March 29, 2016

10 Outdoor Adventures Near Omaha

Great outdoor adventures are less than an two hours away from Omaha.

Here are my 10 favorite spots to go and why they’re so fun:

Outdoor adventures near Omaha

Glenn Cunningham Lake

Standup paddleboards on the shore of Lake Cunningham in Omaha.

Standup paddleboards on the shore of Lake Cunningham in Omaha.

Where: Omaha

Distance from Omaha: In the city limits

Cost: Free to go to the park; $12/hour to rent a paddleboard or $40 for the day

What’s not to miss: Rent standup paddleboards from The Neighborhood Offshore Outfitters and have fun exploring the lake with your older children. Younger kids can stay with an adult and play at the small beach.

More about standup paddleboarding at Cunningham

 

Fontenelle Forest

Playing at Fontenelle Forest.

Playing at Fontenelle Forest.

Where: Bellevue, Neb.

Distance from Omaha: 9 miles

Cost: $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, $5 for children (ages 2-17), and FREE for children younger than 2 and members

What’s not to miss: If you’re hiking with small kids, make sure you include plenty of time to play at Acorn Acres.

More about the forest

 

Lake Manawa State Park

Where: Council Bluffs, Iowa

Distance from Omaha: 14 miles

Cost: $3 per person enter the beach area, plus extra cash for renting a canoe or kayak.

What’s not to miss: This is one of the closest lakes to Omaha that has a swimming area roped off from the rest of the lake, which is busy place in the summer with boats. You can rent a canoe or kayak there, as well. I steer my kids to Dreamland Park, though. It was pretty much designed by engineers who asked kids what they’d love to have in a park and then they built it. It looks like a giant splinter waiting to happen, but the kids survive and love it.

 

Hitchcock Nature Center

The tower at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

The tower at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

Where: Honey Creek, Iowa

Distance from Omaha: 21 miles

Cost: $2 for a daily pass or you can buy a year pass for Pottawattamie County Parks

What’s not to miss: Check out a free backpack from the nature center. It provides kid-friendly supplies like a magnifying glass and animal ID chart to enhance your kids’ adventure in nature.

More about Hitchcock

Side note: If you have older children, plan a stop at nearby Mt. Crescent Ski Area, which has a zipline for the truly adventurous.

 

Schramm State Recreation Area

Distance from Omaha: 25 miles

Cost: A Nebraska State Park Permit is required to enter this park area (an annual permit is $25).

What’s not to miss: Find the trail that takes you to the suspension bridge. Kids love crossing it.

 

Mahoney State Park

One of the lakes at Mahoney State Park.

One of the lakes at Mahoney State Park. It’s pretty even in the dead of winter.

Where: Ashland, Neb.

Distance from Omaha: 27 miles

Cost: A Nebraska State Park Permit is required to enter this park area (an annual permit is $25).

What’s not to miss: Horseback trail rides for 6 and older (pony rides for the youngins); train-loving kiddos will like the short hike near the lookout tower that gives them a decent view of passing trains.

More about going to Mahoney State Park with kids

 

Platte River State Park

A short hike at Platte River State Park is all it takes to find one of the few natural waterfalls close to Omaha.

A short hike at Platte River State Park is all it takes to find one of the few natural waterfalls close to Omaha.

Distance from Omaha: 28 miles

Cost: A Nebraska State Park Permit is required to enter this park area (an annual permit is $25).

What’s not to miss: The little waterfall that you can usually walk across and the teepee.

More about exploring Platte River State Park with kids

 

Great Tree Adventure

The Great Tree Adventure has a trail lined with bird cutouts. You can make a game looking them for with kids during your hike.

The Great Tree Adventure has a trail with two bridges, some climbing structures and lots of areas to explore.

Where: Nebraska City, Neb.

Distance from Omaha: 45 miles

Cost: Adults are $7, kids 3-12 are $5 and kids 2 and younger are FREE. Hayrack ride is extra.

What’s not to miss: Take the hike into the woods and try to find all 50 wooden bird (and one squirrel) cutouts, and enjoy the foot bridges over the creek.

More about the Great Tree Adventure and other fun things to do in Nebraska City

 

Branched Oak State Recreation Area

Playing on the beach at Branched Oak Lake.

Playing on the beach at Branched Oak Lake.

Where: Raymond, Neb.

Distance from Omaha: 68 miles

Cost: A Nebraska State Park Permit is required to enter this park area (an annual permit is $25).

What’s not to miss: The sand beach and boating

Details on planning a camping trip to Branched Oak

 

Indian Cave State Park

Indian Cave, one of the attractions of this Nebraska state park.

As close as you’ll get to the cave at Indian Cave State Park.

Where: Shubert, Neb.

Distance from Omaha: 92 miles

Cost: A Nebraska State Park Permit is required to enter this park area (an annual permit is $25).

What’s not to miss: You thought I was going to say Indian Cave, but that “cave” isn’t what you’re expecting. Hit the trails and the living history cabins for a more memorable experience.

More about exploring Indian Cave State Park with kids

 

Your turn: What are your favorite outdoor activities near Omaha? What will you drive two hours away to do?

March 28, 2016

Couples Getaway: Sioux City

It’s pretty easy to get stuck in a rut as parents. To recharge yourself, you need a break. Sometimes, it has to be a quick one.

