Insider tips on the Omaha Summer Arts Festival

Omaha Summer Arts Festival's Children's Fair features art opportunities for youth. Photo courtesy Omaha Summer Arts Festival.
Omaha Summer Arts Festival’s Children’s Fair features art opportunities for youth. Photo courtesy Omaha Summer Arts Festival.

Today, Oh My! Omaha asks Amy Reiner for the inside scoop on the Children’s Fair, a fun zone for little ones at the Summer Arts Festival. Amy’s a good source for information since she’s been on the Summer Arts Festival board for three years focusing on the Children’s Fair. (She’s also my sister-in-law, so I can vouch for her not making this stuff up)

Tips for your visit to the Omaha Summer Arts Festival Children’s Fair:

The spin/candy art booth is back at the Children's Fair! Photo courtesy Omaha Summer Arts Festival.
The spin/candy art booth is back at the Children’s Fair! Photo courtesy Omaha Summer Arts Festival.

Q. What’s looks like the most fun this year for kids at the festival?

A. We have some new organizations but also some of the favorites including Poppin’ Penelope (balloon artist), Peapod Face Painting and of course the SAF spin/candy art booth will all be

back! Lots of wonderful crafts for example El Museo Latino will have the kids make their own maracas, First National bank tamborines and Girls Inc will decorate carnival masks.

Q. What other activities will there be there that are kid-friendly? 

A. There are a lot of teaching opportunities as well as crafts at the Childrens Fair this year. Love’s Jazz and Arts center are doing swing dancing, teaching jazz lingo and making a “swing” mobile. The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium will teach about animals from Africa and kids will make an African drum.

 Q. Will there be live performances just for kids? What are they or what’s the schedule for them?

A. School of Rock will be performing ‘90s pop and Motown! Friday they will be on 14th Street across from the W.Dale Clark Library from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday they will be in the Children’s Area from noon to 12:30 p.m., 1:30 to 2 p.m. and then 3 to 3:30 p.m.

Q. When’s the least crowded time to go to the Summer Arts Festival? (In other words, when’s the best time to go if you hate crowds?)

A. I find first thing in the morning is probably the best time to get there. Not only is it cooler but it is usually a little less crowded. Children’s Fair is open on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

 Q. Who’s selling the best food/treats/beverages at the festival? 

A. For kids, Roro’s Concessions have tasty snacks and hot dogs just outside the Children’s Fair. If you want to sit and relax while having a little lunch or dinner, head down to the Luigi Waites Main Stage where there are so many food options from our TasteFest vendors, have a beer or soda and you can listen to some wonderful music!!

 Q. If it’s hot, where do you recommend families head for some relief while there?

A. Most of the crafts are tented so the families have a little shade while they have a great time. Just across the street is the Gene Leahy Mall where we will have tables and chairs to rest and plenty of trees for shade.

Omaha Summer Arts Festival will is Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. along the Gene Leahy Mall in downtown Omaha.


11 Free Things To Do In The Old Market {Updated}

I’ve had a love affair with the Old Market for years. The twinkling lights at night, the carriage rides, the sounds of street musicians, the smell of pizza, the lively chatter of the farmers market. I love it. There’s just so much to do in the Old Market.

Kids love the Old Market, too, so don’t be nervous about bringing them downtown. There are a lot of family-friendly things to see and do that don’t cost a dime.

Note: This post was published in 2013 and updated in August 2019. If you know of any things that can be added to this post or know of any closures, please comment and let me know!

Guide to free things to do with kids in Omaha's Old Market and other places downtown. This list includes unique stores, Instgagram-worthy stops, and fun attractions that are free! If you're unsure what to do in downtown Omaha, start with this post! #Nebraska #familytravel

Where is the Old Market in Omaha?

The Old Market is located in downtown Omaha. Just a square few blocks, the neighborhood is between 10th and 13th streets and Leavenworth and Farnam streets.

The iconic brick roads stem from the intersection of 11th and Howard streets.

