15 Best Things to Do in Douglas County, NE

Douglas County, NE
Esme7 / iStock.com

Douglas County is a beautiful and diverse area in Nebraska, home to the bustling city of Omaha, the state’s largest city and the county’s seat.

But aside from Omaha, there are other sights to see and places to visit in this county.

From hiking trails, quiet nature preserves, and quaint parks, Douglas County is a must-visit when in Nebraska.

Let me take you through some of my favorite spots around the county.

Without further ado, here’s a list of the 15 best things to do in Douglas County, Nebraska!

Explore Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

Ferocious tiger at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
Aspects and Angles / Shutterstock.com

Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is one of the county’s most popular tourist destinations and with good reason.

It boasts the world’s largest indoor desert and nocturnal exhibits, and one of the largest indoor rainforests around.

Giraffes at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock.com

In addition, its 160 acres will offer you a glimpse into some of Mother Nature’s best creations: from Scott African grasslands housing elephants and zebras to Asian highlands where you’ll spot red pandas and sloths.

With all these, it’s no wonder Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium consistently ranks as one of the best in the country!

As I explored the exhibits, I was blown away by the sheer number of animals we share our planet with and the beauty of our natural wonders.

Gorilla at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
Aspects and Angles / Shutterstock.com

Feast on the Best Steak at Farmer Browns Steak House

I happened to chance upon Farmer Browns Steak House while looking for a place to eat in Waterloo, and it didn’t disappoint!

From its easily accessible location, amazing food and service, generous portions, and delicious food, it’s a must-visit establishment in the village.

The family-owned and operated restaurant has been around since 1964 and has been a favorite among locals and tourists.

Curious and excited to try their food, I ordered their prime rib and homemade garlic mashed potato.

The steak was seasoned well and cooked just the way I liked, and the portion was more than enough for me.

They also have an impressive wine and liquor list, and I paired my steak with a glass of cabernet for that perfect combination.

Relax at Zorinsky Lake Park

View of the Zorinsky Lake Park
Workman, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Zorinsky Lake Park is a quiet escape located a few minutes from downtown Omaha.

It offers day-use facilities like playgrounds, picnic shelters, baseball fields, soccer fields, a fishing dock, and more.

What’s also special about Zorinsky Lake Park is that it’s home to the Bauermeister prairie, one of the few native tall grass prairies left in eastern Nebraska.

I’d usually bring my bike to the park and take the Zorinsky Lake Trail, passing through the picnic shelters, baseball fields, the prairie, and some residential areas.

On some days, I go to the park for a quick jog.

Regardless, the park is a nice place to visit if you’re looking for someplace relaxing.

Dine at Spezia Omaha

If there’s one restaurant you shouldn’t miss in Douglas County, it has to be Spezia Omaha.

When I had a meal here, I was transported to the land of La Dolce Vita without having to travel halfway across the globe, thanks to its wide array of Italian dishes.

The ambiance here is relaxing, and I love that there are large windows that let the light in naturally.

My favorite dish at Spezia Omaha is the salmon pasta Spezia, which has wood-grilled salmon, prosciutto, baby peas, and penne cooked to perfection.

Meanwhile, honorable mentions include the four-cheese flatbread, eggplant parmigiana, and rack of lamb.

To cap off my Italian dining experience, I just had to have a slice of their special Spezia tiramisu and a rich chocolate dessert martini.

Be In Awe of Nature’s Wonders at Lauritzen Gardens

Lotus at the Lauritzen Gardens
Stephanie Le / Shutterstock.com

In need of a break or change of scenery in the middle of busy Omaha? Visit the exhibits of Lauritzen Gardens and bask in the refreshing atmosphere.

This urban oasis offers four-season plant displays that will transport you to a relaxing getaway in the heart of the city.

Lauritzen Gardens offers 100 acres that feature a rose garden, herb garden, children’s garden, a Victorian garden, and a model railroad garden where small-scale trains run through the area.

