When visitors come to Omaha, locals are typically presented with the chance to see our home town from a different angle. Very rarely do we venture out to enjoy the area’s “touristy” attractions on our own, and showing off the best parts of Omaha to guests is a great opportunity to do so!
While our local landmarks are a great start when trying to decide where to take out-of-town guests, they aren’t there just for tourists. There are so many interesting structures, museums, neighborhoods and more worth exploring — which is just one reason why we are so lucky to live here.
Next time you have a free weekend, get out there and visit one or two of our local landmarks. You never know what you might learn in the process!
Photo courtesy of the Joslyn Art Museum
The eclectic collection of works at the Joslyn Art Museum span from ancient Greek pottery to pivotal 20th century paintings, and includes more than 11,000 pieces. The museum was actually donated to Omaha by public figure Sarah Joslyn in memory of her late husband, George, in 1931. Of course, the museum has come a long way since its humble beginnings, but the public can still enjoy free admission on any day of the week, which is almost unheard of when it comes to upscale art facilities. Travel through time as you meander through the museum’s exhibits, take a moment to reflect in the sculpture gardens, or simply marvel at the building itself. The museum stands as a spectacular example of art deco architecture in the Omaha area.
More commonly known as “Bob the Bridge,” this gigantic, 3,000-foot structure stretches across the Missouri River to connect Nebraska and Iowa. The bridge will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2018, so it’s the perfect time to visit! From the center of the bridge, you can be standing in two places at once (any A Walk to Remember fans out there?). In fact, the views of the Omaha and Council Bluffs skylines that you can witness while crossing the bridge landed this spot on our list of the top date night ideas in Omaha. At night, the bridge explodes in colored lights that illuminate the beams and cables for a truly magical experience.
Photo courtesy of Fort Atkinson
Established in 1820 on recommendation of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Fort Atkinson was the first U.S. military post west of the Missouri River. Today, much of the historic outpost has been reconstructed, and is open for visitors looking to get a little taste of American history. Bring the whole family to enjoy one of the living history demonstrations, which take place throughout the summer and fall and typically includes actors playing fur traders, coopers, blacksmiths, carpenters, and more. You may even witness a cannon blast.
Nestled between Old Market and the Missouri River, the Heartland of America Park is a picturesque destination for locals and visitors alike. This is the gateway to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, and features spectacular views of the surrounding cityscape. The centerpiece of the park is a grand, 320-foot fountain that is illuminated with multi-colored lights after sunset. See it up close by renting a gondola from Heartland Gondolas and enjoying a romantic cruise with your sweetheart!
Photo courtesy of the Durham Museum
The Durham Museum is actually housed in Omaha’s former Union Station, but now serves as a popular event venue and historical treasure! The beautiful architecture harkens back to days gone by, but you can dig further into history by exploring the traveling exhibits. The museum has ties with the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress, the National Archives and the Field Museum in Chicago, so whether the exhibit is cultural or historic, you can bet that it will be interesting! The museum also hosts events and workshops throughout the year, including grand parties for Halloween and Christmas.
Photo courtesy of Larry Fasnacht via the Lauritzen Gardens
Regardless of season, there’s always something beautiful to witness at the Lauritzen Gardens. The space is an urban oasis, allowing visitors to view hundreds of unique plant species and engage in fun workshops and events. Meander through the scenic gardens, and then settle in the Conagra Café for a snack! The café overlooks the floral display hall, and features freshly prepared sandwiches, soups, salads and desserts.
Photo courtesy of the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is not just another zoo. In fact, it was recently ranked as the second best zoo in the country by USA Today! Plants, animals and unique habitats from all over the world sprawl over more than 160 acres, and it’s all available for you to explore. The interesting exhibits are probably what lands this spot on every best of list — when you visit the Lied Jungle, you actually feel like you’re walking through a South American rainforest. And the Desert Dome is a spectacular indoor desert spanning 84,000 square feet, and featuring plants and animal life from the Namib Desert of southern Africa, the Red Center of Australia and the Sonoran Desert of the southwestern United States.
Additionally, the zoo is affiliated with the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park, located just a short drive outside of town. The park houses native species in their natural habitats, but also a few exotic species, and you can see them all from the comfort of your own car in a drive-through tour!