Related post: Kid-friendly Restaurant In Downtown Omaha

Free things to do in the Old Market (with kids):

1. From May to October, you have to bring the family down to the Old Market for the Omaha Farmers Market on Saturday mornings from 8 to about 12:30 p.m. Live music, samples, a balloon man (free balloons, but donations are suggested), and great people watching, all for free.

And dogs. There are A LOT of dogs at the farmers market, if your kids love them.

The atmosphere is so lively, I know you’ll have fun. Read about the fun things to find at the Omaha Farmers Market!

Free things to do in the Old Market - Visit the Omaha Farmers Market on Saturday mornings

2. You’ll find horse carriages parked in 11th and Howard in the Old Market, weather permitting, for much of the year. The carriage rides aren’t free, but kids love seeing the horses, so go check them out.

Last time I checked (and it could’ve gone up), rides started at $25. The most popular carriage is, of course, the one affectionately dubbed the Cinderella Carriage.

Omaha Old Market carriage rides aren't free but seeing the horses and petting them are.

3. Almost any time of day or night, you’ll find street musicians throughout the Old Market. Take your time and listen to one that you like with your kids.

My kids’ favorite thing to do is put money in the collection cup to show appreciation for the music.

4. While you’re walking around the place, there is a lot of unexpected “art” to see, especially on some of the old buildings. My old apartment building on 10th and Jackson has a neat lion fountain in front to see.

As you walk, see what else you and your kids can spot. Downtown Omaha has a complete art walk if you’re interest. Read this post about the Omaha Art Walk.

There’s also the Urban Walking Labyrinth that begins at Urban Abbey.

5. The Passage Way is a cool indoor shopping center to visit with kids. There are fun stores to browse, hallways (the “passage ways”) to explore, and mysterious art work to marvel at.

Venture into the second floor gallery called Garden of the Zodiac Gallery. In the rear of the gallery, you’ll find a door that leads outside to small, fascinating garden with sculptures. It’s a hidden gem!

You’ll find that the Passage Way is also a cool place to take Instagram-worthy pictures.

One of the most photographed places in the Old Market is the Passage Way.

5. Speaking of shopping, there are some neat shops to bring your kids into, though strollers often don’t manage well in many stores, so beware.

The second hand shops are full of interesting stuff to see (like the Imaginarium). City Limits is a fun one for older kids.

While it’s free to go in these next two fun places, I doubt you’ll make it out without spending something: Old Market Candy Shop and Hollywood Candy. Read about the arcade and fun things to discover inside Hollywood Candy.

Free galleries and museums in downtown Omaha include the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art.

6. There are a number of art galleries in area that are free and love visitors. My favorites that are full of colorful things for kids to look at are the Artist Co-operative Gallery, 405 S. 11th St., the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, 12th and Leavenworth streets, and KANEKO, 1111 Jones St.

Related post: You’ll learn about the free galleries and more museums in this guide to the 20+ Omaha museums!

I like heading to the Bemis Center with my kids when they have open studios – it’s free and a chance for kids to see where the resident artists work and live. Other places to visit include Passageway Gallery, and Garden of the Zodiac, and Mangelsen: Images of Nature Gallery, where they had a scavenger hunt for my kids the last time we went there

Know your kids, though. Do they have to touch everything? Maybe wait to bring them to a gallery until they’re a little older, or use it as a good teaching experience.

A few blocks from the Old Market:

7. The main branch of the Omaha Public Library, W. Dale Clark, is at 215 S. 15th St. It’s not uncommon for a trip to the Old Market to include a stop here for us.

The kids area is on the first floor and has computers and some toys in addition to a lot of books. It’s also a stop on the Omaha Public Art Walk that I mentioned earlier.

8. To the north of the Old Market, find two large slides that are very popular with families (for obvious reasons). The slides are found at 11th and Farnam streets.

Note: Currently, the mall where these slides are located is under construction, so know that parking will be sparse and the scenery will be limited.

The downtown Omaha slides are the most popular things to do. They're on the edge of the Old Market in Omaha, at 11th and Farnam streets.

