Omaha, Nebraska has always been a hub of innovation, and the recent opening of the new science center, Kiewit Luminarium, is no exception. Located on the Riverfront, the Luminarium is an exciting and educational destination for people of all ages. With hands-on exhibits, interactive displays, and cutting-edge technology, the center offers visitors a unique and engaging experience.
If you’re planning your first visit to this unique science center, this guide will provide you with everything you need to know to make the most of your time there. From the exhibits you can’t miss to the insider tips that will help you avoid the crowds, I’ve got you covered.
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What’s the Kiewit Luminarium?
In the simplest terms, the Luminarium is a science center. But, it’s a bit more creative and high tech than science centers you may be familiar with. It’s inspired by the Exploratorium in San Francisco, which has been described to me as a “children’s museum meets science center,” if you need a frame of reference.
STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Math – is definitely at the forefront when it comes to exhibits at the Luminarium. But there’s more to it. There was a conscious effort to incorporate the community into exhibits.
Signs feature real people doing cool things in the community, as well as pictures of places throughout Omaha. I appreciated seeing under-represented populations throughout the science center. From addressing Omaha’s history of redlining in North Omaha to showcasing Indigenous peoples from the region, there was more than science to learn about at the Luminarium.
All about the first floor exhibits
The building that houses the Luminarium is huge, and the first floor feels largely like one great big open space. Windows looking out over the Missouri River adds to this feeling of vast space.
The first area of the science center you’ll encounter (after you pass the gift shop, front desk and the cafe, Fig), is called Catch Waves. Full of interactive exhibits, Catch Waves explores movement, sound, light & shadows, and heat. My kids could’ve played here for two hours. They made music, tested sound waves, took pictures of water, and looked goofy testing out some funky goggles.
Once you get past Catch Waves, you’ll come upon a large two-story structure called The Grid. This area highlights a lot of everyday creativity we encounter, from building, repairing and gardening, to breathing bus routes and urban development. This is one of the best areas to learn more about what Omahans are doing.
My son and I had a good laugh with the costume area. You could project different costumes on your mirror image. I tried (and failed) to pull off the Elvis jumpsuit.
The last area on the first floor is called Dig Deeper. I liked this area as it addresses environmental issues, as well as having a cool Maker Space. If you have kids (or yourself) who love building and tinkering, this is the area for you. There are tons of materials from keva planks to circuit sets. My daughter loved building an arch with a few teens and celebrated with high fives when they succeeded.
My kids’ favorite part of Dig Deeper was the water table, but it’s unlike what you’ll find at Omaha Children’s Museum. The odd sand can be used to change the waterflow by building temporary dams and obstructions. Even without toys, it’s a fun space for play.
What you’ll find on the second floor
The second floor exhibits are more in line with what I’ve seen at other science centers, with interesting interactives in Find Yourself providing insight to how the human body functions, plus delving into social issues and how we interact with each other. My 11-year-old was fascinated with seeing how skin and hair looked under a microscope.
After Find Yourself, there’s Make It Count, which isn’t just about numbers. There are collaborative games, financial literacy, and other interesting topics. My 13-year-old liked playing with the giant dominos.
The remaining exhibit space was truly colorful and fun (and still a part of Make It Count): The Geometry Playground. In addition to climbing and crawling around, this area had some fun magnets to play with, among other interesting interactives.
Finally, there’s a nice seating area and workspace on the second floor. I could see myself set up there with my laptop while my teens explored on their own. You get a nice view of the first floor from this workspace.
Top things for kids to do
What your kiddo likes at the Luminarium is definitely going to come down to individual preferences, but there are a few areas that I’m fairly certain are going to be the biggest hit with young kids.
The Geometry Playground is a fun looking climbing area for ages 5-12. The area is fairly easy to keep an eye on your kids, so that should come as a relief to nervous parents.
Dig Deeper has some fun shadow play areas, as well as huge bubble maker contraption. And obviously, the chance to get a little wet at the water table is going to be a draw.
Don’t skip the Maker Space, as the activities can be adapted for youngsters. When we stopped by, they had squishy circuits for us to work on. I was drawn in with the activity as much as my kids were.
Where is the Luminarium?
The Luminarium is located at 345 Riverfront Drive, Omaha, Neb. The location is called the Lewis & Clark Landing, which has long been an under-developed area in the city. There has long been potential for great things, and finally, with the opening of the Luminarium, I think things are really going to liven up there.
That’s not to say the Landing had nothing for visitors and residents, alike. The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge draws a lot of people, and at its base on the Omaha side, you’ll find the Lewis & Clark National Park Service Headquarters. Both are fine for a visit, but they’re not exciting.
