Lincoln. The sea of red. The Good Life. The state capitol.
I was getting to know some fellow moms at my son’s preschool and it came up that I was born and raised in Nebraska. The comments I always get are either, “Oh man, I bet you’re a big football fan then,” or “Oh wow, you guys have the best zoo.” The longer I live in Kansas City, the more I realize that I am surrounded by more Husker fans than I thought.
A lot of our friends and neighbors have revealed to us that they have been to Nebraska, whether it’s their destination or just passing through on their way to somewhere else, but more times than not, it’s Omaha that they have made a visit to. If only they knew what a gem they are missing out on by just passing by Lincoln!
From attractions that have been around since I was a kid to newer additions, here are my top five things to do with your family during a weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Top 5 Things to Do During a Weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska
The Lincoln Children’s Zoo
OK, I know, I know. Why bother wasting a day at the Lincoln Zoo when you’re a mere 45 minutes away from the legendary Henry Doorly Zoo? Hear me out. I grew up going to this zoo, and it’s magical. No, it doesn’t have the grand attractions or world renowned exhibits of its competitor, but what it lacks in scale it makes up for in charm. Unlike the Omaha Zoo, this zoo is easily doable in a half day chunk and tailors perfectly to those with younger children that have a tough time walking long distances (or have short attention spans).
It was recently renovated in 2020 and has a gorgeous new front area jam packed with things for young kids including a giraffe interaction deck, a beautiful play stream that provides a place for kiddos to splash around and cool off on those scorching summer days and an indoor playground that is seriously the coolest. It’s situated directly next to a spider monkey exhibit for your kids to get up close and personal as they play making it feel as if they are climbing right along with the silly animals.
There is an adorable train that goes around the older section of the zoo (that my two year old son is obsessed with). Once you cross the train tracks you are transported to the older area of the zoo that I grew up with that has over 400 animals to see and special encounters with many of them, pony rides, playgrounds, a fossil dig site, a butterfly pavilion and tons ofeducational opportunities. This zoo is all about getting a hands-on experience and providing your family with special opportunities that you might not get to experience at other zoos. I. Love. This. Zoo. While you’re there, be sure to go feed your purse trash and receipts to, “Leo the Paper Eating Lion” and take a walk through the Crooked House that have both been a part of the zoo since its opening in 1965.
Lincoln Children’s Museum
This is another place in downtown Lincoln that I visited frequently as a kid. What started out as a quaint museum with a dozen or so handcrafted exhibits in 1988 has now transformed into 3 floors of hands-on, innovative ways for kids to learn about the arts, sciences and humanities. The Lincoln Children’s Museum offers endless things to do here but once again, you could totally spend half a day here and not be too overwhelmed. From a pretend restaurant, grocery store, bank, space shuttle, airplane, prairie dog tunnels with interconnected underground pathways and a “grow zone” (perfectly suited for little ones three and under to explore safely) there is no shortage of fun here for you and your family!
Located directly across the street from the Zoo, this gorgeous and scenic 1.5 acres of lush greenery has been a Lincoln staple since 1930 and it has been featured in National Geographic’s, “300 Best Gardens to Visit in the United States and Canada.” The Sunken Gardens is free to get in and is the perfect place to unwind, have a picnic, get some fresh air, and let the kids run around while you recharge your batteries as you ponder the thousands of blooming perennials and annuals. There are even some art installations scattered throughout the gardens if you are looking to get some culture into your Nebraska visit.
Historic Haymarket District
History, amazing food and a celebration of local goods make the Haymarket one of the most recognizable and must visit places in Lincoln! If you are visiting during the market’s season (typically May-October) then you can plan on arriving hungry to enjoy countless food/drink vendors and then peruse down the aisles full of handcrafted home decor, jewelry, art and so much more. My personal favorites are always the freshly popped kettle corn stand, grabbing some local honey and produce and enjoying all of the live entertainment and music from local artists! The market runs from 8 a.m. – noon on Saturday mornings (during the season) so this is definitely something that would be easy to add into your itinerary!
There is also a beloved family owned ice cream shop down in the heart of the Haymarket called Ivanna Cone that you don’t want to skip! It operates out of a historic building called, The Creamery and has a charming old time soda shop look. The flavors range from classic to super unique and when a flavor sells out another takes its place which makes the menu exciting and ever changing. My favorite part about this ice cream shop is that all of the production takes place right inside of the front door so you can get up close and personal with your ice cream as it’s being made!
Lost in Fun
Indoor playground equipment, inflatable bounce houses and ball pits galore! If you’re visiting during a time when the weather is a little too cold this is a great indoor play option! Rock climbing and arcade games will appeal to the older kids while swings and tunnels to crawl through will entertain your toddler.
Well, I hope that I have provided enough evidence to convince you that Lincoln is definitely worth a visit for you and your family! The people are friendly, the experiences are unique and you might just leave shouting, “Go Big Red!”