Top 12 Things to Do in Omaha, Nebraska

Last Updated on February 6, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Omaha surprises visitors with cosmopolitan culture fused with Midwestern charm along the breezy banks of the Missouri River. America’s top zoos and aquariums bring exotic creatures up close, while pioneers and presidents come alive at meticulously preserved historical homes and interactive museums. Locally owned boutiques and award-winning eateries add urban flair between brewery hopping and catching indie music concerts among converted warehouses.

ActivityBrief Description
Durham MuseumOffers hands-on history experiences.
Omaha’s Henry Doorly ZooFeatures big cats and innovative habitats.
Mastercraft Design DistrictA hub for dining and local crafts.
Strategic Air Command MuseumShowcases aviation history and aircraft.
College World SeriesAnnual baseball event with fan activities.
Lee G Simmons CenterFocuses on wildlife conservation.
Craft Beer CultureSamples of local brews in Omaha.
Union Pacific Railroad MuseumExplores the history of railroads in America.
Horsemen’s ParkOffers live and simulcast horse racing.
Omaha Community PlayhouseHosts live theater productions.
Historic Homes ToursTours of architectural masterpieces.

Yet classic steakhouses and backyard barbecues continue welcoming families just like decades past. From the College World Series packing downtown each June to balmy summer horse racing, this heartland hub balances heritage and sophistication with endless attractions for active travelers. Use this curated list highlighting 12 top things to do in Omaha for planning an unforgettable urban getaway.

Explore Hands-On History at Durham Museum

Name and Location: The Durham Museum is located in a historic 1930s train depot in downtown Omaha, Nebraska filled with regional history exhibitions and artifacts focused on American progress and pioneering.

History and Significance: Recognized as the region’s leading cultural institution since first opening in 1976, the Durham has delivered engaging encounters with history to millions over 45 years through impactful galleries, artifacts and immersive programming.

What to Expect: Guests are transported through different eras detailing events that shaped the heartland via interactive exhibits inside retired rail cars and dramatically displayed tableaus complemented by timely talks and demonstrations illuminating past through modern connections.

Visitor Information: Open daily 10am-5pm, except major holidays. Admission charged. On-site parking, archives, museum store and cafe enhance visits to the popular downtown attraction.

Relive frontier quests crossing dusty plains, roaring twenties mobsters ruling rackets and Civil Rights milestones at Omaha’s engaging Durham Museum. This beautifully converted 1931 Union Station building brims with rare artifacts, compelling exhibits and immersive displays chronicling the region. Interact with an authentic soda fountain, witness nuclear bomb testing and stand amid 1960s lunch counter protests. Temporary shows cover niche interests from the strategic highway system to borders baseball leagues.

See Big Cats at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo

Name and Location: Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is located near I-80 southwest of downtown, spanning 160 acres and hosting LEED-certified exhibits home to 17,000 animals across multiple parks.

History and Significance: Earning global renown as one of the world’s foremost zoological institutions since opening in 1894 thanks to incredible immersive habitats, rare species and impactful conservation efforts advancing wildlife studies internationally.

What to Expect: Guests observe Amur tigers, African penguins, orangutans and Komodo dragons up-close through thoughtfully replicated natural settings plus interactive elements providing memorable multi-sensory adventures discovering favorite species.

Visitor Information: Open year-round with adjustable hours. Admission charged. Dining, rides and behind-the-scenes animal experiences complement incredible daily shows and observations.

Consistently ranked one of America’s top zoos, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo marvels visitors with innovative habitats housing exotic species in carefully replicated natural settings. Get nose-to-nose watching big cats prowl and polar bears splash through their icy domains thanks to clear tunnel walkways bringing you into the action. Unique attractions range from the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit to an immersive orangutan forest treetop trail. Thoughtful interactive elements like expedition cruise ship play areas engage young minds while teaching about conservation.

Dine Inside the Upscale Mastercraft Design District

Name and Location: The Mastercraft design district in central Omaha encompasses repurposed industrial spaces into a vibrant hub for creative companies and visionary chefs located downtown by the Missouri Riverfront.

