October 18, 2019

Top Posts In 2019

Reader Favorites Of 2019

If the top posts of 2019 are any indication, Oh My! Omaha readers love two things: Food and traveling. Here are the reader favorites of the year:

Locals share their favorite must-try restaruants in Omaha for brunch, lunch, dinner and everything in between.

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Omaha restaurants take breakfast and brunch seriously. Here 19 of the best placs in Omaha to get breakfast!

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Find 101 things to do in Nebraska, including adventures outdoors, cultural attractions indoors, and unique foods to try.

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From weird decorations to unusual entertainment, Omaha has more than 15 quirky restaurants to go for your next meal.

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October 16, 2019

Ultimate Mall Of America Guide For Kids

Ask my kids what their favorite part of our Minneapolis weekend and they’ll tell you it was the day we spent at Mall of America. Mall of America is a one-stop destination packed with family activities, restaurants and, of course, shopping.

Disclosure: Our visit to Minneapolis was hosted by Meet Minneapolis. Some attractions were complimentary, and some we paid for. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own. This post contains affiliate links.

Planning a trip to the Mall of America? Here's the ultimate guide to the mall! Get tips on where to shop, where to eat, and learn about all the fun attractions found only at the Mall of America. This guide is especially helpful for families with kids. #MOA #mallofamerica #minnesota #USA #guide

Think your kids would like a trip there? Here’s how to make the most of a Mall of America vacation:

Where is Mall of America

Mall of America is located in Bloomington, Minn., so it’s just outside of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Since it’s not far from the interstate and parking is free, driving to the mall is an easy option.

It’s worth noting that it’s also a stop on the light rail. You can take the rail from the airport, even! We almost made that trip from downtown Minneapolis, but decided against it (in case we did some serious shopping).

Mall of America hours

The Mall of America is open seven days a week. It’s open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Nickelodeon Universe rides at Mall of America

If you plan on visiting any of the attractions, like Nickelodeon Universe or SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium, the hours may be different. For instance, the aquarium closed an hour earlier than the rest of the mall on the day we visited, so we had planned to not leave it until the end of the day.

That didn’t work out, but that’s another story.

Always double check the hours before you go, as things change!

Rides at Mall of America

Nickelodeon Universe, the largest indoor amusement park in the U.S., is at the center of the mall. If you’re visiting the mall with kids, it’s nearly impossible to avoid it.

Fun things to do at Mall of America in Minnesota - Ride the rides at the indoor amusement park, Nickelodeon Universe

This was, by far, my kids’ favorite experience in the Mall of America. It’s so large, this could easily be a day itself. Yes, that’s right, Mall of America could be a two- or three-day vacation.

There are 28 rides and attractions at Nickelodeon Universe. You can opt to pay per ride or get an all-day wristband. I’m torn on recommending getting the all-day wristband, especially if you visit on an extra busy day. The wait lines can be long.

My favorite ride was the SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge, a thrilling coaster that goes upside down. The Splat-O-Sphere was another fun one with a fairly short wait compared to the roller coasters.

Tip: Save the log ride until the end of your day. You will get wet…sometimes really wet.

Kid-friendly restaurants at Mall of America

I spent entirely way too much time trying to find “the best” restaurant at Mall of America. Like any mall, there are plenty of chains to choose from, and of course, food courts, but I wanted to pick some place unique to eat at during our vacation.

Recommended Mall of America restaurant - Twin City Grill

I consulted several sites and foodie authorities, including Eater, Andrew Zimmern, and Reddit. In the end, since we were traveling with kids, I picked Twin City Grill for our lone meal at the mall.

Twin City Grill was a great choice, though if you’re pressed for time or on a budget, this sit-down restaurant isn’t for you. However, the dark wood and cozy atmosphere made it seem like we were a mile away from the hectic mall setting.

The restaurant has a kid’s menu. The food is classic comfort food and Minnesota highlights like walleye. I ordered a delicious cheeseburger.

A few other Mall of America restaurants that might be popular with your kids:

  • -American Girl Bistro
  • -Hard Rock Cafe
  • -Rainforest Cafe
  • -And a ton of fast casual options that are perfectly kid-friendly and quick.

Shopping at Mall of America

There are more than 520 stores at the Mall of America. Like any other mall, they run the gamut from clothing retailers to candles, books, purses and more.

Mall of America has more than 500 stores

Here are some of the Mall of America stores that will interest kids:

  • -Air Traffic Toys
  • -Barnes & Noble
  • -Build-A-Bear Workshop
  • -Crayola Store (this is a part of Crayola Experience, so be prepared for your kids to want to go to this attraction if you visit the store)
  • -Disney Store
  • -Games by James
  • -Gamestop Pop Culture
  • -Go! Calendars & Games
  • -iCandy Sugar Shoppe
  • -Lakeshore Gifts For Growing Minds
  • -Nickelodeon Universe has a couple of gift shops (and my kids were drawn to them like moths to a lightbulb)
  • -The LEGO Store

And if your child is older and has a favorite brand, there’s a good chance that brand has a store in Mall of America.

*It’s always a good idea to double check if the store you are interested in visiting is still open before your visit.

More things to do at the mall

You can shop, you can dine, you can ride rides at Mall of America. On top of all that, there are attractions to see and do there.

Mini golf, one of the things to do at Mall of America besides shopping

Here are the notables:

  • -Amazing Mirror Maze
  • -Crayola Experience
  • -Dutchman’s Deck Adventure Course
  • -Gameworks
  • -Moose Mountain Adventure Golf
  • -Nickelodeon Universe
  • -Old Time Photos
  • -Princess & Diva Kids Fun Spa
  • -Rock of Ages Blacklight Mini Golf
  • -SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium
  • -The Escape Game
  • -The VOID
  • -XD Ride
  • -Xscape Arcade
  • -Xscape Entertainment Center

*It’s always a good idea to double check if these attractions are open before your visit.

Tip: We went to SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium, Dutchman’s Deck Adventure Course, Nickelodeon Universe and Moose Mountain Adventure Golf. If you are short on time (ie., you only have one day), do not attempt to go to all of these!

