A Buffalo Bill show, Gerald Ford memorabilia, wagon trains and a roller skating museum add to the fun in Nebraska for families touring the state.
Visit the Nebraska Tourist Office site for more travel ideas, and read on for the best family attractions in the state.
Great Fun for the Kids
(Toddlers to Age 8)
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo
3701 S. 10th St (Take I-80 to Exit 454)
Omaha, NE 68107
This well regarded zoo is a must for families with little ones, who will love the indoor rainforest, jungle and desert environments, each with its own critters. A personal favorite is the rainforest environment where you can walk over a swaying rope bridge right past a waterfall, watch colorful birds flying around you, and check out the hippos from an underwater viewing cave. In the Scott Kingdom of the Seas Aquarium, you’ll be able to “swim” with the marine life collection and get close to penguins—there’s even a 70 foot shark tunnel! The innovative Hubbard Gorilla Valley exhibit allows the animals freedom to roam while spectators are confined. Within the 104-acre park are a large aviary, collection of wild cats, as well as many special pavilions and an orangutan display. An “Expedition Madagascar” houses 15 exhibits that display the exotic island’s many plant and animal species. Especially in summer, families will appreciate the tram and small steam train that circle the exhibit areas. The zoo is open daily from 9 am until 5 pm.
Omaha Children’s Museum
500 South 20th Street
Omaha, NE 68102
Combining learning about science, arts and the world around them with lots of fun and pint-sized interactive displays, this clever children’s museum makes for a fun outing. Preschoolers will love the Super Gravitron ball machine while younger sibs try organizing the farm, supermarket, and creative play areas. Your younger children (ages 0-3) will especially like the Wiggle Room. Built just for them, it contains bubble tubes and a bunch of table top games and activities. Open daily except Monday and major holidays.
Edgarton Explorit Center
208 16th Street
Aurora, NE 68818
Named for Dr. Harold Edgerton, Aurora native, inventor of flash photography and the strobe light, this science center features interactive exhibits, demonstrations, and theater shows. Highlights include the human centrifuge and a laser light show you can create yourself.
Fort Cody’s Trading Post
I-80 and Highway 83 Interchange
North Platte, NE
Old West Museum
With authentic cowboy gear, U.S. Calvary and Indian wars relics as well as wild animal mounts, this museum displays a slice of Old-West Americana. Admission is free. Open daily except major holidays.
Buffalo Bill’s Miniature Wild West Show
At the same location as the Old West Museum, this display contains over 20,000 hand-carved pieces, many animated, that display and reenact Buffalo Bill’s show, featuring cowboys, Native Americans, Annie Oakley, wagons and Old West adventures.
Hastings Museum Kool-Aid Exhibit
1330 North Burlington Avenue
Visit the birthplace of the powdered Kool-Aid drink in Hastings, and learn about its creator. The Hastings Museum Kool Aid Exhibit reopened in 2012 after a major renovation. The exhibit explores the very beginning of this sweet flavored drink, focusing on the creator, Edwin Perkins, who experimented with food in his mother’s kitchen. This is a lot of fun for kids and families who want to learn about one of the country’s favorite drinks.
Fun for Older Children
(Up to Age 18)
Gerald R. Ford Birthsite, Gardens & Conservation Center
1326 South 32nd St
Omaha, NE 68105-2044
This site features memorial gardens that grow where the president’s first home once stood. Adjacent to the Birthsite and Garden, this Nebraska State Historical Society’s exhibit preserves and presents a tribute to the former president’s life. Admission is free.
Jocelyn Art Museum
2200 Dodge Street
Omaha, NE 68102
Nebraska’s largest art museum has something for everyone. Parents will enjoy the emphasis on 19th and 20th century European and American art and the renowned collection of art from the American West. Kids can explore the permanent collection with a set of 15 “Smart Start” cards designed to help them find and learn about the different pieces of art. In addition, the “Kids Can Do Art” section of the museum contains hands-on activities, books and games related to artwork on view in the galleries.
