Discover places to go in Nebraska using this category, including itineraries for city visits, tips for kid-friendly destinations and restaurants to try. Learn about things to do in Nebraska State Parks and cities like Lincoln, Nebraska City, Chadron and more.
I always wondered what I’d do if I worked from home and homeschooled my kids. Now that school is canceled and my work is closed for two weeks, we’re going to see how it goes. I’m sure there will be a lot of video games, movies, in addition to some mandatory outdoor time, but I also like to think that maybe we’ll do something educational too.
If you have that lofty goal too, read on! I found stuff that’s specifically for us, Nebraska families. So read on to find resources geared toward Nebraska history and Nebraska wildlife. Plus, I added some virtual tours of other places around the world because if you can’t travel to them right now, why not just pretend you can?
You can find plenty of free resources online for general history and nature, but I love it when you can find specific information that relates to your home state. So for us, that’s Nebraska.
History Nebraska is a great online resource. I just came across Nebraska Trailblazer publications that are designed for fourth-grade classrooms, but you can just as easily print them (or read them off the computer screen), too. Topics include:
History Nebraska has a YouTube channel featuring some interesting interviews and they even have their own version of an “unboxing” video.
Nebraska Game and Parks
Nebraska Game and Parks is another great resource full of educational goodies. This page has lesson plans, videos, and maps all geared toward a better understanding of Nebraska wildlife and habits. There are even scavenger hunts.
The topics include: Birds and birding, Pollination and pollinators, Prairies, Animals and habitats (lower elementary), Water and wetlands, Life cycles, Soils and worms, Scavenger hunts, Threatened and Endangered Species.
The Durham Museum
The Durham Museum has started a great digital learning series geared toward kids in grades K-5. Each weekday morning at 10 a.m., they have a new session. Register for FREE at durammuseum.org. Subjects include pioneers, Native American life, and Lewis & Clark, for example.
Ashfall Fossil Beds
While nothing beats an actual visit to Ashfall Fossil Beds in northeastern Nebraska, there are a few online educational resources to learn bit more about this important site.
A Bellevue high school teacher has a website with some resources geared toward older kids. World Hindsight has world history and American government, as well as links to other sites that have lesson plans.
I love museums, and many have online resources instead of virtual tours. I’ve written a post that includes a list of museums and educational websites with FREE, age-appropriate activities, games, coloring pages and scavenger hunts.
One of Nebraska’s most epic experiences is getting the chance to observe the sandhill crane migration in Central Nebraska. Bird-watchers from around the world flock to the state each spring to witness the marvel. But what about the rest of us? If you’re not a well-versed birder, here’s how to get the most out of seeing the sandhill crane migration.
Updated: This post contains information about closures as a precaution to health concerns surrounding COVID-19. It’s wise to call ahead before your travels.
What’s so special about sandhill cranes?
Everyone says you’ve got to see the sandhill crane migration at least once. Why?
I think I read the best explanation in Smithsonian.com: “Every year 400,000 to 600,000 sandhill cranes — 80 percent of all the cranes on the planet — congregate along an 80-mile stretch of the central Platte River in Nebraska, to fatten up on waste grain in the empty cornfields in preparation for the journey to their Arctic and subarctic nesting grounds. This staging is one of the world’s great wildlife spectacles, on a par with the epic migrations of the wildebeest and the caribou.”
Why is Nebraska so important to sandhill cranes?
There’s a stretch of the Platte River in Nebraska that serves as a rest stop for hundreds of thousands of migrating cranes twice a year.
And just a heads up so you look like you know what you’re doing, there are more than just sandhill cranes to view while you’re there. There have been at least 257 species of birds observed in the Rainwater Basin including 27 species of waterfowl, 27 species of shorebirds, and five threatened and endangered species (whooping cranes, bald eagles, least terns, piping plovers, and peregrine falcons).
Where are the best places in Nebraska to see the sandhill cranes?
There are several communities in central Nebraska that are prime starting points for sandhill crane viewing. Kearney, Neb., is known as the Sandhill Crane Capital of the World…for good reason. By all accounts, the most cranes seem to arrive in that area (like 400,000 to 600,000).
Of course, places like Grand Island or North Platte are not to be overlooked. You’ll still see hundreds of thousands of cranes there in March, too.
