A Trip to Omaha - A Lesson in Joy

After a day of rain the sun now shines. A breeze touches our faces and lingering rain drops sparkle on the grass and leaves. In front of me, my daughter, Charlotte, runs ahead.
“Watch me, Mama! My butterfly wings. I’m flying!” Her arms lift and stretch, I hear her voice and see her turn to make sure I’m watching her fly. A smile spreads across her face, “My butterfly wings, Mama! I fly!”

“I see you, Charlotte! You have butterfly wings.” I say smiling back at her. She skips along, flying through the zoo.

“Come on, Isaac. Do this - butterfly wings!” She invites, or rather demands, that her brother follow her. He happily obliges. Both children now stretch their arms, skip down the path, and fly like butterflies.

I keep my eyes on them but also notice the smiles of those who pass by watching these two children skip and fly through the zoo.

It’s our second day at the Omaha Zoo. We’ve already seen a tiger training, riden the train (twice), walked under shark tanks, laughed as penguins jumped in and out of the water, and splashed in the Alaskan splash pad. But here in front of me, my two flying butterflies, aware of only their joy and excitement, are what I’ll remember the most.

Omaha, Nebraska may not be on many peoples' list of top ten places to visit, but for us, it met the requirements for a family vacation - primarily a relatively short drive of less than 5 hours and recommendations for kid-friendly places to visit. 

I love travelling and exploring new places, I’m delighted that my children are such good travelers and have my sense of adventure.

If anyone is looking for a family-friendly city to visit, here are our favorites from Omaha!

Lauritzen Botanical Gardens

We could have easily spent all day touring the beautiful and diverse gardens. In another life it would have been great to find a bench by a pond to sit and read and write. Rather, we circled one of the gardens in search of gnomes so the kids could get a prize for finding all 25 gnomes hidden in ponds, hanging from trees, and between flower beds. Charlotte also found the ideal place for a meltdown in the open sun and middle of the roadway where workers were coming and going. Luckily everyone’s spirits picked up when we found the trains. Tucked into a shaded cove and climbing through the rocks, a model train display delights visitors. Charlotte and Isaac chased the trolley car and model trains back and forth, up and down. And of course we ended our time at the gardens with a tram ride.

Trains, trains, and more trains

If there is one theme that carried through every day of our trip, it would be trains! Trains passing on our drive and going over train tracks elicit shouts of joy and “Look, Mama, Look! Trains!” Until the moment we sat on the train at the zoo we heard Charlotte and Isaac ask, “Ride train now?” Over and over. Finally once we got on the train, the smiles never left their faces as we circled the zoo waving to everyone we passed, humans and animals alike.

“This nice picnic, Mama.” Charlotte says holding her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We’re sitting on the cool cement under the shade of one of the largest steam trains in the country. “So big,” both children remark. We first saw the large trains by the Welcome to Omaha sign entering the city from the highway, but not until we were seated underneath them and walking around them did we appreciate their beauty. “This big train” the children screamed while running in circles. With no picnic tables and in need of refuge out of the sun we sat down on the cement and enjoyed a picnic.

The Durham Museum

Our first day we visited the Durham Museum housed in the original Omaha Union Station. I could picture the hundreds of travelers who have made their way through the massive building. So many stories and so much history. The kids delighted in seeing the train cars and peeking into the sleeper cars with bunk beds. They played at the wooden train table. My father loved trains and in every smile and cheer from my kids, I remember my dad and his love.

Culprit Cafe

I can’t pass up a local restaurant known for breakfasts, homemade syrups for their coffees, and donuts. It doesn’t get much better than all that goodness first thing in the morning! Trust me on this one, you’ll want to grab a bite to eat and coffee for the road at this delightful local place.

Bob the Bridge

“Blue sky out, Mama! This nice day for a walk!” Charlotte exclaims as we begin our walk over Bob the bridge, a pedestrian bridge crossing the Missouri river. About halfway across the bridge you’re in two states - Iowa and Nebraska. We watched the kids dance and twirl over the states. They greeted everyone who passed us - families, bicyclists, and dog walkers. You get a great view of Omaha from the bridge.

Joslyn Art Gallery

There’s not many places where you can get your hands and feet on a piece of art. At the Joslyn Art Gallery (free to visit) the outside sculpture garden includes a reflecting pool with the sign: Play Carefully. What a beautiful invitation! The kids quickly took their shoes and socks off and walked through the water. As they waded through the water and I felt the sun on my face, I couldn’t help but remember that the world is full of beauty and splendor, sparkling gifts at our fingertips.

We came home from our week in Omaha full in all the good ways. Full of joy and laughter, books read at night while the kids were sleeping, pictures and memories, and the good kind of tired. It’s a gift to have the time to step out of the day-to-day to-do’s and intentionally focus on family and cultivating joy.

Thank you, Omaha!