In both Grand Island and Kearney, I encountered the nicest hotel receptionists. While these types of employees are supposed to be friendly, this isn’t always the case, but these hotel desk clerks were memorably amiable.
Before checking into our hotel though, we decided to do something super touristy. I wouldn’t have done it except that everyone said we must (including Kelli from Grand Island).
The Archway is $12 per adult and $6 per child with ages five and under free. The building stretches across the width of Interstate 80 and I have no doubt that many of you have driven beneath it more than once.
It’s more of an experience than a museum and tells the story of Nebraska’s history using life size visual aids. The narrative includes the Great Platte River Road in a way that’s vividly real. The story then shifts to trains and roads such as the Lincoln Highway which was the predecessor of Interstate 80. Parts of this historic, transcontinental highway still exist around the country, and after visiting The Archway we’ve been driving the Lincoln Highway when we can.
I thoroughly enjoyed visiting The Archway and especially liked the headsets that were programmed to tell stories at each stop along the way. I do not like the large signs with small print that so often grace the walls of museums and listening is always optimal. Plus, I loved the “road trip” aspect of this place. It is right down the HeidiTown alley.
After checking into our hotel, we headed to downtown Kearney. We quickly discovered that this is a train town. The whistle of a locomotive became the background ambiance of our visit here, as were the bugles of Sandhill Cranes. During March through mid-April, Central Nebraska is popular with Sandhill Crane birders and the Audubon’s Nebraska Crane Festival was underway in town while we were in Kearney.
We grabbed a beer and pizza lunch at Thunderhead Brewing Company. Open in Kearney in 1999, there are now three Thunderhead locations around Nebraska. I highly recommend the Thunderpie, which is a pizza featuring chicken, bacon, jalapenos and pepper jack cheese. Automatically served with a side of ranch dressing this pizza is spicy deliciousness.
The taproom is cheerfully decorated with bright, hand-painted art. It appears to be a local hang out and the solid beer and mouthwatering pizza are probably the reason. We would definitely come back.
Across the bricked street from Thunderhead is Buffalo Records. Ryan is a giddy vinyl collector and he’s even more excited when we find a record store during our travels. Of course, we had to go in and look around.
Buffalo Records is a well-laid out and clean store where discophiles will feel at home. Ryan walked out with a smile on his lips and a Midnight Oil album, “Diesel & Dust,” under his arm.
We bar hopped downtown after this, which is probably a popular pastime here considering this is the home of the University of Nebraska Kearney. About 4,000 students live here and like most college towns there are many bars.
The new McCue’s Taproom is a beer bar with a trendy warehouse feel. They only serve Nebraska beer so it’s an excellent spot to visit while visiting Kearney. Sample what’s on offer around the Cornhusker State like the Ahh Shucks IIPA from Prairie Pride in nearby Grand Island or the Skip the Last Verse Hefeweizen from Steeple Brewing in Hastings. To say that Nebraska gets creative with craft beer names would be an understatement.
We stopped in at a quirky bar called Platte Valley Taphouse. They serve everything from PBR to their own beer brewed off-premise. The prices here are cheap in comparison with Colorado and the place has a cozy, comfy feel.
By the way, every brewery we visited in Nebraska also served up cocktails and wine, which does not happen in Colorado due to liquor laws. It’s convenient because everyone in a group can find something to enjoy here, not just beer drinkers.
Beef & More Beef
Many consider steak in Nebraska to be superior to all others and so while in Kearney we were on the hunt for a steak dinner.
We ended up on the bar side of Alley Rose, a steakhouse that’s been in town since 1991. Make reservations if you want to be seated quickly; this restaurant is popular.
Alley Rose is the quintessential steakhouse where the servers seem to know every table in the house. The dinner menu includes chicken, seafood and pork but we were here for steaks. I ordered the filet mignon, my favorite cut, and Ryan ordered the coffee rubbed petit tender. Each steak came with a side and a trip to the largest salad bar I’ve seen in years.
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Even on a busy night the steak arrived perfectly cooked and when it was all said and done, we’d eaten a lot at Alley Rose. The steak lived up to the hype and we waddled out quite satisfied.
The rain began to fall as we crossed the downtown train tracks and headed back to the Best Western Plus.
It’s going to sound like we ate a lot in Nebraska because we did. The next morning, we breakfasted at The Breakfast Cart after stopping to ask for directions like it was 1992. Google Maps will send you to the wrong place—the middle of a neighborhood—but Nebraskans are super friendly and a helpful gas station clerk pointed us in the right direction. She was highly amused that we were the second people Google had sent astray that day.
The Breakfast Cart must be beloved because we got the last available table. If you didn’t believe my statement above about Nebraskans being super friendly, we saw a stranger invited to share a table with an older couple here, so I rest my argument. Nebraska is the friendliest state I’ve visited and I’ve been to the south.
The food here is homemade and scrumptious. The local favorite is the corned beef and hash and rightly so. We love breakfast and this place made the grade.
We left Kearny via the Lincoln Highway. After all, we’d just learned about this historic road and decided that it would be a peaceful alternative to Interstate 80. As we drove out of Kearney, we watched Sandhill Cranes dance in the fields around us and reminisce fondly about a trip we hadn’t quite finished.
Next up: The historic Lincoln Highway