Taking over Visit Omaha one photo at a time

South Omaha is a true American melting pot. It’s been home to several immigrant groups in Omaha’s history.

It was a coup of epic proportions. They never saw it coming. Well, actually, they did, since Lisa worked with the Omaha visitors Bureau (Visit Omaha) for a weekend takeover of their Instagram account. We toured parts of Omaha not many people take in during their travels to our burg. We worked with the visitors bureau in sharing some familiar and some newer locations around the city.

You can still find our photos, as well as those from others, from the weekend for Visit Omaha on Instagram here using #OmahaWeekend. When shooting your own photos exploring the area, make sure to use #OmahaWeekend as well. You may just win a great Omaha prize from Visit Omaha.

Visitors tend to focus on the major attractions of Omaha – the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, the Old Market, Boys Town, etc. We sought to share with the growing amount of Instagram followers on the Visit Omaha account areas and neighborhoods maybe not so common to them.

This view of Omaha is a popular one with visitors. Our Instagram takeover took us away from the main attractions.

Our travels took us from South Omaha to North Omaha to far West Omaha. We explored neighborhoods, business districts, restaurants and recreational areas. We took in some history along with culture, shopping and dining over two days.

We started the weekend with breakfast from the Lithuanian Bakery in South Omaha. The bakery was established by Lithuanian immigrants in 1962. The area is known for its immigrant history, so locating there was a successful move. Today, the three sons operate the business.

The bakery is known for providing delicious treats, including turnovers and dumplings. However, it may be its Saturday special that makes people’s mouths water. Bacon buns (a specially baked bread with bacon and onion bits inside) are must haves there. In fact, during our visit, the line was forming early for the buns. As one man told us, he comes in every Saturday to pick up them up.

Bacon buns are very popular at the Lithuanian Bakery in South Omaha.

We were told by friends that we had to buy a torte at the bakery. They were not wrong! We had a slice for dessert that night.

The building is also the site of one of the early South Omaha Mural Projects. The south side of the building’s exterior has been used as the back drop for a beautiful mural that tells the history of Lithuanians in Omaha.

Celebrating Lithuania’s impact on Omaha with a mural at the Lithuanian Bakery.

South Omaha is known for its diversity among immigrants. It has long been a gathering place for Lithuanians, Czechs, Polish and other eastern Europeans. In recent years, the area has added Hispanics among its neighbors.

The Hispanic influence has grown, sharing several businesses along the 24th Street district. Restaurants and shops offer locals and visitors a taste of Latin America. The smell of freshly made corn tortillas at Jacobos market made us want to buy all the ingredients for dinner and make some tamales right there.

These tortillas smelled so good at Jacobos.

South Omaha – once its own city before being annexed by the larger Omaha – is home to some beautiful architecture. The old City hall building was built in 1907. It is now home to offices. The US Post Office building is another interesting piece of design work.

The old South Omaha City Hall building is one of several interesting older buildings when it comes to architecture design.

The Tree of Life combines the stories of all the area’s immigrants with symbols hanging from the branches. It is located on the north end of the business district and is a popular photo location.

South Omaha’s Tree of Life consists of seven images that represent the cultural background of the area – Polish, Czech, Croatian and Hispanic

We headed north to take in a different aspect of Omaha’s history. Preston Love Sr. was a great jazz musician. He performed with some of the best during his heyday, including Count Basie, Lena Horne and Billie Holliday. Truly impressive.

Love’s Jazz Center gives Omaha an outlet for jazz and blues music.

Love’s Jazz and Arts Center is the only center in the area offering exhibits featuring African American artists. The center also hosts jazz and blues concerts. We have toured a couple of the exhibits they’ve had on display. My all-time favorite remains the Jackie Robinson exhibit celebrating the future Hall of Famer’s entry to Major League Baseball as the first African American player of modern times. His signing and promotion paved the way for the greats we have seen through the years.

A short walk from Love’s is the Dreamland Plaza. It features the Jazz Trio. The statue honors Omaha’s role as a leader in the early days of Jazz and Blues.

The Jazz Trio pays respect to Omaha’s jazz era in the Dreamland Plaza

Since it was lunch time and we were only a few blocks away, we headed off to Big Mama’s Kitchen. Her oven fried chicken is among the best in the United States. People come to the restaurant just for that (and the other delicious food there). We have enjoyed breakfast at Big Mama’s. The restaurant has been featured on several networks, including Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” Big Mama’s even had a short stint on the network with her own reality show.

Oven fried chicken dinner at Big Mama’s Kitchen.

About a 10-minute drive from Big Mama’s is the Mormon Trail Center in the Florence neighborhood. This was the location where members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) established the winter headquarters atop the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River. The pioneers moving west from their old home of Navoo, Illinois, spent a couple of years in the area before moving on to Salt Lake City, Utah. The trail center tracks the history of the pioneers, as well as the trials and tribulations they experienced.

The Mormon Trail Center tells the story of the Mormons move from Illinois to Salt Lake City UT. They established a winter stop in present-day Omaha.

Florence is home to one of the oldest buildings in Omaha. The Bank of Florence was opened in 1856. The city of Florence was built in the abandoned area used by the Mormons as part of their winter headquarters. Today, the bank is home to a museum showcasing its history. The museum is open during the summer. Check its hours of operation at www.historicflorence.org.

