Explore My City: Omaha
Wait, what? You’ve never heard of Omaha? You have no idea that the name “Nebraska” is one of the 50 US states? Therefore, you couldn’t even point out WHERE Nebraska is even if given a globe, hu?
Yeah. You aren’t the only one
Alright, everyone. A quick geography lesson. Pull out your map and put your finger smack dab in the middle of the U.S. Yup, that’s Nebraska. The land-locked state of flatness and corn. And that’s about all that most people think that Nebraska has to offer. Which is exactly why Omaha is a hidden gem that most people overlook.
Being the largest city in Nebraska with just about a million people, Omaha is no small, hick farming town. While my “Homaha” (Home+Omaha as the locals call it) may not have beaches, mountains, giant skyscrapers and other attractions that might make other well-known US cities popular, it is not lacking in activities and things to do for people of all ages, making it the perfect place for families to explore together.
While anyone can enjoy all that the city has to offer, Omaha has done an exceptional job at making family-friendly attractions that will have everyone in your clan rethinking that Nebraska is just cows and farms and instead creating some pretty amazing lifelong memories.
While us Omahans could create an itinerary of things to do in and around town that could last for weeks (if not months), even a long weekend in the Big O! will give you the perfect opportunity to see the main highlights and feel like a local.
Travel to Far Away Lands
Absolutely no post about Omaha would be complete without a mention of its world-class zoo (Rated as the #1 zoo in the world as a matter of fact!). Chances are, you may not have heard much about Omaha except it’s zoo, and that is for good reason. It is simply AMAZING! Normally, I do not support animal tourism, and that includes most zoos, but Henry Doorly has done a phenomenal job of increasing conservation and rehabilitation efforts as well as providing the most “natural” environments an animal can get in captivity.
I could go on and on about a day (or several, because that’s how many you’ll need to fully experience all the exhibits) but take my word that the Aquarium, where you can get up close and personal with penguins, the African Grasslands, where you feel like you are on a safari, the Kingdom of the Night where you creep over the boardwalk of swamps and the Rain Forest where you can swing with the monkeys are all places that kids, and kids at heart, simply adore.
Insider Tip 1: Pack a lunch and make a whole day of the zoo! Eat your picnic while watching the polar bears play, take a snooze on a blanket on any green space and enjoy a full day of fun, learning and animal amazement!
Insider Tip 2: Bring a suit and towel for the little ones for the splash pad
A Self-Guided Walk
The “Downtown” area is the perfect place to get a dosage of local “culture” and what better way than to take a self-guided walk?
Insider Tip: Park for the day at either the 15th and Douglas St or 13th and Harney St Parking Garages and then walk a few blocks to start the walk at the Gene Lehey Mall (12th & Farnam St).
Swans and Slides at Gene Lehey Mall
Start your morning with a stroll through the Gene Lehey Mall. Bring a breakfast of doughnuts, pastries or whatever gets you revved up for a fun day and plop down anywhere for a picnic. This park in the middle of Downtown is the perfect place to feed some fish, spot some swans, and start out slow. But if you want to fit in like a local, find the slides. If you REALLY want to fit in like a local, bring along some cardboard or wax paper to slide in style! This kid-approved hot spot has been a local favorite for generations.
After you are done slippin’ and slidin’ head across the street from the slides and into the Old Market neighborhood.
The Old Market
Living in Europe the past five years, one of the things that I am going to miss so much after leaving are the cute cobble-stoned streets! Luckily, there is a small section of downtown Omaha that will be able to give me my fix! While Omaha is ever changing and growing, there are still a small handful of brick streets that take you back to a time where you can just stroll around looking for good eats, go window shopping or hang out on a bench to people watch.
Want some of the favorite local food? Here are some of the classics:
Spaghetti Works: Eat some yummy pasta in an old train caboose!
Upstream Brewery: Nebraskans know beef, which means this local restaurant knows how to make a mean steak!
Ted and Walleys: Stop in for some dessert and get homemade ice cream, made fresh daily.
(Want a Free Downloadable Map with Walking Directions on this Self-Guided Tour? Click Here)
After meandering through the Old Market, head Northeast to 800 Douglas St and
Take a Boat ride at the Heartland of America Park
Just a few minutes’ walk from the Gene Lehey Mall and the Old Market is the Heartland of America Park. Again, bring along your crusty old bread to feed the fish and a blanket to spread out on the grass and enjoy the afternoon. You can take an easy stroll around the lake or even enjoy a boat-ride around the fountain.
Insider Tip: Come back at night and see the fountain beautifully lit up!
Next, walk Northwest and find the bridge that will take you to the…
Lewis and Clark Landing and the Riverfront Walk
Continue your adventure down to the riverfront. The giant statues of the Firefighters and Union Monuments are a great pit-stop for little ones to climb all over and then pop into the Lewis and Clark Trail Visitor Headquarters to learn more about the historic trail that led to the expansion of the U.S.
