4 Fun, Family-Friendly Places in Omaha, Nebraska
Once known more for its stockyards and meatpacking plants, Omaha has gone through a revival in recent years. Despite tremendous growth and new development though, the city is still very much in touch with its history. There are some great family-friendly sights to take in, if you have limited time in Omaha here are four places my family recommends.
Fun Things to do in Omaha, NE with Kids
The Durham Museum
Housed in what was once the Union Station, The Durham Museum offers a look at regional history and culture through the generations. What thrilled my son most was the collection of vintage trains. We walked through the Pullman car, a lounge car, and caboose taking in what it was like to travel on such a train. In the same gallery, my son hopped into the driver seat of an old commuter train.
For me though, the most amazing time travel experience came upon our arrival and departure from the building. Whether coming or going, visitors walk though the beautifully restored art deco train station waiting area. Light pours in through large windows. Varnished benches line the room. You can hear the whispers of history; the reunions and good-byes that took place here are recounted in the figurines positioned around the room and programmed to tell stories of men off to war, families off for adventure, and more.
Be sure not to miss the soda fountain. Restored neon lighting calls out what was sold here back in the day: Smoker Needs, Cigars, Novelties, Cigarettes, Magazines, Books — how times have changed! Visitors can do as my son and I did: grab a couple of stools at the counter and enjoy a treat! We choose a milkshake.
The museum also has several thoughtful galleries rich with regional heritage. The Durham Museum’s affiliation with the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, National Archives, and Chicago Field Museum make it possible to really dive into history in these galleries.
The Gene Leahy Mall
The Gene Leahy Pedestrian Mall winds its way through the heart of downtown Omaha revealing delights throughout its 10 acres. Walking paths, a sculpture garden and other artworks, as well as waterways, play spaces, and flower gardens are just some of the attractions set against the historic and modern architecture in the area. There is also an amphitheater which is a wonderful venue for outdoor concerts during the summer.
My son’s favorite feature in the mall was a pair of fun slides that kids navigate while riding on large pieces of cardboard. The Gene Leahy Pedestrian Mall is a great area for a picnic or a walk with the family. It’s also just a few blocks from the Old Market neighborhood, which is full of cool restaurants and taverns should you need a place to fuel up afterwards!
The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium
Ranked one of the top zoos and aquariums in the world, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium provides more experiences for seeing animals up close and personal than any other zoo I’ve visited. Here’s an example, in the zoo’s Hubbard Gorilla Valley the residents roam free in their habitat, and much to our surprise, they get pretty close to the window where the visitors peer in. We’ve never been so close to such magnificent beasts, and I doubt we ever will be again!
We shelled out a little extra to ride the Skyfari, enjoying treetop views of this amazing zoo traveling from the African Grasslands to the Butterfly and Insect Pavilion. In another habitat, we delighted in watching Orangutans play and tease each other.
But the most amazing thing we saw was the Desert Dome, where the plant and animal life from three deserts around the world sits under a glazed geodesic dome. Visitors walk through these recreations feeling the heat, getting close to the plant life and watching the animals interact with both. It did not feel like a typical zoo visit, it was so much more because it took visitors from being observers to residents of the dome.
The largest nocturnal exhibit in the world is located on the floors below the dome. Visitors venture through a wet cave, checking out stalagmites and stalactites. Short-tailed fruit bats can be seen flying around. Wander past Parma wallabies and a short-beaked echidna, and walk alongside an Australian stream, full of freshwater crocodiles, turtles and fish. This experience also includes the world’s largest indoor swamp, a 160,000-gallon, 1/4-acre mysterious swamp, which is home to nine adult American alligators including a white, leucistic alligator on loan from the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.
Founded by Father Flanagan in 1917, Boys Town has given Omaha’s at-risk youth a safe haven to find their footing for nearly a century. You don’t need to be in a position where you need help in order to visit, and there is quite a bit to see. From the historic sites such as Father Flanagan’s home, to the World’s Largest Ball of Stamps (weighing in at 600 pounds), kids are immediately engaged.
The award-winning Hall of History lays out Boys Town’s unique story in permanent exhibits that also include audio and video elements. Located in the former campus dining hall, artifacts on display include the Best Actor Oscar presented to Spencer Tracy for his role as Father Flanagan in the motion picture Boys Town. You can also check out the Flex bus that once carried Boys Town athletic teams across America. There are opportunities to listen to voices from the past to learn how Father Flanagan’s mission began and how Boys Town continues to work for America’s future.
Stop to reflect in the peaceful Garden of the Bible, a three-acre slice of heaven with more than 150 plant species, all of which are mentioned in the Bible. It’s a picturesque spot for picnic or contemplative thought. A visit to Boys Town is a great lesson in compassion and understanding for kids. My son was astounded to learn that not all kids are able to live with their moms and dads. Gratitude learned.
Convenient Omaha Hotels
Considering a trip to Omaha? There are several Hilton hotels like Hilton Omaha, Embassy Suites Omaha – Downtown/Old Market, and DoubleTree by Hilton Omaha Downtown, all of which are 11 miles or less from downtown, the zoo, airport and other city destinations.
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Kristine lives in Mountain View, California, where she is the mother of a gifted girl athlete and a special needs charmer. Like almost everything in her house,…