Mr. Wonderful and I took a kid-free overnight trip to Sioux City, Iowa. It was a lot of food, drink, comedy and music. Sounds good, right?

SiouxCity

 

Sioux City was picked because it was just far enough to feel like a getaway – about an hour and a half north of Omaha. Our stay was coordinated by the Sioux City Visitor & Convention Bureau and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

The second reason I wanted to go there was the entertainment. I was looking for a good concert or show to catch within two hours of Omaha. And at the Hard Rock I found a goodie: Jon Lovitz! Yes!

So, we dropped the kids off with my brother and his family and off we went.

We arrived in Sioux City around lunch time, so I was determined to try one of the tavern sandwiches I’d read about.

Taverns are a loose meat sandwich, akin to the sloppy joe without the sloppy part (no tomato). We headed straight for Miles Inn, the bar recommended by several friends (and winner of the Sioux City Journal tavern showdown a few years ago).

Smiling at Miles Inn.

Smiling at Miles Inn.

It was March Madness time so the place was packed and full of lively regulars. We got our cheap taverns ($3.25 each), and two schooners because…when in Rome.

The schooners of domestic beer were only $3.25 and by all appearances, the one only glass beer is served in. Bottoms up!

They're on to something up in Sioux City. A tavern pairs well with cold beer in a schooner.

They’re on to something up in Sioux City. A tavern pairs well with cold beer in a schooner.

 

The taverns there had American cheese added and were quite peppery. I liked it, but it wasn’t a favorite of my husband’s.

We were still hungry, so we drove down the street to another recommended Sioux City original: Tastee Inn & Out.

An iconic sign in front of Tastee Inn & Out in Sioux City.

An iconic sign in front of Tastee Inn & Out in Sioux City.

There, we ordered their famous tastee sandwich (a tavern, but without the cheese) and the onion fries and dip.

Onion fries in a cup.

Onion fries in a cup.

Tastee is a drive-thru, so we pulled into the parking lot to eat and compare the two taverns.

(Miles Inn wins)

We headed to downtown Sioux City next. The plan was to walk around but it was a colder day than anticipated. So, we planned two stops: The Sioux City Public Museum and Jackson Street Brewing. The Sioux City Art Museum is super nearby and if we had another hour and a bit more sunshine, we would’ve walked down there too.

The Sioux City Public Museum is a free attraction and worth visiting with or without kids.

Plan to spend about an hour checking out exhibits at the Sioux City Public Museum, as well as 12 minutes watching the intro video.

Plan to spend about an hour checking out exhibits at the Sioux City Public Museum, as well as 12 minutes watching the intro video.

They have a 12-minute movie that gives a good account of the city’s origin and features a neat immersive experience with lighting and projections around the room synced with the movie.

Afterward, you could spend about an hour walking around the colorful museum. There is a lot of interactive areas that kids will like.

A block from the museum is the new Jackson Brewing Company, which opened July 2015.

We picked out four beers to sample in a flight.

You choose the four beers to sample on a beer flight at Jackson Street Brewing Co.

You choose the four beers to sample on a beer flight at Jackson Street Brewing Co.

Flights start at $8.50 and go up if you get high alcohol content beers. Of the four I tried, the maibock was my favorite.

We talked with the bartender and two locals while we were there and got the lowdown on breakfast spots for the next day. Super friendly people.

We checked into the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, located within walking distance of the brewery and museums mentioned above.

The hotel has a music theme (obviously) that’s goal is to make you feel like a rock star. To that end, once you check in, you get a complimentary drink.

You get the choice of a beer or house cocktail at check-in at the Hard Rock Casino & Hotel Sioux City.

You get the choice of a beer or house cocktail at check-in at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City.

Yes please.

If you’re not ready to hit the ground running rock star-style, you can get a drink ticket for later.

We settled into our room – again, feeling all rock star with the décor and music playing in your room as you enter. The exposed brick in the rooms creates a great look when paired with modern touches and concert posters.

I kinda wished we were in the Prince room at the end of the hall. Check out that door. There's always next time.

I kinda wished we were in the Prince room at the end of the hall. Check out that door. There’s always next time.

Then we headed downstairs for dinner, with a short stop at the casino. I’m not a gambler, so not a lot of time or money was spent there. If you’re the same, you can easily spend your hotel stay without entering the casino…unless you’re going to show there, then you’ll have to walk through the casino to get to Anthem, the concert venue.

The hall connecting the hotel to the casino and restaurants is lined with music memorabilia.

The hall connecting the hotel to the casino and restaurants is lined with music memorabilia.

You have a couple dinner options at the hotel, but we wanted a date night experience and had made reservations at Main + Abbey. The restaurant is ranked No. 1 on Trip Adviser, and perusing the gastropub’s menu, it seemed like mine kind of place.

Rather than order entrees, the two of us split several appetizers and order drinks. Wondering what to order? The pierogies were so good, and the poitine while heavy, was very flavorful. And if you’re an Instagrammy kind of person, order the pretzel appetizer – you’ll want to take pictures of it for sure.

We had complimentary tickets to Jon Lovitz’s second show, and were invited to a meet & greet with him. It was the very definition of meet & greet – we met him, greeted him, posed for a picture and moved on.

Funny. The only photo I took with my husband on the trip includes Jon Lovitz.

Funny. The only photo I took with my husband on the trip includes Jon Lovitz.