History and Significance: Through innovative adaptive reuse, the former steel factory now houses boutique shops, studios and adventurous urban wining and dining destinations drawing crowds to glimpse artistic creativity flourishing sustainably amid the broad flowing waterside.

What to Expect: Patrons can book reservations at restaurants like Boiler Room serving New American small plates or savor hand-crafted cocktails nearby before exploring independent galleries showcasing metalsmithing, glassblowing and other mediums.

Visitor Information: Free public parking borders the district’s walkable footprint. Hours vary but most culinary spots open evenings only Tuesday-Sunday while attractions keep daytime hours intermittently.

Celebrating local makers and fresh flavors, Omaha’s vibrant Mastercraft Design District harbors a dynamic collection of restaurants, boutiques and creative businesses centered around the dramatic Hot Shops Art Center. Browse emerging fashions or gallery works before selecting your evening’s culinary adventure spanning sophisticated French bistro fare at Mula, masterfully mixed cocktails at Provi and Neapolitan pizza fired to perfection at Zio’s Pizzeria. Many venues host classes allowing you to craft the perfect souvenir.

See the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum

Name and Location: The Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum documents aviation history via aircraft displays and engaging exhibits encompassing decades of air and space milestones at a site adjacent to Ashland’s municipal airport.

History and Significance: Founded in 1959 as memorial for Offutt Air Force Base’s former role housing now-dissolved U.S. Strategic Air Command’s nuclear bomber readiness operations throughout Cold War tensions until stand down in 1992.

What to Expect: Outdoor static displays like the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane or Cape Canaveral rocket represent eras alongside indoor galleries showcasing SAC command center relics and rotating Smithsonian artifacts spanning Wright 1903 Flyer to Mars Rover models.

Visitor Information: Open daily with nominal entrance fees. Guided tours included with admission run throughout so visitor plan ahead accordingly. Gift shop sells coveted aviation souvenirs.

Aviation enthusiasts find nirvana exploring Omaha’s Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum, a Smithsonian-affiliate housing vintage aircraft and immersive exhibits revealing intriguing aspects of flight. Get up-close to the SR-71 Blackbird stealth plane, the Cold War’s fastest jet, capable of outracing missiles. Simulators let you attempt sci-fi-like vertical takeoffs while robotics stations issue challenges to construct Mars explorer drones. Audio tours and monthly lecture series help you navigate extensive collections and the intriguing stories behind them.

Tailgate then Cheer on College World Series

Name and Location: The annual College World Series tournament unfolds each June at downtown Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park concluding the NCAA baseball Division I championship playoffs as eager fans cheer on top rivals.

History and Significance: Stadium construction completed in 2011 secured commitment keeping the high-stakes series central for area tourism over 25 years while drawing hordes of loyal spectators savoring competitive clashes between elite qualifying college teams vying for the trophy crown over weeks of play.

What to Expect: Thousands tailgate or frequent lively bars surrounding venue before filling seats tracking every hit, run and rally through double elimination fixtures as ballplayers leave everything on the field pursuing a career pinnacle.

Visitor Information: Single game and full-tournament ticket packages available online to secure seats for most sought after matchups within 24,000 capacity open-air ballpark equipped with amenities.

As host of the annual College World Series determining the top talent in college baseball, Omaha becomes ground zero for exciting matchups every June filling TD Ameritrade Park with cheering fans. Join the crowds wandering the Fan Fest pep rally to catch a home run hitting contest before claiming your bleacher seats. Celebrate wins at local bars with face painting and victory parties. Schedule your Omaha summer trip strategically to catch series opener games and the first pitch deciding who advances closer to the collegiate pennant finals.

See Where African Safari Dreams Start at Lee G Simmons Center

Name and Location: Omaha’s Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari sits on 100 sprawling acres near I-80 and 84th St hosting remarkable encounters with rare creatures plus educational programming.

History and Significance: Directly supporting Omaha’s world class Henry Doorly Zoo initiatives since the non-profit park’s origins in 2010, this refuge fosters compassionate wildlife conservation connections for visitors through rescues and species preservation efforts behind the scenes.

