Want to visit an affordable midwestern city where you never run out of things to do and they are all pretty affordable? Head to Omaha, Nebraska!
Easy to navigate because of its grid system, visitors will appreciate the accessibility of the city and its on-trend downtown scene. Omaha is dotted with historic neighborhoods. We stayed in the Midtown Crossing area located within minutes of the Old Market district, the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, and the Blackstone District (a ultra-hip area for those who appreciate supporting local eateries).
Let me show some of the BEST places to visit while in town!
This isn’t your typical zoo. The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium’s exhibits are world famous! It is known for its indoor Desert Dome and North America’s largest indoor rainforest, but if you ask me, one of the ultimate stops within the park is the Antarctic penguin area!
While walking through the Lied Jungle you will be able to observe over 90 species of animals and towering waterfalls. Crossing a rope swing bridge takes you to a new area of the jungle while winding paths lead you to an abundance of tropical flowers and seating areas. Bring your camera! You’re going to want to capture the bright colors (and sounds!) of the jungle.
I think visitors will need a minimum of three hours to tour the zoo and aquarium, a swift look at many of its best features but certainly not enough time to enjoy the behind-the-scenes opportunities or animal feeding sessions.
The Desert Dome can be seen from the road as you enter into the zoo’s parking lot. It’s mammoth! Get ready to be transported to another climate as you walk red dirt paths to view reptiles, meerkats, bobcats and much more!
Again, you’re going to want to plan your journey since the park features seven indoor exhibits and eight acres of African Safari. My second favorite area to observe the animals was the inside the Cate Giraffe Herd Rooms. A female giraffe was born only weeks before our visit, and we were able to see resting while her mother ate nearby!
Pro Tip: Secure round-trip tickets for the Skyfari (think ski lift) that takes you above and across the zoo. The slow moving rail system is the perfect way to observe animals in their habitats without fighting the crowds. I don’t recommend taking the tram, which stops way too often along it’s trail and you’ll find yourself sitting and waiting for passengers to board rather than moving on to your next stop. Prefer the train? It winds through the top-half of the park.
You’re going to want make a trip to the zoo in the early morning hours. We scored a great parking spot close to the entrance because we arrived at 9am. However, the lot was beyond capacity by the time we left the park three hours later. And it’s a HUGE parking lot!
If you want to plan your experience prior to arriving at the zoo and aquarium, you can download their free app. You can even purchase your tickets via the app! The park is open year round except on Christmas Day.
THE DURHAM MUSEUM
Dripping with history and filled with interactive exhibits, The Durham Museum is a must-stop during your visit to Omaha. The building was originally opened in 1931 as Union Pacific’s train station but today it is the home of permanent, interactive exhibits highlighting the city’s story.
Kids (and adults!) will enjoy walking through restored locomotives and viewing the model trains, pretending to be a shopper in the Buffett Grocery Store, and exploring a life-size tipi when learning about Native American history.
Enjoy diving deep into the history of a location you’re visiting? Step inside the Mutual of Omaha Theater to watch a film detailing the history of Omaha. Prefer to view photography? Don’t miss the museum’s expansive photo gallery and make a special stop at their photography archive open to the public Tuesday-Friday only.
For me, I enjoyed the locomotive exhibits and the history of the steam train the most since I come from a railroad family. Visitors of all ages will appreciate the meticulous restoration of the commuter trains on-site. You’ll feel like you’re a passenger traveling from Omaha to Kansas City while sitting inside train!
Pro Tip: Be sure to save time to visit the soda fountain and candy counter located adjacent to the museum’s main entrance. You’ll love stepping back in time to the early ’30s while enjoying an old-fashioned phosphate or sundae!
The museum is open at Monday 10am-5pm, Tuesday 10am-8pm, Wednesday-Saturday 10am-5pm, and Sunday 1pm-5pm. Admission is $11 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $7 for children ages 3-12. Children under 2 years old are admitted for free. Another bonus? Parking is free on the 10th Street bridge located across from the main entrance. There are two levels for parking, so it shouldn’t be an issue.
When you think of Omaha, you don’t necessary think of tacos, oysters or duck salad. You’d be wrong! Dining options in Omaha are vast and on any given day you can find meals that appeal to every palette.
When visiting the Blackstone District, a renovated neighborhood near Midtown Crossing, we dined on tacos at Mula, a Mexican Kitchen & Tequileria. If you love tequila, you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store thanks to over 150 tequilas listed on the menu! The staff is well-versed in the history and production of tequila.
We enjoyed the homemade House Guac as an appetizer to accompany our drinks (a Michelada and a Cucumber Margarita). Later, we dined on delicious tacos made with flavorful grilled meats and fresh produce. I highly recommend the Carne Asada Taco and the Baja Fish Taco. (Each taco is sold individually.) Eventually, I ordered a warm plate for freshly fried Churro Bites covered in cinnamon and sugar – so yummy I nearly finished them all on my own!
Pro Tip: Dining with eight or more people? You’ll need a reservation. If you have a party of four or less people, ask for a table near the window for an open air dining experience that allows you to dine while people watching the neighborhood.
Another great place to eat is Plank Seafood Provisions, located in the Old Market district. We snuck in just in time for their “Coastal Happy Hour in the Heartland” from 3pm-6:30pm on a Saturday and took advantage of the discounted menu options! Bellied up to the Edison-lit bar for discounted oysters and a plate of loaded fries covered in clam chowder, we sipped on cold wine and beer to our hearts’ delight.
Hours later we found ourselves hungry for dinner! Despite our efforts to find an affordable steak house in the Old Market district that didn’t require a reservation (or that didn’t have an 1.5 hour wait), we were drawn to the outdoor patio at M’s Pub.
Someone waiting for the hostess told us that we needed to book a reservation, but we were sat within minutes without one and happily dined on premium dinner entrees including this warm duck salad drizzled with warm bacon vinaigrette.
Pro Tip: Why wait in line for a table? Opt for patio dining or sit at the full-service bar! Sometimes you actually score faster, better service.
Trust me! You’re going to be glad you visit Omaha, Nebraska. The city welcomes you with open arms and they make it hard to leave. I guess we’ll be returning then!
This post contains sponsored experiences. Since I was planning to travel to the area, I contacted Visit Omaha who sent me on a few adventures!
Want to extend your trip? Head about an hour’s drive to the state’s capital city, Lincoln! Plan your trip using my post including insider pro tips!