Explore the Cornhusker State through the eyes of the locals
Nebraska is home to expansive prairies, lively cities and so much more. In recent years, the “Cornhusker State” has become an up-and-coming destination for artists, techies, makers, foodies and creatives of all kinds. In the heart of the heartland, Nebraska’s fertile soil is growing innovation, fresh thinking amidst the fresh air and a modern Americana that is hardworking and forward-looking.
Arts, Crafts and More in Omaha
Rising from the prairielands of the Great Plains, Nebraska’s largest city hasn’t always been known as the cultural oasis it is today. But thanks to a booming startup scene, the city – dubbed as part of the Silicon Prairie (a play on California’s famously successful Silicon Valley) – is enjoying a renaissance. Today, Omaha merges retro Americana with exciting startups, bringing in live music, an energetic art scene, culinary adventurism and a “maker” culture of contemporary craftspeople to round out this heartland tech hub on the banks of the Missouri River. While Omaha has a number of larger arts institutions, including the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art and the Joslyn Art Museum, the small arts and culture non-profit Kaneko is loved by locals. Activities include an eclectic range of lectures, exhibitions and performances, including chamber music, film screenings and readings by celebrated authors. Beyond the city’s thriving art scene, there’s a community of “makers” – creative craftspeople who gather at markets like Bench: Made or Love, The Locals to sell their handmade, artfully crafted products.
A playful interactive art installation at Kaneko
Cutting Edge Cuisine
Known for its famous beef and old school Americana tastes, Omaha’s culinary scene has exploded in recent years as chefs work to satisfy the adventurous palates of the city’s tech community. At the casually stylish Saddle Creek Breakfast Club, locals warn that there’s a “worth-it” wait and rave about the contemporary twists on breakfast classics like eggs Benedict with braised short rib and jalapeño jam, a kimchi omelet, and a vegan riff on the Mexican classic huevos rancheros that comes with jackfruit barbacoa. Over at Early Bird – another locally beloved brunch spot – offerings include playful takes on American comfort food: a giant, shareable glazed donut, “Peanut Butter and Jelly French Toast,” and, in a nod to the USA’s “bigger is better” ethos, an extra-large Bloody Mary cocktail garnished with an entire fried chicken sandwich and a skewer of tater tots. While all this experimentation is exciting, no trip to the city would be complete without sampling a Reuben sandwich, the iconic American deli favorite that locals lay claim to inventing. For an authentic Reuben, head to Crescent Moon, an ale house that serves a version modeled on the one popularized by Omaha's historic Blackstone Hotel in the early 1900s.
Early Bird, a popular spot that’s open daily for brunch
Music for the Masses
Omaha is also a music town – and home to a number of nationally known bands – and The Waiting Room, a former car dealership turned venue, is an favorite for live shows with a gorgeous interior. It has a reputation for hosting a dizzying array of world-class acts, including household names and local acts. Homer’s Music and Gifts has a massive selection of new and used music on vinyl, cassettes and CDs, and even helps music lovers get into the vibe with listening stations and poster art on the walls.
Outside The Waiting Room, a popular local music venue
Late Night Experiences
With a motto like, “Just Good People,” it’s easy to see why Jake’s Cigars and Spirits is a late night venue with a side of Nebraska hospitality. The sophisticated but low-key cocktail bar, Nite Owl serves an eclectic mix of all-American and Midwestern comfort food such as fried oreos, tater tots and Frito pies, alongside internationally inspired dishes like a curried chickpea sandwich or Korean-style chicken wings. The Nite Owl crew will soon open an “adult soda fountain” in the former Bohemian Cafe, a local institution in the Little Bohemia neighborhood – a historic enclave settled by Czech immigrants in the 1880s with a name that corresponds well with the area’s current artsy, bohemian vibe and resurgent spirit.
Outside and About in Lincoln
About an hour’s drive southwest (about 95 kilometers) from Omaha, Nebraska’s second largest city and state capital, Lincoln, is around half the size of Omaha, but no less dynamic. Both cities have a large refugee population, but Lincoln is officially designated as “Refugee Friendly.” It is notably open to outsiders and, in turn, benefits from the worldliness they bring to this midwestern college town. It’s this welcoming spirit that makes Lincoln surprisingly cosmopolitan, vibrant and energetic, while still offering that sweet side of Nebraska.
At the edge of town, the expansive, 278-hectare Pioneers Park Nature Center welcomes visitors to wander among the tallgrass prairie and woodlands, walk along 12 kilometers of trail, and see bison, elk and deer. The park’s Pinewood Bowl hosts big name musical acts, while the children’s area lets kids gaze at majestic prairie mammals. With all its prairieland open space, Nebraska is an outdoor lover’s playground. Among local pastimes are some that are distinct to the state, like so-called “gravel grinding” – bike-riding across gravel trails on bikes with specially designed tires. “People come from all over the world,” boast Lincolnites proud of their unusual local sport. For a more leisurely ride, Lincoln’s Antelope Valley Trail traversesun the city from the University of Nebraska to downtown, passing through Union Plaza, a three-block urban park with an amphitheater, public art, fountains and a winding waterway.
The Hub Cafe, adjacent to Union Plaza, along the Antelope Valley Trail
Local Lincoln Eats
Just next to Union Plaza, the Hub Cafe is owned and operated by an organic dairy and creamery, Branched Oak Farm. The restaurant serves dishes made from local ingredients, including a buttermilk biscuit topped with mushroom gravy and locally made pork sausage crumble, and a seasonal squash bahn mi with housemade kimchi. Locals also love Goldenrod Pastries, a delightful bakery that sources its eggs from Common Good, a family-run organic farm. Cultiva Coffee is a small local chain that roasts its own coffee and is home to Sweet Minou, Nebraska’s first bean-to-bar chocolate factory. For local food with an international twist, the plant-based cocina (or kitchen) Pepe’s Bistro serves vegetarian Mexican food, and it’s developed a loyal following. The menu is casual, affordable and tasty, featuring dishes such as tacos with fresh corn tortillas, guacamole, herb-roasted potato, beets, zucchini and fresh organic greens, topped with pico de gallo and chipotle cashew crema. Committed to doing good by living well, Pepe – the founder of the community-run non-profit bike shop, Lincoln Bike Kitchen – gives a discount to anyone who arrives by bike.
Behind the scenes with a baker at Goldenrod Pastries
The Kids are Alright
Lincolnites love the punk rock ice cream shop Ivanna Cone (get it?!), which looks like a retro soda fountain and sells house-made ice cream with exotic flavors like Stroopwafel, Taro and Cowgirl Bark. For younger children, the Lincoln Children’s Museum is big fun for the small kids. Additionally, The Bay – a skate park, art space, music venue, digital empowerment zone, and coffeeshop in one – is an ultra-cool spot for teenagers and young adults, who can buy day passes and learn to skateboard or podcast, listen to live music or just hangout.