A Stroll Through Omaha

Author: Alecia Pirulis

Omaha Downtown skyline with a river and swan in the foreground.  River is in Gene Leahy Mall, one of Downtown Omaha's attractions.

Open prairies dotted with red barns, cowboys and rodeos, rolling hills and cattle, and one of the country’s favorite cities – all in one place. Omaha is a unique blend of pastoral and urban, history and future. And if you’re looking for a great Midwestern city for your next apartment, Omaha is probably at the top of your list. After all, it tops many magazine “best of” lists and has even been called “Paradise on the Plains” (Kiplinger, Best Cities 2008).

Omaha is the largest city in Nebraska and a business hub. It is home to many Fortune 500 companies, including Mutual of Omaha, Union Pacific, Berkshire Hathaway, and ConAgra Foods. It is also home to TD Ameritrade, Werner Enterprises, and the Gallup Organization. Omaha is also a major tourist destination, with events such as baseball’s College World Series and attractions such as the world-famous Henry Doorly Zoo.

Now is an ideal time to visit Omaha – next weekend (September 26-29) is the annual Ak-Sar-Ben’s River City Rodeo and Stock Show. An annual event for 65 years, the rodeo is the largest indoor rodeo in Nebraska. In addition to the rodeo and stock show, the event features live entertainment and activities such as a BBQ contest, trail rides, a parade, competitions, robotics, and exhibits. The event, which includes the Douglas County Fair, draws about 100,000 visitors each year from more than 30 states.

If you can’t get to Omaha in time for the rodeo and fair, that’s okay – there’s something happening year-round, from festivals to must-see attractions. One of those attractions is Old Market, a downtown neighborhood and landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Wander along cobblestone streets, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, admire the works of street artists and performers, and shop in the unique historic buildings. Most of the structures were built in the late 1800s, and today this is a mixed-use area with a great mixture of residential and commercial space. Attractions include museums, art galleries, restaurants, and theaters.

In 1894, one of Omaha’s best-known attractions began as Riverview Park. Four years later, the park had become home to a unique menagerie that included bison and a grizzly bear. Over the next few decades, the park grew and became home to many more animals. Finally, in 1963, a large donation was given to the zoo by Margaret Hitchcock Doorly, with the stipulation that the zoo be named in honor of her late husband, Henry Doorly. Today, the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium contains world-class exhibits, including the world’s largest indoor desert.

Omaha is situated along the Missouri River, directly across from Council Bluffs, Iowa. It was along these riverbanks that the Lewis and Clark Expedition met with Oto and Missouria tribal leaders in 1804. Today, the area is designated as a 23-acre park named Lewis and Clark Landing. The park features 23 acres of space with Lewis and Clark interpretive exhibits, monuments, a marina, a riverfront walk, and a river-level plaza.

Just southeast of Omaha on the south end of Council Bluffs, you’ll find another great destination: Lake Manawa State Park. This popular outdoor recreation area includes the 660-acre lake and 1,529 acres of park land. The lake was formed in 1881, when a flood cut off part of the river channel. The park offers swimming, boating, camping, hiking, and fishing.

Round out your visit to Omaha with a walking tour of the historic districts. The city is home to over a dozen, and the beautiful Victorian architecture is well worth the time. Some of the districts are the Gold Coast Historic District, Fort Omaha Historic District, and Omaha Quartermaster Depot Historic District.

If you want to explore Omaha’s neighborhoods, be sure to check out Benson, a historic neighborhood in North Omaha. Benson dates back to 1887 and was its own city until it was annexed by Omaha in 1917. Benson is known for its vibrant music scene. Another great neighborhood, Dundee, is located in Midtown. Officially known as the Dundee-Happy Hollow Historic District, this neighborhood was a city founded in 1880 and annexed in 1915. Dundee, home to the famous Warren Buffett, features some beautiful architecture. It was named one of the American Planning Association’s Great American Places in 2011.

Great attractions, year-round festivals and events, a strong economy, and attractive neighborhoods – Omaha is a Midwestern gem with something for everyone.