The show was at Anthem within the casino part of the hotel. From the outside, it looks deceptively small, but this pace can fit more than 900 people. There’s a bar inside Anthem to grab drinks before the show starts.

Lovitz had an opener, and then he entertained the crowd. It was a fun night, and the best part was that we didn’t have to head to our car to get back to our hotel. It was great to leave the show, walk to the hotel part of the building and be back in the room in no time.

Breakfast the next day was up in the air until we had that chat at Jackson Street Brewing. They were quick to recommend the Hard Rock’s buffet, but we asked for where locals would go and they steered us to what they referred to as a great greasy spoon: Horizon Family Restaurant.

So Horizon is was for us. Outward appearances weren’t much, but with a packed parking lot, we figured it couldn’t be too bad.

Not much of an exterior, Horizons is the greasy spoon you seek after a night at the casino.

Not much of an exterior, Horizon Restaurant is the greasy spoon you seek after a late night.

It’s a no-frills diner that was hopping on the Sunday we went. Offerings were pretty typical for diners, and the coffee was great.

To burn off the big breakfast, we headed to Stone State Park located within Sioux City’s city limits. Our timing wasn’t great since everything was leafless from winter, and being Sunday, the Dorothy Picaut Nature Center wasn’t open (it’s open from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays).

A late winter/early spring hike near the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center at Stone State Park in Sioux City.

A late winter/early spring hike near the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center at Stone State Park in Sioux City.

Still, we took a nice hike near the nature center and discovered a cool nature playscape. The kids would love this place!

Nature play structures at Stone State Park.

Nature play structures at Stone State Park.

The park and nature center are FREE.

The short getaway over, we headed back to Omaha. Rather than take the quick route via Interstate 29, we drove along the Loess Hills Scenic Biway. If you have time, try it out, especially if you’re itching to take some pretty photos.

If time permits, always take the route with the dirt road.

If time permits, always take the route with the dirt road.

We tried two of the scenic loops – Stagecoach Trail and Wilderness Trail.

It was picturesque in spite of the time of year. We resolved to drive it again when the scenery’s lusher – fall would be perfect.

Fall would be a great time to drive the Loess Hill Scenic Biway, but that's not to say the vistas are bad in early spring.

Fall would be a great time to drive the Loess Hill Scenic Biway, but that’s not to say the vistas are bad in early spring.

 

Thinking about a getaway? Read more Sioux City stories:

My Sioux City Bucket List (for visits with and without kids)

Rock Star Status At the Sioux City Hard Rock Hotel & Casino

Exploring History At The Sioux City Public Museum

March 11, 2016

My Sioux City Bucket List

Just off Interstate 29, 100 miles north of Omaha, is Sioux City, Iowa. For me, it’s only been a stopping point on the way to Valentine, Neb., where we can stretch our legs, and fill up on hot dogs at Milwaukee Wiener House or pick up road trip goodies at Palmer Candy Co.

Perhaps for others, it’s seen as a good stopping point on the way to Sioux Falls, S.D.

But what about staying a while? I started to wonder what more I could do there than eat. After scoping the city’s offering, I decided it makes a nice destination for a quick kid-free getaway (though the mom in me made note of what’s there in case we return with the kids… there’s some good stuff!). I only have 24 hours to spend there, so this list below of my Sioux City must-see stuff is not bound by that timeframe or money.

Sioux City Bucket List

My Sioux City Bucket List

Check Out Fourth Street District – This is historic part of the city with brewpubs, breweries and restaurants, all things I love. One that stood out is Jackson Street Brewing.

Forth Street District in Sioux City is known for its restaurants and bars. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

Forth Street District in Sioux City is known for its restaurants and bars. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

 

Dine at Main + Abbey – My lists always seem to include a lot of eating, so why hold back now? When I looked into the hotel we’d be staying at – Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City – I noticed they had a gastropub. Nice. It has a great beer list, poutine and locally sourced steaks. You can count on casinos in the Midwest having a restaurant that serves good steaks (it’s like a law or something).

Go to Saturday in the Park – This annual music festival sponsored by the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has been going strong for close to three decades and with powerhouse acts (Aretha Franklin and Foster the People were two acts from last year’s lineup). Did I mention this was FREE? I’d love to go without the kids just because an all-day music festival with kids sounds like I’d hear a lot more complaining from the kiddos them than the good music. However, they have a kids zone with live entertainment of their own, inflatables, carnival rides and a ton of other things to keep them occupied, so this sounds like a totally manageable festival with kiddos in tow.

The mega music festival, Concert in the Park, is an annual free event at Battery Park. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

The mega music festival, Concert in the Park, is an annual free event at Battery Park. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

Try a Tavern – In my research, I found out that there’s a famous loose meat sandwich called the tavern that originated at Ye Olde Tavern back in the ‘20s (a couple years later, Maid-Rite followed suit). This is not to be confused with a sloppy joe, apparently. Anyway, there’ are a couple places to find a tavern in town, including a bar called Miles Inn, Tastee Inn and Out (a place that’s been called “iconic” on Reddit), and Gus’ Family Restaurant. The Garden Cafe’s tavern made the cut to represent Iowa in Food Network Magazine’s list “50 States, 50 Sandwiches” in 2012.

Try a Burrito At La Juanita – This restaurant’s burritos are apparently so good, they rank in the top 5…according to Esquire Magazine readers a couple years ago. The readers poll released in February 2013 included the Iowa burrito – the only one in the midwest – as one of the 10 “most life-changing burrito in America.”

