Fire up your flight app or Google Maps, because Big Ten road games are back! Hopefully, you’ve gotten that sweet, sweet shot and you’re back to procrastinating by looking up flights to anywhere. Maybe those anywheres include a football destination or two! If your team is playing in Lincoln this year, may I humbly suggest you consider making the trip?
Before you go, you should know there are three types of people in Nebraska:
- Omaha people: Characterized by their simmering rage that they are sandwiched between Iowa and Nebraska because they think they are better than both, they cope with this by never ever going anywhere else in the state of Nebraska. It’s possible they’ve heard of Lincoln, but will not voluntarily go there, and Grand Island is “the far west” to them. They do not know Nebraska has a panhandle, nor do they care.
- Lincoln people: Typically, they think Lincoln is pretty much perfect (“It’s such a great size, everything you could want, without the sprawl! Plus, there are three Targets!”) They are annoyed by Omaha people and their dismissive attitude, but tend to resemble them in their attitude toward the rest of the state. Hilariously, they also consider Grand Island to be the far west, although it’s only about an hour and fifteen minutes down I-80—but to their credit, they’ve likely heard of the panhandle.
- “Greater Nebraska” people: As for the rest of the state, any place with more than 10,000 people counts as a “city.” They’re often resentful of the dismissive attitudes of Omaha and Lincoln people, but are often slightly more warmly inclined to Lincoln because it is home to the Huskers, it isn’t too tricky to navigate with surplus freeways, and it is very easy to get to the Targets. The further west you go the more likely you are to encounter people who hate both Lincoln and Omaha, due to a distrust of “those liberal city folk.” In spite of this apparent hostility, the panhandle and Sandhills of Nebraska are a hidden gem of outdoor beauty that almost no one knows of because they are either flying over the state, or zipping by on I-80, which runs south of these areas. It’s their loss, it’s seriously pretty.
- All of these people like Runza.
Armed with your basic knowledge of the state’s inhabitants, you are now ready to visit Nebraska for a game! In spite of Nebraska’s well-documented struggles on the football field, it still remains a top-notch college game day experience, and if you’re a visitor, it will probably be even more fun because your team will probably win.
To make the most of your trip to Lincoln, here are some of the things that you should check out while you’re in town. Most of them are food-related, because that’s one of my biggest hobbies, and because I kind of don’t remember what “going out and doing things” is like.
N – ‘Nebriation
As in any college town, Lincoln is awash in places to get drunk to whatever degree floats your boat. I’m going to pitch this toward a Millennial-and-older crowd, but if you’re still in your early 20s, or act like you are, you’ll want to head to O Street, where there are a variety of very loud bars with cheap, no-frills drinks.
The Haymarket area* offers a bit more diversity – there are the classic sports bars like Buzzard Billy’s and Longwell’s. (Barry’s, a mediocre but classic presence in this category, has been closed since the beginning of the pandemic, and questions about its reopening have been evasive.)
Lincoln also offers a variety of local and state-brewed favorites, notably Kinkaider Brewing, also located in the Haymarket. Zipline is available at many bars in Lincoln, and its Copper Alt is a very drinkable gameday beer. Boiler Brewing is a cool basement brewery in the historic Grand Manse building. Code Brewing is another option, though a bit longer of a hike from downtown. If you like cider, check out Saro Cider, which features creative and delicious ciders and a chill, comfortable atmosphere very different from the heart of downtown.
If cocktails are your thing, check out the 60s time capsule that is Starlite Lounge, which specializes in dozens of martinis, but has many other cocktail options. Barrymores is also a fun little spot, entered down an alleyway and ensconced behind the stage of an old theatre.
*Worth noting, both O Street and The Haymarket are mere blocks from the stadium, so all of the things I mention here are within walking distance of the stadium/downtown, unless otherwise noted.
E – Energy
As you’ve probably heard Nebraska fans themselves tell it, there is no place like Nebraska on a game day. While charges of a wildly unearned arrogance among the fanbase are not 100% without merit, the fact remains that most people who come to visit Lincoln end up having a really good time. I attribute this to a slight inferiority complex that infects many Nebraskans at being a part of “flyover country,” and so trying to make up for it by hoping that people end up loving the Cornhusker state as much as they do. While we never actually achieve this, you are far more likely to encounter solicitous Nebraskans eager to help make your visit a good one. Earnest, unsolicited advice for where to eat or what to do may seem strange, but it typically comes from a genuine place of wanting you to be favorably impressed with our state. We’re a little bit like a state full of old timey flight attendants – if we could offer you cookies and a blanket, we would, because we’d really like you to fly with us again.
I’m currently working on an article about how Nebraskans tried to market themselves and their state nationally in 1906, and let me just say… we’ve been this weird mix of welcoming and anxious for a long time. At least you know that someone will always be happy to give you directions or a restaurant recommendation.
B – Brunch
I am a big-time breakfast fan – think Leslie Knope PLUS Ron Swanson PLUS the Gergich Family Waffle Hour. So naturally, I love brunch. While Lincoln’s brunch scene isn’t as developed as it could be, there are still some standouts to help you chase off your victory hangover on Sunday morning. My favorites:
- Cultiva: technically in the Near South neighborhood (there is also a location by UNL’s East Campus) it’s just outside of the downtown region. An extremely casual eatery with delicious coffee roasted themselves, it offers a variety of crepes. My favorite is the Monte Christo.
