Rails, river and an explorer’s mentality once defined Nebraska’s largest city, a portal to the West—a spirit of discovery that still thrives today. Shops and galleries pack the historic Old Market district; a pedestrian bridge across the Missouri River opens new viewpoints; and an engaging zoo with a domed desert, rainforest and valley of gorillas brings the "wild" back to exploration.

By Greg Philby
March 30, 2017
Old Market
Old Market

Day One

Every morning, Lauritzen Gardens ( opens in scented splendor: a sensory 100-acre botanical oasis of themed gardens, courtyards and a bird sanctuary. The adjacent-and free-Kenefick Park blends landscapes, and two full-size train locomotives take an intriguing loop through the park and Union Pacific Railroad history.

The pace picks up just across Interstate-80 at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium ( Cross a swaying rope bridge over North America's largest indoor rainforest, trek through Gorilla Valley or brave a glass tunnel through a shark-laden aquarium.

Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. Photo by Jay Wilde.

Downtown, the cobblestone streets of the 1880s Old Market ( district welcome a wind-down with dining, shops and a microbrewery.

Old Market

Old Market. Photo by Blaine Moats.

Day Two

Make it a museum trifecta with three different experiences: Vibrant local history at the Durham Museum (; sculptures and fine art at the Joslyn Art Museum (; and colorful hands-on learning centers at the Omaha Children's Museum (

Joslyn Art Museum

Joslyn Art Museum. Photo by Jay Wilde.

Durham Museum

Durham Museum. Photo by Douglas Smith.

A quick trip down a wavy slide at Gene Leahy Pedestrian Mall ( creates Facebook fodder. Slow down while crossing the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge ( to reflect on the weekend, watching the full, rosy sun quietly retreat behind the city skyline.

A Walk in the Park

Platte River State Park Tepee lodgings with rattling canvas walls (but wooden floors) create
a lost-in-the-woods vibe at this outdoorsy escape between Lincoln and Omaha. The park's highlights include a hidden waterfall along a trail and an observation tower with a spectacular bluff-top vista of the Platte River basin (

Fontenelle Forest Inspiring 300-year-old bur oaks
lift brawny arms over paths in
the Missouri River bluffs near the suburb of Bellevue. Nineteen miles of trails carve through this quiet 1,400-acre nature preserve with three environments to explore-wetlands, prairie and forest (

Catch a Show: Modern design and solid acoustics draw patrons to Holland Performing Arts Center for the Omaha Symphony and touring Broadway productions (