There are several things I’d like to take the kids to in Sioux City:

Launch Pad – This is the city’s brand new children’s museum – so new, it just opened this year.

Launch Pad, Sioux City's children's museum, just opened in early 2016. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

Launch Pad, Sioux City’s children’s museum, just opened in early 2016. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

Sioux City Arts Center – This arts center consistently pops up on travelers’ posts about the city. First off, it’s FREE. But, there’s a room there that features all sorts of hands-on activities for children. My kids would love this. Plus, if you visit before May 8, 2016, you can see the temporary exhibition “The Art of the Brick®” featuring large-scale sculptures constructed out of LEGO bricks.

"Art of the Brick" is on display at Sioux City Art Center through May. Photo courtesy brickartist.com

“Art of the Brick” is on display at Sioux City Art Center through May 8, 2016. Photo courtesy brickartist.com

The MIlwaukee Railroad Shops (AKA, the Railroad Museum) – Trains are always a hit with the kids, and this place sounds pretty interesting. If you time your trip right, you can go during a special event – such as Touch a Truck or Train Day, the Halloween event, or Santa’s Whistle Stop Tour at Christmas time. 

Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center – I’m always on the lookout for a good hike or place to explore while on vacation, and this place sounds like I’ve found Sioux City’s best. The nature center has a lot of hands-on ways for kids to explore the Loess Hills’ natural history. It’s located in Stone State Park with hiking trails (note to self: Avoid the trail with the bat house; find the trail that has the Playscape Area).

Get out into nature at the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center at State Park. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

Get out into nature at Stone State Park, and don’t forget to check out the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center while there. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center & the Betty Strong Encounter Center – This looks like a good place to explore a little of our region’s history, and I hear it has hands-on exhibits, which is always good when visiting with kids.

Try a Twin Bing – And we return back to eating. It’s what I do best on vacation. Twin Bing was created in 1923 Sioux City at Palmer Candy Co. While I’ve been to this cool candy shop – you’ll be tempted to take a lot of pictures there – I haven’t tried a Twin Bing, which consists of cherry nougat covered in roasted peanuts and chocolate. I’ll give it a try, even though I hate fruity flavors added to my chocolate.

Everyone finds something they like at Palmer Candy Co. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

There are Twin Bings and other goodies in the basket at Palmer Candy Co. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

 

Your turn: What’s missing from this list? Share your favorite restaurants, bars, foods and things to do in Sioux City, Iowa? Never been? Then what on this list would you visit?

November 11, 2015

Holiday Weekend Getaways From Omaha

Weekend getaways are nice, and sometimes, much needed. All you need is an hour in the car and you’ve escaped. Even overnights can provide a much-needed breather from reality and routine.

Want to get away for a little bit this holiday season? Check out what’s going on in some nearby cities (Grinches may want to look elsewhere)!

 

Holiday (1)

Lincoln (53 miles from Omaha)

Santa Celebration 

Santa at South Pointe Pavilions in Lincoln

Santa at South Pointe Pavilions in Lincoln

When: Nov. 28, 6 to 8 p.m.

Where: SouthPointe Pavilions, 2910 Pine Lake Road, Lincoln, Neb.

What: Join Santa as he makes his grand entrance with a cast of holiday characters including live reindeer.  There will be music, activities, performers, refreshments and giveaways, too.  

Cost: FREE

 

“A Christmas Carol”

When: Dec. 3-6 and Dec. 10-13, Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Where: NWU McDonald Theatre, Huntington Avenue, Lincoln, Neb.

What: NWU Theatre’s Christmas tradition continues in 2015 with miserly Scrooge, a trio of frightening and enlightening ghosts and a whole lot of good cheer.  This event is at NWU McDonald Theatre.

Cost: $10, adults; $7 seniors and students (K-12, college)

 

Holiday Spectacular 

Lincoln Children's Museum Holiday Spectacular is Dec. 4. Photo courtesy Lincoln Children's Museum

Lincoln Children’s Museum Holiday Spectacular is Dec. 4. Photo courtesy Lincoln Children’s Museum

When: Dec. 4, 5 to 8 p.m.

Where: Lincoln Children’s Museum, 1420 P St., Lincoln, Neb.

What: It’s a night of song, dance, storytelling, indoor snowball fights, decoration making and special guest appearances, including Santa, who opens the world’s most famous toy shop right in the Discovery Gallery. For more information call (402) 477-4000 or visit here. www.lincolnchildrensmuseum.org.

Cost: FREE for members, $4.75 non-members

 

Candy House Funshop

image002

When: Saturdays, Dec. 5, 12 and 19, 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m.; Sundays, Dec. 6, 13 and 20, 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.; and Thursdays, Dec. 10 and 17, 10 a.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Where: The Lincoln Children’s Museum, 1420 P St., Lincoln, Neb.

What:  The Lincoln Children’s Museum will supply the 15-inch house frame, frosting and a variety of candies and decorations, and all you have to do is bring the fun. For more information, call (402) 477-4000 or visit www.lincolnchildrensmuseum.org.

Cost: $25 for Museum Members, $30 for Non-members (includes 2 free admissions); $25 take-home kits

 

North Pole Express

Santa at the Lincoln Children's Zoo's North Pole Express.

Santa at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo’s North Pole Express.

