Falling for Family Fun in Omaha, Nebraska

For some, RVing is a coast-to-coast sort of adventure. But if you’re traveling with kids, that many miles can add up to misery. So why not focus on what’s number one in your heart at the heart of it all? Smack in the center of the country, at the intersection of Interstates 29 and 80, Omaha provides the perfect place to pump some fun into a family vacation. Beyond the usual cows and cornfields, this Midwestern metropolitan wonderland beats with culture, history, nature, and adventure. Here, I’ve outlined a five-day RV itinerary that’ll give you lots to love about this lovely city.

Day 1: Downtown

Appropriately, this adventure begins at the heart of Omaha – downtown’s Heartland of America Park, that is. At this urban oasis next to ConAgra’s campus, discover fountains (including a 300-foot jet), gondola rides, bronze sculptures, history exhibits detailing the adventures of Lewis & Clark, and a primo pedestrian bridge. You may also want to stroll along Gene Leahy Mall (just west of the park), which wends around a picturesque lagoon and hosts summer outdoor concerts. The playgrounds here provide the perfect place for kids to burn off energy.

A few blocks away, the Old Market District offers curious shops, boutiques, and bars in renovated warehouses that are worth exploring. Street performers and artists offer alfresco entertainment and horse-drawn carriages provide tours of the district. For dinner, you’ll find upwards of 30 restaurants to choose from, but Spaghetti Works is always a sure bet.

If the little ones get antsy over window-shopping (or the humidity is stifling), then opt for one of the area’s kid-friendly museums. There’s the Joslyn Art Museum (try the themed scavenger hunts), Omaha Children’s Museum (with an outdoor water play area and a science center for curious kiddos), or Durham Museum in Union Station (where you can travel back in time).

In the evening, follow Highway 75 north to one of two city parks just beyond the I-680 bypass. Set up camp at Glen Cunningham Lake, situated on a 390-acre watery expanse, or N.P. Dodge Park, tucked alongside the Missouri River.

Day 2: Downtown

Turtle at the Henry Doorly Zoo

Turtle at the Henry Doorly Zoo

Allow a full day to explore the top-ranked Henry Doorly Zoo, which boasts the world’s largest indoor rainforest (complete with swinging bridges) and glass-dome desert, an orangutan forest and gorilla valley, an IMAX theater, a butterfly pavilion, and plenty more. Take in the view from above with the Skyfari aerial tram and from below in the Kingdom of the Seas Aquarium’s 70-foot glass shark tunnel.

While it’s easiest to lunch inside the zoo, for dinner, choose one of downtown’s unique eateries. Locals love Anthony’s or Gorat’s for those famous Omaha steaks, Brewburger’s inside-out burger and brisket sammies, Piccolo Pete’s Italian steakhouse, and California Tacos for deep-fried tacos.

Before bunking down back at camp, stretch your legs on a stroll along the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, which links Nebraska and Iowa. With its lights ablaze and a stunning view of the downtown skyline, the bridge offers a spectacular sunset view.

Day 3: Downtown & West

Before kissing downtown goodbye, walk through the lush Lauritzen Gardens, a breathtaking 100-acre arboretum showcasing rose, Victorian, herb, and children’s gardens. When you’re finished browsing the blooms, hit the road via Bancroft Street alongside Kenefick Park to catch site of the Union Pacific train memorial.

Heading west on I-80, exit onto 60th Street and make a midday stop at the mixed-use Aksarben Village, where you’ll find Godfather’s Pizza and Jones Brothers Cupcakes (famous for their win on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars), plus Stinson park and the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s south campus.

Leave via US-6W and finish the afternoon driving through the National Historic Landmark Boys Town, an inspiring village for homeless and troubled children started in the 1920s by Father Edward Flanagan. At the Visitors Center, pick up a map for directions past the community’s top sites, including fountains, statues, and the Hall of History.

Settle in at the West Omaha KOA grounds, an easy half-hour drive away, for the next two nights.

Day 4: Southwest

Get your hearts racing this morning at Wildlife Safari Park, a North American adventure trail in nearby Ashland that’s maintained by the Henry Doorly Zoo. Whether you choose to hike or drive through, keep your eyes peeled for wolves, bison, black bears, elk, and awesome avian specimens. Pack a picnic for DIY dining in the Wolf Canyon lot.

In the afternoon, shift your attention from Mother Earth to an out-of-this world exploration at Ashland’s Strategic Air Command Museum, an amazing, interactive aerospace collection that will have you flying high for the rest of the day.

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