It’s easy to spend your days and nights doing the same thing everyone else does. Eat at the same restaurants, go to the same movies, visit the same tourist destinations. But wouldn’t you like to be on the cutting edge? Wouldn’t you rather discover the latest trend? So how about instead of jetting off to the usual places like Paris or Venice, spend 24 hours in Nebraska exploring the best Omaha attractions?
Many Americans don’t even know how much Omaha has to offer. But Omaha is home to many tycoons like Warren Buffett so it needs lots of gourmet restaurants to keep those fat cats happy. Omaha also has arguably the best zoo in the country, which we will visit today. After today, you’ll be one of the cool kids in the know about Omaha’s charms!
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 attractions, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Omaha. If you have time for another 24 hours in Omaha, click here!
24 Hours: Omaha Attractions
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 Attractions
Morning: Durham Museum
The Durham museum doesn’t have anything to do with Durham, North Carolina. It’s currently Omaha’s history museum. But the interior of the building looks much more like a train station. And that, dear Internet Stranger, is no mere coincidence. In fact, the Durham Museum is housed in Omaha’s Art Deco former train station, which was built in 1931. I’m so glad that Omaha decided to turn it into one of the best Omaha attractions instead of demolishing it to build a freeway.
And I’m also glad to have the chance to share with you…
Three Fun Facts: Omaha History
1) Why is Omaha?
Omaha was founded for the same reason that most cities are founded: to make money. Native Americans were living in the area around Omaha for many years. But it wasn’t until after the Lewis and Clark expedition went west that Omaha became a settlement and then a city. Its location right on the Missouri River made it perfect for transporting goods. And once the Transcontinental Railroad was built and trains came to Omaha, even more money started pouring into the city.
One major change in Omaha history is that it used to be the capital city of Nebraska, but now it isn’t. Lincoln, Nebraska has that honor. That makes sense. After all President Lincoln is probably our greatest president, and I’ve never even heard of President Omaha. But Omaha remains the largest city in Nebraska.
2) Any Hot Omaha Goss?
Back when Omaha was making all that money, it was also having tons of fun. That led to Omaha developing a reputation as a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Newspapers would warn people against visiting Omaha, unless they wanted to be surrounded by whiskey and prostitutes. Maybe people were very different back in the 1800s, but that doesn’t sound like it would be much of a deterrent. I think there’s many men out there who would think whiskey and prostitutes are a great way to spend a weekend.
Eventually the vice problem was solved when the Omaha courts decreed that all people found consorting with whiskey and/or prostitutes would be dipped in bronze and put on display in the Durham train station. That’s why you’ll find no more vice in Omaha to this day!
3) Who Are Some Famous Omahans?
Well, I’ve already mentioned Warren Buffett, the head honcho of Berkshire Hathaway. But if you’re more into sports, you can see the jersey of Marlin Briscoe who played for the Denver Broncos. He was the first starting black quarterback in NFL history, and he’s also a native son of Omaha.
Another famous Omahan was Father Flanagan, an Irish Catholic priest who dedicated his life to serving homeless boys in Omaha. He founded the famous Boys Town organization to give these children a home and a sense of community. Father Flanagan passed away in the 1940s, but Boys Town exists to this day. If you’re interested in learning more about Father Flanagan, you can also check out the movie Boys Town, starring Spencer Tracy. (But not Katherine Hepburn. I don’t think priests are allowed to have a Katherine Hepburn.)
24 Hours: Omaha Attractions
Afternoon: Henry Doorly Zoo
The Henry Doorly Zoo is by far the most popular of all Omaha attractions. Many people even say it’s the best zoo in the country. That’s pretty impressive, considering that Omaha generally doesn’t crack the top 10 of most popular American cities for tourists to visit. I went to the Henry Doorly Zoo in early April. I had a great time, but it was a little chilly and not all the animals were out.
So I suggest visiting the Henry Doorly Zoo in summer, when you’ll be able to see everything. You can find all info about opening hours and prices here on their website. But even if you go in the off season, I’m sure you’ll be able to find at least…
Approximately Top 5: Henry Doorly Zoo
1) Lunch at M’s Pub
Nowadays, Omaha is full of yummy restaurants. But for much of Omaha’s history, its great claim to fame was the invention of the Reuben. (Omaha natives, yes I know about the runza, please don’t email me.) A Reuben sandwich is made with corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing all warmed up together on rye bread. Naturally New York City, my hometown, also claims to have invented this scrumptious concoction. But I think New York City needs to let Omaha have this one. After all we have the Statue of Liberty and Broadway, and Omaha isn’t even allowed to have whiskey and prostitutes anymore.
I don’t recommend getting your sandwich at the Henry Doorly Zoo. Instead, stop at M’s Pub in Downtown Omaha before heading to the zoo. They’ll make your Reuben big, fresh, and delicious I also like that they serve the Russian dressing on the side so you can choose the amount you want, and the bread won’t get soggy.
2) Creatures of the Night
One exhibit that’s perfect to visit year round is the Creatures of the Night exhibit. As you can probably tell, this exhibit is indoors, and it’s dedicated to animals that like to live in the dark. (It’s also a solid Rocky Horror Picture Show reference. Well played Omaha! I see you haven’t lost all your edge, even if the fuzz took your whiskey.)
