10 Things You Must Do in Nebraska
I traveled to Kearney, Nebraska, from Omaha for an ecotourism symposium this summer. It was my first time to the Cornhusker state, and I must say I was incredibly enamored with the beautiful scenery.
Nebraska was not only impressive, but it also tugged at my heartstrings due to its friendly people, stunning landscape, and animal sightings everywhere we went. There are so many places to go and see, but here are things you must do in Nebraska.
#1 Eat at Twisted Fork
Sink your teeth into one of the best dishes in the Midwest at Twisted Fork, a funky little joint in Omaha’s historic Old Market district. Comfort food and genius creations dot the eclectic menu with Chicken Fried Bacon being one that will knock your socks off!
Picture this: a plate of wide rashers browned from frying with delicious, juicy, bold pork flavor and a side of peppercorn white gravy for dipping. Sorry, you can’t see my eyes rolling in the back of my head. Pair the decadent Chicken Fried Bacon with an icy Margarita, a glass of wine, or fun mule creation.
#2 Drink Nebraska Craft Beer at Kinkaider Brewing Company
One of the tastiest breweries I’ve found in the United States is in Broken Bow, Nebraska. The Kinkaider Brewing Company makes incredible craft beers, IPAs, and porters. Their bottled beer has super cool labels featuring eye-catching artwork. Kinkaider’s taproom is welcoming and doesn’t make us newbies feel intimidated.
After years of only drinking a handful of Bud Lights (I’m an American, who can blame me?), I fell in love with the porters and stouts at Kinkaider Brewing thanks to a special meal/beer pairing I attended. Devil’s Gap Jalapeño Ale is the best-seller. Kinkaider Brewing also makes a fantastic sour beer called Snozzberry Sour. This brewery serves excellent food such as Pub Mac and Cheese, flatbreads, wings, and burgers as well as offering housemade root beer as a drink alternative. Kinkaider has locations in Lincoln and Grand Island, too.
#3 Admire the Sandhills
The unique region referred to as the Sandhills is a mixed-grass prairie on dunes covering over 25% of the state of Nebraska. These awe-inspiring grass-stabilized dunes were designated a National Natural Landmark in 1984 and are the most extensive and intricate wetland ecosystem in the country.
A host of plant (720 species) and animal life inhibit the Sandhills, making it a perfect place for scenic pictures and getting in tune with nature. It is also home to a vast migratory bird and crane population, hence the Sandhill Cranes. Best of all, there are more beautiful cattle in the area than people! This animal-lover thoroughly enjoyed driving Route 2, a scenic road that I highly recommend checking out.
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#4 Taste Deliciousness at Chocolat Abeille
Tempt your sweet tooth with a top-quality bite of chocolate from Chocolat Abeille, an upscale chocolatier in downtown Omaha. Offering handcrafted chocolate and artful creations, Chocolat Abeille is worth the splurge. They could be the most beautiful candies that I’ve ever seen made in the country.
Chocolat Abeille is family owned and operated and could easily compete with high-end chocolate stores around the world. Do not miss the incredible selection of original chocolate shoes. You will feel like you stepped into a Parisian shop rather than one in the heart of the Midwest.
#5 Learn about an Iconic Nebraska Food
You can’t come to Nebraska and not try the Runza fast-food joint, or at least that is what I was told. Serving the sandwich of the same name, a Runza is a bread pocket filled with beef, kraut, onions, and seasonings. Runza sandwiches come in different sizes and with different proteins. I preferred adding cheese to my Runza sandwich.
Runza features good burgers, crinkle-cut fries, and onion rings. I enjoyed the traditional Runza sandwich with its bold flavors, and can easily see why they are a Nebraskan favorite!
#6 Study Nature at Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary
Enjoy the 2,400-acre tranquil wildlife setting and sanctuary at the Iain Nicholson Audubon Center in Gibbon. The center is located along the Platte River and operated by the Audubon Society. When spring arrives, so do more than one half a million Sandhill cranes. Guests can watch the native flora and fauna in a natural setting at the viewing blinds (something I learned about while traveling to Nebraska) at Rowe Sanctuary.
