From the grasslands of the Sand Hills to the luxuriant pine forests and alluvial river valleys, Nebraska is the understated beauty of the Heartland. The rich soils in the east have made Nebraska prized farmland for corn, so it’s no wonder where the Cornhusker State earned its name. The western half, which borders Colorado and Wyoming, is prime grazing ground for cattle, but it’s also an important pathway for migratory birds, including the beloved sandhill cranes.
In addition to its wide-open spaces, Nebraska’s low cost of living and low population density consistently attract people to this state. Part of what keeps residents here is the diverse economic opportunities. In addition to its booming agricultural base, Nebraska is also part of the so-called Silicon Prairie, a burgeoning, multi-state region for technological development and manufacturing.
The state’s population has steadily increased over the last decade, gaining well over 100,000 new residents since 2010. Nebraska also has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, and a relatively low rate of violent crime. As one of the top 15 states with the lowest cost of living(1), it’s easy to see why people are moving to Nebraska.
Weather in Nebraska
Nebraska comprises several distinct geographic regions, but the state as a whole is prone to extremes of all kinds, including high winds.
As part of the Central Lowlands, the eastern half of the state stays warmer and wetter, while the Sand Hills of the north-central and western half are arid and cooler. Average rainfall hits 30 inches in the east, making food crops plentiful, but the semi-arid west is better suited to ranching. Springtime temperatures are usually mild, but like most of its Midwestern neighbors, Nebraska is considered part of Tornado Alley. Summers can be extraordinarily hot, with temperatures frequently exceeding 90ºF. Cornhuskers can thank their neighbors to the north for the arctic air that brings uncommonly cold and icy winters — it’s not unusual for the mercury to drop below zero. Average January temperatures only hover in the 20sºF.
When should you move to Nebraska? Early fall is an ideal time when the air is crisp with changing leaves, and before the first real snow arrives. Ultimately, September, October and November are the best times to move to Nebraska.
Advantages of Moving to Nebraska
Nebraska is a no flyover state. U.S. News & World Report named Nebraska’s big cities — Lincoln and Omaha — the #28 and #29 best places to live in America. Some of the top reasons for moving to Nebraska were the job market, family and the cost of living. The median household income in Nebraska is $63,015 — the highest among neighboring Midwestern states — and just below the national average. And, at 2.2%, the state’s unemployment rate is the fourth lowest in the nation. So, how do the Cornhuskers do it?
According to CNBC, Nebraska is ranked as one of the top 10 states with the best economy. Nebraska’s economy is fueled by a diverse portfolio of industries, including insurance, construction, railways and food. In addition to strongholds like Cabela’s, Werner Enterprises and the University of Nebraska, the state is home to five Fortune 500 companies: Berkshire Hathaway, Union Pacific, ConAgra, Peter Kiewit Sons’ and Mutual of Omaha.
Manufacturing is the third-largest industry by employment in Nebraska. Food and beverages, motor vehicles and electrical equipment are just a few of the things residents can claim are Nebraska-made. Average manufacturing wages are also high — $66,300.91 was the average annual salary in 2018.
But Nebraskans really do live off the land — one in four jobs are related to agriculture, and 92% of the land in Nebraska is used for either farming or ranching. Not surprisingly, beef tops the list — cattle are the largest segment of the agricultural industry in the state, and Nebraska is a nationwide leader in the business. Corn, pork, soy and dairy are other vital sectors of Nebraska’s agricultural base.
One of the highest-paying industries is actually utilities, where the average weekly wage is nearly $2,900.
Another draw to living in Nebraska is its educational system. Nebraska ranks as one of America’s top 10 states for Pre-K to 12th-grade education. The state also boasts a 94% high school graduation rate and is ranked #7 in America for higher education, with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln anchoring the state’s university system.
Fastest Growing Cities in Nebraska
So, what is living in Nebraska like? That all depends on where you live. Over two thirds of Nebraskans reside in the eastern part of the state in the areas surrounding Omaha, Lincoln and Grand Island. The western half of the state is far more remote. Whether you’re looking for space to spread out or cosmopolitan conveniences, Nebraska has something for everyone.
At 487,300 residents (and counting), the most populous metro area in Nebraska is the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro area, which encompasses western portions of Iowa. The city’s population has increased by over 78,000 people in the last decade — over three quarters of the state’s new residents moved here. The suburbs of Omaha, including Bellevue, drive that figure even higher.
