OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Thinking of taking a walk around the neighborhood or a lake? Consider exploring Omaha’s classic neighborhoods with their art, history and unique architecture. From South Omaha, Little Italy and Dundee to North Omaha, Benson and Florence, you can find the city’s oldest building, the spot where a balloon bomb burst over Omaha during World War II and a lot of other bits of trivia and nostalgia.
You can explore Omaha through several methods, with organized tours offered by companies such as Nebraska Tour Company and History Walks. But, you can also take your own urban hike. We’ve completed urban hikes both ways, but there are plenty of options to determine the style and speed that work for you.
Here are three amazing neighborhoods to walk during your own Urban Hike Omaha.
Nicknamed “Magic City,” because it seemed to grow overnight, South Omaha offers a diverse area to explore. The melting pot of Omaha – almost every immigrant group settled in South O – people from Eastern Europe, Italy, Germany, Asia and Latin America have called the area home. It seems like a new ethnic group settled in the area every generation during Omaha’s early days. Today, you’ll find murals located around the neighborhood celebrating that history. From the Irish mural at Donohue’s Pub at 32nd and L Streets to the Lithuanian project at the Lithuanian Bakery, you’ll find a mural for almost any ethnic group calling Omaha home.
But, for a fun urban hike, check out the 24th Street corridor between L and Q Streets. As you walk through the business district, visit the murals near Plaza de la Raza. Local artists have created beautiful pieces celebrating “Magic City,” Mayan history, Native American influence, and Latino flavor. Sculptures and floral gardens add color and spice to South Omaha.
History runs through the buildings along 24th Street, including the U.S. Post Office building, which once served as city hall for South Omaha’s short existence as its own city. The Roseland is an apartment building now, but it once served as the community’s theater. For a look into Latino history, visit El Museo Latino, as the museum offers several special exhibits highlighting history and culture.
Some people may consider Benson a hipster neighborhood with unique art galleries, boutiques and restaurants calling the area home. However, if you love murals, the neighborhood is perfect for you. From its “Welcome to Historic Benson” mural to Beercade and 100 People by Watie White, you can spend an afternoon walking the Benson neighborhood taking in the public art. White’s work, which can be seen around Omaha, focuses on activists and advocates for social justice in Omaha. If you’ve ever been to Benson, you know the neighborhood is inclusive, advocating for refugees and other social justice movements.
But, it’s not all politics and social justice art in Benson. You’ll find colorful works combining Donkey Kong with fire escapes as part of the alley art behind Beercade, home to brews and nostalgic pinball games. For about six blocks, you can explore art on the backsides of businesses, ranging from giant insects to beautiful faces.
As you complete your urban hike through Benson, explore the local galleries as they offer eclectic works that you likely won’t find in more mainstream outlets. Petshop is a shared work area, featuring a variety of galleries and exhibits. Featuring new, vintage and repurposed furniture pieces and accessories, you’ll enjoy spending time at Found Vintage Market.
After hiking the area and checking out the architecture, such as the post office and Benson Community Center, art and pieces of culture through the stores and galleries, partake in Benson’s outstanding culinary scene. With James Beard Foundation-nominated chefs, Yoshitomo and Au Courant Regional Kitchen may be the best-known spots, but Benson is also home to great food at Ika Ramen and Izakaya, as well as Burrito Envy. You may also want to enjoy at a drink the Infusion Brewery taproom or Krug Park. For an out-of-this-world experience, try the gourmet coffee or cocktails at Edge of the Universe, which prides itself on featuring different seasonal themes.
24th and Lake Historic District
North Omaha’s economic history once ran through 24th and Lake. The district was one of the busiest and most successful areas of Omaha. One city block had at least 40 businesses during the neighborhood’s heyday. But, a variety of reasons led to the area’s decline beginning in the 1960s.
With a rebirth of the area, including the Great Plains Black History Museum relocating to the area, the historic district is a must for an urban hike. We previously took a guided walking tour of historical buildings in the neighborhood, including a few of the near dozen that have been named to the National Register of Historic Places. From the Dreamland Ballroom at the Jewell Building to the Carnation Room, the neighborhood boomed as home to Omaha’s jazz scene. With greats such as Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald performing, the 24th and Lake District was the place to be for fantastic music. That history is celebrated with a the “Jazz Trio” sculpture at the Dreamland Plaza across the street from the Jewell Building.
Enjoy a self-guided urban hike to check out the historical buildings of the 24th and Lake district, covering about a 12-block area, including the Carver Building, the former Webster Telephone Exchange Building and the Broomfield Rowhouse.
The Omaha Star building, the longtime home to one of the nation’s oldest newspapers owned by an African American woman, was also named to the National Register of Historical Places. The building, with its iconic sign, is a great spot for photos. Nearby, the Great Plains Black History Museum showcases the stories of Black Omahans and their role in the city’s development. It also documents the issues African Americans have faced throughout Omaha’s history. A mural celebrating Omaha’s Tuskegee Airmen, Black pilots during World War II, is located next to the museum.
At the intersection of 24th and Lake, you’ll find the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Cornerstone Memorial, with murals depicting African American life and issues on a wall behind it. The memorial recognizes several Black social justice leaders, including Malcolm X, who was born in Omaha. The civil rights leader’s childhood home is recognized by a state historical marker, which is about a 1.5-mile walk from the King memorial.
On a building’s wall, around the corner from the King memorial, is a beautiful mural with the word “Love” painted in a 1960s-style font.
If you’ve worked up an appetite during your urban hike, check out the menu at Emery’s Café and Southern Bistro, which is a short walk from the Omaha Star.
However you decide to explore Omaha, with a guided walking tour or a self-guided excursion, your urban hike is enhanced through the art, history and culture that our city’s classic neighborhoods offer.
For more local urban hike ideas visit The Walking Tourists: