Things to do
Dining out: Omaha is a restaurant town, but we're known for more than steak. Among the approximately 2,232 restaurants in the eight-county metro area (of which nearly 1,400 are in Douglas County), you'll find eateries offering cuisines including — but not limited to — Chinese, Cuban, Czech, Ethiopian, French, Greek, Indian, Italian, Korean, Mexican, Moroccan and Persian.
Big acts: Seeing your favorite performer is as close as a trip downtown to the CenturyLink Center, where newer performers such as Katy Perry and Taylor Swift have wowed crowds, as have longtime favorites Bon Jovi, Carrie Underwood, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kid Rock, Brad Paisley, Maroon 5, Green Day, Jimmy Buffett, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, among others.
All for a good cause: The metro is the place for some unusual charity walks, runs and rides, including the Color Run, Zombie Walk and OwL (Omaha without Lights) Ride.
The latter activity, a nighttime cycling event that draws thousands of participants and many spectators along its routes through downtown and midtown, includes a Bright Bikes contest in which participants festoon their two- and three-wheeled vehicles with colorful lights.
Big, popular events: Shakespeare on the Green and Jazz on the Green have entertained during the summer since the mid-1980s. The newer Holiday Lights Festival provides opportunities for cold-weather fun from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve.
Celebrating ethnic cultures: Each month from April to December there are one or more ethnic festivals, such as Cinco de Mayo in May, Santa Lucia Festival in June, Omaha's Original Greek Festival in August and the Fort Omaha Intertribal Powwow in September.
Western Iowa Wine Trail: Several times a year, seven southwest Iowa wineries welcome visitors for special events that include samples of local wines and bites of food at each location. An all-inclusive ticket, or “passport,” gains access to the trail.
Communing with nature: Hitchcock Nature Center near Honey Creek, Iowa, and Fontenelle Forest near Bellevue offer a variety of trails. Fontenelle is celebrating its centennial this year. Hitchcock, which also has archery ranges, cabins and campsites, is situated in the Loess Hills.
Take me out to the ballgame: Werner Park, a 6,434-seat stadium near Papillion, is home to the Omaha Storm Chasers, the Class AAA affiliate of the Kansas City Royals baseball team. Werner Park — like the former Rosenblatt Stadium — features three colors of seats — blue, green and dark red.
Things to see
On the hoof: Bison, elk and more are yours to see during a visit to the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park & Wildlife Safari, off Interstate 80 at Exit 426. You'll really think you're on safari when you see these majestic animals in a natural setting. Beyond the drive-through exhibits, there are opportunities to see eagles and other smaller creatures up close.
Grave matters: Stop by Prospect Hill Cemetery on Memorial Day, and you'll hear the sound of the Prospect Hill Preservation Brass Ensemble at an old-time celebration that typically includes speeches, Civil War re-enactors, and rifle volleys saluting fallen veterans. You'll also hear a special tribute at the side-by-side graves of Omaha madam Anna Wilson and her longtime companion, riverboat gambler Dan Allen.
Wilson, who died in 1911, supported local charities and gave the 25-room building that had housed her brothel to the city for use as an emergency hospital. Many Omaha founders and early leaders are buried at Prospect Hill.
Architecture: Though many early-Omaha buildings are long gone, a number of late 19th- and early 20th-century structures remain. Among them are the New York Life Insurance Building at 1650 Farnam St., built in 1889 (now known as the Omaha Building), and the City National Bank Building at 405 S. 16th St., built in 1910 (now called the Orpheum Tower).
At the time each structure was built, it was considered a skyscraper. The Orpheum Tower is 16 stories; the Omaha Building was originally 10 stories. An 11th was added in 1920.
Scenic overlooks: Council Bluffs offers great views of the metro. The Lewis and Clark Monument and scenic overlook, just north of town, honors the explorers' meeting with the Otoe and Missouri Indians. The Lincoln Monument on Oakland Avenue commemorates Abraham Lincoln's 1859 visit to Council Bluffs.