Japanese Garden at the Lauritzen Gardens
Stephanie Le / Shutterstock.com

Inside the glass exteriors of the Marjorie K. Daugherty Conservatory, I felt like I was in a different place as I was surrounded by tropical plants and stunning floral displays.

Past the conservatory, I followed a trail leading me to a woodland forest where I saw oak trees, gooseberry trees, and other native plants.

Rose at the Lauritzen Gardens
Emalisia / Shutterstock.com

Hang Out at Turner Park

Turner Park is one of the busiest parks in Douglas County, located in the lively neighborhood of Midtown Crossing.

The park is the center of activity for the neighborhood, surrounded by homegrown establishments, grocery stores, casual and fine dining restaurants, and more.

It’s also the location for events like concerts, yoga sessions, outdoor workouts, and night markets.

But perhaps my favorite thing about Turner Park is that it transforms into a winter wonderland during its annual Season of Lights!

Regardless of whether you visit for a free yoga session or a stroll during winter, this is one of the best places to hang out and relax in the city.

Take the Big Papio Trail

The Big Papio Trail is one of my favorite multipurpose trails in Douglas County and is perfect for fitness enthusiasts and those who want a good trail in the area.

It follows the Big Papillion Creek, taking you through quiet residential areas, sprawling neighborhood parks, and bustling industrial areas.

The Big Papio Trail stretches from Hefflinger Park to Seymour Smith Park, so in a way, you’re seeing different sides of Omaha in one trip.

Along the way, I’d like to stop by One Pacific Place Park or nearby cafes for a breather before resuming my trip.

Since this is a popular trail, I usually go for a run or jog early in the morning to avoid crowds, although it shouldn’t be bothersome since this is a long trail.

Tour the Historic Joslyn Castle & Gardens

Facade of the Joslyn Castle
Ammodramus, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the famous historic sites in Douglas County is Joslyn Castle & Gardens, located in the Gold Coast Historic District in Omaha.

When I visited the mansion on a tour, I felt like I was transported to a country estate in Scotland because of its Scottish Baronial architecture.

Inside, I was blown away by the well-preserved mahogany staircase, reception hall, music room, ballroom, library, and gold drawing room.

The tour also included a visit to the gardens, which are just as charming and elegant as the mansion itself, featuring dozens of old trees where you can seek shade and have a picnic.

Because of its picturesque and dreamy surroundings, Joslyn Castle & Gardens is a popular venue for weddings, photoshoots, and other events.

Spend the Day at Two Rivers State Recreation Area

Two Rivers State Recreation Area may be on the far western side of Douglas County, but it’s well worth the drive.

It’s one of the best places to visit if you need a change of scenery since the park offers more than 600 acres of campsites, hiking trails, and nearby bodies of water.

I like to go on a road trip to Two Rivers State Recreation Area, then spend the day on the hiking trails exploring the woods.

I also saw families enjoying a picnic and people on the lake either swimming, boating, or fishing.

The park also features 10 vintage cabooses that were remodeled and used as cabins for those who’d like to stay overnight.

Enjoy Different Farm Activities at Nelson Produce Farm

Discover the beauty of Douglas County’s countryside on a visit to Nelson Produce Farm, located in Valley.

Whether you visit in summer or autumn, you’ll get to enjoy shopping for fresh produce, picking fruits, and seeing the farm animals.

I got to visit Nelson Produce Farm in both seasons, and I can’t choose which one I like best because both of them offer unique activities and I got to see a different side of the farm.

In summer, we picked fresh and juicy strawberries, took photos in the gorgeous sunflower fields, and got to enjoy farm-fresh donuts and other treats.

However, there’s something charming about the farm in autumn, and you’ll get to enjoy pumpkin picking and try seasonal snacks like apple cider donuts and an apple cider slushie.