A viewing blind is a dark room with slidable slats, if you will, that move up and down to allow you to see the wildlife, but they cannot see you. It is fascinating and a great way to capture perfect nature photographs. Some birds you may see here include the Northern Bobwhite, Belted Kingfisher, Sandhill Crane, Bald Eagle, and Bobolink.
#7 Unwind at Thunderhead Brewing Company
Another impressive Nebraska Brewery, Thunderhead Brewing Company, has a laid-back non-nonsense vibe but does a heck of a job brewing craft beer and red cream soda. I don’t know which of the two I enjoyed the most!
Trevor, Thunderhead’s owner, tries exotic combinations with his beers such as Prairie Peach Wheat or the Jalapeño Ale, though Golden Frau Honey Wheat is the most requested beer. Thunderhead’s food menu offers bar bites and specialty pizzas such as Buffalo Chicken, Hula Hula (ham and pineapple), and Thunder Pie with chicken, bacon, alfredo sauce, jalapenos, and cheese. I’ll take them all, please! We visited the brewery in Kearney, but there are two others in Omaha and Axtell.
#8 Sip Delicious Wine at Mac’s Creek Winery & Vineyard
Mac’s Creek Winery & Vineyard, in Lexington, Nebraska, maintains 35-acres of grapes since 1999. Those grapes yield 17,000 gallons of wine, the second-largest amount in the state of Nebraska. The award-winning winery practices vine-to-table sustainable craftsmanship and pride themselves on setting the bar high for other wineries and vineyards to be 100% pesticide-free, which is not an easy task for fruit growers.
The wine selection is primarily sweet reds and whites, but even if you do not consider yourself a sweet wine drinker, don’t cast them aside. I was pleasantly surprised at the deep flavor notes that really hit the nose and tongue perfectly to create a great balance. Of the wines I sampled, my favorite was the Mac’s Lantern, which is similar to a Sauvignon Blanc. Try sampling and see which one you prefer for $5 per person (five samples).
Besides wine, Mac’s Creek also makes terrific hard ciders. My favorite is the Crabby Abby. You can pair your drinks with snacks such as Bavarian Pretzel Sticks, roasted almonds, and Spinach Artichoke Dip.
#9 Get Familiar with Bob the Bridge
Known as “Bob the Bridge,” the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge in Omaha connects the state to neighboring Council Bluffs, Iowa. This 3,000-foot footbridge spans the Missouri River and affords incredible views of downtown Omaha. Bring your pet or ride your bike–all are welcome here.
Bob the Bridge is a favorite amongst locals and travelers who come here to take pictures on the bridge and share their fun on Bob’s many social media sites. He (is a bridge a he?) even a designated hashtag (#ItHappensOnBob) for sharing the love on his own Twitter and Facebook pages. A division line on the bridge allows you to put one foot on each side and be in two places at one time, which Nebraskans call “bobbing.” Genius!
#10 Learn about History at the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center
If you are a fan of history, you will love the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center in Omaha. It is a treasure trove of information about the extraordinary journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark that still fascinates us 200+ years later. This National Park Service center celebrates the legendary pilgrimage along the Lewis & Clark Scenic Byway in the state of Nebraska, which is also the historic trail headquarters.
Tip: Don’t forget to get your NPS passport stamped during your visit!
Nebraska, More Than You Bargained For
Between the prairies of the Great Plains, an abundance of wildlife, majestic Sandhill dunes, and excellent eats and drinks, Nebraska left a lasting impression on this Florida gal. If you haven’t visited yet, prepare to be delighted in the harmony of how equal parts beauty, preservation, and growth transform Nebraska into a force to be reckoned with. Starting with these ten things you must do in Nebraska; you’re going to love it!
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