With its deep cultural history and abundance of natural areas near lovely lakes and rivers, Omaha, Nebraska makes a compelling vacation destination. Besides famous attractions such as the Henry Doorly Zoo and the Old Market historic district, the city boasts a bounty of lesser-known attractions and wonders. Situated close to most Omaha vacation rentals, you can find fascinating museums, unique buildings, and breathtaking parks and gardens. Take a look at the best hidden gems in the city of Omaha.
1. Standing Bear Lake
Standing Bear Lake lies at the edge of northwestern Omaha. The park surrounding the lake features wide trails around the shore that are ideal for walking, jogging, and cycling. The area remains pleasantly quiet because powerboats are not allowed, so only canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards ply the waters. Enjoy excellent fishing for trout, bass, catfish, bluegill, and other species. The park has a flying field for remote controlled airplanes and a unique wind organ sculpture that makes ethereal melodies when breezes blow through it. In winter, Standing Bear Lake is a popular location for ice skating.
2. Joslyn Castle
The mansion known as Joslyn Castle is in the Gold Coast Historic District in midtown Omaha. Built in 1903, the 35-room, four story edifice is in the Scottish Baronial Gothic Revival style of architecture popular in 19th century Scotland during the time of Sir Walter Scott. Constructed of Kansas limestone, the mansion features a majestic mahogany staircase, stained glass windows, an Aeolian pipe organ, a ballroom, and many other distinctive embellishments. Public and private tours of the castle are available, and the lovely gardens and grounds are also open as a public green space.
3. Florence Mill
Located near vacation rentals in the Florence neighborhood of northern Omaha, the historic Florence Mill now houses the Winter Quarters Mill Museum and ArtLoft Gallery. In 1846, Mormon pioneers supervised by Brigham Young constructed the original mill. Although the building has been renovated since then, it still contains some of the original wooden pegs and hand-made beams. The museum houses historic newspaper clippings, documents, photographs, and agricultural implements, and the ArtLoft displays work from contemporary local artists. Every Sunday Florence Mill also hosts a farmer’s market that offers local produce, arts and crafts, and live music.
4. Lauritzen Gardens
The lovely Lauritzen Gardens, also known as the Omaha Botanical Gardens, lie in southeastern Omaha near the Missouri River. The numerous themed sections include a rose garden, an herb garden, a tree peony garden, a Victorian garden, and a woodland trail. A woodland waterfall drops down several levels into pristine ponds. The unique Model Railroad Garden features model trains traveling through miniature communities and lush landscapes, and the Children’s Garden has hands-on gardening opportunities. In the conservatory, walk amidst tropical foliage and flamboyant flowers.
5. Heron Haven Nature Center
Heron Haven Nature Center is a hidden spring-fed wetlands sanctuary consisting of woodlands, marshes, and swamplands in the midst of northwestern Omaha. Pleasant walking paths and a boardwalk lead you into the lush foliage where you can observe herons, ducks, Canadian geese, butterflies, and other wildlife. An educational center and museum offers displays and information on the local wildlife in the form of photos, videos, books, and periodicals.
6. River City Star
The River City Star is a two-deck paddlewheel riverboat that sails out of a dock on the Missouri River in downtown Omaha. The lower deck features a full bar, comfortable seats, large viewing windows, and open areas at the bow and stern. The upper deck holds the captain’s pilot house as well as more seating and enough space for a band or DJ. Enjoy a lunch or dinner sightseeing cruise along the scenic Omaha waterfront.
7. Lewis and Clark Landing
Lewis and Clark Landing is a pleasant public park on the west bank of the Missouri River near downtown Omaha. The park commemorates the original 1804 landing site of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition. A walking and cycling trail follows the riverfront. Along the way are historical markers, interpretive exhibits, and children’s play fountains. Located at the park is the Omaha side of the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge, which takes you from Omaha, Nebraska, over the Missouri River to Council Bluffs, Iowa, on the opposite bank.
8. Durham Museum
Located in the former Omaha Union Station railway terminal, Durham Museum offers exhibits highlighting regional history. Among the displays are replicas of Native American rawhide tepees and earth lodges, pioneer workers’ cottages, an authentic streetcar, and a replica grocery store. The amazing collection in the Byron Reed Gallery includes ancient coins, manuscripts, documents, and books. Walk through antique train cars from the Harriman Family Line, and enjoy the model train layouts that depict the historic line from Omaha to Ogden, Utah. Explore the museum on your own or join a guided tour.
9. Fontenelle Forest
Fontenelle Forest is an extensive natural area at the edge of southeastern Omaha. The site features miles of trails through woodlands, prairies, and wetlands. Wildlife you may observe includes deer, bald eagles, red-shouldered hawks, and many other species of birds. One of the highlights of the area is the Fontenelle Forest Nature Center’s Raptor Woodland Refuge, which offers exhibits of rescued birds of prey in enclosures set 30 feet above the forest floor in the treetop canopy.
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