What to Expect: Walking paths wind visitors past open habitats where camels, oryx, zebras and other African hoofstock roam across grasslands as part of engaging guided group walking tours suitable for all ages.

Visitor Information: Timed day entry tickets available online in advance to experience remarkable giraffe encounters, aviary trails and barn yards up-close in safe settings promoting respect for endangered wild creatures and fragile ecosystems.

Dedicated to global conservation efforts protecting vulnerable wildlife, Omaha’s Lee G Simmons Center lets you get eye-to-eye with the very animals inspiring dreams of African safaris—from noble lions to quizzical meerkats. Home to the country’s largest breeding colony of rare chimpanzees, guests observe playful primates in action during behind-the-scenes looks at animal care facilities off-limits to most zoos. Special events like summer-night Zoo Brew fundraisers feature food, music and up-close animal encounters for ages 21 and up.

Sample Nebraska’s Emerging Craft Beer Culture

Name and Location: Omaha’s blossoming craft beer scene has tapped into the heartland’s agriculture bounty across re-emerging neighborhoods as farm-to-tap houses pour small batch brews pairing perfectly with the city’s dynamic culinary boom.

History and Significance: Economic resurgence has flowed both east from Capitol environs and north of Old Market epicenter as warehouse arcades give way to flowing taps thanks to experimental homebrewers launching livelihoods from liquid luxury crafted carefully utilizing regional grain supplies.

What to Expect: Flights sipped near Blackstone brew hubs or downtown taprooms channel localism through names and ingredients while focusing artisanship into each pour, educating palettes towards thoughtful strength-flavor balance through creative infusions.

Visitor Information: Free bike share rentals connect designated driver groups between Mister Toad’s, Lucky Bucket and other hot spots prioritizing quality and variety as special seasonal releases give enthusiasts reasons to return regularly.

Omaha joins cities nationally in celebrating homegrown hops harvested for small batch brews thanks to urban breweries and farmstead operations springing up statewide. Check out Infusion’s Mosaic IPA tapping tropical fruit flavors or sample classic Kolsch German ales perfected at Benson Brewery. Outskirt farm taprooms like Scratchtown serve special harvest and wet-hopped ales. Many pioneers offer behind-the-scenes tours detailing specialty malts and experimental blends putting Nebraska on the map for beer connoisseurs.

Relive History Strolling Through Union Pacific Railroad Museum

Name and Location: Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs chronicles over 155 years of rail achievements linking America’s heartland through an extensive 20-acre showroom displaying locomotives relocated from across the country to Iowa’s western gateway.

History and Significance: As corporate caretaker for one of America’s preeminent transportation technology innovators since its 1862 incorporation that revolutionized nationwide connectivity, Union Pacific continually preserves its own equipment advances and acquisitions from competitors for public education.

What to Expect: Impressive machinery exhibits like vintage cabooses, Streamliner cars or Union Pacific “Big Boy” – among earth’s largest locomotives ever built – depict rail engineering feats while multimedia recounts compelling construction sagas.

Visitor Information: Self or docent guided walking tours included Tuesdays-Saturdays year-round reveal operational evolution through rare artifacts detailing how fiery steam engines and burly diesels energized economies across landscapes.

Detailing the powerful impact of westward expansion tied to railroad openings, Union Pacific Railroad Museum shares how innovative engineering and worker grit helped unite America. Browse exhaustively restored locomotives and rail cars while period recreations chronicle everyday life through imaginative sets, including an 1860s rail worker bunkhouse and passenger train car elegantly decorated for lavish coast-to-coast journeys. Young Conductors programs let kids earn badges through special museum missions discovering stories of the past.

Test Your Luck at Horsemen’s Park

Name and Location: Horsemen’s Park is a hippodrome racetrack conducting live thoroughbred races March through October located just off Abbott Drive and I-80 southwest of downtown Omaha, Nebraska.

History and Significance: In operation for over 50 years on the grounds of defunct Ak-Sar-Ben fairgrounds, Horsemen’s Park carries on Nebraska’s enduring horse racing legacy hosting major claiming races and stakes as heart pounding drama unfolds trackside revealing equine athletic splendor.