When is the sandhill cranes’ migration in Nebraska in 2020?
The cranes usually start arriving in mid-February continue in waves until in mid-April. The peak is typically the last week of March.
Audubon Nebraska’s 50th Crane Festival commemorating the migration is March 20 and 21, 2020 in Kearney. This would be a great festival to not only to view the cranes, but to learn everything from the basics about the cranes to in-depth presentations on habitats and conservation. Registration is open and includes Saturday meals and a T-shirt: $160, adult; $70, student (high school and above); and $30, child.
Are there sandhill crane viewing tours?
Of course, there are bird-watching tours! There are some that you’ll have to get up at the crack of dawn to take advantage of (as well as overnight options). And then there are the options for a guided experience for the average person who isn’t a major birder.
For the serious birder
It’s recommended that you reserve a blind if you want to get up close to the migrating cranes. In Kearney, Neb., your best bet is Rowe Sanctuary. You’ll spend between $20-$40 to rent one for a few hours.
Serious bird photographers are going to want to consider guided tours that include photography blinds ($100) and overnight blinds ($250).
For the casual birder
Don’t want to early morning? If you’re in the North Platte area, you can do a tour with Dusty Trails LLC, which starts its tour at 2:15 p.m. (and ends at about 5 p.m.). In 2020, the tours will be held on Saturdays and Sundays, March 14 and 15, and then daily from March 20 through April 8.
Dusty Trails’ Tours are $35 for adults, $17/50 for children ages 5-10, and FREE for children ages 4 and younger.
What if I told you that you could go bird-watching without going outside? (I’ve done this in eastern Nebraska, actually). Iain Nicolson Audubon Visitor Center at the Rowe Sanctuary has that option every Wednesday evening starting at 6 p.m. during the migration season. This is a great option for families since they have kid’s activities while you waited for the birds to arrive.
The cost for evening at the Audubon Visitor Center is $10 per person and kids 4 and younger are admitted for FREE. The 2020 dates are: March 11, 18, 25, and April 1 and 8. The Rowe Sanctuary is located about 20 miles from Kearney at 44450 Elm Island Road in Gibbon.
Where are crane viewing sites?
I remember my parents taking us kids on a wild ride one year, trying to find the birds and it was just the most unimpressive experience. I remember standing in a field, shivering, just to see about a dozen birds and wondering what the big deal was. Clearly, my parents hadn’t researched where we needed to go…or we were lost and not at a legit viewing site.
Save yourself the bad memories and go to one of these sites instead:
– UPDATE: Crane Trust is closed to guests and volunteers through April 5, 2020. One of your best bets to not only learn about cranes, but see them, is to head to the Crane Trust Nature & Visitors Center (located at 9325 S. Alda Road in Wood River, Neb.). Here, you can see the displays and then head outdoors to the 35-foot observation tower and the 10 miles of nature trails along the Platte River. Some trails may be closed to protect cranes that are roosting or loafing.
– For sunrise and sunset viewing near Kearney, go to Fort Kearny Bridge spanning the Platte River. You’ll need a state park permit to get into the Fort Kearny State Recreation Area. The address is 1020 V Road, Kearney, Neb.
– A free option is located just off the Interstate 80 exit to Gibbon. To get to the Plautz Viewing Platform, take Exit 285 and drive 1 ½ miles south. The Central Platte Natural Resource Department has view decks set up for a good view of the sandhill cranes, as well as herons, egrets, and pelicans. Parking is free.
– CPNRD also has a view site set up near Alda, Neb. Take the Interstate 80 Exit 305 to Alda and drive 2 miles south. Find three roadside turnouts south and east of the Alda interchange on Platte River Drive, and west of Rowe Sanctuary on Elm Island Road.
Is there bird watching etiquette?
Good question. Since we’re all non-birders here, I’m guessing this is on everyone’s mind. Of course there’s etiquette.
I had to research it, though, since I’m a novice. Luckily, there are sites like Nebraska Flyaway and visitors bureaus to explain it to us.
Here’s what not to do:
– DON’T stop on roadways, driveways or gated entry.
– DON’T stop abruptly in the road, either. The person behind you may not be as eager as you to see the cranes.
