Touring Nebraska – Lincoln & Omaha

Waking up at our campground we were excited to see what the two largest cities in Nebraska had to offer.  As both Lincoln and Omaha are in eastern Nebraska and only about an hour apart, we had chosen a campground between them so we would not have to move campsites on a daily basis.  Today we would be going to the smaller of the two cities, Nebraska’s capitol city of Lincoln.

Nebraska’s Capitol Building

As we drove into Lincoln, we already had our first stop in mind: the Nebraska capitol building.  We found parking and headed in.  As it was a weekday there wasn’t too much hustle and bustle in or around the building.  We checked in and signed up for a tour.  As it turned out only one other couple joined us on the tour who were also an RVing couple from Pennsylvania.

At this point Julie had been to over 30 capitol buildings in the USA, Canada & Mexico and almost immediately this one became my favorite.  I love the art deco style and almost the entire huge first floor of this building was done in this style.  There were huge stone murals on the walls and most of the doors leading to different chambers were done in a very colorful Native American motif.  It was all awesome and if money was no object, I would want to have this same sort of thing done to our apartment.  I know that’s not exactly feasible, but I can dream!

The other awesome thing about this state house was its tower.  We had been to a few capitol buildings with towers (North Dakota, Louisiana, Florida) but had not seen one in a while.  As part of the tour we were told that the designer in 1932 thought that since Nebraska was very level or flat that the capitol building should have some altitude.  I took this to mean that theoretically anyway that people could then see the building from far away.  We took the elevator to the top of the 400-foot tower and sure enough you could see over almost the entire city of Lincoln.  Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating totally with us on this day as it was cloudy and a bit rainy, but it was still pretty neat that we were able to see as far of a distance as we did.

Exploring Lincoln

After leaving the capitol building, we hopped back into Bubbles and headed over to Lincoln’s historic Haymarket district.  The Haymarket district was what it sounds like; a hay market.  This was Lincoln’s market area. Unlike what we had seen in the rest of the city, all the buildings in this area were brick and each was 3 to 4 stories tall.  This area was directly next to downtown Lincoln as well as the University of Nebraska.  As this was the case there were restaurants, bars, clubs, gift shops and shops selling everything University of Nebraska that you could possibly buy.

As Lincoln was the first larger city that we had been to since leaving Reno, NV we decided that we should go to a restaurant for lunch to check out the local food scene.  After doing a little bit of research on Yelp for Haymarket restaurants we chose to go to Leadbelly.  Just the name gave us the feeling that we would be in for a filling lunch.  We both chose a burger and a local beer.  Everything turned out to be awesome.

From Leadbelly we walked around the Haymarket district a bit more walking in and out of a few shops looking for some souvenirs.  Not having gone to a major college myself (I attended the University of Tampa) going into stores that sold nothing, but University of Nebraska items was a bit crazy to me. There was just row after row and aisle after aisle of Nebraska Cornhusker paraphernalia.  It was crazy.  We had some fun trying on corn cob hats and seeing little fighting corn farmers.  After we picked out a few things we hopped back into Bubbles and headed back to the campground for the night.

The next morning after a good breakfast we packed up and headed to Nebraska’s largest city of Omaha.  Driving into Omaha we really didn’t know what to except but to our surprise, Omaha was large and booming.  We saw cranes all over downtown as new buildings were going up.  We looked on Google Maps for the shopping/pedestrian area called The Old Market area, found it and parked.

The Old Market District in Omaha

We were almost immediately blown away by this area.  We had thought that the Haymarket area from the day before was pretty cool, but the Old Market in Omaha was seemingly 10 times the size.  We walked around passing every store, restaurant and bar that you could ever want.  After doing a little research we found out that Omaha, much like Kansas City was (and still is to an extent) a huge railroad city.  The (Old) Market area used to be a trading/selling area for all sorts of groceries.  This went on until the 1950’s.  In the 1970’s the owner of most of the buildings started renovating them and switching them from a traditional market to restaurants as well as apartments and it has grown into what it has become today.

As we had arrived in the Old Market area shortly before lunchtime most of the restaurants had not yet opened.  This gave us a chance to hop into a few of the stores that we found in the area.  We browsed a few antiques and flea market type stores as well as some art galleries.  Some of the buildings had beautiful multi-floor passageways that we walked through.  After a few hours we were hungry and wanted to check out some of the Omaha food as we had in Lincoln the day before.  We checked out Yelp again and came across M’s Pub.

M’s Pub turned out to be not an Irish style pub but more of an upscale American restaurant.  We felt a little under-dressed in tee shirts and shorts, but they took us to a table without any fuss.  Here Julie and I both ordered a great cocktail and a local fish dish.  Both were beyond excellent and we left M’s very satisfied.

The Durham Museum

Next up for the day was the Durham Museum.  This museum was located in Omaha’s old Union Pacific train station.  The museum covered the history of the city and the local area but more importantly showcased the cities rail history.  It was pretty awesome walking into the museum as the rail station is 100% renovated and it looks like it did in the 1920’s.  We walked around the first few floors which showed a history of Omaha as well as the railroads in the surrounding area.  The gem of the museum for us was the lowest floor.  This is where actual Union Pacific engines and passenger cars are kept along with period signage.  It was awesome being able to walk up onto the engines and through the rail cars.  This allowed us to really touch and feel what people 100 years ago felt as they rode the rails to Omaha and beyond.

After checking out all the full-size rail cars we went back to the main floor of the museum where they had a fully functional old-style soda fountain and ice cream parlor.  This was awesome as the workers were wearing white button-down shirts with white paper hats.  You could get malts, sundae’s, hot dogs, hamburgers, coffee as well as a variety of vintage candy.  Julie and I ordered a hot fudge sundae and sat down at the counter.  Looking out into the renovated station at the ice cream counter we thought that this museum made it into our top 5 museums in the past few years.  It was awesome!

From the museum we walked around the adjacent neighborhood for a while stopping into Urban Abbey for a coffee.  We didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out that Urban Abbey was not only a coffee shop but a church as well.  It was not a typical church as from what we could see as it looked more or less like a typical coffee shop although with a bit more religious publications around than normal.  It was inviting and the coffee was pretty good.  We thought it was a pretty neat idea.  From the coffee shop/church we headed back to Bubbles and the campground for the night.

The next morning, we woke up and after a quick breakfast, packed up and headed out.  We were heading further east today but still wanted to spend the morning in the Omaha area.  For the last two days we had been passing an outlet mall right next to our campground and as we both were in need for some new pants, we stopped by the Nebraska Crossing Outlet Mall.  After checking out a few stores we made our purchases and we were off.

North Omaha’s Benson Neighborhood

We took a highway just north of Omaha to the Benson neighborhood in North Omaha.  Here we found an eclectic neighborhood filled with restaurants, bars and shops.  As it was morning not everything was open, but we had a good time window shopping.  We stopped in Hardy Coffee Co. for a coffee and a rice crispy bar.  Both were excellent.  We wished we could stay a bit longer until most things were open but as we wanted to continue east, we hopped into Bubbles and hit the highway!

Next up…We explore Des Moines and the rest of Iowa!

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