Most unique experience at MOA

Hands down, the most unique thing we did at Mall of America was zipline through the mall. Where else can you do that?!

Listening to safety tips at Dutchman's Deck Adventure Course at Nickelodeon Universe.

The zipline is at Dutchman’s Deck Adventure Course located inside Nickelodeon Universe. It is an additional fee to do, so if you purchase an all-day ride pass for Nickelodeon Universe, this zipline and ropes course are not included in it.

Both of my kids were able to zipline and they are ages 7 and 9. I did it as well and it was a rush. The zipline takes you over Nickelodeon Universe twice.

You can opt to just do the ropes course or just do the zipline. But if you want a real workout and challenge, do both.

Tip: If you have your heart set on ziplining through the mall, do this first thing. Due to the nature of ziplining (one at a time), the wait can be long.

Tip #2: Wear closed-toe shoes if you plan on doing the ropes course and zipline. They do have Crocs available to wear if you don’t, and by the looks of them, 10,000 other people’s sweaty feet have been in them.

Where to stay in Bloomington

Good news! There are about 50 hotels within 10 miles of the Mall of America, and many of them offer free shuttle rides to the mall. Some hotels have packages for MOA visitors.

There are even hotels connected to the Mall of America.

FYI: If you love water parks in your hotel, Great Wolf Lodge is very near Mall of America

TipSave up to 25% at Great Wolf Lodge when you stay for two or more nights with promo code WOLF2019.

Everything you need to know about Mall of America, especially what to do with kids! This guide includes the attractions, shops, and restaurants that are fun for families. #minnesota #mallofamerica #guide #USA #familytravel

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October 2, 2019

10+ Best Things To Do In Nebraska City

Every fall, my family joins thousands of others making the short trip to Nebraska City. In the past, this was a day trip for us, but this year, we planned a longer stay to see and do more things. Keep reading to find my list of favorite things to do in Nebraska City, especially in the fall!

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Arbor Day Foundation. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

10+ things to do in Nebraska City - This guide shares the best time to visit, best thing to do and eat, and the best place to stay in Nebraska City. Guide includes what's fun for kids at Arbor Day Farm. #sponsored #ArborDayFarm #Nebraska #guide

Where is Nebraska City?

Nebraska City is the county seat of Otoe County located in southeastern Nebraska. The population is less than 10,000.

Nebraska City is a two-lane highway drive from Omaha. It’s not far, and can be pretty scenic, if you like golden fields in the fall.

Here’s the drive distance to Nebraska City from several metro areas:

  • -Omaha to Nebraska City – 40 miles
  • -Lincoln to Nebraska City – 50 miles
  • -Topeka, Kan. to Nebraska City – 120 miles
  • -Kansas City, Mo. to Nebraska City – 140 miles

Timing a visit to Nebraska City

Very few people are going to argue this: Nebraska City’s prime time is autumn! Home to Arbor Day, trees are treasured in the city, so you can imagine how beautiful things get in the fall.

Sunset view of Nebraska City from Lied Lodge & Conference Center. Early fall is a great time to visit Nebraska City.

Nebraska City is home to popular apple orchards and pumpkin patches, which again, are best to visit in the fall. Apples are ripe for picking in mid-September and pumpkins are ready shortly after that.

Nebraska weather can be unpredictable in the fall, so if you plan a visit, pack in layers. Don’t forget an umbrella! We got caught in the rain on our recent visit.

My second favorite time to visit Nebraska City is in the summer, when the green trees provide ample shade. If you want to see sunflowers — and there is a sunflower field at Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure — you’ll want to visit the last week in August.

Nebraska City hotel recommendations

There are not a lot of options for hotels in Nebraska City. You’ll find a range of motels and moderate-priced hotels, as well as my recommended accommodations: Lied Lodge & Conference Center.

Want to learn more about the hotel and save 10% off a stay? Visit the Lied Lodge & Conference Center website! Be sure to use promo code OHMYOMAHA.

The impressive lobby of the Lied Lodge, my top recommended hotel in Nebraska City

My last stay at the lodge was about 15 years ago, and in the past five years, the Lied Lodge has undergone renovations. It’s gorgeous!

What I love about Lied Lodge is that it’s very family-friendly, focused on sustainability, and it’s within walking distance of our favorite Nebraska City destination: Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure.

Actually, the Tree Adventure and Lied Lodge are all part of the 260-acre Arbor Day Farm, managed by Arbor Day Foundation. Arbor Day Foundation is the largest nonprofit membership organization dedicated to planting trees.

Other notable features about the Lied Lodge:

  • -Indoor Olympic-size swimming pool, kiddie pool and hot tub.
  • -Two restaurants on site, Timbers and the Library Lounge. The Library Lounge is a cozy-looking bar setting with a limited menu.
  • -Kids eat FREE at Timber at Sunday brunch.

Oh My! Omaha readers save 10% if you book a package! Be sure to use promo code OHMYOMAHA. Visit LiedLodge.org for details.

Things to do in Nebraska City

Play in tree houses

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure has had a 50-foot-tall tree house to explore for years, but Treetop Village is a new addition in 2019. It consists of 11 tree houses. I’ve been looking forward to taking the kids to see it!

Things to do with kids in Nebraska City - Visit Treetop Village at Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure.

The Treetop Village’s tree houses are connected by rope bridges. There are a few slides, including a net slide. The highlight is the WonderNet, the first net trampoline of its kind in North America.

Don’t skip the Treetop Village…but expect a possible wait if you go on a weekend. Due to the nature of the bridges, traffic is one-way, so they have to monitor how many people enter the village at a time.

And note that if you go down a slide or step through one of the exits, you have to go back to the start and wait in line again. The wait wasn’t long for us, luckily.

Shop for tree souvenirs

OK, maybe that’s just me. The gift shop at the Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure is packed with gifts and souvenirs inspired by nature, trees and camping. It’s the best place to shop for kid’s stuff.