– DON’T attempt to approach the birds in the field. “One alarm call from a bird can send the entire flock into a panicked flight using up precious energy reserves.”
– DON’T harass the cranes by honking your horn, flashing your lights, or yelling. It’s illegal, plus it annoys everyone else.
– DON’T use flash photography.
Here’s what to do:
– Always obtain permission before entering land – most land in the Platte River Valley is private property. It’s trespassing if you don’t have permission.
– Respect the rights of people who live and work in the area.
– Silence your phone.
– Stay in your car or right next to it. Migratory waterfowl are used to being hunted by humans, so your car acts as a blind.
– Plan for the weather. It can get cold in Nebraska and the weather changes quickly in the late winter and early spring.
What should I bring for sandhill crane viewing in Nebraska?
I mentioned earlier that Nebraska weather can be fairly unpredictable, but a safe bet is to assume it will be cold and windy. Wear warm, seasonally appropriate clothing. Hats, gloves, thermal underwear, heavy coats and outerwear and sturdy boots are recommended.
Some tours will have a few binoculars available to share with others, but if you have your own binoculars, bring them.
If you book any overnight experience, like the overnight photography tour, it’s recommended that you bring two sleeping bags per person, foam or insulated pads, extra clothing, and warm drinks and food.
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Nebraska’s flat, they say. There’s nothing to see, they say. Guess what? Nebraska is home to hundreds of fun and interesting attractions, some along the interstate; some off the beaten path. To really see Nebraska, you need to get off the main roads and explore. You’ll find hills, trees, and amazing off-the-beaten-path attractions. Here’s a look at a few of them.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
Ashfall Fossil Beds
Nebraska was once a Serengeti, with plush grasslands and ample watering holes for prehistoric mammals that roamed the land. With creatures, such as a saber-tooth deer and miniature horses and rhinos, the sight had to be amazing.
However, one day, hundreds of miles away, a volcano erupted in Utah and eventually covered the region with ashfall. Covering and killing animals’ food sources and contaminating the water, the animals eventually perished.
Buried in underneath tons of ash and later rock and soil, the first fossil in the northeast Nebraska area was discovered in the early 1970s. Since then, Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park is open certain days May 1 through the second week of October and daily Memorial Day-Labor Day.
Visitors can walk along a boardwalk inside the Rhino Barn and watch paleontologists and interns dig for new fossils. As you tour the barn, you’ll see fossils of animals in the soil, only a few feet away from you. Children can “dig” for their own fossils in a play area near the visitor’s center.
Klown Doll Museum
What started as an innocent collection of clown figurines has grown into the world’s largest clown collection. The Klown Doll Museum in Plainview is home to everything clown-related, with a collection of more than 7,000 clown figurines, dolls, and paintings.
Located in a former gas station and restaurant, the museum originally was located inside the Chamber of Commerce building. As you tour the museum, you’ll see rows and rows of trinkets featuring famous clowns, such as Emmett Kelly.
While the museum may not be for people fearful of clowns, for people who love the colorful characters, you’ll find yourself in clown heaven.
Tip: Since Royal and Plainview are about a 20-minute drive from each other, you may want to plan a visit to both spots.
As you enter the village of Taylor, you may think the locals are a bit wooden. And, you’d be correct. The Taylor Villagers – life-size wood cutouts of people – have been scattered throughout the community, about a 90-minute drive north of Kearney.
The public art project by Marah Sandoz, a local entrepreneur, seeks to attract visitors to Taylor. Park your car and walk around town, so you can visit local shops and stores as you take in the more than 100 “residents” posed in scenes depicting kids heading off to a fishing hole or a man standing beside his antique car.
Johnny Carson’s Hometown
Norfolk, in northeastern Nebraska, proudly proclaims itself the hometown of TV talk show star Johnny Carson. From a downtown mural chronicling his television career to a large exhibit at the Elkhorn Valley Museum, you can also stop by his childhood home.
The museum exhibit features a replica of his show’s set and the Emmy Awards he won – all donated by the star, himself. The museum also highlights the careers of other well-known Norfolk residents, including Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice of “Tony the Tiger” and the holiday song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” The museum also traces the lives of the Hall brothers, who went to create Hallmark greeting cards.
