South Central Nebraska tends to capture “The Good Life” experience of the state. Towns are smaller than other regions, but still boast unique experiences, shops, and restaurants. Here are a few of my top picks for things to do when traveling around South Central Nebraska.
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- Enjoy a cup of coffee, lunch or a small-batch pastry at Dragonfly Desserts Coffee House & Bakery, 717 W. Main St., Alma.
- Stockmen’s Bar and Grill, 114 N. Main St., Amherst, is more than a great place to hang out with friends. They serve up home-cooked food like prime rib sandwiches and smoked pork chops.
- Sample some Nebraska-made brandy or whiskey in the tasting room of Long Dogs Distilling, 313 Chestnut St., Arapahoe, or pick up a bottle to bring home.
- Make a pitstop for treat at the old-fashioned soda fountain inside Mark’s Pharmacy (known for a long time as Arapahoe Pharmacy & Fountain), 507 Nebraska Ave., Arapahoe.
- Stroll through 15 landscaped garden or shop the year-round greenhouse and gift shop at Harmony Nursery & Daylily Farm, 705 Road 22, Bradshaw.
- Rustic & Red, 139 W. Eighth St., Cozad, is a bit of a home decor store-meets-general store with gifts and apparel for sale, as well as tanning salon.
- Robert Henri Museum, 218 E. Eighth St., Cozad, features the largest collection of Henri’s work on display in the U.S., as well as works by some of his students including Margery Ryerson, Marjorie Organ Henri and Ernest Fiene. He came to Nebraska with his family during the 1870s homesteading era, but is most notable for his influence on the art scene in New York City.
- Learn about the Platte River ecosystem and the birds that are its common visitors at Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary, 44450 Elm Island Road, Gibbon. While it’s known as a resting stop for Sandhill Cranes, there are plenty of other times of the year to visit. The Visitor Center is open on weekdays, and the trails are open from dusk to dawn.
Related post: Never went birding during a Sandhill Cranes migration? Check out this guide for first-timers of the Sandhill Crane Migration.
- One of two Pony Express stops in Gothenburg, the Pony Express Station Museum, 510 15th St., Gothenburg, is a tiny cabin located in the Ehmen City Park & Arboretum.
- Enjoy an espresso drink or coffee at the charming coffee shop, Lasso Espresso Co., 418 Platte River Road, Gothenburg.
- Yes, there’s homemade chocolate to be had at The Chocolate Bar, 116 W. Third St., Grand Island, but it’s also a cafe for breakfast and lunch.
- Coney Island Lunch Room, 104 E. Third St., Grand Island, is an old-school diner that has been around for decades, serving up hot dogs and sandwiches.
- You’ll know you’ve found Wave Pizza Co., 107 N. Walnut St., Grand Island, by its quirky exterior. Once inside, enjoy your pizza in the beach-themed dining room.
- Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, 3133 US Highway 34, Grand Island, focuses on Nebraska’s history through exhibits and living history experiences.
- This Vegas-themed eatery Sin City Grill, 410 W. Third St., Grand Island, serves up drinks and gourmet burgers.
- Some people may recall visiting Raising Nebraska during the Nebraska State Fair, but the experience is open year-round (and for free). Find the exhibit inside the Nebraska Building at Fonner Park, 501 E. Fonner Park Road Suite 100, Grand Island.
- Zabuni Specialty Coffee Auction, 220 N. Walnut St., Grand Island, is a platform for roasters and producers to sell ethically-sourced African coffee; however, for the rest of us (the coffee drinkers), they also have a retail store.
- Hastings Museum, 1330 N. Burlington Ave., Hastings, is both a natural history museum & cultural museum, as well as a planetarium, so just know you’re going to learn while you’re there. But it’s often interactive, so it’s learning in a fun way.
- As a popular but small restaurant, it’s highly recommended you have lunch and dinner reservations before visiting Odyssey, 521 W. Second St., Hastings. Enjoy a craft cocktail with your meal.
- Known for their candle selection, Seasons Downtown, 117 N. Lincoln Ave., Hastings, is a charming home decor store in the downtown area.
