Last Updated on November 4, 2015 by Jody Halsted
I can't even recall the last time I was in Omaha to visit. I think it may have been when I was a child and my parents took me to the zoo. So… let's conservatively estimate it to have been about 30 years ago. It's embarrassing to admit as Omaha is just over 2 hours from my home – definitely an easy weekend trip.
Getting to Omaha Without a Car
Obviously you can fly into Omaha, but our mode of transportation for this trip was Megabus. We have ridden Megabus to and from Chicago in the past, both for weekend breaks and to save on parking fees when we fly out of Chicago, so we had a good idea of how our ride would be. The double-decker bus (fun!) had come from O'Hare, and the top front seats were already in use, so the girls chose seats mid-bus. As the bus wasn't terribly full, having dropped off quite a few riders in Des Moines and only picked up half a dozen, we each claimed a pair of seats and enjoyed a relaxing, un-cramped ride.
Choosing Lodging for Exploring Omaha Without a Car
We stayed at Hyatt Place in the Old Town district. The hotel was chosen for a few key reasons: the shuttle would pick us up as well as deliver us to the attractions we planned to visit, breakfast included in room rate, walkable proximity to restaurants, shops, and attractions.
We were well pleased with our two queen room, which was spacious and included a fabulous sitting area. The morning breakfast was wonderful, with fresh breakfast sandwiches, a fruit and yogurt bar, and plenty of breads and pastries to round out the meal.
The staff were incredibly helpful with restaurant recommendations and the shuttle drivers were so very friendly.
Omaha Sites We Shuttled To
The Henry Doorly Zoo – Recently named the #1 Zoo in the World by Trip Advisor, the Henry Doorly Zoo is a “can't miss” family attraction in Omaha. At nearly 800 acres, the zoo is huge! We spent 5 1/2 hours there and didn't see it all! Plan to spend a day here with these tips:
- You can bring in water bottles and food. To save money, pack snacks and drinks. Zoo food is expensive! We ate at the TreeTops Restaurant, which has a lovely view of the Lied Jungle through its windows. Food was average but the cost was exorbitant (chicken strips basket, corn dog, hot dog, two chips, 3 drinks, and a salad cost $40).
- We visited on a hot August day, so spent quite a bit in the many indoor enclosures, which were cooler. You'll also find cooling mist throughout the park.
- The Skyfari is worth the ride – both for the views (best views of giraffe) and to get you from one side of the park to the other.
- The train is nice, especially if you have train-enchanted children, by for the money the Skyfari is better (in my opinion).
- If you can, plan to take in a couple animal feedings or training sessions. We saw the penguins and sea lions – always favorites for my family!
Lauritzen Gardens – Don't write this off as boring because it's a garden! My kids enjoyed this as much as the adults did, due to the inviting layouts and kid-friendly gardens. Plan for 2 hours here – more if you really like open garden walks. When you visit don't miss:
- Our favorite garden – by far – was the Model Railroad Garden. I could have spent hours watching the trains circle the many tracks, through tunnels of stone and across bridges of twigs. It's simply amazing.
The Children's Garden is a hands-on haven for kids with sensory areas to touch, smell, and taste, a small corn maze, and a Sunflower Forest. Shade and benches make it a lovely place for mom & dad to sit while the kids explore at their own pace.
- The Garden in the Glen is a relaxing stroll through a cool valley.
- Outside food is not allowed here, though we did bring in water bottles. The cafe here is open for lunch and serves fresh, tasty food. While we spent almost as much here as we did at the zoo, we ended up with more food (due to their specials) and good food. Fresh made sandwiches, quiche, fresh salads, and yummy desserts.
- Before you leave, go up the steps on the far side of the parking lot to Kenefick Park. The two large locomotive engines that greet visitors as they enter Nebraska from Iowa are here – and they are well worth your time!
Omaha Sites Within Walking Distance
The Old Market – Omaha's entertainment and shopping district isn't just for adults! Be sure to stop at the Omaha Visitor's Center when you arrive- you'll find maps, visitor's guides, and possibly some money saving coupons to use during your visit. Here are a few of our favorite spots in the Old Market.
- The Twisted Fork – American food with a cowboy twist. Do not miss the Chicken Fried Bacon! Everything we had here was delicious, portions were large, and even though we ordered an entire bottle of wine our bill was under $80.
- Hollywood Candy – Not your ordinary candy shop! Wandering through the mazes of aisles you'll find old-time candies, an old-time soda shop, a pink Cadillac, an arcade, antiques, and even a small theater (which was playing Back to the Future when we visited. You can get some popcorn and grab a seat!)
- Ted & Wally's Premium Homemade Ice Cream – The best place in Omaha for ice cream. Made from scratch with fresh ingredients, you'll find some unique flavors here – like avocado, Cookies & Bailey's, Tap Dancer's Chocolate Espresso Donut, and Salty Seahorse. Flavors change daily, so you'll want to visit more than once!
- Cupcake – The name tells you all you need to know. I'll just add “yum”.
- Saturday Farmer's Market – fresh veggies, baked goods, and organic meats share space with hand made crafts.
Gene Leahy Mall – Walking paths circle this man made lake and fun benches invite you to sit and just enjoy the peacefulness. At the west end a large double slide will delight the kids (if you plan to visit see if you can get some waxed paper or a piece of cardboard – it makes the sliding faster!)
The Durham Museum – A great museum of Omaha history. Located in Union Station, the Train Gallery is incredible. You can walk through the beautiful Pullman Cornhusker Car, a sleeper car, a lounge car, a caboose, and a streetcar. Permanent and temporary exhibits fill the space at track level, while the upper level has a few statues that shouldn't be overlooked; as you approach each one, a story unfolds sharing the history of Union Station in an enjoyable, interesting way.
Omaha Sites We Didn't Make It To
There were a few sites we just didn't make it to, due to time. These are on our list for a future visit!
- Omaha Children's Museum – Hands on exhibits. Check exhibits and programs as they seem to skew young.
- Joslyn Art Museum– I really like art that I can look at and know what it is. Also has a sculpture garden.
- Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge – The only place you can stand in both Iowa and Nebraska.
- Lewis & Clark Landing & Visitors Center
Tips for Riding Megabus to Omaha
We really enjoy riding Megabus when we can as it is relaxing to not have to drive! A few things to be aware of:
- The route Megabus takes to/ from Omaha begins (or ends) in Chicago. Riders can get on or off in Chicago, Iowa City, Des Moines, and Omaha.
- Seats on this bus can not be reserved. (We prefer the tables on the lower level when they are available.)
- You can check one bag per person, and carry on a bag (I carried on two personal size bags – one was my purse, the other a tote with my computer and snacks.)
- You may bring food and drinks on the bus.
Have you ridden Megabus with your family? Would you?
See more photos of our trip to Omaha on Instagram. Follow me, then search #OmahaWeekend and #MegabusFamily.