The Big 4-0. We’re into the 40s and it feels like we’re really getting there now! As with many of the Midwestern states, when we told people we’re going to Nebraska the reaction was somewhat muted. No one really knows what Nebraska is all about. Well, as is often the case, people don’t know what they’re missing. Nebraska was cool. Really cool. Seems as though Warren Buffett does know what he’s talking about after all.
We followed the line of the Missouri river south from Mitchell (SD) all the way down the eastern edge of Nebraska. Its two biggest cities (by far – about 40% of all Nebraskans live in them) are Lincoln and Omaha, both nestled right in the southeastern corner of the state. We’d decided to kick off state forty in Lincoln.
But before we got there we made a stop in a tiny town south of Lincoln called Beatrice to swing by the Homestead National Monument. The museum and grounds are a fascinating commemoration of the passage of the Homestead Act way back in 1862 which allowed Americans to claim up to 160 acres of land in exchange for a minimum of five years improvement and cultivation of the land. 160 acres for free! Turns out there were some pretty gnarly living conditions in those days and tending land in the middle of nowhere for five years is no mean feat. Still, about 270m acres were transferred into private hands in this way. The recreations of the 19th Century homes were really impressive and the setting is beautiful.
We headed back towards Lincoln to check into our hotel for the night. The Cornhusker Marriot might be a fairly bland looking chain hotel, but it was good value and the hotel bar had an awesome range of beers. We dumped our bags and took a walk around the downtown area. We stopped by the imposing State Capitol building – America’s only unicameral legislature and bumped into some black squirrels, before long it was time for dinner.
Yia Yia’s Pizza had been on our radar for a long time as a craft beer mecca and purveyor of excellent pizzas. When we arrived there was some sort of open mic night underway, only it was for children. None of the acts were remotely good at singing, but they were pretty adorable. The pizza and beer were as good as we’d expected. Lincoln already had us hooked.
From there we walked towards the university area and stopped in the Haymarket district. Its full of beautiful old red brick buildings, with loads of great bars. We sampled a few more brews at Lazslo’s (and came back the morning after for a delicious coffee at The Mill) before retiring to the hotel bar, and then, suitably drunk, to bed. Lincoln is a really friendly, walkable, sociable and fun town, we loved it.
The next morning we had the short drive to Omaha ahead of us so we found some stops on the way. About half way between the two cities is the Holy Family Shrine. Its just off the motorway but to get to it you have to drive down about a mile of gravel track. Its worth it though. Architecturally it is stunning, all wood and glass, and on a sunny day it just looks fantastic. A little further along the motorway is the Strategic Air and Space Museum. Offutt Air Force Base nearby was home to the Strategic Air Command during the Cold War, hence the museum being in this area. For plane nerds like Josh its a great stop, the collection of strategic aircraft, like the Blackbird, really is incredible.
After gawping at some cool planes we had an appointment with what is often dubbed the Best Zoo in America – the Henry Doorly in Omaha. We’d have to agree with that sentiment, even with large swathes of the zoo closed for renovation it was still the best we’ve been too. The massive indoor spaces that allowed the animals to roam free are really a sight to behold, you are almost transported into another part of the world. The giant fruit bat swinging upside down right by our heads was a particular highlight.
Our Omaha hotel for the night was the Deco. Now, the hotel itself is nice enough but they did cause us some serious grief by charging the wrong card for the room. They soon corrected the mistake but it meant a few minutes of panic and some expensive phone calls to card providers. Apart from that it was comfortable enough. From the hotel we walked to the Old Market district which, like Lincoln, is full of beautiful old buildings and pedestrianised areas. We stopped for a pint at the Mister Toad bar where a very cool barman made Hannah a tasty White Russian.
We had a dinner reservation at Blatt Beer and Table which was a good walk away, but it did mean we got to see a lot of Omaha. Again similar to Lincoln it is very quiet, very walkable and surprisingly attractive. At Blatt we had yet more incredible American craft beer and some super tasty fried chicken.
We didn’t really know what to expect from Nebraska, but we completely fell in love with it. Lincoln and Omaha are two understated, quietly buzzing and upbeat cities. We would really love to go back one day.
Rate the State
Good for: beer, mid-western charm, un-touristy tourist attractions.
Bad for: lovers of big metropolises, it is perhaps not home to the most natural wonders.