Nebraska travel: Omaha museums to visit with kids

Omaha, Nebraska is a thriving metropolis offering lots of attractions to families for a vacation close to home, including arts, sports, outdoors activities, and a number of quality museums. Our family recommends two Omaha museums to visit with kids: the Durham and the Omaha Children’s Museum.

Visiting the Durham Museum with kids

Durham-museum

The Durham Museum, housed in Union Station, honors Omaha’s history as the eastern terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad.

The highlights for kids are the hands-on teepee and mud lodge, the stage coach, and of course, the trains: a steam engine, coal car and caboose; a streetcar; and a passenger train where you can walk through a private dining car, seating car, a club car, and sleeper cars. There’s also a big model train.

The rest of the permanent exhibits are interesting and educational, but most are static rather than interactive. Your best bet is to take turns supervising kids in the areas of most interest to them so the adults can peruse the rest at their leisure.

When we visited, there was a temporary exhibit called “Pirates and Shipwrecks.” Everyone in our family enjoyed the hands-on displays, from a n “experience hurricane winds” tube to operating a remote robotic arm to retrieve gold coins from the bottom of the “ocean.”

Dining/Shopping:

The museum gift shop is housed in the former ticket counter. There is also a soda fountain offering ice cream sundaes, shakes and candy as well as brats and hot dogs.

Hours/Admission/Location/Parking:

Plan to spend 2-3 hours at the Durham Museum, which is located at 801 South 10th Street in downtown Omaha. There is a dedicated free parking lot, and also free parking on surrounding streets. Admission is $11 for adults, $7 for kids 3-11. It is open 1-5 on Sundays, and 10-5 Mon.-Sat., with evening hours on Tuesday.

Visiting the Omaha Children’s Museum

omaha-museum

The Omaha Children’s Museum was, as you might expect, a highlight of the trip for our younger kids. It was a little young for the eleven-year-old, but he eventually found the ball matrix and kept himself entertained for the rest of the visit.

Housed on two floors, the museum is dedicated to play-focused learning and simple fun. There are party rooms and a nursing room, and the museum offers stroller parking in several locations. The Imagination Playground has a grocery store fire house, bank, and so on; the creative arts center offers places to build and paint. The ball matrix uses mechanical, pneumatic, and ballistic power to move the balls.

All this is pretty standard for children’s museums. To me, what set this place apart were the presentations and the temporary display called “Pirates and Mermaids.”

omaha-museumAt the Star Wars-themed science presentation, the young woman centered her experiments around examples from the movies: Luke’s land speeder (a hovercraft made of particle board and a leaf blower), the swinging log on Endor (to demonstrate momentum and force), and Cloud City (making clouds in a plastic bottle using water and forced air).

My daughter loved the presentations in the fairy tale area. Nothing educational here, just lots of scope for the imagination!

The Pirates and Mermaids area housed a pirate ship with cannons to shoot balls and a rope playground with a menacing shark to hover above it. (There was a height limit.)

Outdoors there is a small spray park, a covered patio with a small fire truck, and a playground, with signs around encouraging families to run, play, and picnic.

Shopping/Dining:

There is a cafe upstairs as well as vending machines. You can also go outside and picnic near the playground.

Admission/Audience:

Admission is $12 for kids and adults alike ($11 for seniors). This price reflects an intention for the parents to be hands on with their kids, rather than sitting off to the side while the kids play. Note: as indicated above, older kids are not the target audience; plan accordingly. Give yourself at least three hours, and prepare for the little ones to want to spend the entire day.

Hours, admission, Location, Parking:

Omaha Children’s Museum is located at 500 S. 20th St, Omaha. The museum has a free parking lot, and if school is not in session, the elementary school across the street serves as overflow. There is also metered parking on the street.

Our family visited the Durham Museum and the Omaha Children’s Museum as guests of Visit Omaha, in exchange for an impartial review.

About the author

Kathleen Basi Freelance writer Kathleen Basi has lived her entire life in "flyover country," but she's an old pro at road trips, having taken the first of many extended driving vacations at the tender age of five. She's a huge proponent of letting kids see and experience the space between "here" and "there." Find her at http://kathleenbasi.com/blog/.

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