Photo courtesy of the Omaha Children’s Museum
Children and adults alike will enjoy the delights of the Omaha Children’s Museum. This nonprofit learning and exploration space has received a national award from the Association of Science and Technology Museums, likely due to its fantastic educational programs and vibrant interactive exhibits. There are several seasonal exhibits that rotate depending on holidays and interest, but the permanent installations include the Charlie Campbell Science Center, the Tinker Lab, Fantastic Future Me and more! Bring your little ones and let their imaginations run wild.
This 10-acre park is set against the striking architecture of downtown Omaha, and provides a little natural escape for those working in the area. It’s a popular spot for a quick picnic or leisurely walk at any time of day, and features winding paths, gardens, a sculpture garden, an amphitheater and a gorgeous lagoon (complete with waterfalls)! People come here to capture the perfect photo of downtown and soak in the Nebraska sunshine.
Photo courtesy of the Joslyn Castle
The Joslyn Castle isn’t technically a castle at all, but rather a spectacular mansion located in the Gold Coast Historic District. The home was built by Sarah and George Joslyn, Omaha’s first millionaires and philanthropists. The couple was part of a wave of entrepreneurs who moved west after the transcontinental railroad was completed in the late 19th century. Many local institutions benefited from George and Sarah’s generosity, including the University of Omaha, the Nebraska Humane Society, the Fontanelle Home for the Aged and the Visiting Nurses Association.
The castle itself was completed in 1903, and it includes 35 different rooms spread among four stories. There are several castle-like aspects about the architecture, including two grand turrets, stained class, chiseled stone, mosaic tiles and wrought iron. It must have been absolutely magnificent to live there, and guests can imagine the experience by visiting for guided tours.
Photo courtesy of El Museo Latino
El Museo Latino is a testament to the large Latin-American community in Omaha, and was the first Latino cultural center in the midwest. Here, guests can view world-class permanent and traveling exhibitions featuring local, national and international Latino art and culture. The museum also hosts interactive events and workshops throughout the year, including an annual Cinco de Mayo Celebration, dance classes and performances from CHOMARI, and the Hispanic Heritage Celebration Banquet.
Photo courtesy of The Old Market
The Old Market is the heart of downtown Omaha, featuring brick-paved roads, unique shops and boutiques, fine dining, plenty of art galleries and horse-drawn carriage rides through the streets. Locals can experience the magic of Old Market by attending First Friday, the monthly self-guided tour showcasing live artist demonstrations, pop-up galleries and more. And of course, if you haven’t experienced Omaha from a horse-drawn carriage, you have to try it at least once.
Photo courtesy of the Capitol District
The Capitol District emerged in the fall of 2017, but has already established itself as one of Omaha’s most popular landmarks and gathering places. It is changing the landscape of downtown Omaha with its luxury hotel and apartments, but there are plenty of options here for shopping, nightlife and fine dining as well. In fact, Society 1854 was one of the top 10 restaurants that opened in 2017, and serves Nebraska heritage dishes with innovative twists. For a nightcap, step into Burdock + Bitters next door — a swanky whiskey bar with craft cocktails and flights. This is also the new home of the NRG Energy outdoor ice skating rink, which is a popular destination during the cold-weather months.
This 770-acre park is one of the most popular destinations in Omaha for outdoor adventures. The park is built around a large fishing lake, and includes playgrounds, picnic areas, baseball diamonds, soccer fields, a wildlife conservation area, hiking and biking trails and a dock. The park is also home to the Bauermeister Prairie, which is one of the few native tall grass prairies remaining in eastern Nebraska, and features 120 species of plants and wildlife. The no-wake boating policy on the lake can be enjoyed by locals on rented paddle boards or in canoes!
Photo courtesy of First National Bank
The Pioneer Courage Park pays homage to the brave individuals who settled in Nebraska with larger-than-life bronze sculptures illustrating the American experience. Visitors are meant to interact with the sculptures, posing for photos and imagining what life must have been like for our ancestors. It is one of the largest bronze sculpture parks in the world, and is certainly a sight to behold!
What is your favorite local landmark? Share it with us in the comments!