Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours of Omaha Museums. Many people are intimidated by visiting museums. They think they won’t know the right thing to say, and some mean man wearing a top hat and monocle will scoff at them like this, “HO HO HO HO!” So why not work your way up to visiting the famous museums of Paris and New York? Let’s start with some of the great Omaha museums! The art is beautiful but not incredibly old, and the staff has that midwestern charm you simply can’t find at the Louvre!
24 Hours: Omaha Museums
Where to Stay?
I recommend staying in Downtown Omaha because you’ll be close to many of the city’s best restaurants. And it will be easy to get back to your hotel in the evening without taking a rideshare. I loved my stay at the Hotel Deco. As you can see from my photo, the rooms are lovely and classy, and the whole hotel has the 1930s feel. Plus I had an early flight when I was checking out, and the hotel arranged a ride for me to the airport, free of charge! I would definitely stay here again next time I am in Omaha.
24 Hours: Omaha Museums
Morning: Joslyn Art Museum
The Joslyn Art Museum isn’t just one of the major Omaha museums. It’s also the most important art museum in the state of Nebraska. (You can find information about opening hours and prices on the website here.) Like many art museums, it was founded by Very Rich People. But you don’t need to be a Very Rich Person to visit the museum! That’s because it’s entirely free! You only need to pay for special exhibits.
I should add that you also need to pay if you want to buy the Joslyn Art Museum magnet which bears the slogan “Art is Our Middle Name”. HAHAHAHA! Technically it’s true. But even if you don’t buy the magnet, you’ll be able to enjoy the…
Approximately Top 5: Joslyn Art Museum
1) Greek Pottery
The Joslyn Art Museum has an extremely impressive collection of Western art. Walking through its halls is basically like taking a course in Western Civilization. Some of their pottery is the classic genre Naked People Being Very Active, Possibly With Horses. But they also have some beautiful Greek pieces that are entirely glazed black. Apparently these aren’t as valuable as the nudie pots, but they are still very impressive. I haven’t even see the black glazed pieces in our Metropolitan Museum of Art in my hometown NYC, so that’s one thing the Joslyn has on us.
Many smaller museums in the United States only have collections of American and 20th century art. That’s why it’s impressive that Omaha museums have legendary masters like Titian. Titian was the most famous 16th century Venetian painter. He excelled at painting portraits of Very Rich People, which means his work fits right in at the Joslyn. This is a portrait of Giorgio Cornaro the Younger with his falcon.
Well played Mr. Cornaro! If I had enough money to get my portrait painted by the greatest painter in the city, I’d definitely choose to have it done with a bird of prey. It would strike fear into the hearts of mine enemies.
The Josslyn doesn’t just have 16th century Venetian masters! It is also home to 17th century Dutch masters like Rembrandt! Like the Titian, this is a portrait of a Very Rich Person. But since he’s Dutch, his name is Dirck van Os. You might notice certain other similarities between this and the Titian. Both the Very Rich Men are painted in a realistic style, they are both wearing black, and they are both rocking sweet beards.
But one difference is that van Os isn’t wearing an Angry Bird on his arm, and Giorgio Cornaro is. So I say Cornaro wins this round of Who Wore it Best.
4) You Can Call Us Aaron Burr From the Way We’re Dropping Hamiltons
Of course, Omaha museums are still in the USA, so we wouldn’t expect the Joslyn to only have European art. Let’s move to the portrait of a Very Rich American, Mr. Alexander Hamilton. This is what he looked like in real life ladies and gents–not quite as cool as the Broadway musical version.
But the painter here is almost as important as Mr. Hamilton. His name was John Trumbull, and he was George Washington’s aide-de-camp during the American Revolution. (That literally translates to “help of camp” in English.) Trumbull studied painting in Britain and then came back to paint Big Fancy Portraits of Great Americans. He painted Washington and Jefferson as well as Hamilton, but I don’t know where those paintings are. And there’s no Broadway musical called Washington or Jefferson, so they can’t be that important.
5) Native American art
The Omaha area was home to many Native Americans before European-Americans arrived, and Native Americans still live in Nebraska to this day. So I liked that many Omaha museums present Native American art and history. At the Joslyn, they explained they want to showcase traditional and contemporary Native American art, to avoid giving the impression that Native American art is only a thing of the past.
Here you can see traditional beaded moccasins on the right. The artist is unknown. On the right, you can see contemporary art by Teri Greeves of the Kiowa tribe. The designs on the Converse shoes are traditional Kiowa symbols.
6) Jun Kaneko
I wanted to make sure to include at least one Nebraska artist showcased in the Omaha museums, and Jun Kaneko is my favorite Nebraska artist that I know. (I had previously discovered his mildly terrifying work in Phoenix, Arizona.) But there’s nothing terrifying about this sculpture, which he calls a dango. (Dango means dumpling in Japanese. But this is not a dumpling. Do not try to eat it.)
