Long before most Midwest cities rediscovered their warehouse districts, stores and cafes thrived in downtown Omaha's Old Market buildings. Now, the lively area seems to belong in a larger city. Even on weeknights, shops stay open late, catering to dinner crowds.
That transformation is typical of what's happening elsewhere in this Missouri River city (metro population: 837,925). Visitors will find that the 1931 Union Station now boasts a dazzlingly restored Art Deco lobby and the Smithsonian-affiliated Durham Museum. The long-neglected Missouri riverfront is flourishing, too, thanks largely to the $291 million Qwest Center Omaha.
Click ahead to learn about 14 of our favorite experiences in Omaha.
Look for the zoo's spectacular Desert Dome if you arrive in Omaha along westbound Interstate 80. Other highlights include 1,225 species, a massive aquarium, an IMAX theater and a gorilla exhibit that puts you nose-to-nose with the primates. The new Skyfari is an open-air chairlift that takes you from one end of the zoo to the other, right over the animal enclosures (402/733-8400; omahazoo.com)
A striking pink marble facade marks the Art Deco-Era institution, a repository for 11,000 works about a mile west of downtown. The Native American and Western galleries are especially interesting, using art at a lens for viewing an iconic chapter of American history. Other highlights in the permanent collection include the works of Monet, Pollock, Degas and Renoir (402/342-3300; joslyn.org).
Joslyn Art Museum 
This 12-square-block revived warehouse district is a model for successful urban renewal. Faded advertising murals and covered sidewalks add historical charm to shops, galleries and restaurants (oldmarket.com). Our favorite stops include M's Pub, where surprising dishes such as Armenian lavosh bread with Thai chicken keep the largely American menu interesting (402/342-2550; mspubomaha.com).
Old Market 
In a building combining Moorish and classical architecture, kids and families watch live drama and dance performances. The theater also offers workshops in acting, directing, playwriting and musical theater for children ages 4 to 18 (402/345-4849; rosetheater.org).
Rose Theater 
See all that Omaha has to offer visitors during a weekend getaway, including The Henry Doorly Zoo, the Old Market, Lauritzen Gardens and the Durham Museum.
A new 3,000-foot lighted span (one of the world's longest for pedestrians) links Omaha and Council Bluffs and soars 60 feet above the Missouri River. Twin towers and a cable design marked it as an instant icon as soon as it opened in 2008 (visitomaha.com).
Top-draw events at this complex, which seats up to 18,300, have included the Rolling Stones and the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Check the website for event and ticket information (402/341-1500; www.qwestcenteromaha.com).
Qwest Center Omaha 
The Rev. Edward J. Flanagan started Boys Town in 1917, with just five troubled boys in his charge. Today, hundreds of kids live at the nonprofit's pastoral main campus. The community operates its own police and fire departments and schools. It welcomes visitors for self-guided tours. An audio driving tour includes two chapels, Father Flanagan's house and a museum (800/625-1400; boystown.org)
Boys Town 
Kids can create puppet shows, anchor a TV newscast, shop at a grocery store, or play with a supersized art screen at this fun museum geared to children 12 and under. Artists-in-residence offer hands-on workshops for kids (402/342-6164; ocm.org)
Enjoy Omaha's sprawling riverfront park, including a 300-foot water fountain and light show. Stroll around to the Lewis and Clark exhibits and the World War II and Heartland Airborne Memorials. In the summer, you can take a gondola ride around the 15-acre lake. (402/444-5955; www.ci.omaha.ne.us/parks).
Omaha's spectacular Art Deco train station now houses a family-friendly museum exploring Nebraska's pioneer history and railroading legacy. Don't miss the restored soda shop, just off the lobby (402/444-5071; durhammuseum.org).
The Durham Museum 
This little museum opened in 1993 as the first Latino history and art museum and cultural center in the Midwest. In addition to exhibits, the museum features artist workshops and dance performances. It's near the city's 24th Street Latino district, where small restaurants serve authentic Mexican dishes (402/731-1137; elmuseolatino.org).
El Museo Latino 
Two miles of paths wind through formal gardens, a wildflower meadow and an arboretum where wild turkeys live along the Missouri River south of downtown. Tour more than a dozen gardens, including an herb garden, children's garden and rose garden. Tram tours are available (402/346-4002; lauritzengardens.org).
Lauitzen Gardens 
Artists in residence showcase work in an Old Market warehouse. Every year the center features more than 20 exhibitions, highlighting both new and established artists working in a variety of visual mediums, including video, installation and performance art (402/341-7130; bemiscenter.org)