- Small Town Famous, 733 W. Second St., Hastings, has all you need for Nebraska-made apparel (and not just for Husker fans).
- Bigfoot Crossroads of America Museum & Research Center, 1205 E. 42nd St., Hastings, features intriguing stories and displays all dedicated to that mysterious creature, the Sasquatch.
Did you know? Kool Aid was invented in Hastings, and each summer, there is a festival celebrating all-things-Kool Aid.
- Gifts & Things, 505 West Ave., Holdrege, is a cute boutique filled with the perfect gift for everyone.
- Nebraska Prairie Museum, 2701 Burlington St., Holdrege, focuses on Phelps County history and offers some interactive exhibits.
- Lost Way Brewery, 614 Third Ave., Holdrege, is a small-town brewery that’s notably family-friendly.
- Enjoy sweet like cupcakes and cinnamon rolls at Michelle’s Scrumptious Bakery, 909 N. Juniata Ave., Juniata, or get yourself something savory like a loaf of bacon cheese bread.
There’s plenty to do in Kearney, but this list is a good start.
- What was once a U.S. Army Outpost starting in the mid-1900s, is now a lovely recreation area: Fort Kearny State Historical Park, 1020 V Road, Kearney. Originally, it was meant to protect travelers on the Oregon-California Trails, but it has also served as a home station for Pony Express riders and Pawnee scouts. Visit during the summer for Living History events.
- Great Platte River Road Archway Monument (AKA, The Archway), located at Exit 275 on Interstate 80 in Kearney, features historical and hands-on exhibits spanning from the Oregon Trail era to today.
- Shop for Native American jewelry at Stagecoach Gifts, 310 Third Ave., Kearney.
- If you appreciate great music (and if you own a record player), plan a stop at Buffalo Records, 19 E. 21st St., Kearney.
- Kids can let out a lot of energy exploring the interactive exhibits made just for them at Kearney Area Children’s Museum, 5827 Fourth Ave., Kearney, plus they’re unwittingly learning.
- When McCue’s Nebraska Taproom, 2008 Ave. A, suite A, Kearney, says “All Nebraska. All the time,” they mean it. Taste a variety of Nebraska-made beers, ciders, and spirits.
- When you need to get “just one more plant,” head to the cute shop, Rooted Plant Co., 203 E. 25th St., Kearney.
- I love the coffee at Barista’s Daily Grind, and have been known to take a detour off the interstate to seek it out. There are two locations (and neither are near the interstate), 2301 13th Ave. and 1502 Second Ave.
- Classic Car Collection, 3600 US-30 B, Kearney, has more than 200 vintage cars on display, as well as a 1950s gas station.
- Mac’s Creek Winery & Brewery, 43315 Road 757, Lexington, is a sustainable winery in Nebraska, and now offers ciders in addition to its wines and beers.
- Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles, 606 Heartland Road, Lexington, displays 100+ military vehicles — including tanks and motorcycles — as well as memorabilia.
- Harold Warp Pioneer Village, 138 US Highway 6, Minden, features a collection of more than 500,000 Americana items on display in 28 buildings.
- Orleans Hotel Bed & Breakfast, 101 E. Pine St., Orleans, is a 22-room hotel that was built in 1929. It’s still in operation, and while it has been wonderfully restored, it has some modern amenities like central air and an accessible ramp.
- On the Brix, 437 N. Webster St., Red Cloud, is a tasting room the focuses on wines, but also offers beers and cocktails.
- It should be no surprise that the childhood hometown of Willa Cather have several attractions related to her. There’s the National Willa Cather Center, 413 N. Webster St., Red Cloud, and the option to stay overnight in the home where Cather and her family once lived.
- The Corner Nook, 345 N. Webster St., Red Cloud, is both a coffee & smoothie shop, as well as a boutique for handmade items.
- Located near the Platte River, Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center, 9325 S. Alda Road, Wood River, is one of the best places to view migratory birds each season, especially Sandhill Cranes.
South Central Nebraska stops mapped out for you
Planning a road trip to the region? Here’s a map to help visual the towns you may want to visit!