By Debra Karplus
Located on the scenic Missouri River, with its rolling hills, Nebraska's largest city, Omaha, is a place you'll want to visit for a weekend or even longer.
Host to the 1898 World's Fair, it was named the Gateway to the West and became a major transportation hub and meatpacking center in the early 1900s.
Today, five major Fortune 500 companies have headquarters in Omaha, including Mutual of Omaha Insurance and Berkshire Hathaway, the corporation founded by Warren Buffett, an Omaha native who still resides there.
Getting to Omaha is easy. Drive about eight hours starting on Interstate 74 and then Interstate 80, or take backroads through Iowa or Missouri for a more picturesque drive.
Ride a very comfortable Burlington Trailways Motor Coach (burlingtrailways.com) from Champaign's Illinois Terminal right to Omaha. Amtrak trains (Amtrak.com) have a major stop in Omaha on the Empire Builder Route. Or you can fly from Champaign's Willard Airport through Chicago or Dallas-Fort Worth to arrive at Omaha's Eppley Airport (OMA) via American Airlines (aa.com).
There are numerous options for lodging in and around Omaha. Stay at the Marriot Courtyard, an old, historic hotel that was formerly the Red Lion Inn.
There are hotels in the downtown area near the river, where there are many shops and interesting restaurants, or you can stay at one of the smaller less-expensive motels around town or on the Iowa side of the Missouri River in Council Bluffs.
Interesting eateries are ample. Shucks is a quaint spot full of ambiance and delicious fish and seafood that you can enjoy while you watch televised sports. And if you prefer more familiar spots, try Biaggis in Omaha; it's exactly like the place here in Champaign.
You'll have many options for activities while in Omaha. The Old Market area has much to do. The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium (omahazoo.com) is a must. It is considered to be one of the world's best zoos. Check out the website for hours and admission information.
The Joslyn Art Museum (Joslyn.org) will captivate you with its many permanent and special exhibits. And don't miss the Durham Museum (durhammuseum.org) with its wide range of exhibits from nature to culture to history and much more.
If you enjoy the outdoors, the Heartland of America Park located by the river is a wonderful place for summer boat rides and year-round hikes.
The Lauritzen Gardens (lauritzengardens.org) is breathtaking. Check their website for hours.
And for summer entertainment for kids of all ages, check out Omaha's Fun Plex (fun-plex.com), a water park, amusement park, games and rides.
Omaha also has spectator sports to enjoy. Check out a baseball game at Ameritrade Park.
And with two universities, Creighton (Creighton.edu) and the University of Nebraska (unomaha.edu) both located in Omaha, you will find much to do on campus.
So add Omaha to your bucket list of places to visit.
Debra Karplus is an occupational therapist and freelance writer living in Champaign.