A few years back I helped a friend move cross-country from Denver, Colorado to Syracuse, New York. So we decided to make a trip of it! Thanks to Roadtrippers, we were able to find lots of fun and interesting things to do along the 1,800-mile journey. The first stop? Omaha, Nebraska. I chose Omaha because of the rave reviews I’d read about Henry Doorly Zoo, one of the largest zoos in the world. How could I miss that?! Conveniently it worked out to be exactly one-fourth of the way home from Denver, so the perfect spot to stop for a night. Plus, now I get to share with you how to spend a day in Omaha.
Originally published on August 28, 2017. Most recently updated on January 30, 2020.
Omaha Roadside Attractions
Our first stop along the way was at one of those giant roadside tourist traps – Fort Cody Trading Post. You know the type – there are billboards for miles and miles along the highway leading up to it. They make you feel like you HAVE TO stop there. Even though you know for certain that it will be super cheesy and full of the strangest souvenirs. On the other hand, your curiosity (and your bladder) are bound to get the best of you, so you end up stopping there anyway. (Another rest stop famous for this is South of the Border when you cross from North Carolina into South Carolina along I-95).
Fort Cody plays homage to Buffalo Bill Cody from the Wild West era, and even has a miniature replica of the wild west that animates every fifteen minutes. Definitely worth watching! As predicted, the shop was full of very typical (and sometimes tacky) souvenirs – but of course I bought a couple for family and friends back home. It was a quick stop and we were back on the road…
When we finally got to Omaha for the evening, we did some Yelp research to find a good brewery/restaurant for dinner – and we discovered one of our favorite stops from the whole trip! Benson Brewery has both amazing beers and absolutely delicious meals. We tried the Karha-T, Brewer’s Duet, Golden Rabbit, and Driveway Wheat – all wonderful; the Karha-T was my favorite. A quick visit to their website explains the reason the architecture is so cool – the building is a remodeled century-old movie theater. The ambiance also played into how much we loved Benson. If you’re ever in Omaha, this place is a must!
Just a block down the street from Benson is another smaller brewery, Infusion Brewery. It’d been a long day, so we only stayed long enough to try a few brews and get a six-pack to go. The Vanilla Bean Blonde became a new favorite for me!
Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium
We settled down at the hotel for the night before going to the zoo bright and early in the morning. Word of advice: Go early!Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium claims to be the number one attraction in all of Nebraska, and draws huge crowds. We got there before it opened and were shocked by the number of cars already parked.
Budget tip: if you are a member of an AZA associated zoo or aquarium, you’ll get half-off admission!
As I mentioned before, the zoo is large. I mean… really large. Make sure you have a good chunk of your day mapped out to spend there. Wear a good pair of sneakers and comfortable clothing – it gets HOT in the summer and you’ll do a lot of walking. I suggest investing in the train or skyfari to help you get around the park and give your feet some rest. But don’t be discourage; it is all worth it! The are so many exhibits, all of which are very well-designed. I easily could have spent an entire day there.
The Desert Dome
We started our day at the dome – which houses a wide variety of animals from desert climates. Much to our surprise, there was an entire level underground as well – don’t miss it! The underground level is designed like a Louisiana bayou with boardwalks over the gators in the water below. The path leads you to man-made caves and several bat displays. You’ll spend a decent amount of time just in this one building!
The zoo is enormous, so it’s easy to lose your way! Just pay attention to your map and enjoy your surroundings. Throughout the zoo, you’ll find animals from around the world – from gorillas to polar bears, and sea lions to giraffes. The elephant exhibit is super large and has a restaurant alongside. It’s a great place to stop for a snack.
One of my favorite spots? There’s an area where you can come face-to-face with some lemurs! The giant aviary is incredible, as is the insect and butterfly garden. Then there’s still an aquarium! It’s just as beautiful as everything outside and is wonderfully air conditioned.
We spent over three and a half hours at the zoo and still felt rushed, but we needed to get back on the road. If you have the time, make an entire day of it. We also didn’t get the chance to visit local eCreamery for ice cream, but if you can, stop there after your wander around the zoo. They were featured on Shark Tank and have customizable ice cream flavors that change daily. The reviews are fantastic.
Ready to spend a day in Omaha? Leave me a comment and let me know which part if your favorite!