Oh, Kansas City. You will always reign supreme as my home, my favorite city. However, if I’m being totally truthful, a recent weekend visit to another popular Midwest location almost had you dethroned. First, there was the quaint cobblestone and picturesque architecture of the Old Market district. The old-timey feel of its candy store. The mouthwatering, unique dishes introduced to us on a fabulous culinary tour. (Mashed potato burger, I miss you already.) Even the seedy history of the Sporting District had me intrigued.
And the icing on the cake? All of this is just a mere three hours from home.
The family getaway I didn’t know I was missing. See, all of the above would have successfully peaked my interest even in my pre-kid era, but it was actually the family attractions that will bring us back in the future – most likely for years to come.
First, Lauritzen Gardens, Omaha’s Botanical Center. In the words of my almost-three-year-old, this is a fabulous place to just sit and “look at life”. (Seriously, I can’t get enough of that kid.) Its website truthfully boasts an ‘escape to an urban oasis’. With gorgeous gardens and well-cared for displays, this is a place every lover of the outdoors must visit. Of course, my husband would also have me point out the convenient parking.
Mom Favorites: The Children’s Garden has activities for kids that engage all the senses. Different textures led Oliver to ask why some plants are soft and some plants are pokey – hooray for scientific inquiry in toddlerhood!
Mom Tips: Call ahead on the off season to see which gardens are being replanted for winter. In December, the model trains are moved from their impressive outdoor exhibit into the main lobby for a Christmas display. And if you’ve got small children who are prone to tired feet, bring a stroller! The walk to the Children’s Garden is quite a distance, but it is worth it.
Omaha Children’s Museum
Next, we explored the Omaha Children’s Museum. If I could rename this attraction, it would be something along the lines of the “Omaha Children’s World of Wonder That Even Adults Will Enjoy.” Wow. This place really is a wonderland, a combination of Kidscape, Wonderscope, and Science City to put it in KC terms. The opportunities for imaginative play, artistic creations, physical challenges, and just plain old FUN are endless. The museum is huge, very well maintained, and thoroughly planned. Thanks to details like the musical stairs and bright colors everywhere, it’s sure to engage every part of a child’s development.
Mom Favorites: The gigantic room dedicated to air cannons, pressurized tubes, and thousands of colorful plastic balls was a huge hit for the whole family. (I’m not sure who had more fun: My toddler or my husband!) I was also impressed by the miniature HyVee, complete with grocery carts, stocked shelves, bakery, pizza counter, and check-out lanes.
Mom Tips: Don’t try to do this one in two hours – save an entire afternoon if you can! Have older children? Be sure to spend lots of time upstairs. Most of the floor is dedicated to obstacle courses, including a laser maze!
The Omaha Zoo
Our last stop: Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.. Trip advisor ranks it as the second best zoo in the United States, second only to San Diego’s. And it did not disappoint! Not only were the exhibits creatively designed, many of them were complete immersion exhibits. We walked through the world’s largest indoor desert underneath the world’s largest glazed geodesic dome, creeped through dark swampland and a wet cave in the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit, and stared with wide-eyed wonder in Scott Aquarium’s 70 foot shark tunnel. Not only did we see animals we’d never seen before, but even our old favorites were seen in a whole new light: up close and very active!
Mom Favorites: I’m not sure I can even narrow it down! The breathtaking views in the Desert Dome and the fast flying (enclosed) bats in Kingdoms of the Night make the top of the list. However, special mentions go to the lions playing inches from our viewing area, a gorilla peering in through the glass at a small child, and the octopus displaying it’s brightly colored tentacles against the aquarium wall… it was all incredible!
Mom Tips: Don’t miss educational opportunities like Exploration Cave, which teaches children how to explore with all of their senses. And have your camera ready; multiple exhibits, but most notably Hubbard Gorilla Valley, have “bubbles” that kids (or adults) can climb into for a closer look at the animals.
The Durham Museum
Don’t miss The Durham Museum at Omaha’s Union Station. For her 4- and 7-year-old train buffs, this was a must-see! From permanent exhibits highlighting the history of Omaha and the Midwest to impressive traveling exhibits from national partners including the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives and more, there truly is something here for everyone. Kid highlights included the ability to step into old train cars and their visit to Union Station’s original soda fountain and candy shop!
Mom Favorites: While the kids may have been a hair too young to appreciate all of the history here, the interactive exhibits kept them engaged and entertained. Also, Union Station is within easy walking distance of the hotels and shops of Omaha’s Old Market district.
Mom Tips: Don’t miss The Durham Museum Scavenger Hunt! Pick up a copy when you arrive and you will have your kids’ attention for the duration of your trip. They will enjoy exploring each exhibit, solving the clues as they go.
If you haven’t had the chance to visit Omaha as a family yet, you’re missing out. Maybe I’ll see you there on our next trip. We can’t wait to go back and do it all again. Next time, we might even rent bikes to ride the 3,000 foot pedestrian bridge “Bob” so we can stand in Iowa and Nebraska at the same time!