First on a tour of Omaha should be the Durham Museum, 801 S. 10th St. (tel. 402/444-5071; www.durhammuseum.org), an easy walk from the Old Market. Housed in a restored 1931 Union Station, this Art Deco landmark (and Smithsonian Institute affiliate) chronicles regional history, displays train cars (kids love the caboose), boasts an authentic soda fountain overlooking the elaborately decorated Main Waiting Room, and hosts nationally acclaimed touring exhibitions. It's open Tuesday 10am to 8pm, Wednesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, and Sunday 1 to 5pm. Admission is $7 adults, $6 seniors, and $5 children. Just west of downtown is another Art Deco gem, the Joslyn Art Museum, 2200 Dodge St. (tel. 402/342-3300; www.joslyn.org). Although its collection concentrates on 19th- and 20th-century art from Europe and America, it's noted for its art of the American West, including Swiss artist Karl Bodmer's watercolors and prints documenting his journeys in the 1830s across North America and up the Missouri River, American Indian art, and works by Catlin, Remington, and Russell. Check the museum's website for information on free entertainment, such as its outdoor Jazz on the Green in summer. It's open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 4pm and Sunday noon to 4pm. Admission is $7 adults, $5 seniors and students, and $4 children.
A must for gardeners is the 100-acre Lauritzen Gardens, near Henry Doorly Zoo at 100 Bancroft (tel. 402/346-4002; www.omahabotanicalgardens.org), with 3 miles of trails through Victorian, rose, herb, hosta, peony, and wildflower gardens. It's open daily 9am to 5pm; admission is $7 for adults and $3 for children.
Unique to Omaha is Boys Town, on the west end of town at 137th Street and West Dodge Road (tel. 402/498-1140; www.visitboystown.org). Founded in 1917 by Irish-born immigrant Father Flanagan, Boys Town today is a well-tended 900-acre village housing more than 700 at-risk boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 18, most of whom stay an average of 18 to 24 months (girls have been accepted since 1979 and now make up half of the residents). Stop by the visitor center to pick up a map and audio guide for a self-guided tour of the campus; in the afternoon, resident children are available as tour guides. Must-sees include Father Flanagan's 1920s home, Protestant and Catholic chapels, and the Hall of History, which displays such artifacts as the Oscar that Spencer Tracy won for his performance in Boys Town. Admission to Boys Town is free (donations are appreciated); it's open daily.
About 40 minutes southwest of downtown, just off I-80 at exit 426, is the Strategic Air & Space Museum (tel. 402/827-3100; www.strategicairandspace.com), which displays more than 40 military aircraft, missiles, and spacecraft in two massive hangars, including bombers, cargo and troop transporters, jet fighters, and helicopters. Standouts include an SR-71 Blackbird (the world's fastest and highest-flying plane, capable of flying from New York to London in 1 hr. and 55 min.), a B-52 (the principal Air Force bomber), a B-25 (similar to the one used in the Doolittle bombing raid over Tokyo), and the Apollo 9, launched in 1966. The museum is open daily 9am to 5pm. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $3 for children ages 5 to 12.
It's All Happening at the Zoo
Most zoos nowadays give animals free reign of the outdoors, and Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, 3701 S. 10th St. (tel. 402/733-8401; www.omahazoo.com), is no exception. What sets this zoo apart is its indoor habitats, for this is truly a fantasyland of interiors, making it a great destination year-round. (Reader's Digest named it the best zoo in America in 2004.)
The zoo's Desert Dome, the world's largest geodesic dome, is a journey of discovery through changing vistas of desert plants and animals, culminating in an underground exploration of caves (lots of bats) and other nocturnal habitats, including the world's largest indoor swamp, filled with alligators and other creatures of the night. The Lied Jungle houses the world's largest indoor rainforest, with footpaths leading past waterfalls, ponds, and vegetation that provide home to monkeys, tapirs, and other animals, while the Scott Aquarium provides views of sharks through its underwater tunnel. Other highlights include the Hubbard Gorilla Valley, where the animals roam free while humans are confined to indoor passageways and bubble windows; Hubbard Orangutan Forest, an outdoor habitat where primates hang out in 65-foot-high concrete trees and swing on man-made vines; a huge free-flight aviary that encompasses natural woods; and a butterfly and insect pavilion with 1,500 free-flying butterflies.
Plan on spending 5 hours here, more if you wish to include a show at the zoo's IMAX 3-D theater ($8.25 adults, $6.25 children 3-11). Ticket windows open daily 9:30am to 5pm (8:30am-5pm weekends in summer), with zoo grounds closing 1 hour later. Zoo admission is $11 adults and $7.25 children ages 3 to 11; discount zoo/IMAX tickets are available.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.