International Quilt Study Center & Museum
East Campus, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
1533 N. 33rd Street
Lincoln, NE 68583-0838
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently opened a museum to preserve, study and share the world’s largest collection of quilts (more than 950). Families will be astonished to see how these masterpiece quilts from around the world, both antique and contemporary patterns, tell stories and illuminate a region’s culture. In addition to exhibited textiles, the museum has a virtual gallery to provide interactive experiences. Don’t miss a chance to see the “Great Quilt” (pictured at left), donated by Marilynn Gelfman Karp and Ivan C. Karp, proprietors of the OK Harris Gallery in New York. The quilt, created in 1974 of 48 red, white and blue fabric blocks features the work of Richard Artschwager, Duane Hanson, John Kacere, Tom Wesselmann and many other artists and curators.
Historic Haymarket District
335 N. 8th Street, Suite B
The Hardy Building
Lincoln, NE 68508
Antique stores, galleries and shops fill the historic buildings of the Haymarket District, making it pleasant for window shopping and convenient for browsing. In the summer and early fall, families will enjoy a stop at the Farmers’ Market, which features booths, fresh produce, local crafts, as well as local entertainment and musicians.
Nebraska History Museum
15th and P Streets
Lincoln, NE 68508
402/471-4754 or 800/833-6747
With informative exhibits on both geological and social history, this museum set in a historic house contains displays about 12,000 years on the Plains. Hands on exhibits and personal narratives about early Nebraska settlers, make it interesting as well as informative.
Malcolm X Birthsite
3448 Pinkney Street
Omaha, NE 68111
402/444-5955 or 800/645-9287
On the National Register of Historic Places, 12-acres are dedicated to mark Malcolm X’s birthplace.
Fun for the Whole Family
Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park & Wildlife Safari
Nebraska I-80, Exit 426 South
Between Omaha and Lincoln
402/738-2092 or 402/944-WILD
Drive amidst free-roaming bison, elk, cranes, pronghorn antelope and other species indigenous to North America. The four-mile ride along the Platte River Valley reveals prairies, gardens and wetlands that also act as a conservation site.
Island Oasis Water Park and Grand Island
321 E. Fonner Park Road
Grand Island, NE 68801
This park has big and fast waterslides and lots of aqua to cool off the kids on a hot day. The big lazy river float ride is a good choice for all ages, while the wave pool and other water play areas are always crowded with older children. Grand Island itself is popular with local families, for its several parks, the Pioneer Heritage Museum, the Heritage Zoo, the Nebraska Nature Center, some big shopping malls, lots of antique stores, the Fonner Race Track and a few branches of Dairy Queen. Open daily Memorial Day through August, Grand Island’s high season, but families also enjoy its rural feeling in the fall.
Eugene T. Mahoney State Park
28500 West Park Highway
Ashland, NE 68003
This state park is home to a water park, miniature golf, horseback rides and a 70-foot-tall observation tower, among other attractions. Visit the Family Aquatic Center with its wave pool, water playground, and two slides, each more than 200-feet-long. Handicapped accessible.
Fontenelle Forest Nature Center
1111 Bellevue Blvd
North Bellevue, NE 68005
Just outside of Omaha, this historic forest offers 19 miles of easy hiking trails, where you can spot rare wildflowers and remnants of ancient Native American tribes. The forest contains Acorn Acres, an outdoor playscape for children. The nature center is open daily except for major holidays.
National Museum of Roller Skating
4730 South Street
Lincoln, NE 68506
402/483-7551, extension 16
The museum’s goal is to capture “the colorful history and promising future of one of America’s favorite sports.” It holds the largest collection of historic roller skates dating from 1819. In addition, the museum contains trophies, video collections and costumes. Admission any time is free, but keep in mind the museum is closed on weekends.
Oregon Trail Wagon Train Historic Old West Tours
Rt. 2 Box 502
Bayard, NE 69334
Ride in a covered wagon and see the sights that many pioneers saw on their treks Westward – featuring historic Chimney Rock. The Oregon Trail Wagon Train Trek is for families who have more time in the region. On one-day treks (noon-noon) that allow families to explore what life would be like in the 1850s, this company provides travelers with authentic meals, sleeping arrangements and experiences. Families can ride in covered wagons, ride on horses, search for Native American artifacts, benefit from rifle-instruction and sample other social and cultural activities of the 1850s. This option is only offered during the summer months of July and August.
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