The Luminarium opened April 15, 2023, and it’s the first of several really cool openings planned for the Riverfront this year. When you visit the Luminarium, you’ll see all the construction for what’s coming soon: An amazing playground is under construction, and there’s a planned urban beach (though, not for wading into the river or anything).
Just south of Lewis & Clark Landing, there’s even more construction at Heartland of America Park. When that’s finished, there will be a skating ribbon (ice skating in the winter!), among other things.
Construction for these things next to the Luminarium is scheduled to be finished late summer 2023.
The Luminarium is located on the Riverfront, specifically at the Lewis & Clark Landing, which is undergoing a major overhaul. Later in 2023, there will be a fabulous playground, sand volleyball courts, and other exciting outdoor developments. Just south of the landing, just a walkable distance away, is the Heartland of America Park. It’s also under construction, but will open in late summer.
What is open is the Lewis & Clark National Park Headquarters, which has a small museum with interactive exhibits (and it’s free). There’s also the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, which is fun to cross as it marks the state line between Nebraska and Iowa. It’s a popular Instagram spot.
If you do cross the bridge (affectionately called Bob), you’ll find more green space on the Council Bluffs, Iowa side, as well as some cool public art and an adorable playground called Belles’ Play Garden, located in River’s Edge Park.
Back to the Omaha side, you’ll notice that the Luminarium is really near the CHI Health Center Arena. You can cross a pedestrian bridge to get to it. Major concerts and sporting events are held at the arena throughout the year.
If you follow the trails from Lewis & Clark Landing to Heartland of America Park, you’ll encounter one other area that’s part of the Riverfront: The Gene Leahy Mall. This huge green space has frequent programs to draw visitors to the park, whether it’s inflatable games, art making, or food trucks. Kids will love the playground and slides. Dogs will love the dog park.
In the evening (currently only on Friday and Saturday nights), you can watch a light show on a surrounding building and bridge. You can check the Riverfront’s calendar for dates of shows and special events.
Looking for a hotel near the Kiewit Luminarium? There are a number of hotels in downtown Omaha that are about a mile (or less) from the Luminarium. For mid-range hotels, look to the Fairfield Inn or Homewood Suites. For more high-end hotels, you can’t beat the Marriott or Hilton in downtown Omaha.
Some people ask me about hotels with indoor water parks when they’re planning a trip to Omaha. There’s one, and it’s fairly close to the Luminarium: The Holiday Inn Omaha Downtown. Yes, there is a waterslide and the pool area is a little more exciting than the standard hotel pool. I’ve stayed there and it’s nothing special (AKA, nowhere near Great Wolf Lodge levels of water parks).
Kiewit Luminarium FAQs
What age is best for visiting the Luminarium?
This science center is designed for all ages. As a parent, it’s the next logical step after kids outgrow visiting children’s museums. I saw kids of all ages during our visit. While they aren’t going to stand there and read the signs explaining what’s happening, they still will get a lot out of a visit. Learn by doing, right?
I saw more adults than kids at the Luminarium when we were there. Maybe it was because it was a weekday? We went after the kids got out of school for the day, though. Anyway, this is very much a place you can visit without having kids with you.
How long does a visit take?
At the minimum, plan for two hours. We rushed through a lot during our first visit, so I could see us easily staying for four hours at a time. I bought a family membership with the idea that we’d return several times.
Is there food available there?
Yes. Fig is the cafe located inside the Luminarium. It’s got the feel of a hip coffee shop. My kids and I got some bakery items and soda, but you can also get more substantial food or purchase alcoholic beverages (I’m assuming these are more popular on the Thursday adults-only nights). My kids stuck with the tried-and-true chocolate chip cookie, but I ordered the olive oil cake and it was delicious.
Is parking free?
Yes! If you’re familiar with downtown Omaha at all, you’ll be surprised to know that parking at the Luminarium is free.
What are the Luminarium’s hours?
Currently, the Luminarium is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It’s open late on Thursdays, from 7 to 10 p.m., for adults-only. It’s closed on Tuesdays.
They recommend reservations. It’s only been open for a short time and I anticipate summer being a busy time there.
The Kiewit Luminarium is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in exploring the wonders of science, technology and creativity. With its state-of-the-art exhibits, interactive displays, and engaging programs, visitors of all ages can learn and discover something new. From exploring the mysteries of the cosmos to delving into the workings of the human body, Omaha’s new science center offers a wide range of experiences that are both educational and entertaining.