Another good place to shop is the Apple House Market. It’s a cute decor shop, wine tasting room, and restaurant all in one building, and it’s within walking distance of the Arbor Day Farm Tree Tree Adventure.

Learn Arbor Day history

There are two places to learn more about the early days of Arbor Day and the Morton family. The Discovery Ride, which I mentioned above, as well as a visit to Arbor Lodge State Historical Park

The historic state park is the property where Arbor Day started. J. Sterling and his wife, Caroline, lived there when they initiated their vision and started challenging people to plant trees. On the first Arbor Day, April 10, 1872, they say nearly 1 million trees were planted in Nebraska.

The mansion at Arbor Lodge Historic State Park in Nebraska City.

You don’t need a park permit to enter the grounds of Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, but you will need to pay admission if you want to walk through the 52-room mansion.

In the mansion, you’ll find artifacts from the Morton family, and see beautiful rooms preserved as they once were.

The mansion is a little worn on the exterior, but signs indicated that a renovation is planned. I’m excited to see the mansion restored to its former glory.

Pick apples in Nebraska City

Apple picking is a seasonal activity in Nebraska City, with prime picking being in September (which is why the city holds the AppleJack Festival every year in mid-September!).

We picked a peck during our visit to the Tree Adventure, searching for the best apples among primarily Fuji and Jonagold trees. Your options may vary depending on when you time your visit.

Shelley, the guide during our Discovery. Ride, showed my daughter one of the antique varieties of apples in the Preservation Orchard at Arbor Day Farm.

My family also got to pick apples in the Preservation Orchard at the farm. You have to take the Discovery Ride to get to this special orchard. The apple trees in the Preservation Orchard are heirloom varieties you’ll never find in a grocery store.

It was an exciting chance to taste a Kandil Sinip, Winter Banana and Stern apple.

Pick pumpkins

We didn’t get a chance to pick pumpkins on our recent weekend getaway, but we have picked pumpkins at the Tree Adventure in the past. It’s fun to ride the hayrack out to the pumpkin field and scour the patch for a good one!

Related post: 20+ Things To Do This Fall In Nebraska

Challenge yourself

Quite possibly the most memorable experience we had the entire weekend was climbing a tree. Both kids made it to the top!

Tree climbing is held on select weekend days at the Tree Adventure, and it’s included with admission. It can be popular, and we were lucky to get there early enough to not have much of a wait.

The folks helping with the tree climb were wonderful coaches for the kids. They were also pretty patient trying to help me figure it out. In case you were wondering, it’s ridiculously hard for an adult woman to try to climb a tree!

Take a Discovery Ride

This one-hour ride is a backwoods experience at the Tree Adventure. Part history lesson, part tour, the ride takes you to orchards you don’t usually get to see, including the Preservation Orchard.

Learning about the history of Arbor Day Farm and the Morton family on the Discover Ride at Tree Adventure in Nebraska City.

I liked the opportunity to try the rare apples. My fourth grader loved hearing and about the history he’s beginning to learn this year. For younger kids, the most enjoyable part may have been the chance to touch animal pelts.

Tip: There are no restroom breaks on the Discovery Ride. My youngest learned this the hard way.

Attend a special event

Everyone and their grandma has heard of the annual AppleJack Festival in Nebraska City, but that’s only one September weekend. There’s plenty of special events happening on other weekends.

One of the special events held in Nebraska City is the Living History Weekends held on Saturdays and Sundays seasonally.

Here are a few events to look forward to this fall:

  • -Living History Weekends (Arbor Lodge Mansion, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 27). On the weekend we visited, my kids loved talking with a man who made beaded pieces and they got a chance to throw a tomahawk.
  • -Harvest Celebration (Arbor Day Farm, through Oct. 31)
  • -Hayrack Ride, Storytelling & S’mores (Tree Adventure, Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 9; reservations are required)
  • -Halloween Pumpkin Party (Tree Adventure, Oct. 26)

Eat good food

For the best dining experience, I recommend Timbers inside the Lied Lodge & Conference Center. We tried dinner there as well as breakfast. Reservations are recommended for weekend dinners and Sunday brunch. I had no problem reserving meals the day before.

Outdoor seating is an option, and the view was wonderful.

Tip: When we were there, Timbers had a sign that advertised that kids eat FREE at Sunday brunch! The brunch is a buffet that starts at 11 a.m. We went before 11, so there was still a buffet, just not as large…and kids were $5 each.

The Timbers at the Lied Lodge and Conference Center in Nebraska City overlooks the property.

If you’ve come for all-things-apple, Nebraska City is your place. Apple pie (with the works) is available at The Apple House Market, as are caramel apples and apple cider.

Looking for apple cider donuts? I didn’t find them at The Apple House Market, so your best bet is to head to Kimmel Orchard, where we got some that were still warm from the fryer.

Porters, a barbecue restaurant attached to The Apple Market House, is also a great option. It’s extremely popular, and I almost always saw a line. We tried brisket, smoked chicken and pulled pork. The baked beans were the best side, IMO.

If you’re wondering about restaurants in Nebraska City away from Arbor Day Farm, I asked around and got quite a few tips. Oh My! Omaha Twitter and Facebook followers shared these Nebraska City restaurant recommendations. Here were their tips: The Keeping Room, Buck Snort, Ladybug BBQ and Tacos El Pueblito.

We had the hardest time finding a place open after 7 p.m. on a Friday night! Our first pick was Tacos El Pueblito but we missed its closing time by 15 minutes. We ended up at El Portal, which had pretty good food. But being one of the few restaurants open after 7 p.m., there was quite a wait.

Sip Nebraska wines

Nebraska wines, like a lot of Midwestern wines, tend to be sweet. My personal preference is to stick to the white varieties. The reds just aren’t robust enough for my taste.

Wine tasting is available at The Apple House Market and Lied Lodge.

Arbor Day Farm offers two places to try wine tastings – daily at The Apple House Market and on Friday and Saturday evenings in the lobby of the Lied Lodge. FYI: Tastings are not free.