Arts and culture: Omaha offers many venues in which to experience the performing arts, such as the Omaha Community Playhouse, Rose Theater, Orpheum Theater, Holland Performing Arts Center and CenturyLink Center, among other spots large and small.
Did you know?
Workplaces: For young professionals, the metro area is the place to be. Startups abound, and a number of Fortune 500 companies are headquartered here, including Berkshire Hathaway, ConAgra Foods Inc., Mutual of Omaha, Peter Kiewit Sons' Inc. and Union Pacific Corp.
Housing: If the street you're on seems like the main drag of a village, a town or even a small city, you're probably in Benson, Dundee, Elkhorn, Florence, Millard or South Omaha. Each was an independent entity that Omaha later annexed.
All continue to thrive residentially and commercially, along with newer suburban developments. Omahans who choose to live downtown have an ever-increasing number of housing and entertainment options.
Batter up!: Instead of facing northeast — the norm in many ballparks — batters in the NCAA Men's College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park face southeast from home plate.
Fans get a scenic view of the downtown skyline. The CWS annually draws thousands of fans to the 24,000-seat stadium to see the eight teams in the double-elimination tournament.
On the road: Part of the historic Lincoln Highway — the first transcontinental roadway — remains near the Elkhorn area. During a recent centennial celebration, 100-year-old Model T Fords and other old vehicles drove over the red brick road.
Big meeting: Often described as “Woodstock for Capitalists,” the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting draws shareholders from around the world to the metro area for a long weekend of social gatherings, financial learning and, yes, shopping.
They come to hear company chairman Warren Buffett and vice chairman Charles Munger offer economic insights, their thoughts on how the company is performing and more than a few jokes.
The first annual meeting, held in 1982 in the National Indemnity Co. cafeteria, attracted 15 people. This year, attendees met at CenturyLink Center Omaha and numbered about 35,000.
Nebraska spelled backward: Newcomers are sometimes confused by the term “Ak-Sar-Ben.” Formed in 1895 by a group of prominent Omaha businessmen during a time of economic uncertainty, the organization (now known as the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben Foundation) has as its mission “to leverage collective business leadership to build a more prosperous Heartland.”
The foundation benefits 1,400 youths annually through its many activities, including the River City Rodeo & Stock Show (Omaha's official community celebration) and the Coronation & Scholarship Ball (a highlight of the social calendar). Both events raise funds for college scholarships.
Big-time basketball: Omaha has two Division 1 men's basketball teams: Creighton University and the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Sports: Omaha has been the home of the College World Series since 1950, but other major sporting events happen here. Omaha has hosted the Olympic Trials for swimming two times (with a return scheduled for 2016), the Cox Classic golf tournament for 17 years, the International (an equestrian jumping competition) for two years and the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships for two years.
How we rank: Omaha has been included on many “Top Ten Best Places” lists lately, including those in Parenting Magazine, Forbes and Kiplinger's, for reasons such as low cost of living and low unemployment. Sarpy County, which includes Offutt Air Force Base, ranked No. 9 on Sperlings as a “Best Place for Military Retirees.” Fremont's unemployment rate is 3.9 percent.
Down by the riverside: The 23-acre Lewis and Clark Landing is mostly paved, which makes the riverfront park an ideal spot for annual events such as the Playing with Fire concert series and the Taste of Omaha.
Play that tune: Omahan Todd Storz, grandson of Storz Brewery founder Gottlieb Storz, is generally credited with pioneering the Top 40 radio format in the early 1950s. The now-familiar
concept of mixing hit records with disc jockey patter and sometimes over-the-top giveaways represented a significant departure from the “block” programming style of the 1940s.
History: The Omaha area (or more accurately, what became the Omaha area) was a rest stop for early explorers and others on their way west, including Lewis and Clark, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This area also played an important role in U.S. railroad history and in legal history with the 1879 trial of Standing Bear, the Ponca chief who made a successful case in U.S. District Court that Native Americans have the same rights as whites. Many metro-area museums offer exhibits on these and related topics.