9. Just east of the mall is another wonderful lake at Heartland of America Park with a host of geese and ducks. It’s our go-to spot for picnics downtown, and it’s fun to feed the leftovers to the animals.

It’s a pleasant little stroll around the the lake at Heartland of America Park. There’s a huge fountain in the middle of the lake, so be weary of standing downwind of it!

The area around the park is slated to undergo major changes very soon, though.

Free things to do in downtown Omaha - Stroll around the lake at Heartland of America Park.

10. If you’re doing your exploring on bike, you cross a bridge on the north side of Heartland of America Park, and find yourself on your way to see the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge connecting Omaha to Council Bluffs.

It’s a bit of a walk to the bridge. but manageable, if you’re not on a bike.

Kids love watching the river from the bridge, but by far, the thing to do (and get a photo of) is straddling the state line between Iowa and Nebraska.

In the summer time, there’s a water play area on the Omaha side of the bridge. The Council Bluffs side of the bridge has a Great Lawn suitable for running around, picnicking and playing.

One of Omaha's most photographed landmarks is the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. The thing to do is straddle the state line between Iowa and Nebraska.

11. Don’t skip a quick visit to the Lewis & Clark National Parks Service Headquarters at the base of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.

It’s small, but has several hands-on and interactive things to do for kids. When we visited, the kids took a quick tour with a park ranger, who told them about the animals Lewis and Clark encountered.

Parking in the Old Market

The Old Market and surrounding downtown area has several parking lots. You’ll find parking lots along 10th Street at Jackson Street and Harney Street, as well as at 12th and Harney streets.

There is also metered parking throughout the Old Market. Note: There is limited parking on the mornings of the farmers market.

If you’re looking for free parking in the Old Market, those spots are getting rarer and rarer. Head south on 10th Street, traveling over the bridge toward The Durham Museum, and you may find some free spots.

Below that bridge, around Leavenworth Street, you may find some free parking spots too.

You’ll find free parking lots around Heartland of America Park or the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.

Note: The parking lots around CHI Health Center are not going to be free.

Driving in downtown Omaha is a headache for most people not familiar with the area. There are one-way streets everywhere. If you’re from out of town and considering a visit, I recommend finding a hotel with a shuttle so you can avoid the hassle.

Visiting Omaha with kids? Don't skip the picturesque Old Market! Here's a guide to free things to do in the Old Market and the nearby attractions in downtown Omaha.  #Omaha #Nebraska #guide

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Kids Bowl Free

Who here likes to bowl?

Who here likes any family outing that’s free for kids?

If you answered yes to either of those, head on over to the Kids Bowl Free website.

kids-bowl-free-headpinz-88This annual and legit deal involves select bowling centers and schools around the United States (and some in Canada). It’s “designed to give back to the community and provide a safe, secure and fun way for kids to spend this summer.”

As long as your kids are younger than the age limit set by the participating bowling center, they are eligible for two free games a day, all summer long. Every. Day.

You don’t have to go every day, but isn’t that a nice, free option when you just want to get out of the house? Shoe rental fees may apply, but that’s never much.

The program also offers a family pass. It’s $24.95 and it allows two games per person per day, covering up to four adult family members.

My family’s not a bowling family by any stretch of the imagination, but I jumped all over this opportunity.

There are three bowling centers in Omaha participating: Maplewood Lanes, Mockingbird Lanes and Western Bowl. There are 11 cities in Nebraska with at least one participating venue. Check it out here.

Dad-Approved Outings in Omaha

My husband sometimes pokes fun at me because he suspects I may be an 80-year-old stuck in a 30-something’s body. On more than one occasion, I’ve planned dates to places where we were the youngest in the building by 40 years.

So I question my judgement on things sometimes.

Omaha dad Aaron checks out the butterfly pavilion at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium.
Omaha dad Aaron checks out the butterfly pavilion at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium.

When it comes to this blog, I wonder if dads read it or find it helpful. In case I don’t “speak” to that male demographic, I’ve enlisted some Omaha dads to help me out. They provided a lot of ideas that suit all budgets and all ages.