I recommend trying the Arbor Day Farm vignoles. If you like super sweet stuff, a lot of people in the tasting room when I visited loved the honey crisp wine.

Enjoy the trails

Our visits to the Tree Adventure almost always include an easy hike through the forest. You’ll find a play area, cute photo opps, and a fun look-and-find game. Be on the lookout for the fairy doors, too!

We had plans to bike the Steamboat Trace Bicycle Trail until we found out the crushed limestone trail had been flooded this year. We’ll return to explore it another (drier) year.

Play outdoors at the Tree Adventure

For my family, Nebraska City is about spending time together outside. The apples, the pumpkins, the hayrack rides…those are all a part of it. But’ nothing beats the pure joy of simply playing. 

Things for kids to do at Arbor Day Farm - Play at the Tree Adventure

Among my kids’ favorite places to visit at the Tree Adventure are:

  • -The Nature Explore Classroom where they can play the marimba and build with blocks, and sit in colorful hammocks.
  • -The little zip line course, huge spider web, and larger-than-life tic tac toe game. They’re all group near each other.
  • -The Treetop Village is a new favorite.

Take a hayrack ride

There are two opportunities for hayrack rides at Arbor Day Farm. You can get a free one while you’re in the Tree Adventure, which will take you to the pumpkin patch and apple orchard.

If you plan ahead–like months ahead–you can reserve spots on the Hayrack Ride, Storytelling & S’mores. The rides are seasonal on Friday and Saturday nights. The ride was full on the one rain-free night we were there, unfortunately.

Save on your Nebraska City stay

If this post has inspired a future weekend getaway, you’re in luck!

One of the treehouses at Treetop Village at the Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure in Nebraska City.

I’m excited to announce that Oh My! Omaha readers can save 10% off their stay at the Lied Lodge & Conference Center in Nebraska City! Be sure to use promo code OHMYOMAHA.

To book a package, visit LiedLodge.org for details.

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Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing family travel ideas, giveaways and more! Subscribe here.

Headed to Nebraska City in eastern Nebraska? Here's a guide to fun things to do, including visiting Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure, Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, and recommended restaurants. If you're looking for all-things-apples, from. orchards to apple pie, this post includes where to go in Nebraska City for all of it! #Sponsored #Guide #Outdoors #Nebraska #ArborDayFarm #USA
September 24, 2019

101 Things To Do In Iowa

Iowa is one of my favorite Midwest states to explore because it is full of wonderful outdoor opportunities, great food, and cultural attractions. Plus, Iowa has its fair share of quirky and strange road side attractions!

Read to explore Iowa? Here’s a list of 101 things to inspire your next Iowa road trip! I’ve divided up the list into sections:

  • -Outdoor adventures in Iowa
  • -Food & drink in Iowa
  • -Only in Iowa experiences
  • -Family-friendly things to do in Iowa

Outdoor adventures in Iowa

Hike interesting terrain in Iowa

A trail in the Loess Hills near Honey Creek, Iowa.

Try trails in the Loess Hills in Western Iowa or head to the interior and explore Ledges State Park. In Eastern Iowa, look into trails at the Mines of Spain Recreation Area near Dubuque.

Explore Iowa caves

Top on my list is Maquoketa Caves State Park in eastern Iowa – it has 16 caves to explore. There’s Spook Cave near McGregor, where you can tour the cave by boat.

Crystal Lake Cave is one not too far from downtown Dubuque. It’s a cave where you can take a 90-minute Wild Cave Tour that takes you deeper into the cave, with some passages requiring belly crawling.

Rock climb in the Midwest

Things to do in Iowa - Rock climbing at Backbone State Park
Photo courtesy Iowa Tourism Office

Head to central and eastern Iowa to find rock climbing opportunities. Chief among them is Palisades-Kepler State Park near Mount Vernon, Backbone State Park near Dundee and Pictured Rocks County Park near Monticello.

Candlight Ski

Don cross country skis or snow shoes for the annual Candlight Ski along Waverly Rail Trail in Waverly. The event, held on the first Saturday of February, is held on a.11-mile portion of the trail.

Catch a harness race

If you’ve never heard of harness racing, head to the Taylor County Fairgrounds in June. Rather than racing on the horse like a jockey, horses race as they pull a small, two-wheel cart and rider.

Kayak and canoe rivers

Moonlight kayaking on the Upper Iowa River near Decorah, Iowa

Voted as one of the most scenic in America, the Upper Iowa River is found in Eastern Iowa. You can launch near Decorah. If you time it right, you can try kayaking by moonlight!

Another option is kayaking the Mississippi River backwaters at Rock Creek Marina at Rock Creek County Park outside Camanche. You can also explore the water trails of Pottawattamie County in southwest Iowa.

Walk across Lover’s Leap

Head to Columbus Junction and seek out the 262-foot Lover’s Leap Swinging Bridge. It’s a doozy. The bridge is eight stories above the ground.

Zip lines

Sky Tours Zip Lining in Dubuque has nine zip lines to attempt over the course of two hours. At Mount Crescent in Honey Creek, there is just one zip line, but it’s a pretty view.

Ride the roller coasters at amusement parks

Photo courtesy Iowa Tourism Office

Iowa is home to one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in America, The Legend. Find it and other rides at Arnolds Park Amusement Park in Arnolds Park.

For newer and even wilder rides, head to Altoona (near Des Moines) to visit Adventureland. It’s home to the only roller coaster in the Western hemisphere with a negative-G loop.

Explore the Driftless Region

My first encounter with the Driftless Region in eastern Iowa included a bike ride and kayaking in Decorah. It’s a beautiful area with surprising terrain. Three parks that could be your base for exploring the Driftless Region are Mines of Spain Recreation Area in Dubuque, Bixby State Preserve in Edgewood and Osborne Park in Elkader.

SUP Yoga

Why just do yoga or standup paddleboard when you can do both? Try it at George Wyth State Park in Waterloo.