When: Dec. 5, 6, 12 and 13, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: Lincoln Children’s Zoo, 1222 S. 27th St., Lincoln, Neb.

What: The North Pole Express is Lincoln’s only train offering services to Santa’s Village!  After departing the train, your travels will take you through Candy Cane Lane where you’ll stop at The Hive to write your official letter to Santa and see some of his favorite animal friends.  Continue down Candy Cane Lane to meet the Big Man himself!  After visiting Santa, enjoy treats made by the Elves, hot chocolate and candy canes.  Be careful not to fill up on candy canes because your next stop is the Mrs. Claus Bakery to decorate your very own cookie! All activities are indoors.

Cost: $6.95+tax for members, $9.95+tax for non-members; Santa Photo Package extra

 

Holiday Decorations at the Thomas Kennard House

When: Dec. 6, 1 to 5 p.m.

Where: Thomas Kennard House, 1627 H St., Lincoln, Neb.

What: Dedicated as the Nebraska Statehood Memorial in 1968, the Kennard House is the oldest standing structure in Lincoln’s original plat.  This 1869 italianate structure is home to Nebraska’s first Secretary of State, Thomas P. Kennard.  The house will be decorated for a Victorian Christmas complete with a tree, candles, toys, presents, and decorative greens.

Cost: FREE

 

Holiday Tree Lighting Celebration

When: Dec. 6, TBA

Where: State Capitol Rotunda, 1445 K St., Lincoln, Neb.

What: The 67th annual Nebraska State Tree Lighting happens in the Rotunda of the State Capitol. In 1942 the Women’s Division of the Chamber of Commerce and the Ministerial Association held the first carol sing on the steps of the Capitol for the servicemen stationed at the Lincoln Air Base.  

Cost: FREE

 

Holidays In The Haymarket Friday

When: Dec. 11 and 18, 6 to 9 p.m.

Where: The Haymarket (downtown Lincoln)

What: Featuring free horse and carriage rides, entertainment at Seventh and P Street, and Santa strolling the area.

Cost: FREE

 

Haymarket Unwrapped

When: Dec. 12, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: The Haymarket (downtown Lincoln)

What: The day starts with Breakfast With Santa from 8 to 11 a.m. in the lower level of the candy factory Eighth and P Street. Starting at 10 a.m., many Haymarket business will offer special sales. There will be entertainment throughout the area, strolling Santa, and other events to be announced at a later date.

Cost: FREE

 

Nebraska Brass: Brass Across Nebraska – A Nebraska Brass Christmas

When: Dec. 13, 7 p.m.

Where: First Methodist Church, 2723 N. 50th St., Lincoln, Neb.

What: Seasonal favorites will be played during this concert.

Cost: $15, adults; $12, seniors; FREE for students and children

 

Make Believe Midnight

image004

When: Dec. 31, 6 p.m.

Where: Lincoln Children’s Museum, 1420 P St., Lincoln, Neb.

What: For nearly 20 years, families have celebrated New Year’s Eve at Make Believe Midnight. Guests wave goodbye to Father Time before welcoming Baby New Year and watching the ball drop at 8 p.m. This Lincoln tradition is known for its bubble wrap stomp, dance party, fun party favors and, the most exciting, balloon drop. This year’s event will be even more exciting with the popular balloon drop happening over Cuckoo Construction, the museum’s new, largest exhibit that opens this month.

Cost: $10, member; $13, non-member

 

No visit is complete without some good eats!

For a nice cup of coffee/or cocoa for the little ones visit The Mill in Lincoln’s Historic Haymarket (800 P St.).

 

Syracuse (47 miles from Omaha)

Tannenbaum

The Tannenbaum Trot in Syracuse takes place on Dec.

The Tannenbaum Trot in Syracuse takes place on Dec. 6. Photo courtesy  Otoe County Visitors Committee

When: Dec. 6, starting at 4 p.m.

Where: Syracuse (downtown)

What: The activities will start off with a visit from Santa at the library. The Friends of the Library will host their annual soup dinner in the meeting room at the library starting at 4 p.m. The Living Nativity will be held in front of the Christmas Tree on Main Street starting at 5 p.m. Upon the conclusion of the Living Nativity, the Christmas Tree will be lit. Luther Memorial Luther League will selling hot cocoa and cookies starting at 3 p.m until after the tree lighting. Several downtown businesses will be open for extra Christmas shopping from 3 to 7 p.m. The Beer Stein will hold a wine tasting after the tree lighting.

Cost: FREE

 

Nebraska City (45 miles from Omaha)

Grand Thanksgiving Buffet

When: Nov. 26, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Where: Lied Lodge & Conference Center, Timber Dining Room, 2700 Sylvan Road, Nebraska City, Neb.

What: A delectable buffet dinner in beautifully inspiring surroundings.

Cost: Adults, $35; children (5-12), $14.95; 4 and younger, FREE

 

Holiday Trolley Tour of Lights

The Holiday Trolley Tour of Lights is on the weekends in Nebraska City. Photo courtesy Otoe County Visitors Committee

The Holiday Trolley Tour of Lights in Nebraska City runs every Friday and Saturday in December. Photo courtesy Otoe County Visitors Committee

When: Fridays and Saturdays in December (Dec. 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25 and 26), 7 p.m.

Where: Starting from Lied Lodge & Conference Center, 2700 Sylvan Road, Nebraska City, Neb.