The Elkhorn Valley Museum also provides a look at the region’s history, from local Native American tribes to the invention of a 90-degree turning radius tractor. The museum hosts a series of special exhibits, such as one highlighting rock-and-roll bands from the state.
Toadstool Geologic Park
Nicknamed Nebraska’s Badlands, Toadstool Geologic Park challenges you to look at Nebraska the same way again. Formed through years of erosion, several rocks resemble toadstools, thus the name.
Hiking through the area can be physically challenging, but the park features three trails for visitors. A one-mile loop may be the best path for people seeking a memorable, but less challenging hike. The other trails are three- and five-miles long.
As you hike through the area, located in northwestern Nebraska as part of the panhandle, you will be amazed at the beautiful scenery and landscape.
An homage to the United Kingdom’s Stonehenge, artist Jim Reinders used old cars spray-painted gray to create Carhenge. Located just outside Alliance, in north-central Nebraska, the public art piece was built as a memorial to his father, who became interested in Stonehenge while studying in England.
Carhenge is part of a unique attraction, anchoring a park featuring other art pieces using automobiles and their parts. You’ll find a covered wagon, which is a station wagon with a Conestoga frame, and a bench made from tire rims.
As you travel around Nebraska to take in its unique attractions, remember that the best way to get to know the state is by getting off the main roads and checking out the off-the-beaten-path attractions.
Tim Trudell is a writer/online content creator, who calls Omaha home. He started writing The Walking Tourists bog with his wife Lisa in 2011. Beginning with exploring their backyard of Omaha, The Walking Tourists expanded coverage to the Midwest, exploring places on and off-the-beaten-path.
As a former community journalist for about 10 years, Tim’s background also includes working as a project manager and a team manager for telecom account managers. His love for writing led him back to the profession as a freelance writer. Besides travel, Tim enjoys writing about personal profiles, sports, military and veterans attractions, as well as minority issues and accomplishments.
Tim and Lisa have two adult children from his first marriage, as well as three cat kids – Gus, Lassiter and Shawn.
Tim is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Native American Journalists Association, American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association, North American Travel Journalists Association and the Midwest Travel Network.
While Omaha’s culinary scene may get international attention, the restaurant scene in Bellevue is nothing to scoff at. From top-contending burgers at Stella’s to impressive cuisine at Umami, Bellevue’s food scene runs the gamut from nice sit down to popular greasy spoons.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, if you make a purchase after clicking on an affiliate link, I will receive a small compensation for referring you.
Where is Bellevue, Nebraska?
Bellevue, Neb., is a suburban city in southeastern Nebraska just to the south of Omaha. It’s considered part of the Omaha Metro area. Many people move to Bellevue when they get stationed at nearby Offutt Air Force Base.
Usually, when I venture to Bellevue, it’s to visit Fontenelle Forest or Bellevue Berry & Pumpkin Patch (though, if we want to be technical, Bellevue Berry & Pumpkin Patch actually in Papillion…but I digress).
Now, on to food!
Best restaurants to try in Bellevue, Neb.
Stella’s Bar & Grill
Where: 106 Galvin Road S, Bellevue, Neb.
Possibly the most famous Bellevue restaurant, Stella’s is known for its Stellanator challenge. Six patties and a ton of toppings invites people with big eyes for the challenge. If you finish the Stellanator and a side of fries within 45 minutes, it’s free and you win a T-shirt. Lose, and it costs $35.
Stella’s regular burgers are a treat. You can get a variety of toppings, such as peanut butter, jalapenos, fried egg and cheese. The eatery serves the burgers on napkins. It’s a fun outing for anyone, including families.
Tip: Be prepared for a short wait regardless of when you visit.
Located in a former Sizzler steakhouse on Fort Crook, Roma features classic Italian dishes, such as spaghetti and meatballs and chicken parmesan.
With outstanding appetizers and salads, Roma’s entree portions are large. You may want to consider splitting a dish.
Sinful Burger Sports Grill
Where: 4005 Twin Creek Drive, Bellevue, Neb.
With hearty-sized burgers fashioned after the seven deadly sins, Sinful Burger is an excellent spot to enjoy dinner and watch sports. The family-friendly restaurant also offers the Metro’s only authentic Indian taco, featuring handmade fry bread with taco toppings.
