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
Old Market

Day One

Every morning, Lauritzen Gardens (lauritzengardens.org) 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 (omahazoo.com). 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. Photo by Jay Wilde.

Downtown, the cobblestone streets of the 1880s Old Market (oldmarket.com) 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 (durhammuseum.org); sculptures and fine art at the Joslyn Art Museum (joslyn.org); and colorful hands-on learning centers at the Omaha Children's Museum (ocm.org).

Joslyn Art Museum. Photo by Jay Wilde.

Durham Museum. Photo by Douglas Smith.

A quick trip down a wavy slide at Gene Leahy Pedestrian Mall (visitomaha.com) creates Facebook fodder. Slow down while crossing the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge (visitomaha.com) 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 (outdoornebraska.gov).

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 (fontenelleforest.org).

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

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