1. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium It’s easy to see why this zoo consistently receives high marks. First, it’s huge. Second, its design lets you commune with gorillas, sharks, snakes, butterflies and all sorts of other creatures. It's also home to the largest indoor desert habitat in the world, capped off with a stunning three-story dome. You don’t have to stay away in the winter either: 7 acres of indoor exhibits, the Scott Aquarium and an Imax theater are good reasons to visit year-round. (402) 733-8400;
2. Omaha Children’s Museum Beyond the bright, candy-color entrance, exhibits and pretend-play areas focus mainly on art and science, but as one of the largest children's museums in the Midwest, it also includes a pint-size fire station, grocery store and auto center. The main attraction is feeding balls into the Super Gravitron Machine, but the bubble station and the interactive Fantastic Future Me display get plenty of action as well. (402) 342-6164;
Omaha Children's Museum. Photo courtesy of Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau.
3. Hollywood Candy Just browsing this Old Market retro candy store is enough to send you into sugar shock. The vibe is Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory meets mercantile. Old-fashioned favorites you probably haven’t seen since childhood stock aisles, along with homemade chocolates and sweet-treat memorabilia. Check out the extensive Pez collection. (402) 346-9746;
4. Boys Town The Rev. Edward Joseph Flanagan established an Omaha home for wayward boys in 1917 to encourage and guide them to lead productive lives. Through the 1920s and 1930s, his project grew into a village, encompassing a school, administration buildings and even its own government. The Boys Town campus has since been declared a National Historic Landmark District; today, the Hall of History, a visitors center and the Father Flanagan House offer an inspiring look at the difference one person can make in the lives of so many. (Guests of a certain age may remember the Spencer Tracy movie by the same name.) (402) 498-1300;
Boys Town. Photo courtesy of Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau.
5. Spaghetti Works An Omaha dining destination for more than 30 years, this family-friendly spot cooks up all-you-can-eat pastas and familiar Italian fare in a nostalgic Old Market warehouse atmosphere. The salad bar is in the back of an old Model-T truck, quite possibly enticing the kids to eat some veggies. To wash it down, Italian sodas come in 20 different flavors. When the weather’s nice, grab a seat on the shady terrace that was once a loading dock. (402) 422-0770;
6. Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari Here’s where the wild things are; at least, those of the North American variety. The 4-mile drive provides peeks at elk, deer, wolves, bears and bison (try to go in the morning when the animals are most active). A hiking trail gives visitors a chance to stretch their legs and observe other animals. Open seasonally. (402) 944-9453;
7. Durham Museum Get on board for railroad fun at this hands-on museum in Omaha’s Art Deco Union Station. Soaring 65-foot ceilings enclose restored train cars you can climb in and out of, life-size passenger sculptures and other exhibits. Stop by the straight-out-of-the-1930s soda fountain for an old-fashioned shake, malt or phosphate. (402) 444-5071;
8. Eugene T. Mahoney State Park With an aquatic center, miniature golf, paddle boats, toboggan runs, hiking trails, an ice rink and other outdoor recreation, Nebraska’s premiere park (in Ashland, 27 miles southwest of Omaha) offers fresh-air fun to keep the whole family busy no matter what time of year you visit. If you want to spend the night, or a few days, rent a cabin or a room in the rustic motel-style lodge. (402) 944-2523;
9. Lauritzen Gardens The formal English, Japanese and rose gardens appeal to grown-up green thumbs; a children’s garden, hands-on activities and intricate model railroad garden (open May through October) hold kids’ interest. You might even see wild turkeys strutting through the arboretum and bird sanctuary on these 100 acres in the middle of Omaha. (402) 346-4002;
Lauritzen Gardens. Photo courtesy of Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau.
10 .Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge Named for a former Nebraska senator, this curved cable bridge connects Omaha and Council Bluffs, Iowa. Walkers, runners and bikers get stunning views of the downtown skyline and the Missouri River that flows 60 feet beneath (bring your camera for a photo op). If the 3,000 feet across aren’t enough for you and the kids, the bridge also links to 150 miles of trails on dry land.