Sinful Burger closes on all major holidays, so employees can enjoy family time.
Where: 12510 S. 29th Ave., Bellevue, Neb.
Using fresh ingredients, including peppers grown in a garden behind the restaurant, Lil Burro’s menu features authentic dishes. From tacos and enchiladas to tamales and burritos, Lil Burro, with its colorful dining room and unique decor, is a popular eatery on Capehart Road, not far from Offutt Air Force Base.
Discover even more unique and quirky restaurants in the book “Unique Eats and Eateries of Omaha.” It’s written by two of my friends, Tim and Lisa Trudell (AKA, The Walking Tourists), and they’ve included and quite a few restaurants on this list, and several more. They provided several photos for this post, too.
Quick Bites Soul Food
Where: 105 W. Mission Ave., Bellevue, Neb.
From gizzards to catfish and po boys, the restaurant on Mission is the place to go for great soul and cajun food. With sides such as candied yams, collard greens, and red beans and rice, Quick Bites has been the place to dine since 2016.
Where: 16609 Clay St., Bellevue, Neb.
Possibly the best spot in the Metro for catfish and other fish dinners, Catfish Lake relocated from its longtime home near Offutt following the 2019 flood to a spot in south Bellevue near LaPlatte.
Open since 1986, Catfish Lake also serves delicious fried chicken and burgers.
John’s Grecian Delight
Where: Inside Southroads Technology Park, 1001 Fort Crook Road N, Bellevue, Neb.
Calling the Southroads home for nearly 40 years, John’s Grecian Delight ranks among the best places in the Omaha area to enjoy a gyro and other traditional Greek cuisine. During Southroads’ heyday, people stood in line for an opportunity to taste John’s food.
Today, the clientele may be a little different, but the food remains outstanding.
Where: 1504 Galvin Road S, Bellevue, Neb.
Known for its delicious sushi, the popular Asian restaurant on Galvin Road attracts diners from around the area. Besides sushi, Umami’s menu includes Chinese and Thai entrees.
A Bellevue staple since 1987, Netties continues to offer traditional Mexican fare. With its famous chili leading the way, Netties offers entrees such as enchilada and taco combinations.
Note: Netties is closed Sunday and Monday.
The Banh Mi Shop
Where: 923 Galvin Road S suite 101, Bellevue, Neb.
Just a couple of years old, The Banh Mi Shop on South Galvin Road quickly became popular for its Vietnamese-style sandwiches. With menu items such as shredded pork and cold cut sandwiches, The Banh Mi Shop’s menu features delicious and healthy options.
Tip: A second location of The Banh Mi Shop opened in 2019 at the Inner Rail Food Hall at Aksarben Village.
With a variety of restaurants to choose from in the Omaha area, Bellevue is home to some of the Metro’s best. So, don’t be surprised if the people at the table next to you drove a distance to enjoy their meal.
Nebraska is known for many things, but a flourishing restaurant scene isn’t one of them. Yet. I’m here to make sure that changes. Here are some of my favorite Nebraska restaurants, as well as the top recommendations from fellow travel bloggers who know and love the state.
Bean Broker Coffee House & Pub
Why: While this is technically more coffee shop than a restaurant, Bean Broker impressed me the moment I walked in. It’s got a wonderful atmosphere that makes you just want to linger.
The food options were what you could expect for a cafe in a bigger city. For Chadron, it was a pleasant surprise.
And the good coffee helped too.
Bean Broker was a true hidden gem in western Nebraska.
Tip: While you’re in Chadron, plan an afternoon to explore the oldest state park in Nebraska, Chadron State Park.
Why: Don’t let the line out the door scare you away. Block 16 is worth the wait. I’m a creature of habit and always get the Croque garcon burger (mainly because I do anything Alton Brown tells me to do).
I know I’m missing out by not trying one of their creative sandwiches of the day. I can’t help it though. It’s an amazing burger.
Anyway, Block 16 also has fantastic fries (try the rangoon fries) and my kids are partial to their fried chicken.
Why: Dante, in West Omaha, brings wood-fired Neapolitan pizza and rustic Italian cuisine to a top-notch level. Chrysa from Thrifty Jinxy visited the restaurant recently and highly recommended it. (Kim’s note: I agree with her!)
