You might not think there’s much happening in the so-called flyover city of Omaha, but those who’ve been here know there’s a whole lot more than cornfields and cows.
The largest city in Nebraska is as friendly as any other in the Midwest with a bustling historic district, impressive foodie scene, and plenty of fun to be had for both parents and kids alike. I should know — our family relocated from California to Omaha five years ago and has never looked back.
Even better, Omaha is a city that can be easily covered over a long weekend. A quick road trip from several neighboring Midwest cities (Kansas City, Des Moines, or Sioux Falls to name a few), will have you there in under three hours.
If you haven’t yet experienced the friendly, cozy charm that is Omaha, here are just a few reasons why you should make it your next family road trip.
#1. Cozy Old Market District
The Old Market, the historic downtown center, is unarguably one of the most picturesque locales in the entire city.
Start your day with coffee and pastries from Aroma’s Coffeehouse and then walk the cobblestone streets of the Old Market to really get a feel for the area. If you’re lucky enough to visit between May and October, definitely plan a trip to the Omaha Farmer’s Market, which sets up on Saturday mornings. Afterward, stroll the Gene Leahy Mall where the kids can take a slippery ride down a pair of 20-foot-tall metal slides.
When the collective family stomach starts to rumble, you can’t go wrong with Block 16, which sits a little outside the Old Market but is completely worth the walk. They serve up fresh farm-to-table street food in a family-friendly space.
Finish the afternoon with a sweet treat from CupCake Omaha and a stop into Le Wonderment toy shop. For the end of the day, consider a stay at the Magnolia Hotel or Hyatt Place to be steps away from the action.
#2. Delectable Food Scene
A weekend getaway to Omaha isn’t complete until you’ve sampled some of the city’s mouth-watering eateries. With a casual and friendly vibe at nearly every place in town, Omaha is a best-kept secret for foodie parents.
Plenty of great eats can be found in the Old Market, including La Buvette — an Omaha staple for classic French dishes and wine (ordered from the handwritten menu). If you can snag an outdoor table when the weather is nice, it’s worth toting the kids along. Other family-friendly eats downtown include Wheatfields for a hearty breakfast, Jams for lunch, and Wilson & Washburn for a casual (yet completely satisfying) dinner.
Outside of the Old Market, you’ll find neighborhood pockets with their own exciting restaurant scenes going on. The family-friendly Dundee neighborhood, which is home to billionaire Warren Buffet, boasts a plethora of tasty options within a four block stretch, including Pitch for wood-fire pizza, Amsterdam Falafel & Kebab for a quick bite to go, or Avoli Osteria for an evening of handmade Italian pasta that will transport you to the Tuscan countryside with every bite.
A stop at eCreamery for their famous “Shark Bait” ice cream (named after its feature on the TV show Shark Tank) is a must. When you need a break from eating, drive through the neighborhood and gawk at the wondrous 100-year-old mansions and make a stop at beautiful Elmwood Park to let the kids hit the playground.
#3. World-Class Zoo
It would be blasphemous of me not to mention the Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha’s best-known and well-visited tourist attraction. The recent addition of the 28-acre African grasslands exhibit brought six new elephants to Omaha, but old favorites like the three-story Lied Jungle, Desert Dome, Gorilla House, and Spider Monkey Bridge still hold a special place in the hearts of Omahans. The zoo is massive, so plan at least one whole day to see it in its entirety.
#4. Kid-Friendly Museums
For a bit of history, head to the Durham Museum, which calls Omaha’s old Union Station home. Upon entering the museum, kids will love the re-creation of travelers waiting to board the next train, while parents will marvel at the dramatic high ceilings of the Art Deco building. Head to the lower level to learn more about Omaha history and take in a special exhibit (which rotates often, but never disappoints). If visiting in the summer, be sure to book an Omaha history tour aboard an old trolley. The museum offers several different themed tour routes and it’s a great way to see the city while learning a little history at the same time.
Photos by Phil Martinez CC BY
While not truly a “museum,” the Omaha Children’s Museum is another great stop for families looking to burn off some extra energy. The miniature town (including a kid-size grocery store, hospital, and bank) and giant hydraulic-powered ball machine are sure to be a hit.
trivago Tip: Omaha placed fifth in trivago’s Best Value Destinations for Black History Month travel thanks to being home to the Malcom X Birthsite.
#5. Outdoor Adventures
While it’s true that most of Nebraska is pretty flat, it’s not all cornfields and grassland. When the weather finally warms up in the spring, there are plenty of places to head out and enjoy the outdoors. The Fontenelle Forest is just 15 minutes south of downtown and boasts several different hiking trails, the most popular of which takes you on a stroller-friendly boardwalk along the riverfront. Don’t miss Acorn Acres, a natural playground toward the head of the boardwalk trail.
Not up for hiking? Head to Lauritzen Gardens instead. The 100-acre garden is often pretty quiet, allowing little ones to roam free. Though massive in size, the trails are relatively flat and can be easily walked. You may want to take advantage of the $3 guided tram tour, though, and get the lay of the land first. Both adults and kids will be ultra-impressed by the model railroad exhibit, nestled inside the gardens.
Convinced? Good. Now wrangle the whole family into the car and hit the road for an unforgettable weekend in Omaha!
All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.