Here are dad-approved outings in Omaha:

“Our son loves trains, cars and planes, usually in that order. We recommend:

– Kennefick Park (next to Lauritzen Gardens)

– Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs

– Durham Museum

– The car show at the CenturyLink Center

– SAC Museum

Also, and this is our most regular stop when the weather cooperates, we love hiking at Hitchcock Nature Center, about 20 minutes northeast of Omaha on the Iowa side of the river.

What else… We eat on South 24th Street … shop the Old Market when we need to get mommy a gift … go sledding at Memorial Park.” – Shane, father of one boy, age 2 (and another boy on the way)

* * * * *

“We like going camping at Two Rivers and Platte River State Park … going to the zoo, walking through Cabela’s (never buy anything, just look at the fish and gear), and sitting on the berm at Storm Chasers games.” – Matt, father of two boys, ages 4 and 2

* * * * *

One dad asked his 4-year-old daughter for her favorite daddy-daughter outing.

“Some of her favorite memories were me taking her to the ferris wheel inside of Scheel’s (that she had been waiting to get tall enough to ride – ever since she first laid eyes on it.)…

“Other than that, we have taken her to the children’s museum, Fontenelle Forest, the zoo and the Rose Theater a couple times, all of which I know she really enjoyed. And really not too expensive.

“Ultimately, most of our outings are just close to home, though – like trips to the park inside our neighborhood development, or along the trails that span along the tree lines.” – Aaron, father of two girls, ages 4 and 1

* * * * *

Rob with future Creighton sports stars.
Rob with future Creighton sports stars.

“We liked walking around the farmer’s market downtown last year.

“These aren’t free but they are this dad-approved: Stormchaser games, Creighton basketball games, the zoo and the children’s museum.” – Rob, father of two boys and a girl, ages 7, 4 and 6 months

* * * * *

“When it’s just me and the girls, we mainly go to the Amazing Pizza Machine,” said one dad, whose daughter in the background also suggested she enjoyed going to the Olive Garden with him. “Yes, if we’re not at the movies, we’re at the Amazing Pizza Machine.” – Dan, father of two girls, ages 11 and 8

* * * * *

“Now that they’re 16, it’s tough to get my kids out of their bedrooms, but before that we liked hiking at Neal Woods; we enjoyed monthly trips to Joslyn Art Museum, HotShops and of course the zoo, which they never seem to outgrow. Now, at 16, they like exploring the Old Market, Benson, South 24th Street and the Slowdown area. As teens, it’s more about unique shopping experiences.” – Fred, father of two boys and a girl, all 16

Omaha Parades

Drums are going, horns are honking. Must mean it's nap time.
Drums are going, horns are honking. Must mean it’s nap time.

Omaha loves a parade. Once or twice a year, I drag my family to one only to realize I don’t really like it (I’m talking about the parade, not my family). I have parade-induced amnesia.

But for most normal folk, parades are fun, and you can enjoy one almost every season in Omaha. Maybe when my kids are a little older, I’ll remember the joy in watching their excitement. At 3 and 1½, they’re still overwhelmed by the whole experience. But I will forget this and take them to the next one that comes along.

You can't tell by the picture, but Farley was a walking billboard for politicians at the Benson Parade in 2012. Lots of stickers. Lots of stickers...
You can’t tell by the picture, but Farley was a walking billboard for politicians at the Benson Parade in 2012.
Seriously, how many stickers are you gonna give the kid?

Here’s a rundown of some Omaha parade options:

  • Septemberfest – Falling on Labor Day weekend, this one has the benefit of having somewhat enjoyable weather. Who knows with Omaha

    You know, on second thought, maybe donuts from Petit’s is a bad idea during a parade.

    weather, though, right? It’s the longest parade (or just feels like it) in Omaha, with the most inflatable characters. Tons of community organizations participate in it and most throw candy, so if you’re OK with Halloween-levels of sugar entering your home, be sure your kids bring a bag for their haul. The big draw for Farley were the fire engines and other service vehicles. Arrive at least 30 minutes before the start of the parade to find a good spot, preferably one that isn’t by stop lights; I learned from experience that the cool factor of large inflatables is negated when they have to be brought down to ground level to go under stop lights. We staked out a spot by Petit’s Pastry, 502 N. 16th St., so I could get us donuts. There will be a line at Petit’s, but it’s worth it.