Take a train ride

Unique Iowa experiences - Ride a train from the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad

It’s a bit of a drive to get to, but Boone is home to the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad. The railroad offers out-and-back rides and many of them are themed (and appeal to families) – imagine something along the lines of Thomas the Tank Engine and “Polar Express.”

Take a mini train ride

Each summer on the weekends, kids can take rides on the miniature steam train at Watson Station in Missouri Valley. The ride includes a bridge and a pass through a 50-foot tunnel.

RAGBRAI

Not for the faint of heart, but definitely a lot of fun, RAGBRAI is an annual bike ride across Iowa that takes several days to complete. Bike all day and enjoy the fun all night. The host cities change each year, so the festivities change.

Scenic bike rides

Scenic bike rides in Iowa include Trout Run Trail in Decorah

If you have a mountain bike or hybrid, try the crushed limestone Wabash Trace Trail that runs north to south in western Iowa. Road bike? Try the Trout Run Trail in Decorah. Another trail I’ve heard is good, even for road bikes, is Cedar Valley Nature Trails.

Do the Taco Ride

Keeping with the bicycle theme, there’s one last item on this list to be done on two wheels – the Thursday night Taco Ride along the Wabash Trace Trail in Western Iowa. Leaving from Council Bluffs, cyclists ride about 10 miles to Mineola for dinner at Tobey Jack’s Mineola Steakhouse, and they pedal their way back. Hundreds of people do it each week and it’s a blast!

Tip: Wear a helmet, bring a bike light, and watch for cyclists on the way back who may have had one too many drinks at the half-way point.

Horseback rides

There are guided horseback trail rides across the state. In western Iowa, consider Shady Lane Ranch in Council Bluffs. For central Iowa, I hear Jester Park trail rides are a great experience.

Meet a bison

Bison were once native to Iowa, and now, there are just a handful of places to see them. In central Iowa, visit the Van Meter farm Bare Bison on a Saturday to meet them. In Western Iowa, Botna Bend Park in Hancock is home to a small herd of bison.

Stay in a yurt

Unique outdoor experience in Iowa - Sleep in a yurt at McKintosh State Park in Clear Lake.

What’s a yurt, you ask? It’s like a more permanent tent, like not quite a glamping experience but definitely a step above camping. Find two yurts at McKintosh State Park in Clear Lake. The view is worth it!

Ski in Iowa

The closest ski resort to my home is in Honey Creek called Mount Crescent Ski Area. You can also find ski slopes at  in Dubuque and Seven Oaks in Boone.

Attend a maple tree tapping

You might associate maple tree tapping and maple syrup pancake feeds with more northern states, but visit Botna Bend in Hancock at the right time and you can attend an event for each.

Play in the Iowa Great Lakes

Water activities in Iowa - Canoe or kayak in Okoboji

The Okoboji region is a popular summer destination for families. Consisting of six lakes, AKA the Iowa Great Lakes, the region is the place to go for boating, fishing, and my kids’ favorite, playing on the beach.

Find your Christmas tree at a tree farm

It’s like a scene out of a movie: Finding the perfect Christmas tree at a bucolic tree farm. I’m most familiar with the Council Bluffs tree farm, Dappen Tree Farm. Here’s a list of seven other Iowa tree farms where you can find a great fir or pine.  

Waterfalls

If you know me, you know I LOVE waterfalls. Iowa has some pretty ones. An easy one to climb is in Decorah. 

Whitewater raft

Outdoor adventures in Iowa - White water kayaking in Charles City
Photo courtesy Iowa Tourism Office

Iowa is home to whitewater rafting parks, including one in Manchester and another in Charles City.

Splash at a waterpark

Adventureland in Altoona has a large waterpark that’s included with admission to the amusement park. You can also cool off at Lost Island Waterpark in Waterloo.

Pick apples at an orchard

Iowa is home to a lot of apple orchards, but a few that have been vouched for by my travel writing friends include Wilson Orchard near Iowa City and my favorite, Ditmars Orchard and Vineyard in Council Bluffs.

Bike across High Trestle Trail Bridge

The centerpiece of the High Trestle Trail near Madrid, this pedestrian bridge is so unique, it’s was named by the BBC as one of the world’s eight most amazing footbridges Go there by day or night, as it’s lit by mesmerizing blue LED lights.

Watch waterski stunts

I’ve been obseswsed with the idea of water ski stunts ever since I saw a picture of a pyramid of water skiers. The Waterhawks perform stunts on Eagle Lake in Waterloo each summer.

Stroll botanical gardens

Picturesque gardens to visit in Iowa include Reiman Gardens in Ames.
Photo courtesy Iowa Tourism Office

There are gorgeously cultivated gardens around the state of Iowa, including Reiman Gardens in Ames and the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.

Food & drink in Iowa

Sip some wine

Iowa is home to six wine trails! The wineries I’m most familiar with are on the Western Iowa Wine Trail, including Prairie Crossing Vineyard and Winery and Breezy Hills Winery.  

Take on some food challenges

Not one to shy away from a challenge? Iowa has some gut-busters for you. Head to Des Moines to try the Adam Emmenecker Challenge at Jethro’s BBQ. It involves all of the basketball star’s favorite foods and you have to eat it all in 15 minutes (including but not limited to brisket, pork tenderloin, a cheeseburger, fried cheese curds and a pound of fries).

While you’re in Des Moines, stop at B&B Grocery, Meat & Deli to attempt to put down the Killosal Sandwich.

Other food challenges can be found in Waterloo, home to the 28,890 Challenge at the Screaming Eagle; Carroll, where you can take on the The Carrollton Challenge at Charlie’s Steakhouse; and Ames, where you can try to eat the Triple Double Food Challenge at Brick City Grill.

Eat pizza on a farm

Woodfire pizza at Luna Valley Farm in Decorah, Iowa

One of the most unique dining experiences I’ve had was at Luna Valley Farm near Decorah. The farm offers wood-fire oven pizza on special nights, using ingredients they’ve grown or raised on the farm!

When I went, they also had a band playing and had local beer on tap. It was the perfect Friday night.