What: Climb aboard the Arbor Day Farm trolley for a one-hour tour of Historic Nebraska City and the best show of Christmas lights. During the ride, you’ll enjoy a reading of the classic Christmas book, “The Polar Express.”

Cost: Adults, $12.50 + tax; children (3-12), $10 + tax; children 3 and younger, FREE

 

Holiday Tea

Holiday Tea at Whispering Pines B&B is Dec. 5 and 6 in Nebraska City. Photo courtesy Whispering Pines

Holiday Tea at Whispering Pines B&B is Dec. 5 and 6 in Nebraska City. Photo courtesy Whispering Pines

When: Dec. 5, 11:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m., and Dec. 6, 12:30 or 2:30 p.m. (RSVP by Dec. 1)

Where: Whispering Pines B&B, 2018 Sixth Ave., Nebraska City, Neb.

What: Invoke your holiday spirit with tea at Whispering Pines B&B in the glow of festive decor. Bring your appetite and indulge in tasty cakes, dainty sandwiches, and assorted sweets served with a variety of exquisite teas in old fashioned tea cups.

Cost: $20, adults; $10, children younger than 12 (includes unlimited tea and delectable treats). Receive a $5 off discount if you book an overnight stay.

 

Reindeer Chase & Make-and-Take Ornaments

When: Saturdays, Dec. 5, 12 and 19

Where: Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure, 2611 Arbor Ave., Nebraska City, Neb.

What: Get into the holiday spirit with fun traditions and activities including: Free hot apple cider while you shop and hike the trails; make-and-take ornaments from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and scavenger hunt for Santa’s wooden reindeer along the trails (all day, on-your-own activity).

Cost: Included with admission, Adults, $13; children (3-12), $8; children 2 and younger, FREE

 

Brunch with Santa

When: First three Sundays in December (Dec. 6, 13 and 20)

Where: Lied Lodge & Conference Center, 2700 Sylvan Road, Nebraska City, Neb.

What: Special children’s buffet during Sunday Brunch. Visit Santa in front in the fireplace of the lobby of Lied Lodge.  

Cost: TBD

 

Heirloom Christmas

When: TBD

Where: Wildwood Historic Center, 420 Steinhart Park Road, Nebraska City, Neb.

What: Enjoy holiday music played by Angie Madison on the 1883 Steinway Parlor Grand piano as you stroll through Wildwood House all decked out for a Victorian Christmas—just as families would have done in the past. Refreshments will be served in the Barn among displays of vintage china set up just as elaborately as in the 1800s.

Cost: Adults, $3; children (12 & younger), $1; 68410 residents, FREE

 

Christmas at the Mansion

When: Saturdays, Nov. 21 through Dec. 19, 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Where: Arbor Lodge at Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, 2600 Arbor Avenue, Nebraska City, Neb.

What:  Tour the home of J. Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day, decorated for Christmas.  Light refreshments and music in the mansion.

Cost: Adult, $10; child, $7 (package with overnight stay at Lied Lodge available)

 

No visit is complete without some good eats!

Here are some restaurants recommended to me for visiting people over the holidays: Timber Dining Room at Lied Lodge, El Portal Mexican and Valentino’s.

 

Know of more holiday events in Lincoln, Syracuse, Nebraska City or another nearby town? Please send me your recommendations and I’ll add them to the list. Email ohmyomaha (at) gmail (dot) com! Thank you!

June 22, 2015

Exploring Nebraska City With Kids

Ever since childhood, Nebraska City has meant apples and trees to me.

You may think you know all there is to know about the small Nebraska city – you know, “Seen one orchard, seen them all” – but I’ve found some spots there during a recent visit that were new to me.

Nebraska City title

If you’ve got a free day coming up, plan a little Nebraska City adventure for your family. It’s only 45 minutes away, after all.

 

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure

The entrance to Arbor Day Tree Adventure in Nebraska City.

The entrance to Arbor Day Tree Adventure in Nebraska City.

The first time we took Farley to Nebraska City, we skipped the Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure, scoffing at the price and the fact we could see apple trees for free elsewhere in town.

We ponied up the admission fee during our last visit and it was totally worth it.

Happy and mud-covered children at Arbor Day Tree Adventure.

Happy and mud-covered children at Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure, amid a race between the tortoise and the hare. Incidentally, doesn’t the forest look like a fake background?

Our favorite spots included:

The Outdoor Classroom

There's plenty of building opportunities in the outdoor classroom.

There are plenty of building opportunities in the outdoor classroom.

And more building

Building…

And some more building

And some more building

Art station

Art station

There are a couple xylophones you can play, as well.

There are a couple xylophones you can play, as well.

Playing will it sink or float

Playing will it sink or float

 

The tree house and the cabin of activities next to it

The cabin next to the 50-foot tree house featured educational activities for kids.

The cabin next to the 50-foot tree house featured educational activities for kids.

Checking out the beehive in the cabin.

Checking out the beehive in the cabin.

 

All the things to play on 

Pretending to be a spider at Arbor Day Tree Adventure.

Pretending to be a spider at Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure.

There are a variety of structures at Arbor Day Tree Adventure that blend in well with the setting.

There are a variety of structures at Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure that blend in well with the setting.

Over-sized chairs are found along the backwoods trail.

Over-sized chairs are found along the backwoods trail.

 

And the backwoods trail

Interactive and educational activities dot the trail.