My favorite animal in the Creatures of the Night exhibit is the albino alligator. Albino alligators need to live in zoos or other types of protective environments. That’s because they have no natural camouflage since their “skin” is blindingly white. They’d get eaten by predators in 50 seconds flat in the wild. So go visit this guy at the Henry Doorly Zoo and help them take care of this poor defenseless beastie. Freaky gators need love too!
3) African Grasslands
The African Grasslands exhibit is definitely the high point of the Henry Doorly Zoo. It’s 28 acres in bigness. That’s like 21 football fields. And look how close I was to these gorgeous lions. Any closer, and I would have been a lion lunch. (But don’t worry. I was safely protected from the lions by glass.) One fun fact I learned about lions is that their nose changes color the older they get. So if a lion has a full black nose, that means it’s probably at least 8 years old. Glad to know this trick doesn’t work on humans! That way I can keep telling people I’m a college student.
The elephants are another one of the big Omaha attractions. The elephant habitat at the Henry Doorly Zoo is the largest in North America. I got to watch the trainers feeding the elephants, and the trainer dropped some food on the ground. But that didn’t stop the ellie! She just picked up the food by stretching out her cute little trunk to a seemingly impossible length. Elephants are amazing!
Another great thing to visit at the Henry Doorly Zoo on a colder day is the aquarium! Say hello to my little puffin friends! They are housed near the penguins, which is ironic since in the real world, puffins live on the opposite end of the planet from penguins.
But in an aquarium, puffins and penguins can put aside their ancient enmity and live in peace. “Puffin and penguin live together in perfect harmony…side by side at the aquarium…why can’t we?”
The one thing you need to be on the lookout for at the aquarium is this octopus who has escaped from his cage. I don’t want to be overly suspicious, but he definitely looks like he’s searching for whiskey and prostitutes.
6) Butterfly and Insect Pavilion
The Butterfly and Insect Pavilion, which is also located right next to the Aquarium, is also a great spot to visit whether the weather is cold or warm. It’s home to at least 11 different types of gorgeous butterflies. Try to catch them all like Pokemon! (But don’t literally catch them because you will kill them.
I made it my personal mission to get a good photo of this Blue Mountain Swallowtail Butterfly. First try was not a success.
This try was even worse.
Aha yes! Victory! Suck it, butterfly!
Also I learned that the name for a group of caterpillars is an army of caterpillars which means I’ll now have nightmares about the impending caterpillar invasion.
24 Hours: Omaha Attractions
Evening: Dinner at V Mertz
When most people imagine fine dining in Omaha, they probably picture a steakhouse. Don’t get me wrong, you can get great steak in Omaha. But for those who prefer a tasting menu, check out V Mertz, a fine dining restaurant that would fit right in any city in the country from NYC to San Francisco. You start the meal with not one…
but two amuse bouches! The first was a one-bite stuffed with shrimp. The second was a 13-month prosciutto. The waiter told me to eat one piece alone and the other on the cracker with a Kalamata olive spread. Ordinarily I would have responded, “Don’t tell me how to do my job, puppet” because I don’t like being told what to do. But in this case, I made an exception and obeyed my waiter, and I’m glad I did because it was delicious.
The first course was chicken liver pate in an adorable little tin served with a myriad of trimmings: quince gel, orange marmalade, and pickled fennel and rhubarb. The sour fruit was the perfect counterpart to the rich and fatty liver.
Up next was a blood orange carpaccio with lettuce jus. I love the clever idea of using fruit as meat! But I forgot to photograph it, so it’s basically like the dish didn’t exist.
I did remember to photograph the next veggie dish: chestnut lasagna with morel mushrooms and pecorino romano. It tasted like something they’d serve at the country estate of a French nobleman who was later guillotined during the Revolution. (This is a compliment.)
The main course was a gorgeous guinea fowl with white asparagus, green lentils, and peas. Once again, I was taken back to the imaginary country estate of the French nobleman. But who am I in this scenario? Am I a spy for the revolutionaries, or am I the wife of the nobleman who’s going to get guillotined later as well? Well, at least I’m getting to eat this well before they chop my head off.
Just like V Mertz has not one, but two amuse bouches, it has not one, but two desserts. First there’s a chocolate sorbet with the lovely soft caneles de Bordeaux pastry.
And the other was a kind of fluffy Japanese cheesecake served with ginger and black tea gel. I enjoyed having something so light at the end of a heavy meal, but the Nebraskan businessman sitting next to me could not get over eating gel for dessert. I bet he would have preferred whiskey and prostitutes. But only you can know whether you are more like Mr. Nebraska or me, the glamorous world traveler/headless French noblewoman!
That’s 24 Hours of Omaha Attractions!
What are your favorite Omaha attractions? Are you ready to start booking your Omaha hotel right now? And do you think Mr. Nebraska would get along with the Octopus Who is Clearly Up To Something? Please leave your thoughts below!This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase something using one of the links on this post, I may earn a small commission. But I would never recommend anything unless I loved it, dahlink!