Try a pork tenderloin as big as your head

You will not go hungry if you attempt to traverse Iowa’s Tenderloin Trail. There are 14 stops on the trail, and some of ginormous sandwiches. (I’m looking at you, Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe in Prairie City)  

Participate in a donut eating contest

Head to Elkader in July for the Sweet Corn Days. Among the many activities planned is the donut hole eating contest, held at Pedretti’s Bakery (home to some of Iowa’s best donuts!).

Enjoy the best apple cider donut ever

donut in Council Bluffs

It’s a bold claim, but I stand by it. I love the freshly made apple cider donuts at Ditmars Orchard in Council Bluffs. Being an apple orchard, they also have u-pick apples, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I purposely go there just for the donuts.

Drink out of a happy cat

I’m a fan of Fong Pizza in Des Moines and we stop for pizza every time we pass through the city. If we’re not in a rush, we order one of their mixed drinks that come in quirky glasses.

Boat up to the Barefoot Bar

The Barefoot Bar is a bit of the tropics in the middle of the Heartland. Boaters pull up daily to grab a few drinks, hear the live music, and maybe cool off by sliding into the lake. Barefoot Bar is located in Okoboji.

Go for some gourmet food

The chefs from one of my favorite Omaha restaurants, Lot 2, moved to Corning to open Primrose, a restaurant that sources its ingredients from local farms.

Dine family-style in Amana Colonies

Great restaurants in Iowa - Ox Yoke Inn in Amana, Iowa.

There are three restaurants in Amana that come highly recommended for their family-style dining. If I had to pick one for you to try, I would recommend Ox Yoke Inn (and don’t pass on trying the strawberry jam and fried chicken…not together…unless you want to).

Breweries

About five years ago, Iowa ranked 15th in the U.S. for the amount of breweries per capita – 33. There are even more now. A few that I’ve tried (and liked) include Pulpit Rock in Decorah, which is near a biggie among beer nerds (Toppling Goliath Brewery, which sells five beers on the Top Beers of the Year list by RateBeer). 

Get an ice cream headache

Iowa is home to the ice cream capital of the world, so you know they love their ice cream (Le Mars is the place to visit the home of Blue Bunny Ice Cream).

Additionally, I recommend going to Lagomarchino’s in Davenport. Be sure to head to the original location to be tempted by the candy treats as much as the sundaes.

Cave into your inner-chocoholic

Iowa has so many candy stores and sweet shops, it’s hard to narrow down the list.

Some of the more unique destinations include Kalona Chocolates in Kalona, an Amish town in central Iowa where it’s not uncommon to see horse-drawn wagons in transit; The Chocolate Haus in the Amana Colonies; and Palmer’s Candy in Sioux City, which is one of the oldest candy companies in the U.S. (and home to the Cherry Bing).

Eat a Dutch letter

Holding up a Dutch letter from the Dutch Bakery in Orange City, Iowa.

Iowa has its fair share of Dutch communities, and each one (it seems) has a bakery with the best Dutch letter. These “s” shaped pastries are tasty. You can find Dutch letters in Boone County at Van Hemert’s Dutch Oven Bakery or head to Orange City to get one at the Dutch Bakery.

Dine at the Sistine Chapel

OK, full disclosure. It’s not the Sistine Chapel, just an incredible replica of the famous ceiling spray painted on the ceiling of Galleria de Paco, a restaurant in Waterloo.

Ride in the Grapemobile

Iowa has a surprising number of wineries, but few can offering what Tassel Ridge Winery offers at its vineyard in Mahaksa County: The Tassel Ridge Grapemobile. Seasonally, it’s used to take visitors on tours of the vineyard.

Eat a loose meat sandwich

Do you call these things taverns or Maid-Rites? Whatever you want to call them, Iowans have been eating loose meat sandwiches for decades. They’re not quite a hamburger or a sloppy joe. They’re their own thing.

Try the nuns’ candy

Monastery Candy in Dubuque is home to the world-famous caramels made by nuns. Word is, the hazelnut meltaways are the best.

Take a bit of headcheese

For the adventurous eater, head to the Amana Colonies to try headcheese from Amana Meat Shop and Smokehouse in Amana. I’ll admit, when we stopped by that shop, we just stuck to sausage and cheese, though.

Only in Iowa experiences

Visit Captain Kirk’s future birthplace

I know, I know, “Star Trek”’s Capt. Kirk hasn’t even been born yet. That doesn’t stop the town of Riverside from celebrating its most famous fictitious resident. Places to stop include Voyage Home Museum with memorabilia and the photo opp in front of the U.S.S. Riverside out front.

Look for the marker of his official future birthplace behind New Image Salon and if you’re really a fan, look for the plaque commemorating where he was conceived (it’s in Murphy’s Bar & Grille).

Find those famous covered bridges

Photo courtesy Iowa Tourism Office

You’ve heard of the book and movie “The Bridges of Madison County,” right? Madison County is in Iowa and you can go find those bridges. Grab a map from the Winterset Chamber of Commerce office or even book a guided tour.

Marvel at Matchstick Marvels

The Matchstick Marvels museum in Gladbrooke contains matchstick replicas of buildings and pop culture icons like the 1970 Dodge Charger from the “Fast & Furious” movies.

See some of the “World’s Largest”

Iowa is home to a few attractions that can claim “world’s largest” fame, including the world’s largest truck stop in Walcott and Elwood, the world’s largest garden concrete gnome found in Reiman Gardens in Ames. There’s a ton more to name, but a few more that might interest you: The world’s largest ball of popcorn in Sac City and the world’s largest wooden nickel in Iowa City.

Sleep in a Frank Lloyd Wright hotel

Find the Historic Park Inn Hotel in Mason City, the only remaining Frank Lloyd Wright-designed hotel that’s still remains. 

Strike an “American Gothic” pose

Visit the American Gothic House that has been immortalized in Grant Wood’s painting. While there, you can don costumes and pose in front of the house.