Interactive and educational activities dot the trail.

If you’re kids are sufficiently walking on their own, try out the trail. It’s not stroller-friendly.

There’s a neat outdoor art exhibit that has you looking for all sorts of wooden cutouts of birds. The kids loved hunting for them.

Be on the lookout for dozens of these bird silhouette cutouts (plus one squirrel).

Be on the lookout for dozens of these bird silhouette cutouts (plus one squirrel).

There are also bridges and other play structures to explore.

There are a couple bridges to cross on the trail.

There are a couple bridges to cross on the trail.

This structure's about half-way through the trail.

This structure’s located about half-way through the trail.

Leave plenty of time for that hike, and bring along water, treats and bug spray.

You'll cross over a creek a couple times along the way, but look for a side path that will take you right down to it.

You’ll cross over a creek a couple times along the way, but look for a side path that will take you right down to it.

There was a sign suggesting how long the hike should take – I think it said 30 minutes – but with kids who like to stop and look at things, plan on doubling that.

The hike probably wouldn't take so long if there weren't tempting side trails like this. We had to check out where it led to.

The hike probably wouldn’t take so long if there weren’t tempting side trails like this. We had to check out where it led to.

You will be stopping for the mysterious door in the Fairy Garden area.

You will be stopping for the mysterious door in the Fairy Garden area.

We spent more time at the Tree Adventure than I had anticipated – I couldn’t get the kids to leave the Outdoor Classroom.

Yeah, we could hang here all day.

Yeah, we could hang here all day.

Tip: Each paid admission gets you a seedling to plant. Our tickets each had a coupon for a free slice of apple pie at the Lied Lodge. Plan accordingly. 🙂

 

If you go

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure

Where: 2611 Arbor Ave.. Nebraska City, Neb.

When: Summer hours are Mondays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Adults are $7, kids 3-12 are $5 and kids 2 and younger are FREE. Hayrack ride is extra.

Website

 

Arbor Lodge Historical Park (The Free Stuff)

The mansion isn't part of the "free stuff," but isn't this what you think of when you read "Arbor Lodge"? I thought so.

The mansion isn’t part of the “free stuff,” but isn’t this what you think of when you read “Arbor Lodge”? I thought so.

Nebraska City is home to Arbor Day, and thusly, Arbor Lodge, which is located inside Arbor Lodge Historical Park. The mansion of J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day, is open for tours. There is admission into the 52-room mansion, but you’re free to explore the 72-acre park and enjoy the playground.

Having just been at the Tree Adventure nearby, my kids were in no shape to traipse through a historic home. Even if they were squeaky clean, we still wouldn’t go in at this point in time. History stuff is lost on them so I’m not paying until I know they’re listening to me. 🙂

We checked out the carriage house behind the mansion – that’s free. There’s also a log cabin and hiking trail.

Inside the carriage house at Arbor Lodge.

Inside the carriage house at Arbor Lodge.

The playground was the highlight for the kids, naturally.

The playground at Arbor Lodge park.

The playground at Arbor Lodge park.

Notice the tree theme even at the playground?

 

If you go

Arbor Lodge State Historical Park

Where: 2600 Arbor Ave., Nebraska City, Neb.

When: Mansion hours are Mondays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; park is open year round

Cost (to tour the mansion): Adults are $7, kids 3-12 are $4 and kids 2 and younger are FREE

Website

 

About those apples

You pretty much always have to visit an apple orchard when you’re there, amiright?

Here are the 4 apple orchard/vineyards to see:

Arbor Day Farm has a lovely little shop, with a wine tasting room and cafe. You can explore some of the grounds without having to pay admission for the tree adventure.

Union Orchard is the one you see first when you drive from Omaha to Nebraska City. You’ll find all sorts of apple products there, and it’s a convenient location to stop in on your way out of town.

Kimmel Orchard & Vineyard is the big one, with a large property to explore. We stop there to get cider for the kid and a sweet white wine for us. Don’t be surprised to find loads of tour busses parked out front.

Central Apple Market and Country Store – Never been here, but figured I’d list it for you.

 

Oh My! Omaha Facebook Followers’ Tips

I asked around for your ideas on not-to-miss Nebraska City spots and here’s what some of you shared:

Mary Eileen – John Brown’s cave and the Underground Railroad, Arbor Day Lodge, Ride the Trolley, The Whispering Bench, Orchards, Outlet Mall, Apple Jack Festival

Jessica – Outlet Mall!

Editor’s note: That outlet mall, in case you’re wondering, is called Factory Stores of America, and it’s located at 1001 Nebraska State Hwy. 2.

 

Your turn: What are your favorite places in Nebraska City?

July 21, 2014

Visiting Brownville Nebraska With Kids

Updated Jan. 13, 2017

Seeking a quick escape from the city, I planned a day visiting Brownville, Nebraska, and nearby Indian Cave State Park. Brownville is about 80 miles south of Omaha; an easy drive on Interstate 80 with a short drive west on Highway 136.

 

Brownville has cultivated a reputation for the arts - performing and visual - as well as a haven for book lovers.

Brownville has cultivated a reputation for the arts – performing and visual – as well as a haven for book lovers.

Why Brownville with kids? My last visit to the enchanting town was pre-kids, so Mr. Wonderful and I enjoyed a leisurely visit to Whiskey Run Creek Winery and casually browsed the used bookstores (they don’t get the designation International Book Town for nothing). I had only pleasant memories, so I figured, what the heck, let’s try it with kids.