Owner and Chef Nick Strawhecker says his menu is inspired by the seasons and food that works well with wood. That means the ever-changing menu incorporates only ingredients that are at their prime, including fresh produce from local farmers whenever possible.
“Whatever is on the menu when you visit, you’ll find delicious pasta, inventive pizzas, amazing main courses and more. If it’s on the menu when you visit, I can’t tell you how delicious the wood-roasted beets and fried kale is – and this is coming from someone who doesn’t even like kale.”
The beverage menu contains only wines only from Italy and creative cocktails – also inspired by the seasons.
The Green Gateau
Why: This is the must-visit brunch spot in Lincoln. I suppose you could go for dinner, but I’ve never known anyone who has.
The Green Gateau is this charming restaurant in downtown Lincoln, with a varied menu that includes French cuisine and creative American standards. Being so close to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, my tip to you is to make a reservation.
Why: Honest Abe’s is a burger institution in the state. I almost always have to visit whenever I’m in Lincoln (I like the downtown location best – it’s within walking distance of Lincoln Children’s Museum).
When you go, be sure to go hungry, because the burgers are large, the fries are great, and you’d be missing out if you don’t at one of their handcrafted shakes. They even have boozy versions.
Why: For more than 75 years, Mac’s Drive-In has been serving old-fashioned fast food to the McCook area. Odyssey Through Nebraska recommends this restaurant.
Mac’s is known for Nebraska beef burgers as well as onion rings that are homemade daily. Besides their sandwiches and chickens, they have several salads on the menu. Plus ice cream – this location could almost qualify as a soda fountain too!
While their food is fresh, their decor is retro. Being able to place orders via a table phone is a fun kind of nostalgia.
They are closed on Sundays and Mondays and major holidays. Every other day of the week, Mac’s continues with serving 1940s-style food to a modern generation.
Why: Modern Love brings New York City swankiness to the middle of the country. With a focus on elevated comfort food, you won’t walk away hungry at this 100% vegan restaurant. The portions are generous, and the plating is refined.
Modern Love is owned by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, a well-known cookbook author. There’s a second location in Brooklyn, New York as well. It comes highly recommended by Cadry of Cadry’s Kitchen, a vegan travel blog.
The menu changes depending on the season. Keep an eye out for mac and shews (made with cashews), mushroom stroganoff with chickpea cutlets, and nachos. Whatever you do, don’t leave without getting dessert. The Snickers pie and raspberry cheesecake are exceptional.
Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse & Lounge
Why: Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse and Lounge is an iconic Nebraska small-town tavern that opened up right after the Prohibition ended in the 1930s.
During the hunting season, this location was especially popular. The owner, Ole, was a hunter himself. More than 200 of his finest specimens are hung around the restaurant. This is why patrons can dine with both a polar bear and a giraffe looking on.
Since this restaurant has only had two owners, the menu has remained consistent.
Options are extensive, according to Gretchen at Odyssey Through Nebraska, who recommends this restaurant. For the casual diner, burgers, sandwiches, salads, and soups are available. Dinners include steaks, prime rib, fried chicken and their catch of the day. Prices are quite affordable, and the portions are good size.
Located a few miles off of Interstate-80, Ole’s hours reflect its Rocky Mountain time zone status.
Why: I had to visit this restaurant a few years ago after reading a rave review about it in a Lincoln newspaper: “Sisters Café is, at its base, a small-town cafe. That’s part of its charm and why it’s unusual menu — and the success of that menu — is even more notable.”
Sisters Café opened in 2014 by two sisters, Jit and Noopin, featuring a menu of Thai and German cuisine. Strange as that sounds, it worked. I stuck to trying just the Thai side of the menu during my visit. It was extraordinary!
Alas, things change (as they always do). The German menu is no longer available. Which I’m OK with since I loved the Thai food I had tried.
Why: When people think of Nebraska food, they typically go straight for the beef (and for good reason). However, one restaurant is serving up an unlikely delicacy in the landlocked state: Umami in Bellevue. LeAnna at the Well-Traveled Nebraskan recommends it.