Go to popular tulip festivals

The most well-known tulip festival is Tulip Time in Pella. However, I’m most familiar with the delightful Tulip Festival in Orange City, with a parade that includes street sweeping in traditional costumes. 

Run around the bases at the Field of Dreams

Head to Dyersville to see the famous ballpark in the middle of a cornfield made for the movie “Field of Dreams.” In the summer, there are Ghost Sunday events. In 2020, an actual MLB game will be played there.

Stay the night in the Villisca Axe Murder House

If you dare, you can book an overnight stay at the Villisca Axe Murder House. For the rest of us, there’s the option of touring the infamous home in the daylight.

Visit one of the last rotary jails

The historic Squirrel Cage Jail is located in Council Bluffs. It may or may not be haunted.
Photo courtesy Iowa Tourism Office

You can tour Historic Squirrel Cage Jail in Council Bluffs and see one of the oldest rotary jails in the United States (think “lazy Susan”-esque). It’s notoriously haunted, and occasionally there are flashlight tours offered.

Visit the first aronia berry farm in the U.S.

Sawmill Hollow Organic Farm in Missouri Valley was the first farm in the U.S. to grow the superfood called the aronia berry. The farm hosts the North American Aronia Berry Festival each September.

Living Loess Tour

Held on the third Saturday of the month from May to October, the Living Loess Tour offers travelers the opportunity to visit farms and rural attractions in western Iowa. My family has been able to make nature art on a farm, milk a goat, and hike when we did a portion of the tour.

Each stop offers a stamp and if you visit all seven on the Saturday of the tour, you can enter your passport in for a prize.

Attend a quirky festival

The quirky festivals in Iowa are year-round, but some of the most interesting happen in the summer. There’s TrekFest held each June in Riverside, the hometown of the fictional character Capt. James T. Kirk.

August has two great ones to consider: Iowa Tugfest pits two teams in an epic tug-of-war across the Mississippi River each August. Find the Iowa team fighting from the Leclaire side of the river. Britt Hobo Days has started up around the annual National Hobo Convention in Britt each August.

See the Little Mermaid

OK, OK, this is not the Disney Little Mermaid I’m talking about. Kimballton is a small town in western Iowa that’s home to a replica of the famous Danish statue of the Little Mermaid. Find it at Mermaid Park (obviously).

Strike a pose with goat yoga

Honey Creek Creamery in Honey Creek offers goat yoga sessions in the spring. While it’s definitely more goat cuddling and ogling than yoga,  it’s a refreshing experience to try stretches on a farm. 

Milk a goat

Return to Honey Creek a few months later and you might get to milk one of those mama goats. The creamery runs Stanley’s Snack Shack, a tasty restaurant known for their goat’s milk gelatos. Oh, and they have goats located near the restaurant and if you ask nice enough, you can milk one of them.

See a bit of WWII history in Algona

The small town of Algona was once home to a POW camp that housed German, Italian and Japanese prisoners. The story goes that a German POW began constructing a Nativity scene, and in time, he and several others built 65 pieces of a set that’s about half of life-size. It’s on display at the Kossuth County Fairgrounds during the holidays each year.

Reenact a scene out of “The Music Man”

Mason City is the birthplace of Meredith Willson, who wrote the 1962 musical. Head to the Music Man Square to find the 1912 “River City” indoor streetscape, a recreation from the set design of the movie. While there, might as well tour his home and the Meredith Willson Museum, where you can seek out the “76 Trombones” hanging from the ceiling.

Make a music pilgrimage

On Feb. 3, 1959, the airplane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valence and the Big Bopper crashed in a cornfield in Iowa. A memorial exists at the crash site near Clear Lake that fans visit year-round.

Visit the Surf Ballroom

Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake was the last concert venue where Buddy Holly, Richie Valence and the Big Bopper played.

The concert venue where Buddy Holly, Richie Valence and the Big Bopper played was the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake. Concerts are still held there. You can visit any time, even without a concert ticket – take a self-guided tour of the historic ballroom during regular hours.

Be sure to visit the green room where hundreds of autographs dot the walls (and ceiling).

Des Moines Arts Festival

Every June, thousands of art aficionados take to the streets of Des Moines to view works (and maybe purchase one) in this outdoor juried art show. It’s huge! And, if you’re going with kids, there’s a great area for families you’ll want to visit.

Ride the Fenelon Place Elevator

The Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque is the world’s steepest, shortest scenic elevator. You can see two other states while at the top.

See a windmill up close

One of the closest windmills to Omaha is in Elk Horn, a small town heavily influenced by its Dutch roots. However, if you want to go inside a windmill, head to Pella, where you can take a tour of the Vermeer Windmill, the largest working windmill in the U.S.

Visit Effigy Mounds

Unique places to visit in Iowa include Effigy Mounds, a national monument in Harpers Ferry.
Photo courtesy Iowa Tourism Office

Effigy Mounds, a national monument in Harpers Ferry, contains more than 200 mounds, many shaped like animals. It’s an American Indian burial and ceremonial site located in the Upper Mississippi River Valley. 

Snap a photo of the Round Barn

Just north of Bedford, you’ll find the beautifully restored Round Barn. Built in 1907 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. The barn is exactly what it sounds like. Find it at the Taylor County Museum.

Go on “America’s Racin’ Vacation”

Boone Speedway, AKA “Iowa’s Action Track,” hosts the International Motor Contest Association Super Nationals each September. For one week, champions are crowned in Modified, Stock Car, Late Model, Hobby Stock, Northern SportMod, Southern SportMod, and Sport Compact races. Many race fans make a week-long vacation out of the Super Nationals.

Visit the only ice harvest museum in the U.S.

Learn what ice harvesting at the Ice House Museum, a round building designed to hold millions of pounds of ice harvested from the Cedar River. There are hands-on activities to try in the museum housed in a former ice house.

See a small town lightshow

The Lewis Memorial Fountain in the Town Square of Sigourney is unique in that it has a nightly rotating light show from May through September. The multicolored, three-tiered fountain has been around for nearly 80 years.