What to Expect: Cheering crowds in covered stands follow foremost regional jockeys navigating muscular steeds around tight oval links as they respond to calls, positioning and luck seeking to cross the wire first in designated distances while spectators wager on potential outcomes.

Visitor Information: Free general parking surrounds venue with paid clubhouse access adding trackside viewing and premium dining. Family Fun Night promotions every Tuesday from May to September offer free gate entry for engaging educational encounters.

Calling all equine enthusiasts—between simulcast horse racing from major national tracks showing daily and live quarter horse racing seasons running May through October, Horsemen’s Park keeps horseplay lively. Place bets on your favorite ponies then head trackside to catch breeds short distance sprinting or stay inside the sports book area to monitor screens galloping through results from thoroughbred courses worldwide. Family fun days feature stick pony races for kids, exhibit booths and prizes.

Try Not to Laugh at Omaha Community Playhouse Shows

Name and Location: Omaha Community Playhouse, centrally located at the crossroads of S. 35th St and Farnam Street, has staged quality hometown theatrical productions across two stages since its founding in 1924 inside the historic Howard Drew building.

History and Significance: As Nebraska’s largest, most decorated and only remaining community theater empresa, OCP continues impacting generations via immersive storytelling showcasing local talent through dramas, comedies and musicals with educational camps cultivating creativity annually.

What to Expect: Mainstage lineups promise show-stopping musical numbers while intimate Howard Drew black box experiments with unconventional avant-garde works as subscribers enjoy season ticket special access and savings securing choice seating for 200+ inspiring performances unfolding near downtown.

Visitor Information: Individual and packaged show tickets available online for seating in proscenium Hawks Mainstage or versatile Hawks Mainstage II hosting special late nights plus Sunday matinees accommodating varied interests and schedules conveniently.

Providing live theater thrills for over 95 years, Omaha Community Playhouse continues cracking up audiences with comedic musicals and thought-provoking dramas staged in the historic Howard Drew Theatre. Recent hits include classic crowd pleasers like Church Basement Ladies and Don’t Dress for Dinner kept fresh thanks to creative direction and talented local performers. Holiday productions, theater classes and student performances further demonstrate this troupe’s knack for engaging community and bringing scripts to life.

Tour Architectural Masterpieces on Historic Homes Tours

Name and Location: Historic Florence neighborhood tours showcase Omaha’s ornate architectural gems located between 9th Street and Pershing Drive hiding regal 19th and 20th century mansions framed by mature trees and manicured gardens.

History and Significance: As ambitious early Omaha industrial tycoons sought surrounding hillside refuges overlooking burgeoning downtown development, prominent East Coast designers drafted magnificent family estates exhibiting elaborate Old World European motifs meeting modern New World aesthetics.

What to Expect: Knowledgeable docents lead intimate small groups revealing family sagas while interpreting the imposing hand carved stonework, stained leaded windows and sumptuous parlor finishes characterizing the privileged residences.

Visitor Information: Annual three day June showcase tickets become available April 1st so early online purchase secures first chance at booking coveted access to normally private manors and manor grounds representing the district’s cultural zenith decades ago.

History leaps to life during special spring tours inside Omaha’s 30 surviving 19th century mansions meticulously maintained by the Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission. Costumed reenactors add flair explaining Victorian customs on the 1888 George Joslyn estate or jazz-age pastimes at the Art Deco 1926 Dodge House during these exclusive peeks inside architecturally intriguing private residences. From Second Empire painted ladies to English Tudor and Georgian Revival estates, fascinating design details reward history detectives and architecture admirers.

Conclusion

Diverse attractions spanning interactive history lessons, exhilarating outdoor adventures and family-friendly festivals demonstrate Omaha’s welcoming Midwestern personality beyond steaks and cornfields. Pioneering passions live on at museums and monuments honoring aviators, railroad workers and brewmasters nourishing the Great Plains. But modern urban renewal keeps cultural pursuits vibrant through imaginative theater productions, chef-driven dining and one-of-a-kind shops as unique as bison or broncos. Blending yesterday’s grit with tomorrow’s optimism, Omaha empowers discovery at every turn.

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