, which would be an extra fun way to visit.

On this visit, at Jeanne Flanigan’s suggestion, we first took a quick look at the downtown area. It’s a busy area, still marked at places with brick streets. We bookmarked the Santa Fe Depot Museum for a future trip.

This time, however, our first stop was to the Toy & Action Figure Museum–the ONLY museum in the world that is devoted to the art and sculpting of action figures.

According to curator/executive director Kevin Stark, the museum got its start in the year 2000 with a city planning project.

“A group of citizens, along with individuals from the city, got together with the goal to plan the city’s growth for the next 10 years. One aspect of the plan was to create unique tourist attractions in the downtown area,” Kevin said. “As a toy designer, I had amassed a very large collection of toys and action figures. I joked with one of the committee members that I was the ‘unofficial’ tourist attraction of Pauls Valley and that perhaps we should make it ‘official.’ This was the beginning of the planning stage of the museum. The museum opened in 2005.

Many of the items in the museum are on loan from Kevin or purchased by the museum, while others represent donations by different individuals. The action figure industry worldwide is a booming one, a fact reflected in the growing size of its collections.

“The amount of items has grown to the point that we have two other buildings full of collections waiting to be cycled into displays,” Kevin noted. “We continually trade out displays to ensure the freshness of the collections we showcase. We want visitors to see different items every time they visit the museum.”

There isn’t room here to list the museum’s entire collection, but a couple of the largest are devoted to Star Wars and BATMAN. You’ll also find figures representing The Simpsons, Barbie, GI Joe, various Disney movies, and numerous comic book characters, from The Hulk to Spiderman.

“We are currently working on a display called ACTION CITY that will be a hand-built replica of a downtown cityscape scaled to 6-inch tall and smaller action figures. Along with that will be a display of science fiction toys from the 1950s,” Kevin said.

“Our most valuable pieces include prototypes of action figures from various companies, most notably from the NECA toy company,” Kevin said, “These are generally one-of-a-kind models that are created before an action figure goes into mass production. Therefore, they are quite rare and valuable.”

As a toy designer, Kevin has worked on toy lines all over the world, including Los Angeles, where at times he has had the good fortune to meet celebrities who share his passion for toys and action figures. You’ll see numerous photos of these celebrities, along with their signatures and well wishes for the museum, throughout the museum.

Over the years, the museum had garnered national and international media attention.

“I have done interviews about the museum in France, Germany, Australia and Japan. We have also been featured in Fort Worth, Dallas, Chicago and other newspapers as well as The New York Times,” Kevin noted. “TIME magazine listed the Toy & Action Figure Museum as one of the ‘FIFTY PLACES IN THE US TO SEE TRUE AMERICANA.’ We also have been the subject of many television shows and travel programs. Oklahoma channels KWTV, KOCO, KFOR, KTEN and FOX25 have all done features on the museum.”

This unique museum in Pauls Valley attracts visitors from all over the world.

“We have had visitors from over 40 foreign countries and every state in the Union,” Kevin said. “Many people come into the museum thinking they are just there for their kids, but soon they discover items they had as a child, and their visit quickly becomes about showing their kids what THEY played with as a youngster. The museum isn’t just about toys and action figures… it’s about memories. It’s about that feeling of when you were a child and there was that one favorite toy you had or wanted. Almost everyone leaves with a smile on their face!”

The museum’s gift shop sells new toys as well as rare hard-to-find toys.

Toy & Action Figure Museum

111 S. Chickasaw St.

Pauls Valley, OK 73075

Spring and Summer hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $7 adults, $5 for children 12 and under and free from children 2 and under

* * *

After a visit to a park, we went to the second place recommended by our friend: Roma’s Italian Restaurant. Located just off I-35, this unassuming, locally owned and operated restaurant that connects with a gas station is a favorite stop of travelers who frequent this route, as well as a delightful find for travelers just looking for some decent food on their way to another locale.

Roma’s features a wide selection of appetizers, sandwiches, New York-style pizza, Italian entrees, and desserts, as well as wine by the glass or bottle and beer. On Tripadvisor, the restaurant gets high marks for its large portions and reasonable prices, friendly service, freshly made sauces, and overall quality of food.

My niece ordered the Parmigiana; I had the Tilapia Piccata. Both came with a side salad and tasty garlic rolls. The former sported a delightful, obviously freshly made piquant marinara sauce. My selection featured tilapia on a linguini pasta with sauteed fresh garlic, basil and capers in a white wine and lemon sauce. For dessert, we shared a Tiramisu and key lime cheesecake. Deliziosa!

Roma’s Italian Restaurant

2621 W. Grant Ave.

Pauls Valley



Stark Art Gallery

In addition to volunteering his time and talents with the museum, Kevin Stark is an artist, toy designer since 1990, musician and entrepreneur. Many people who visit the museum also stop by his gallery (open only by appointment).

211 S. Chickasaw St.

Pauls Valley

Pauls Valley Opry

Every first Saturday, people can check out the Pauls Valley Opera (on Facebook), a show produced by Woodie and Becky Hill featuring country musicians from all over the state and beyond.

Fields Pies

Visitors are welcome to drop by Fields Pies’ Thrift Shop. Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

  • The "Adult Collector's Bedroom Diorama" offers a gentle poke at the stereotypical toy action hero collector living with his parents. Photography Jerri Culpepper
  • "The Simpsons" diorama (Photography Lindsey Davies)
  • "The Incredible Hulk" diorama (Photography Lindsey Davies)
  • One of several "Star Wars" dioramas (Photography Lindsey Davies)
  • Marvel Comics diorama (Jerri Culpepper Photography)
  • Parmigiana
  • Tilapia Piccata
  • Tiramisu and key lime cheesecake