by Amy Stouffer
When the call of the open road beckons, there’s no shortage of options for those of us living in Lincoln. Sure, the Star City boasts plenty to see and do right here within the city limits—but if a road trip is in your future, tune your GPS for these not-to-be-missed day trip destinations.
Nebraska City, Nebraska
Less than an hour from Lincoln, Nebraska City is an excellent stop for anyone who loves history, heritage, and quaint antique shops lining a picturesque main street. You’ll find cobblestone streets, hand-painted murals on downtown buildings, and a sense of quiet revitalization within this community of 7,500 residents.
Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City is the very birthplace of Arbor Day—the national holiday for tree planting first declared here by J. Sterling Morton in 1872. The 260-acre campus includes three must-see venues—all conveniently located within walking distance of each other. Lied Lodge is an excellent choice for a lunch or dinner pit stop—or even a stay over if your schedule allows. A recent $9 million renovation paired contemporary updates with the lodge’s classic Adirondack styling, ushering the 140-room hotel and conference center soundly into the 21st century.
Arbor Day Farm is also home to the all-ages Tree Adventure attraction, with miles of hiking trails, apple orchards, and the 50-foot-high treehouse, to name a few. The young and the young at heart will enjoy exploring around every bend, making music in the forest, and finding wildlife in its natural habitat.
Right across the street from the Tree Adventure is Arbor Lodge mansion—the sprawling 52-room historic home and landmark once belonging to J. Sterling Morton. The home is filled with one-of-a-kind mementos from the Morton family, including rare photos, collections, personal effects, and a rare look into their day-to-day life. Mansion tours are available; exploring the picturesque surrounding arboretum is enjoyable any time of year.
Nebraska City is also home to ten—yes, ten!—different museums, ranging in focus from Civil War-era artifacts to taxidermy to firefighting to a one-time staple of the Nebraska prairie, the windmill. History buffs will not be disappointed with their options for exploration in Nebraska City.
Nebraska’s largest metropolitan community offers plenty to see and do, from music and nightlife, sporting events, one-of-a-kind dining, and shopping.
Naturally, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo tops the list, and for good reason. It was recently named the #1 Zoo in the World by travel website Trip Advisor, and the zoo welcomed its one millionth visitor in Summer 2015. The now-iconic features like the Desert Dome and Hubbard Gorilla Valley—along with ever-changing exhibits and ongoing expansion—offer plenty of ways to see more than 1,300 species of wildlife all in one visit. If it’s been a while since you’ve had an opportunity to “do the zoo,” now’s the time to plan a return visit.
One of Omaha’s hottest restaurants remains The Grey Plume in Midtown Crossing. Showcasing local food, works from local artists, and a true passion for sustainability, Chef Clayton Chapman and his team are creating innovative cuisine on the forefront of modern culinary art. Stop in for a meal you won’t forget, or a wine tasting or cooking class.
At the other end of the spectrum, one of Nebraska’s smallest villages has much more to offer than its miniscule population might indicate. Brownville registers just 132 residents according to recent census data, but the village offers heavy-hitting options in the realm of performance, natural beauty, culture, and history.
Nestled on the banks of the Missouri River, visitors will enjoy plenty of options for antiquing and museums in Brownville. Step back in time and explore entire museums dedicated to railroads and depots, log cabins, even the early (somewhat disturbing) days of dentistry.
Whiskey Run Creek offers a picturesque creek-side venue for concerts, events, and tasting an award-winning fleet of red, white, and other fruit-based wines. The family-owned and operated winery also features a fully-restored cave dating back to 1866—the perfect place to sip some wine.
When’s the last time you boarded a paddleboat? The Spirit of Brownville sets sail six months out of the year for sightseeing cruises, refreshments, dinner, and dancing—and the opportunity to view the Mighty Mo as Lewis and Clark did generations ago.
One doesn’t need to journey far to find great examples of The Good Life. Sometimes the best day trips are the ones that happen spontaneously across our great state of Nebraska.