The Bank of Florence is Omaha’s oldest building

The Florence Mill was built in 1846 and operated through the mid-1900s. It was named to the National register of Historic Places in 1998. It was also known as Weber Mill. The mill is open for tours during the summer. Please check its hours at www.historicflorence.org.

The Florence Mill operated for more than 100 years.

Omaha’s Benson neighborhood is known for its “First Fridays” promotion. Businesses and galleries stay open late on the first Friday of each month. The area is home to some interesting art galleries, vintage shops and bars. We took in the festivities last fall. It was an interesting evening out.

Beercade mural from our fall visit.

However, we learned something new during our recent visit. While we have seen the Beercade mural on the side of the Beercade building, we didn’t know about the two blocks worth of alley murals.

Love the creativity for a Donkey Kong mural.

About a dozen buildings had a variety of art displayed on their back walls. From a Donkey Kong mural using real pieces to giant bugs crawling along the wall, Benson had quite a bit of art for us to check out.

Benson was also its only city once. So, now the old city hall building serves the area as a community center.

Benson’s old city hall is now the area’s community center.

Among the quaint shops in Benson is Paper Dolls. The vintage clothing and all everything store is a photographer’s dream. The vintage clothing, accessories and miscellaneous items make for fun with the camera.

Framing the dress at Paper Dolls vintage store in Benson.

Dining at one of Benson’s restaurants is a must when in the area. We dined at Lot 2. While the restaurant and wine bar would not normally be our scene, sometimes you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Are we ever glad we had dinner there. Lisa went with a succulent pork chop, teamed with a unique butternut puree and Brussel sprouts. I selected the steak and frites, which included a kale salad. The steak was medium rare, as requested and perfectly cooked. The frites were accessorized with mustard and a restaurant-made aioli ketchup mix.

Delicious steak dinner at Benson’s Lot 2.

The second day of our Instagram takeover started with a late breakfast at the very popular Over Easy in southwest Omaha. Their homemade pop tarts are a must to start off your meal. That day, the flavors were peach and Nutella. Oh, so tasty!

Lisa had the egg boat, which consists of scrambled eggs and cheese on a ciabatta demi baguette. I went with the pancake breakfast – three small pancakes, a slice of ham and two eggs over easy. You will not walk away hungry.

We headed out west, way west. Elkhorn was annexed as part of Omaha about 11 years ago. The downtown area is small, but offers visitors some unique shopping opportunities. Craft stores and photography studios share the two blocks of older buildings. While it was closed during our visit, I mentioned to Lisa we need to visit Little Scandinavia to check out their Swedish collection, including the Dala horses. My dad was Swedish and I enjoy keeping his memory alive with Scandinavian connections.

Elkhorn’s business district offers visitors unique shops and dining options.

Elkhorn was part of the original Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway. A stretch of the road is brick covered. The Lincoln Highway celebrated its centennial a couple of years ago. We’ve driven on stretches of the Lincoln Highway byway in Nebraska and Iowa.

The Elkhorn area is part of the original Lincoln transcontinental highway.

The Shops of Legacy give shoppers an opportunity to support local and nationally-based stores. Togs has been around for about five years and markets clothing and accessories for younger women.

Togs is a cute clothing store at The Shops of Legacy

On a Whim was right up Lisa’s alley. She loves home décor and eclectic shops. The store has several options for people to help accent their homes. The store sells jewelry made by young people who strive to become the first in their families to attend college.

On a Whim gives visitors a choice of several eclectic gift and house decor items at The Shops of Legacy

Since it was lunch time, we checked out Roja. It was our second visit to the Mexican restaurant. Roja is a locally-owned restaurant. Guests are greeted with complimentary chips and salsa.

We loved our dinners. Lisa ordered an enchilada combination plate – cheese and onion, bean, and beef. The poor girl couldn’t finish it. I went with the el pollo loco combination – chicken taco, tamale and enchilada. Muy Bueno! Sadly, I couldn’t finish my dinner, either. LOL.

Roja’s El Pollo Loco is a delicious combination

While our Omaha adventure gave us additional looks into history, culture and food, Omaha offers people some great outdoor recreation. Lakes, parks and trails are located around the city.

Standing Bear Lake is located in northwest Omaha. The lake offers a great walking and biking trail. It’s popular with kite flyers and model plane enthusiasts. We watched a small plane buzzing the lake trail during our visit.

Setting up fishing at Omaha’s Standing Bear Lake.

Standing Bear is a great spot for boating and fishing. The shoreline is accessible for fishers. We saw quite a few people taking advantage of a beautiful spring day.

The lake, by the way, was named after Ponca tribal chief Standing Bear. He won a major case that proved Native Americans were human and deserved the same rights as whites in the late 1870s.

On the northeast side of town, Cunningham Lake is available for hiking, picnicking, fishing and boating. It’s a beautiful large lake. We will be returning to take a stroll along the trail and maybe (ha ha, I said maybe) shoot some photos.

Cunningham Lake is one of several recreational areas in Omaha. Visitors can take advantage of fishing, boating, hiking and picnics.

As we wrapped up our weekend adventure of taking over Visit Omaha on Instagram, we learned a lot about our city and checked out some interesting attractions. We encourage people to see more than just the main attractions. When planning a trip, stop by a visitors bureau’s website, such as Visit Omaha at www.visitomaha.com, for help in finding some off the beaten path attractions.

Disclaimer: Thanks to the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau for gift cards to Over Easy, Lot 2 and Roja. However, all opinions and views are ours.