24 Hours: Omaha Museums
Afternoon: Lauritzen Gardens
The Lauritzen Gardens are a lovely oasis of blooms just a short drive away from downtown Omaha. (Information about hours and prices is here on their website.) You can take an Uber there if you don’t have a car. But I think the gardens count as one of the Omaha museums because they are also home to beautiful pieces of art year round. I didn’t even see the Lauritzen Gardens at their best because when I visited, the gardens were under construction. But I can still help you get to know…
Three Fun Facts: Lauritzen Gardens
1) Where Can I Eat Near The Lauritzen Gardens?
Before heading to the Lauritzen Gardens, get lunch at Block 16, which is near the Joslyn Art Museum. This is a great place to go for a burger. In fact, Alton Brown said it was his favorite burger in the entire country, which is saying a lot because this is American and we love our burglars.
I recommend the croque garcon burger. In true American fashion it comes with way more toppings than any person could need: cheese, ham, egg, truffle mayo, and mustard. It sounds like too much but everything comes together perfectly.
If you want something sweet after the garden, head back to Ted and Wally’s in downtown Omaha. They make their ice cream the old fashioned way with rock salt and everything. It’s ice cream as Teddy Roosevelt might have enjoyed it! Their flavors change daily, but I love the Seven Storey Mountain flavor with maple, coffee, hazelnut, black walnut, with granola and chocolate rocks. It couldn’t be more loaded with fixings. It’s basically the croque garcon of ice cream.
2) What Kind of Plants are at the Lauritzen Gardens?
As I mentioned, the conservatory was closed when I was there, but there was still an indoor plant exhibit. It showcased prehistoric plants like cycads. There were even giant plastic dinosaurs sprinkled around the exhibit to add verisimilitude/terrify the small children of Omaha.
When you visit a botanical garden in the spring, you can expect to find daffodils. When I was there, the Lauritzen was trying to raise money to plant one million daffodils in the garden. According to their website, they’re still working on this goal and I wish them luck. The world could always use more beautiful things!
3) What Art is at the Lauritzen?
There’s so much art to be found wandering around the gardens. You can see more dangos from Jun Kaneko hiding amongst the daffodils. There are also giant wooden Lithuanian sculptures.
You probably thought that was a joke, but no! I never joke about Lithuanian sculpture, Internet Stranger! I learned that lesson the hard way.
But my favorite pieces of art at the Lauritzen are these little gates and decorative stone blocks found around the garden. Most of them were actually taken from old buildings in Omaha that were either renovated or demolished. I love the idea of taking pieces from old buildings that have fallen into disrepair and turning them into art. We should try that more in New York City instead of just dumping everything into a landfill in New Jersey.
24 Hours: Omaha Museums
Evening: Dinner at The Grey Plume
Now that we’ve spent the day at the classiest Omaha museums, it’s time to dine at one of Omaha’s classiest restaurants, The Grey Plume. Here you’ll feast on a tasting menu as good as any in the United States. The dishes change with the seasons, so I can’t guarantee anything I ate will be available when you visit. But I can give you an idea of what to expect with…
Approximately Top 5: The Grey Plume
The tasting menu was quite traditional, starting with the lightest course and working our way to the heaviest. First was sunchoke soup with mushroom panna cotta on the bottom. I loved the earthy taste of the sunchoke combined with the mushrooms. It added some punch to a very light dish.
Next were delicate buttermilk agnolotti (a type of pasta) covered in lovely mounds of cheese. Honestly, the agnolotti were delicious but I would have been satisfied with nothing but the pile of cheese. I’m a cheese slut that way.
We keep it traditional by going to the Blue valley steelhead trout with wilted greens and root vegetables. This was a very satisfying dish on a chilly April day. And steelhead is a very sustainable fish, so you can even feel smug and pleased with yourself for eating it.
Let’s keep the progression of flesh going. After fish, we’re taking it up a notch with chicken. But this isn’t just a simple roast chicken. Instead we’ve got chicken filled with chicken mousse and covered with chicken skin that has been flash fried duck fat. I can easily say this was the most decadent chicken dish I’ve ever eaten. If I had one complaint about this tasting menu it’s that the portions were so large, I wasn’t able to eat every bite. But I guess they like their tasting menus large in Omaha.
It wouldn’t be a Nebraska tasting menu without beef. They take their steaks seriously in Omaha! But we get beef two ways here: Wagyu beef tenderloin with short rib. Truly this dish was a meat lover’s paradise. I think it would even be enough to satisfy Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation.
After pasta, fish, chicken, and beef, I felt like I couldn’t fit one more bite into my tummy. Fortunately everyone knows you have a second stomach for dessert. That’s the only reason I was able to eat the cocoa nib ice cream with light chocolate cake, tiny oranges, and a white chocolate dome. I’m impressed with The Grey Plume’s commitment to using the main ingredient of each dish several ways. They did it with the chicken, they did it with the beef, and now they’re doing it with the chocolate. And if there’s any ingredient I like to eat any which way, including loose, it’s chocolate.
That’s 24 Hours: Omaha Museums
What are your favorite Omaha museums? Are you ready to start booking your hotel to Omaha right away? And when I’m a Very Rich Person, should I pose for my portrait with a falcon or a giant dinosaur skull? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in Omaha visiting Omaha museums, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Omaha. If you have time for another 24 hours in Omaha, click here.