My plans included visiting a few of the historic sites, checking out the quaint shops and returning to those used bookstores (and, hopefully, find the Antiquarium this time). I made a list of where I wanted to go:

Captain Meriwether Lewis Dredge Museum in Brownville Riverside Park

Governor Furnas House Museum, 230 S. Sixth St.

Brownville Depot & Railroad History Museum

Alas, traveling with kids, any itinerary quickly changes. And if you time that visit to follow a holiday, you can expect somethings to not be open. Holy Fourth of July hangover, Brownville.

Here’s how the visit went:

We arrived late morning to a patriotically-decorated Main Street with most shops still closed. We peeked inside the windows of Dr. Spurgin’s Dental Office Museum, 222 Main St., to see some old time dental instruments.

 

Dr. Spurgin’s Dental Office Museum.

Dr. Spurgin’s Dental Office Museum.

Then we crossed the street to the 1854 Didier Log Cabin in Boettner Park. It was locked so we just poked around for a little bit.

In the center of town on Main Street, you'll find this old cabin.

In the center of town, you’ll find this old cabin dating back to 1854.

Then we found a trail. I called it a secret path and that enticed the kids to follow it.

Definitely seek out this foot path, just west of Main Street. It’s a nice shaded walk.

 

There are a few bridges along the trail. I don't know about your kids, but mine still find bridges to be amazing.

There are a few bridges along the trail. I don’t know about your kids, but mine still find bridges to be amazing.

It felt more southern than Nebraska.

Mr. Wonderful and the kids near another bridge in Brownville.

Mr. Wonderful and the kids near another bridge in Brownville.

You’ll get a good sense of how artsy this community is, and how proud they are of their heritage. Lots of neat old buildings to look at.

 

I loved the red bridge near the village theater.

I loved the red bridge near the village theater.

We took a brief pit stop at  Brownville Village Theatre, for a bathroom break. If you time your visit right in the summer, catch one of the productions. The town is quite proud of the repertoire theatre company, which gives talented college students a chance to work in all aspects of theatre productions each summer.

 

Brownville Village Theatre

Brownville Village Theatre

Moving onward along the path, we saw some chickens, wild flowers and statues, all of great interest to the kids. It’s the little things that still excite my kids, and I love that about them.

This statue of a former governor was a favorite of the kids. I have no idea why.

This statue of a former governor was a favorite of the kids. I have no idea why.

 

Updated: Antiquarium is now permanently closed.

As we took a road back toward town, I saw a sign for Antiquarium. Woot! Book worms of Omaha will remember this used bookstore that once reigned in the Old Market before moving to Brownville.

What a place they’ve set up! The outside isn’t much to look at, but step inside and be transported.

 

Book lover's heaven, Antiquarium.

Book lover’s heaven, Antiquarium. It is, sadly, now permanently closed.

It was designed to look like the library at Trinity College Dublin. Having been to both, I see a vague resemblance.

Chess tables, unique chairs and artwork add to the atmosphere at Antiquarium.

Chess tables, unique chairs and artwork add to the atmosphere at Antiquarium. It is now permanently closed.

We browsed and found a small children’s section. Farley picked out a cute poetry book about food, I found several first editions of classic books.

Back on our walk, we headed toward the riverfront for the Captain Meriwether Lewis Dredge Museum. Around this time, Mooch’s internal clock went off and the nap time crankiness kicked in. The mud we would’ve had to cross to get to the museum was too much for me, and my limit was nearly reached with Mooch, so we turned back to town.

We had passed the little Brownville Depot & Railroad History Museum during that walk, but we were a few minutes early for its opening and Mooch was really tired and I nixed waiting.

I was feeling like Mom of the Year, so to add to it, I suggested ice cream.

All is better with ice cream. Rivertown Ice Cream Shoppe, 121 Main St., hit the spot. The clerks were friendly and filled us in on what to do at Indian Cave State Park and when to go.

The ice cream shop's neighbors included a used book store, art gallery and an "oddities" store.

Rivertown Ice Cream shoppe’s neighbors included a used book store, art gallery and an “oddities” store.

 

We began our walk back to the car, stopping in one more used bookstore.

 

If you visit Brownville

Brownville

The town has a very helpful site on where eat, stay and play.

 

Recommended dining with kids

For a meal, try Lyceum Cafe & Bookstore, 228 Main St.

For a treat, try Rivertown Ice Cream Shoppe, 121 Main St.

Back toward I-80 in Rock Port, Missouri, you’ll have a few more dining options. We had dinner Black Iron Grill Steakhouse & Saloon. There is a kids menu. Kids will like the peanuts that come before the meal – they can just toss the shells on the floor.

 

Tip

Thinking of buying any used books, maybe artwork or antiques in Brownville? Bring along cash.

Thinking of buying any used books, maybe artwork or antiques in Brownville? Bring along cash.

Bring cash! Regrettably, we didn’t carry cash on us and couldn’t make bookstore purchases because of it. An ATM was not to be found. Lucky for me, that ice cream shop took debit and credit cards.

 

Come back tomorrow to read about our Indian Cave State Park adventures!

 

You may like:

Ultimate Nebraska Adventure This Summer

Insider’s Family Guide: Lincoln

My Nebraska Bucket List