Elizabeth Hey

Brainy, Brawny Nebraska

 
 

Elizabeth Hey
Published November 01, 2017

Nebraska is a land of surprises. Omaha and Lincoln, the state’s two largest cities, will welcome your group with sophisticated dining, shopping and an abundance of fine arts. Further west, nature lovers can see a show rarely seen elsewhere. Situated directly on North America’s Central Flyway, Nebraska sees thousands of species of migratory birds each spring and fall, and the area’s sandhill crane migration is the world’s largest.

Add in the breadth and depth of Nebraska’s arts and culture, and the smorgasbord continues. Among the wide range of museum exhibits are Cold War aircraft and pioneer memorabilia, world-famous paintings and a 1930s soda fountain that still serves phosphates. The only difficulty in planning your itinerary in the Cornhusker State will be deciding what to include.

Omaha

Omaha impresses visitors with a variety of cultural options. Constructed of pink granite, the Joslyn Art Museum is Nebraska’s most comprehensive fine art institution and features a prominent American West collection. For an intimate art experience, head to nearby Hot Shops Art Center, which features more than 80 studio artists and glassblowing demonstrations.

Theater and music buffs can attend Broadway shows and performances at the historic Orpheum Theater and the Holland Performing Arts Center. The Omaha Community Playhouse offers year-round productions as the nation’s largest community theater. Jazz on the Green finds people jamming to national and local jazz musicians at Midtown Crossing’s free summer concerts.

The Durham Museum houses train cars and a 1930s soda fountain in Omaha’s former Union Station. Museum tours include overviews of the Art Deco building, considered the most significant artifact. Christmas at Union Station boasts the region’s largest indoor tree, an Ethnic Holiday Festival and a concert series.

“Omaha makes a terrific destination for groups during warm weather and the winter months,” said Tracie McPherson, director of communications for Visit Omaha. “For instance, the zoo’s Desert Dome ranks as the world’s largest indoor desert, and groups can rent snowshoes at Fontanelle Forest, which supports injured raptors.”

En route to Lincoln, the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum houses an outstanding Cold War collection that includes an SR-71 Blackbird and 35 additional military aircraft. Complimentary tours are led by former military pilots and crew members. Nearby Mahoney State Park offers outdoor activities, and most guest rooms at its Peter Kiewit Lodge overlook the Platte River.

Lincoln 

As the state capital, Lincoln is equally as sophisticated as Omaha. Since 1990, the Lied Center for the Performing Arts has brought the world’s greatest artists of music, dance and theater to Nebraska. At the Sheldon Museum of Art, on the University of Nebraska at Lincoln campus, events include First Fridays, lunchtime chats with curators and artists, and film screenings. At the University of Nebraska State Museum-Morrill Hall, groups can journey back to prehistoric times and get up close to Helicoprion, a 13-foot shark with buzz-saw-like teeth at the “Bizarre Beasts” exhibit.

Tours abound in Lincoln. Speedway Motors’ Museum of American Speed holds one of the world’s largest collections of racing engines. Private event space is available for lunch or evening receptions before or after a self-guided or docent-led tour. Football fans can tour Memorial Stadium and view the Hawks Championship Center and training room before stepping onto the turf. Your group can tour the Governor’s Mansion — Thursdays only — opt for a Capitol tour and stop for lunch at Billy’s Restaurant, named after William Jennings Bryan and located in the elegant 1887 Noble-Dawes House, all within walking distance of one another.

Food lovers will appreciate the farm-to-table approach at Lakehouse Farm and Prairie Plate, where they can tour the organic farm and dine lakeside. Groups can taste local craft brews at Blue Blood Brewery, which sits above Robbers Cave. After lunch, groups can tour the 5,000-square-foot maze of sandstone tunnels. Aboveground in summer, there’s live entertainment on an outside stage. The Historic Haymarket and the Railyard Entertainment District showcase restaurants, shopping, music, free movies and a skating rink in winter.

“We offer 60- to 90-minute guided walking tours of the Haymarket that are steeped in history,” said Kelsey Bousquet, group sales manager for the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau. “And during cocktail hour, groups can take their drinks from one bar to the next.”

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