We planned an overnight trip to Omaha recently on what turned out to be one of those bone-chilling cold days we have here in the Midwest. The forecast called for snow showers, 30-mile-an-hour winds, and temperatures dropping to below zero that night. Instead of cancelling the trip, we made a bold decision and decided to embrace the challenge of finding things to do in Omaha when it’s freezing. And, we got a great deal on our hotel rooms, never waited in a line, and had rock star parking everywhere we went!
Here are five great ways to warm up in Omaha when it’s freezing cold outside.
1. Be warmed by a bench
A few years ago, Meghan and I visited the Durham Museum and loved it. Ann had never been there, so we thought this would be a good first stop. The museum is in the beautiful, old Union Station building. When you walk inside, you’ll be impressed by this Art Deco masterpiece, and you’ll also be warm because heat is distributed through the benches in the grand hall much like the day the place was built.
On the day we visited, we saw the huge Christmas tree for that year and got to meet the people who donated it. Did you know that if you have a big pine tree in Omaha you don’t want anymore you can enter it into a contest and if it wins, the city will come remove it for you? What’s more, they’ll move it to this place of honor in the museum. This tree was courtesy of Dan and Carmelita Graeve. It was planted by Dan’s parents, Harry and Rita Graeve, about 40 years ago.
After checking out the ethnic Christmas tree exhibit, we headed downstairs where we got to climb aboard actual Pullman rail cars to see what passenger rail service was like as our nation grew. You can almost hear the china clanking in the dining car, and it’s fun to imagine how you might change into your pajamas in one of the sleeper cars. After deboarding the passenger section of train, we climbed up to look in a steam locomotive. Take a look in there and think of all the hard work it took to keep a train moving.
From there, we wandered through displays seeing how homes, stores, businesses, and transportation have changed over the years from Native American life before the pioneers to modern day. We loved the display of Nebraska art. When we were there, the museum had a display of pictures taken in every county in Nebraska.
The museum is also home to a world-class coin collection with coins dating back to Roman times.
After exploring the exhibits, we stopped at the soda fountain, the same one used when this was a working train station, where Meghan and our friend Jen each had a root beer float and Ann and I got in touch with our mid-century selves and tried an authentic phosphate.
2. Wander through the warm tropics
It might seem strange to list this as something to do on a cold winter’s day, but Lauritzen Gardens provides an indoor opportunity to do just that. Ann and I love visiting conservatories and seeing the beautiful, unique plants there. I think of it as kind of a plant zoo.
Anyway, we like to wander along the paths inside and admire in the many species that have been planted and carefully cultivated here. From orchids to palms to fruit-bearing trees, the conservatory is a great place to see vibrant green life on a cloudy, cold Nebraska winter day.
At one point, I had to stop myself from picking a ripe lemon off a tree. We especially love visiting in the winter because it’s nice to take a break from the bleak landscape and be surrounded by vibrant green plants.
Stepping out of the conservatory, we ran across a cold courtyard where we found they’d set up cedar trees with interesting homemade bird feeders. Apple slices, seeds, and peanut butter were just some of the foods out on the bird buffet. Instructions on how to make your own feeders were available as, well.
What was especially nice is that we could stand inside where it was toasty warm and watch the birds feeding outside in the cold on the other side of the window.
3. Feel the warmth of the desert
Or the jungle. A summertime Omaha favorite, the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, is actually open year-round and has tons of indoor venues that are perfect for a cold day. One of our favorites is the Lied Jungle, though when you walk in when it’s below freezing outside, your glasses will fog up. Just be prepared to stumble around for awhile until you can get your gloves off your hands and your glasses off your face.
Once your vision clears, it’s fun to watch monkeys swinging on the vines in their habitats while tapirs wander the ground below. The building was designed in such a way that you feel like you’re in a jungle and so that the animals are contained to a certain areas without there being many real enclosures.
We donned our winter gear, left the jungle, and headed over to the aquarium where we sat watching penguins play in their enclosure. We timed our visit so we could watch feeding time. Because the crowd was extremely light on a cold day, we could actually sit on a bench and watch without a thousand people jostling us around! It was very exciting.
From there, we moved on down a glass tunnel with sharks, rays and other large ocean fish swimming over our heads.
Again, we could really stop and enjoy the experience of watching these huge fish swim and at times, it was actually quiet. Our next stop in the aquarium is always the jellyfish. Ann loves their smooth, fluid movements. Watching them is always a calming experience.
At the Desert Dome, we were pleasantly surprised to be the only ones in the foyer and opted to take the staircase down to the Kingdom of the Night display located on the lower level of that building. That exhibit is dark because the zoo wants the nocturnal animals to be active while visitors are present. When you go, see if you can spot the albino alligator.
We didn’t do it on this trip, but the Lozier Giant Screen Theater is another zoo venue for cold day. Yes, a visit to the zoo includes some time spent outside moving from building to building, but you’ll be inside far more than you’ll be out, and there are far fewer people than normal.
4. Warm your heart at Boys Town
More than 100 years ago Father Edward J. Flanagan began ministering to the homeless in Omaha and in 1921, he purchased the Overlook Farm which became the permanent site of Boys Town. Since then, Boys Town has grown into a national organization that has given new hope to tens of thousands of young people through its life-transforming programs.
A visit to Boys Town Village in Omaha is heart-warming no matter what time of year you go. We suggest starting your visit with a warm pancake breakfast at the cafe on campus. The cafe is open Monday through Friday from 6:45 – 9:45 a.m. After that, visitors can enjoy a self-guided tour of the campus from the comfort of your own heated car for no fee or for just $5, a volunteer will join you for a guided tour of the grounds and museum.
In addition, tours are available of Father Flanagan’s historic home, and winter is a great time to visit, as at Christmastime it is filled with traditional 1920s Irish Christmas decor.
Both the self-guided and guided tours end at a terrific museum that has artifacts from the movie, Boys Town, starring Mickey Rooney, as well as exhibits from the history of this Omaha landmark. The gift shop at Boys Town Village also includes the world’s largest ball of stamps, which is quite a sight to see.
5. Sink your teeth into a warm steak
A good ribeye steak, cooked to medium rare, is a treat any time of year but there’s nothing better when it’s cold outside, already dark at 5 o’clock, and you don’t feel like cooking or doing dishes. We love a good steak, and Omaha is home to some of the nation’s best beef.
Omaha has some fantastic steakhouses for a variety of budgets and palates. One of my favorite steaks in Omaha is the whiskey ribeye at The Drover. A classic steakhouse venue, it’s old and dimly lit with an experienced staff that works hard to make sure your steak and experience are second to none. The marinated steaks are soaked just 15 minutes (when you place your order) so the flavor of the beef is enhanced, but not overpowered.
We’ve enjoyed several other steakhouses in Omaha, as well, including billionaire Warren Buffet’s favorite, Gorat’s.
For more information about things to see and do in Omaha, Nebraska, CLICK HERE!
Have you been to Omaha in the winter? What are your favorite things to do when it’s freezing there?