The first stop on our cross-country trip was Omaha, Nebraska. I chose Omaha because of the rave reviews I saw about Henry Doorly Zoo, and then later learned that it is considered one of the largest zoos in the world in regards to the acreage and number of species. Conveniently it worked out to be exactly one-fourth of the way home from Denver.
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. As predicted, the shop was full of very typical, and often tacky, souvenirs – but of course I bought a couple for the family 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 a smaller, but also nice brewery, Infusion Brewery. It’d been a long day, we were tired, and the flight pricing was not clear, so we didn’t stay long. I tried a few brews and got a six-pack to go. The Vanilla Bean Blonde is a new favorite for me!
The Omaha Zoo
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 light clothing and a good pair of sneakers. It gets HOT and you’ll do a lot of walking. It’s worth investing in the train or skyfari to help you get around the park. But it is all worth it! The exhibits were numerous and well-designed. I easily could have spent an entire day there.
We started our day at the dome – which exhibits 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 which then leads you to man-made caves and several bat displays. You’ll spend a decent amount of time just in this one building!
Along the walkways (where you can easily get lost!), you’ll find animals from around the world – gorillas to polar bears, sea lions to giraffes.
The elephant exhibit is under renovation and super large, with a restaurant alongside. You can walk through an aviary and an area where you can come face-to-face with some lemurs! An insect and butterfly garden are a pleasure to see, but also incredibly hot and humid – keep that in mind! The aquarium is just as fantastic as the rest of the zoo, and is wonderfully air conditioned.
We spent over three and a half hours at the zoo and still felt rushed. 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 with their ice cream flavors changing daily. The reviews are fantastic.