After watching the river pass you by, continue walking along the riverfront and
Stand in Two States at Once on Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge
Have you ever wondered what it was like to be in two places at the exact same time? Wonder no more! Take a stroll on the bridge that extends over the Missouri River from Nebraska into Iowa. Keep an eye out for the marking on the bridge that gives you the exact spot where you can stand in two states at once!
Insider Tip: If you want to SOUND like a local, make a muffled comment about Omaha being better than Council Bluffs (the city where your other foot is now standing in) because our two towns love a good banter about one another!
Omaha is a kid’s dream come true when it comes to exploratory museums and hands-on activities. On day three of your stay in Omaha, choose from any of the top notch and amazing facilities that promote education, learning and just down right fun for kids and families alike.
Joslyn Art Museum: Art doesn’t need to be boring or just for adults! The Joslyn Art Museum encourages exploration of the arts with their kid’s programs ranging from hands-on activities to scavenger hunts throughout the museum.
Omaha Children’s Museum: You simply can’t go wrong with the Children’s Museum. Great for a day to beat the heat, get out of the cold or avoid any thunderstorms, the constantly changing, engaging and interactive exhibits are a blast for the littles!
The Rose Theater: Not just any old boring thespian show, the Rose Theater is made JUST for kids! All shows are kid-centered and are expertly performed by local professional actors and actresses ensuring amazing talent and entertainment.
Omaha Durham Museum: Located in the old Union Train Station, the Durham Museum is an Omaha classic. Step back in time and pose with the people (statues) of the past awaiting an adventurous train ride across America or check out the history museum. Nebraska history may not initially sound all too enthralling, but Native American tee-pees and earth lodges to play in, full-size trains to run through and more have families and kids loving it all. If trains aren’t your thing (what kid doesn’t love trains!?) stop for a tasty treat at the old-fashioned soda fountain. The Durham is a one-stop shop for fun, food, history and art all rolled into one.
Laurtizen Gardens: If your family loves flowers, a stop at the Lauritzen Botanical Gardens is a must. And yup, you guessed it, there is even “Children’s Garden” where they can help plant and harvest their own flowers and plants!
Strategic Air and Space Museum: If you are willing to drive just a wee bit out of town and your little minions love aircraft’s, then a day at the Strategic Air and Space Museum will have them flying high with fun. (Located in Ashland, NE approx 30 minutes from Downtown Omaha)
Explore the State Parks
If you are wanting to get outside or just simply want some amazingly fun outdoor activities, head about 40 minutes out of Omaha and into one of the two nearby state parks.
Eugene T. Mahoney State Park: You can’t go wrong with Mahoney! Climb the tall towers and peer out over the Platte River and beautiful Nebraskan countryside and feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of city life. The list is simply too long of what there is to do here, but have no fear, there is absolutely something for everyone. Horseback riding, a water park with winding slides, hiking, an arts and crafts lodge, fishing, paddle-boats, restaurants, camping facilities and more!
Platte State Park: Spend the night in a teepee, explore nature, go swimming and more at Platte State Park!
Insider Tip: Climb the towers at either park at sunset to get phenomenal views of the surrounding area!
Other Notes, Fun Facts and Tidbits
During the summer months, free concerts can be found throughout all of Omaha. From the local and long-time favorite Jazz on the Green in Mid-Town to the Playing with Fire concert series at the Lewis and Clark Landing you are bound to find a free evening of fun and music anywhere around town. A simple Google search for “Summer Free Concerts Omaha” will give you the most up to date lists.
Where to Stay: Omaha is a spread out metropolitan area. If you want to stay where the majority of the attractions are (Downtown and Mid-Town) mentioned in this post, you’ll want to narrow your search down to these two areas. There are plenty of hotels and lodging options for various budgets.
Getting Around: Omaha, sadly, is lacking in good public transportation options, you will need a car to get around if wanting to venture far from the downtown area
Eat a Runza: Every Nebraskan loves their Runzas! Find these local fast food chain and order yourself a classic Runza. A meat filled pastry with sauerkraut and (optional) cheese is Oh So Delicious and started right here in the heart of America!
Did you know: Useless fact for your day: Kool-aid was “invented in Nebraska?”
There are so many other family friendly activities and things to do in Omaha. Instead of skipping over the city simply because you’ve never heard of it before, get off the beaten path of “popular” cities in America and explore this hidden gem!
Have you ever been to Omaha? What other family friendly activities are a must?
Thanks so much to LeAnna for sharing her small but exciting corner of the world – definitely a good reason to head off the normal beaten track if you are headed to the States.
About the Author
LeAnna Brown is a born and raised Omahan currently displaced in Germany.
After 40 countries down in five years with her husband, and now baby boy, they travel on just points and pennies via travel hacking and a bare minimalist lifestyle.
You can learn how to travel for next to nothing as well at EconomicalExcursionists.com or get your daily dose of travel tips, advice and motivation by “Liking” them on Facebook or following the EconomicalExcursionists on twitter @EconExcursion.
Want more “hometown” favourite stories? Check out the rest of our EXPLORE MY CITY guest blogging series