- Green Gateau: located on the edge of downtown, this is a slightly more upscale brunch option. There is a lot of cheese on this menu, and I’m never mad about that.
- Tina’s Cafe: Another Near South location, this is a classic diner: think Nascar-themed decor and jars of 25-cent candies at the cash register. This is the Green Gateau’s spiritual opposite, but if you want some good diner food, this is the place.
- If you have a car: Piedmont Bistro, Penelope’s Lil’ Cafe, and Good Evans are all great options further south in town. If you’re very brave and your hotel is in South Lincoln, you can go to Hi-Way Diner. A 34-year-streak of being open 24/7 recently ended, but you can still go from 6 am – 10 pm, get your third egg free, and order “Magic Toast.” The diner has a slogan, the inscrutable saying “Don’t Ask, Just Believe.” It’s quite an experience.
R – Restaurants
Still hungry? Good.
- Honest Abe’s: With four locations across the city, this is a hometown favorite. It’s perfect for you if you’ve ever been bothered by the lack of presidential-themed burger joints— because this one is all about Abraham Lincoln. The burgers are delicious, they offer alcoholic milkshakes with unbelievably indulgent ingredients, and don’t forget to get the Abe’s Sauce.
- Lan House: My favorite thing about this restaurant is that it used to be a mediocre BBQ place and the owners never changed the decor, so you enter under a replica of a 1950s car and dine under wagon wheel lights. My other favorite thing is that this is actually real Chinese food, not American Chinese food, and it features more foods from western China (think more noodles, and less rice.)
- Sultan’s Kite: Have you ever wanted a gyro AND french fries? Of course you have! This is the place to get a quick, cheap bite if you’re doing the O Street thing.
- LeadBelly: I’m including this Haymarket restaurant because I love their raspberry beret burger a really unhealthy amount.
- The Classics: if you skew, um, Boomery, you may find yourself happiest at two classic restaurants downtown: Misty’s (for the prime rib) and Lazlo’s. Neither of these is my favorite restaurant in town, but neither is bad, and if you ask a Husker fan over the age of ~60 where to eat, this is probably what they will suggest.
- Runza. 🙂 You know you want to. Get one in the stadium, especially if it’s a cold game. They’re excellent and delicious hand warmers.
A – Aerial Views
If you’re looking for something unique (and free!) to do during your weekend in Lincoln, I suggest checking out Lincoln’s most iconic landmark – the state capitol (or, for the less refined, “The Penis of the Plains.” Yes, let’s go ahead and deconstruct that the seat of state governmental power is a giant phallus.)
Tours are hourly on most days, and yes, you can go up to the top. It’s a unique building with tons of Art Deco style and symbolic artwork and mosaics throughout, perfect for building nerds, history nerds, or people who like looking out the top of tall buildings.
S – Scoops
Am I including a section just on ice cream? I am. Because ice cream is delicious.
Downtown, there are two standouts:
- My personal favorite since going here way too often in college, Ivanna Cone features homemade ice cream (you can see the churns in action when you go in, and their names are Jeremy and Caitlin) and the best homemade waffle cones I have ever had. I’ve had great ice cream in other places (Coneflower in Omaha, Betty Rae’s in Kansas City), but I’ve never had such a delicious waffle cone anywhere else. Also, the decor is incredibly colorful and whimsical, monthly flavors benefit local charities, and it was an LGBTQ+ -friendly space long before every company in America started rainbowizing their logos in June.
- 402 Creamery is new on the scene. Their physical space is… well, bleak, to put it bluntly, but the ice cream makes up for it. The monster cookie ice cream is phenomenal.
K – Klap Hard at the Game
Nothing starts with K unless you’re a Kardashian.
A – Area Attractions
I know I’m biased as a much-of-my-life resident of The Good Life, but I think there is a lot more to do in Nebraska than people expect (please note: this is not me making a comparison to NYC or Chicago or something, so settle down.) I know that traveling for football reasons often means trying to squeeze travel and the game into a Friday-Sunday window. I get it! But if you’re able, plan an extra day or two to see something outside of Lincoln.
- Greater Nebraska: I think the Sandhills are one of the most underrated and beautiful spaces in the country. They’re not something people pass through without intention, so they are not well-known, but the beautiful, rolling ranch land that has mostly escaped cultivation is a sight to behold. Northeastern Nebraska features river valleys, and the panhandle has some rocky sights you wouldn’t expect to see in Nebraska. (Additionally, it has Chimney Rock, Oregon Trail landmark where your wagon train usually started to run out of water.)
- Omaha: Fine, I’ll put them on here, even though they’d never return the favor. Omaha has a panoply of restaurants, bars, and nightlife. Their most famous attraction is the Henry Doorly Zoo, one of the best zoos in the nation, which features among the usual zoo things, an indoor rainforest, a desert habitat under an enormous geodesic dome, and an aquarium. Their second-most famous attraction is Nebraska Furniture Mart, North America’s largest home furnishings store. So, you know, you have options.
In all seriousness, Lincoln is a great college football trip, even though Nebraska isn’t very good at college football itself. Even though the current state tourism slogan is, controversially “Nebraska… it’s not for everyone,” it might just be for you. Come visit!
Are you planning to attend an away game this year?