Sure, you might be skeptical of delicious sushi in Nebraska, considering the proximity to the seas, but you are in good hands with Master Chef Keen Zheng, who learned from the best of the best sushi chefs in NYC before heading to Nebraska.
As a meat-eater, LeAnna always thought she wouldn’t like sushi. If you are new to the scene, start out easy, like with a California or Philadelphia roll or even something battered and fried (tempura) and you might surprise yourself like she did.
But, as someone who has now had sushi literally all over the world, LeAnna says you’d be doing yourself a disservice to at least not TRY some of the other specialties! It really is some of the best sushi in such an unsuspecting location!
Some other delightful surprises are the affordability and selections. The quality of food you’ll get at Umami would earn you a huge bill at other establishments (even IN nearby Omaha), but your bill won’t be insanely outrageous here.
Also, not sure if your Cornhusker heart can handle the sushi? No problem! There’s also hibachi, teriyaki dinners, plenty of cooked noodle entrees and even Thai or Chinese options!
Pair these adventures with your Nebraska restaurants
While you’re off exploring Nebraska’s food scene, you may want to plan a few activities in between. The state offers a wide variety of outdoor activities and festivals you’ll want to experience (especially in the summer).
I’m totally biased being a born-and-raised Nebraska girl, but I recommend you plan more than just driving through the state! Nebraska is a great state to explore with a lot to do. Here are my recommended 101 things to do in Nebraska.
Nestled smack-dab in the middle of Nebraska, the city of Kearney is a fun option for a weekend trip with the family. Complete with museums of all kinds, surprising outdoor recreation options, plenty of arts and entertainment, and some really fantastic restaurants in Kearney, it’s a wonderful option for a memorable getaway that won’t break the bank.
Things to know about Kearney, Nebraska
Born from the westward push of the railroad after the civil war, Kearney has grown into a thriving college town, providing a home for the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK).
Its main claim to fame, however, is its status as the “Sandhill Crane Capital of the World.” Each year, over 600,000 Sandhill Cranes stop near Kearney to “fuel up” and rest during their migration north. Over 40,000 people — including famed anthropologist Jane Goodall — visit the Kearney area each year in March and early April.
Now, of course, all of this is interesting, but the BIG question remains: Where do all of these tourists eat when visiting Kearney, Nebraska?
Must-try (and family-friendly) restaurants in Kearney, Nebraska
Well, just stick with me, and we’ll focus on some locally-owned, family-friendly restaurants that add value and an all-round good time to your next family getaway!
A beloved Kearney tradition, Daylight Donuts has been churning out fresh, tasty, unbeatable donuts for as long as I can remember. With crunchy-sweet old fashioned donuts, bear claws as big as a toddler’s head, and satisfyingly-good coffee you don’t always find small donut shops, it really is the perfect way to start a day of exploring Kearney.
Like many classic donut shops, Daylight Donuts is open only in the morning — from 3 a.m. to noon, so it’s important to get there early for the best selection!
It’s important to note that they have a wide selection of non-coffee drinks like chocolate milk and juice for the kiddos. My favorite recommendation actually isn’t a sweet one — their “gravy wrap” is a decadent concoction of flaky dough and sausage gravy, and I’d probably eat one every day if I could!
Another well-loved, always-bustling breakfast option is Barista’s Daily Grind. A Kearney staple since the 90s, you can trust you’ll find a decadent drink, fresh-baked goodies, and even a few savory options to get you through your morning.
Across the street from UNK, this Kearney coffee shop is full of patrons from the university — both students and professors alike — and its constant traffic means it’s not the quietest place during peak caffeination hours. This means you can bring headphones if you need to get some work done, but it also means you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing you can take the kids there without feeling like you’re disturbing someone.
I highly recommend the dirty chai latte! It’s creamy, not too sweet, and served by some seriously friendly baristas.
A smaller south location can be found on Second Avenue — the “main drag” — and provides a slightly smaller selection of the offerings found at the main store.
Komal Mexican Taqueria
This Kearney restaurant is one of my favorite gems — ranging from options that satisfy picky kids who only eat beige-colored food, to incredibly flavorful, authentic Mexican fare that will feed your whole family quickly and affordably.