Omaha is one of the more diverse cities in Nebraska, and it’s also a hub of connectivity. Des Moines is just a two hour drive, and Lincoln is only an hour away. At $167,800, median housing prices in Omaha are substantially less than the national average, and rents average only $948. Costs are roughly the same in neighboring Bellevue, where the population is 63,737.
Just an hour outside of Omaha is the state capital, Lincoln. The city is a bustling, mid-size Midwestern city home to nearly 300,000 residents. This city is growing! Over the past 10 years, the population has increased 11%. Median home values are a modest $180,400, and rents average $871, both well below national averages.
Lincoln is also home to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a tier-one research institution founded in 1869 that’s also a member of the Big-10 conference. The city is awash in cultural resources, from the Nebraska State Capitol to its numerous museums and the lively Haymarket District, part of which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Families adore Antelope Park, with its public gardens, playgrounds and the Lincoln Children’s Zoo. And, Deer Springs Winery is a respite for busy adults.
About 95 miles west of Lincoln is the city of Grand Island, a food processing hub where the nation’s first sugar beet processing center was built in 1890. The population of Grand Island, now at 52,335, has seen steady growth since 2010, adding nearly 4,000 new residents over the last decade, including a large immigrant population. This city is also a major draw for tourists.
Each year, visitors flock to the area to see the annual migration of cranes along the Platte River that Nebraska’s Sand Hill region is known for. To experience it for yourself, head to the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center, where 10,000 acres of unspoiled habitat await you…and, of course, the famous sandhill cranes, whooping cranes, and other feathered friends looking for a perfect rest stop.
Exploring the Corn Husker State and its growing hubs soon? Let our music be part of your road trip.
Fun Things to Do in Nebraska
In Harrison’s Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, visitors can learn about the unusual mammals that used to inhabit this landscape in the Miocene period, like bear dogs, two-foot-tall gazelle-camels and the daeodon, a large, omnivorous grazer with wrist-size teeth (!!!) whose name means “terrible pig.” There’s also a significant collection of Lakota artifacts on permanent display.
Another great site for fossils is Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park. Prehistoric animal skeletons that were buried and preserved in volcanic ash are on view — rhinos, camels and horses from 12 million years ago. Because the museum is built directly over the active excavation site, you might even get to see paleontologists at work while you’re there.
If you’re in Omaha, family fun abounds. First, there’s the Omaha Children’s Museum, where kids can burn off some serious S.T.E.A.M. Your crew will be uncontrollably pulled to the massive, physics-defying ball machine called the Super Gravitron. If you’re wanting to get outdoors, the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium has dozens of ani-mazing exhibits. Monkeys, macaws and pygmy hippos make their home in the rainforest environment of The Lied Jungle. Curious about what animals do after dark? See alligators, naked mole rats and hundreds of bats in the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit, the Mahoney Kingdoms of the Night. Not scary enough? How does a 70-foot-long shark tunnel at the aquarium sound?
In Lincoln, you’ll find an unexpected treasure in the International Quilt Museum. Part of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the museum’s collection features quilts from over 60 countries, dating from the early 1700s to today.
Other museums of note include the Joslyn Museum of Art in Omaha and the Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln.
Outdoor Things to Do in Nebraska
Omaha’s September Fest is one of the most popular annual events in the state, drawing crowds from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and South Dakota. The five-day extravaganza has been hosted since 1977 and features a carnival, performances and competitions, concluding with the Labor Day Parade.
The Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha are a 100-acre botanical wonderland, with peony and rose gardens, native wildflower gardens, a children’s garden, and a woodland trail.
In Lincoln, the Sunken Gardens show you how a century’s worth of elbow grease can transform a literal neighborhood dumpsite. This floral oasis has been included on National Geographic’s “300 Best Gardens to Visit in the U.S. and Canada.”
For a surreal outdoor adventure, head to Oglala National Grassland in the far northwest corner of the state where you’ll find Toadstool Geological Park and Campground, an otherworldly landscape with — you guessed it — mushroom-shaped rocks. There are also fossilized remains of now-extinct creatures like humpless camels, miniature horses and gigantic tortoises.