  • St. Patrick’s Day – Here’s one I revisit every few years thinking “This year, it’s going to be fun!” It’s held on the coldest day of the year – maybe that’s just how I remember it since it’s in March. We went this year with the kids and left early because I lost feeling in my fingers and Mooch was approaching meltdown level. This one does get bonus points for having the most entertaining people watching, though. And I’m talking about the spectators. Crazy Irish.
  • Neighborhood and Smaller Parades –

    Benson Parade
    Benson Parade

    We’ve checked out Benson’s annual parade (held during Benson Days in July), it’s shorter than the two biggies above, but there’s enough candy thrown to satisfy a third-grade classroom. It’s also crazy loud, but maybe that was just me since Mooch decided that a parade made for perfect napping conditions. Other parades around Omaha include Cinco de Mayo (in May, duh), Florence Days (May), Native Omaha Days (bi-annual event held at the end of July) and Millard Days (August). Some smaller neighborhoods have parades, like Dundee, and Omaha Children’s Museum has one to kick off summer each year at the end of May.

What else am I missing? Do you have a favorite that you can endorse, because I’m doing a terrible job!

10 Secrets Of Omaha Libraries

Your local library. You hit it up for free books, a storytime here and there, maybe a free DVD or CD to mix things up at home.

Farley and Mooch have been frequent visitors to a couple branches of the Omaha Public Library from a very young age.
Farley and Mooch have been frequent visitors to a couple branches of the Omaha Public Library from a very young age.

If that about sums up your family’s experience with the library, this post’s for you.

Here are some things you might not know is available – for free – at a nearby library.

1. Yoga for kids – Yoga is used to bring stories to life at the A.V. Sorenson branch. It’s recommended for preschoolers and grade schoolers.

2. Acting classes – Elementary school-aged kids can take story acting classes with a local storyteller at the Charles B. Washington branch.

3. Movies – Several branches offer family-friendly movie screenings (and free popcorn, yum!).

4. Video games – Head to the Millard and South Omaha branched if your older kids want to play video games.

5. Lego Club – The name pretty much says it all, right? Check out this club at the Saddlebrook and Sorenson branches

6. For budding engineers – If your little one finds building materials in your kitchen cabinets and hall closet, here’s an activity for him or her. The Millard branch has a class for small architects where they’ll build, erect, sculpt and create things with provided materials. Children younger than 5 must be supervised by parent or guardian.

7. Arts & Crafts – Several branches offer crafting opportunities for all ages, even teens. Check to see when yours has one. Many pair it with storytime.

8. Writing workshops – For teens bitten by the writing bug, have them check out the Teen Writers Workshop at Saddlebrook..

9. Character visits – Few things excite children more than meeting their favorite literary or movie characters in real life. Check the Omaha Public Library’s calendar for the next visit (and don’t forget to bring your camera).

10. Storytimes – You probably already knew about these, but did you know the extent of what they offered? Storytimes offered at various branches are signed, bilingual, infant, stay-at-home dad, read with dogs, tied into crafts (these aren’t offered all at once … could you imagine what a bilingual infant dog storytime would be like?). Most branches offer toddler-specific and preschooler specific storytimes. If you’re going to one of these, stick to your kid’s age group just so he or she gets the most out of it. A few years ago, I brought Farley to one and he was very timid around the bigger kids. But you know your kids so if they could give two farts about sitting next to a Big Kid, then pay no attention to me.

To find when and where these activities are held, visit the Omaha Public Library’s website.

Please share your favorite offering at your neighborhood library! What am I missing?

P.S. If you want ideas on how to raise a reader, visit my Pinterest board. I’ve found some great ideas online!