Visit The Durham Museum

Exhibit at the Durham Museum
Doug Floyd from USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re visiting Downtown Omaha, don’t miss The Durham Museum, a fascinating historical museum housed in a former train station.

It’s a good place to visit, especially for first-time visitors who’d like to learn more about Omaha and the rest of the US’ western regions.

From life-like sculptures and well-replicated rooms and storefronts to exhibits on Omaha’s history and culture, go back in time at The Durham Museum.

On my trip to the museum, I got to see small-scale train models from the 1950s, a replica of a store that opened in 1915, and an authentic streetcar.

But the highlight of my trip to the museum was seeing the grand Suzanne and Walter Scott Great Hall, with its high ceiling, terrazzo floors, marble columnettes, and sparkling chandeliers.

Beat the Heat at Fun-Plex Waterpark & Rides

Summers in Omaha can get quite hot, and that’s why I like to cool down at Fun-Plex Waterpark & Rides, the largest amusement park in the city.

The waterpark features plenty of slides, water rides, a wave pool, a lazy river, a splash pad for kids, and other fun amenities.

If you’re a thrillseeker like me, climb five stories tall and slide down the Rockin’ Rapids, one of the tallest and longest slides in the country!

After taking the slides, I’d like to relax for a bit and head to the lazy river, grab a tube, and float above the water.

Aside from its slides and pools, Fun-Plex Waterpark & Rides has fun go-karts, water bumper boats, and other kid-friendly rides.

Take in the Views from The RiverFront

Despite being a new project, found in 2018, The RiverFront is one of Douglas County’s most popular parks, located at the heart of Omaha.

It’s composed of three parks spread out across 72 acres, providing a refreshing scenery for those in the city.

One park, Gene Leahy Mall, offers a state-of-the-art playground, water features, a dog park, and an open space for movie screenings, concerts, yoga, and other events.

The other two parks, Heartland of America Park and Lewis and Clark Landing, have a skate park, amphitheater, playing courts, playgrounds, and a pier with overlooking views of the Missouri River.

Although these parks are relatively new, I normally go here for a morning stroll or sightseeing as I navigate around the city.

Take a Break at Elmwood Park

Stairs at the Elmwood Park
Aspects and Angles / Shutterstock.com

If you’re looking for a park for picnics and other outdoor activities without taking hour-long drives, check out Elmwood Park.

It’s conveniently located near the University of Nebraska Omaha and has everything one needs for a fun day outdoors.

Park facilities include a swimming pool, baseball fields, a pavilion for picnics and events, an 18-hole golf course, and more.

Golf course at Elmwood Park
Ammodramus, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Depending on what I feel like doing, sometimes I visit Elmwood Park to relax and read a book under the shade of the trees; on other days, I go for a jog around the park.

The trails are paved and are surrounded by trees, so I won’t have to worry about the heat of the sun.

Marvel at the Holiday Lights Festival

The Holiday Lights Festival is one of the county’s most anticipated winter events—and is one of the many reasons why I love spending the holidays here.

No matter which side of Omaha you’ll visit, you’re treated to a visual feast of colorful lights, putting you into the holiday spirit.

My personal favorite display is at the Old Market as the lights give the cobblestone streets and brick buildings a charming small-town vibe.

Other must-see displays at the Holiday Lights Festival include Gene Leahy Mall at The RiverFront and Midtown Crossing.

Although you can go on a scenic drive to check out all the sites, I recommend walking along the streets and stopping by a cafe or Christmas market for warm drinks and holiday snacks!

Final Thoughts

From historic museums and mansions to thrilling amusement parks and relaxing parks, Douglas County has it for you.

The county also offers seasonal activities, so you’re in for a memorable adventure whether you visit in spring, summer, fall, or winter.

I hope this list of the 15 best things to do in Douglas County is helpful in giving you ideas for your next vacation!

Spotted a mistake, have some feedback, or just want to chat with our editorial team? Click here to get in touch.
Find out more about Travel Lens and read our editorial guidelines here.