If you’ve gotten a taste for large fossils but prefer ones on the nearer side of history, steer your way to Carhenge. Vintage automobiles — painted brute gray and standing on end — get a second life in this unexpected Stonehenge homage.
If you’re looking for a place to gather the extended family in Nebraska, Fort Robinson State Park in Crawford is a popular destination for reunions and retreats. The park is home to herds of bison and longhorns, and it offers 22,000-plus acres of unbelievable western scenery. There’s on-site lodging (for people and horses), as well as park activities that include horseback riding, hiking, golfing, kayaking and fishing in the park’s 10 ponds and cold-water streams. Don’t worry parents, in case the 80 miles of hiking and biking trails haven’t worn everyone out, there’s also an Olympic-size indoor pool.
One of the most exceptional sites in all of Nebraska, however, is the Niobrara National Scenic River, where you can kayak and tube to your heart’s content while taking in the extraordinary flora and fauna. Case in point: 92 species of butterflies have been recorded in this valley. Also along this 76-mile stretch lies Nebraska’s highest waterfall in Smith Falls State Park. The 70-foot falls are accessible by footbridge across the river.
Eat Nebraskan Cuisine
Nebraska is perhaps most famous for its beef, and the state has Omaha Steaks to thank for that. Founded by Latvian refugees in 1917, the company pioneered the steaks-by-mail business, which is now known and loved around the world.
Then, there’s Dorothy Lynch salad dressing. This tomato-based, homestyle condiment has been around since the 40s, when it was first served at a local Legion Club restaurant. The company, still located in Duncan, Nebraska, advises that this sweet and tangy recipe is good on and in nearly everything — even pancakes and brownies. (You’ll be the judge of that.)
But you know what’s cooler than being cool? Ice cold Kool-Aid. Invented by Nebraskan Edwin Perkins, this classic American refreshment has been around for nearly one sweet century.
If you’re looking for something on the saltier side, Nebraska is one of the states where you might be served “Rocky Mountain oysters” (wink, wink). Although fish farming in the Midwest has made great strides, these deep-fried delicacies have never seen a seabed. A barn floor, perhaps. Also known as bull fries, Montana tenders and even huevos de toro, breaded bull testicles are revered by some and reviled by others. In any case, don’t be fooled. An oyster by any other name would… taste like an actual oyster.
Okay, but where do Nebraskans eat?
If you’re looking for steak, head straight to The Drover. This old-school, Western bar and restaurant in Omaha grills up whiskey-marinated filets with a heaping side of cowboy and other traditional accompaniments. If you’re in Lincoln, Misty’s is the place to be. Order the seven-ounce S.O.B. top sirloin (that’s “Sweet Old Bob’s” top sirloin, kids) if you’re just whetting your appetite, or the King Cut Prime Rib if you mean business.
But Nebraska isn’t all beef all the time. Except when it’s filling a double-crust pizza from La Casa Pizzeria. This unpretentious Italian restaurant has been hand-tossing Neapolitan pies since 1953. You can also get your fill of crispy arancini and classic pasta favorites, too.
After you’ve feasted on these Nebraskan classics, you may want to hit the state’s craft breweries. White Elm in Lincoln slings inspired suds like the wistful Starry Eyed IIIPA and a Belgian-style strong golden ale called Cerberus that has both bark and bite.
You won’t feel properly Nebraskan until you’ve visited the state’s largest candy outlet, Baker’s Candies, and had a handful (or two) of its famous chocolate meltaways. But if you’re looking to make a meal of it, head to Potter’s Sundry in the panhandle, which prepares some of the most comforting of all comfort food in the Midwest, including a Nebraska classic — the cabbage burger. As for finales, its Tin Roof Sundae was voted one of the best desserts in the country by the Food Network.
Prepare for Your Move to Nebraska
Ready to move to Nebraska? Get a moving quote from United Van Lines.
Wherever you may be moving from, United Van Lines’ professional movers can help. We offer full-service moving packages to make the process simple and worry-free, including packing and unpacking, debris pick up, storage, car shipping and more.
Moving cross country? Our long-distance movers can help you move to Nebraska from anywhere in the U.S. Moving locally? Our Nebraska movers can assist with local moves under their own brands and business names. Whether you’re looking to do it yourself or want everything taken care of, United Van Lines has a wealth of moving resources for you, too.
Check out the MyUnited Moving Portal to get started.
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