If you think Nebraska is nothing but cattle ranches and cornfields, a visit to Omaha will broaden your horizons. The state’s biggest city offers a sprinkling of sophistication, yet it hasn’t forgotten its pioneer spirit, railroad roots and the value of Nebraska nice. Add easy access to the wide-open prairie and you’ve got a heartland city worth exploring.
If you arrive in time for dinner, try Gorat’s (4917 Center St., 402-551-3733, goratsomaha.com), an Omaha institution serving straightforward preparations of corn-fed beef to patrons like Warren Buffett.
Then, catch a show at the venerable Omaha Community Playhouse (6915 Cass St., 402-553-0800, omahaplayhouse.com) with original productions and two state-of-the-art performance spaces. Nebraska-born Henry Fonda got his start here.
The Union Pacific Railroad is headquartered in Omaha and the railroad’s legacy continues to loom large. The Durham Museum (admission $11, $8 for seniors, $7 for children 3 and over; 801 S. 10th St., 402-444-5071, durhammuseum.org) is an excellent place to begin your sightseeing. It’s housed in a former train station and visitors can climb aboard historic passenger trains and glimpse the glamour of train travel during its heyday. The original 1930s soda fountain serves treats like root beer floats.
Lauritzen Gardens (open daily; admission $10, $5 for children 6 and older; 100 Bancroft St., 402-346-4002, lauritzengardens.org) is an in-town oasis of native prairie grasslands and rambling woodland trails. An elaborate model railroad garden features miniature trains chugging though scaled-down landscapes.
Next, head to the Joslyn Art Museum (closed Mondays; free; 2200 Dodge St., 402-342-3300, Joslyn.org) with its whimsical pink marble exterior. Inside, a site-specific sculpture by Dale Chihuly is an eruption of color. Works by El Greco, Renoir, Rembrandt, Degas and Jackson Pollock present eclectic visuals. It’s a treasure trove of art of the American West, including poetic landscapes of the high plains.
Located a short cab ride from downtown, Fontenelle Forest’s (open on summer weekends from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; admission is $11, $8 for children 2 and over, $10 for seniors; 111 Bellevue Blvd., North Bellevue, 402-731-3140, fontenelleforest.org) rambling acreage of prairie, savanna and wetlands is a peaceful place to start your day.
The nostalgic sweets at Old Market Candy Shop (1007 Howard St., 402-344-8846, oldmarketcandy.com) would put a smile on Willy Wonka’s face. Fortify for the plane ride home with a few chicken legs, pretzel rods dunked in caramel, coated in milk chocolate and dusted with a sweep of peanuts for crunch.
Good to know
Get here: Fly United (united.com) nonstop from Newark in just over three hours.
Getting around: Omaha’s Heartland B-Cycle (heartland.bcycle.com) bike share makes it easy to pedal the 85 miles of interconnected trails and the compact downtown. Ride Omaha Metro (ometro.com), the city’s bus system, for $1.25, exact fare only. Uber, Lyft and taxis are widely available.
Stay: Magnolia Omaha’s (1615 Howard St., 402-341-2500, magnoliahotels.com/Omaha) Old Market District location puts you in the center of the revitalized downtown. Complimentary airport transportation and bedtime cookies are perks. Hotel Deco’s (1504 Harney St., 866-475-3326, hoteldecoomaha.com) upscale amenities and fashionable décor blend with old-school hospitality.