Tacos, burritos, nachos, tortas, quesadillas, some of the most delicious guacamole you’ll ever eat, and a fantastic salsa bar all come together to make everyone happy in a welcoming atmosphere. Though I’m not vegetarian, I love getting the nachos with guacamole instead of meat, and asking for the chips on the side.
With homemade agua fresca, horchata, and flan, it’s an all-around, honest-to-goodness meal that will keep even the pickiest eaters satisfied until dinner.
You’ll find that a lot of restaurants in Kearney serve up the delicious, deep-fried menu options you’d expect in a smaller city, but Cunninghams Journal manages to turn your typical “bar food” into something special.
Big, fat, juicy burgers, salty fries, and deep-fried pickles are well-made bar staples, but their menu of varying skewer baskets shine for people who are looking for something a little different (not to mention keto and gluten free-friendly, if that’s something you need). Tender chunks of sirloin steak and grilled shrimp are wrapped in bacon, served over grilled vegetables, and brought out with a unique “bistro sauce” to round it all out.
They also have pizza and wings on the menu, meaning my picky kids have options.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for a chicken nugget option, ask for boneless wings without sauce.
There are two locations: the original in downtown Kearney, and a newer one right off the interstate, going by the name “Cunninghams on the Lake.”
Kyoto is a relatively new restaurant in Kearney, and adds a local, friendly vibe to your typical hibachi experience.
What I love the most about Kyoto is that you can enjoy the spectacle of talented chefs tossing shrimp into peoples’ mouths and lighting onion volcanoes on fire, or you can simply dine in and order from the menu.
Or you can sit at the sushi bar and watch all of the sushi getting made.
Or you can enjoy a drink at the well-stocked bar and watch the game.
Or you can simply stop in to get a bowl of rolled ice cream without even having to stop for dinner.
The big bonus? They have a kids menu, so if you’re craving sushi and the kids need french fries, everyone can be happy.
Thunderhead Brewing Co.
Located “on the bricks” — a title that simply refers to the original downtown area with old-fashioned brick streets — Thunderhead Brewing sports a big, beautiful stone oven for pizzas, calzones, and soft pretzels, as well as super-melty mozzarella cheese bread.
While it is a bar, this Kearney brewpub is still a favorite local place for families to gather and enjoy some really awesome stone oven pizza. Little kids might get bored and antsy, but the pretzels come out fast enough to distract them while they wait for the rest of their meal.
The beers are brewed in a nearby town, and are time-tested and well-loved. In fact, Thunderhead has recently opened tap houses in downtown and west Omaha, if you’d like to give their craft brews a try. The only location that serves food, however, is in Kearney.
I practically insist that, if you’re not afraid of jalapeno peppers, you try the Thunder Pie. It’s a pizza with an alfredo sauce base, shredded chicken, bacon, and jalapenos. Ask for a side of ranch and you’re in pizza heaven!
Wondering about dessert in Kearney? Look no further than Ktown Cakery, another stop on the bricks. Decadent bars, cupcakes, cake balls, cookies, call-ahead full-sized cakes, and even ice cream from the UNL Dairy Store await you in this adorable little shop on Central Avenue.
The staff is friendly, and there are a couple of tables available to sit and enjoy your treats with the family.
Ktown Cakery supplies a handful of local businesses with sweet treats (you can find their cookies at the aforementioned Barista’s Daily Grind), so don’t be surprised if you see their goodies at multiple places!
The location is quite small, however, so if you’re traveling with a big group it might be a better idea to call ahead and order some treats to take to your hotel room or a nearby park.
Family fun and fantastic restaurants in Kearney, Nebraska
Kearney is certainly smaller than Lincoln or Omaha, but don’t let that scare you! With culture, history, recreation, and unforgettable food, this lively college town in the middle of the state might just surprise you!
Lauren Bonk, owner of the Curtain and Pen, hails from Kearney, Neb., where she works as a freelance copywriter for small businesses, startups, and even larger corporate entities in need of professionally-written marketing content for their businesses and organizations.
With a background in both Theatre and English, Lauren loves to help companies find a voice, fine-tune it, and authentically utilize it in written collateral like blog posts, website copy, and social media content.
You can typically find Lauren drinking coffee, listening to music that’s probably a little too loud, and daydreaming about drinking more coffee the next morning.
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