Tackle Snake Alley

Only in Iowa can you bike (or walk) the most crooked street in the world, Snake Alley in Burlington.
Photo courtesy Iowa Tourism Office

Ripley’s Believe It or Not named Snake Alley as the “CROOKEDEST Street in the World.” Find this curvy road in Burlington.

See the Hula Hoop Tree

Head to rural Jones County to find the Amber Hula Hoop Tree, a whimsical sight to be certain. Hundreds of brightly colored hula hoops hang from the tree. Note: There is no place to park there, so put on your hazard lights when you stop to take a picture (which you will want to do).

Tour the capitol building

This building is gorgeous, but most importantly, taking a tour of the Iowa State Capitol means you get to see the most magnificent law library ever.

Ride in a hot air balloon during the National Balloon Classic 

If you don’t own a hot air balloon, you can still fly in one during the National Balloon Classic held in Indianola in late July-early August. People can make a reservation for the ride. Of course, you can always just watch from the ground, too. 

On the western side of the state, you can attend a balloon glow every September at Ditmars Orchard and Vineyard in Council Bluffs.

Appreciate the (free) public art

The Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Des Moines is well worth a detour if you’re near the city. The modern art is creative, huge, and Instagrammable. Pottawattamie County in southwest Iowa is also home to a lot of unique public art.

See the Grotto of the Redemption

Here’s a rather unexpected find in West Bend – the Grotto of the Redemption. Taking more than 40 years to complete, this grotto is the largest man-made grotto in the world.

Learn about a Suffragette

Visit the girlhood home of Carrie Chapman Catt, a woman who fought hard for the right to vote throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. The home is located near Charles City. If you visit with kids, there are a few interactives, including some period costumes to try on.

Admire masterpieces

Impressive art museums in Iowa in the Figge Art Museum in Davenport.

No need to travel to the coasts to find stunning works of art. A few art museums worth a visit include Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and the Des Moines Art Center.

Stay in a historic hotel

Iowa is home to several historic hotels that continue to offer unique overnight stays. Some of the longest running hotels include the Hotel Julien in Dubuque, which opened in 1839, and the Black Hawk in Cedar Falls, which is more than 165 years old.

Other hotels include Hotel Winneshiek in Decorah, which opened in 1905, and Hotel Pattee, a hotel in Perry that was built in 1913.

Learn hobo history

Britt, Iowa, is home to The Hobo Museum and the National Hobo Convention. The museum contains artifacts to preserve the culture of this small community, including items from Frisco Jack and Connecticut Slim.

Visit the country’s first all-organic city

South of Iowa City is the small town of Maharishi Vedic City, established as a meditation-themed community. The city is designed to promote happiness and balance, and everything is designed right down to which direction the buildings face and with rooms at precise proportions. Also, the city has banned pesticides and non-organic foods.

Dive into wrestling history

The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo explores the 5,000+ years of the sport, including regular ol’ wrestling and professional wrestling. 

Find the Volkswagen Beetle Spider

Just what the heck is this? Well, it’s a black Volkswagen Beetle made into a spider sculpture, of course. Find it in Avoca, a little less than 2 miles south of Interstate 80.

See the world’s smallest church

Built in 1885, the world’s smallest church seats eight people and can be found in Festina, near Decorah. In all, the chapel is 14 feet by 20 feet.

Visit Cabbage Patch Fantasy Land Museum

I’m a child of the ‘80s, so I had my fair share of Cabbage Patch dolls. Even so, I could never compete with what’s on display at Cabbage Patch Fantasy Land Museum in Griswold. See more than 3,000 dolls on display, including some that had the dreaded “Cabbage Patch Pox.” 

Family-friendly things to do in Iowa

Visit a pumpkin patch in the fall

Some of the closest pumpkin patches to Omaha include Pioneer Trail Orchard and Pumpkin Patch in Council Bluffs and McCurdy’s Pumpkins in Atlantic. For a list of 10 pumpkin patches in Iowa, click here.

Have fun exploring science

Family-friendly things to do in Iowa - visit the Iowa Science Center in Des Moines

Two of my family’s favorite science centers are located in Iowa. They are the Iowa Science Center in Des Moines and the Putnam Museum in Davenport.

We make sure to visit them whenever we’re nearby, thanks to the free admission we get with the reciprocal membership benefits we get through out Omaha Children’s Museum membership.

Go to the Iowa State Fair

Sure, there are butter cows at the Iowa State Fair, but I suspect there is something bigger and even greater to see there. Why else was it included in the book “1,000 Places To See Before You Die”? Clearly,  the Iowa State Fair stands out over other fairs.

Ride a historic carousel

Things to do with kids in Iowa - Ride the antique carousel in Story City.

Story City is home to a classic antique carousel that’s still in operation. And rides were pretty cheap!

Walk through history

Living History Farms, located in Urbandale near Des Moines, is an outdoor attraction that recreates farm life from various eras. There are hands-on opportunities and the chance to interact with costumed re-enactors.

Visit a dairy farm…with kangaroos

I don’t exactly know why, but Hansen’s Dairy in Hudson is seventh generation family farm. Take a tour and you’ll meet their kangaroos. Because, why not have kangaroos?

Snow shoe in the Loess Hills

Things to do with kids in Iowa - snow shoe in the Loess Hills of Western Iowa

One of my favorite things to try with my kids this past winter was snow shoeing. We rented snow shoes at the visitor center at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, and enjoyed the fresh air and views.

Ride on Thomas the Tank Engine

Got a fan of Thomas? Check the calendar to see when the annual Day Out With Thomas is at the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad in Boone. The engine is the legit Thomas.

Feed a giraffe

Fun things to do in Iowa - Feed giraffes at Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines

For just a couple dollars, you can be amazed at the awkwardness and cuteness of a giraffe up close. Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines offers a giraffe feeding experiences as a little add-on to your zoo visit. I highly recommend it!

Exploring Iowa cities

While this list is epic, I didn’t include everything (because that’s impossible). If you want some more ideas, consider these posts for specific Iowa cities:

And if you want to hit a few Iowa cities, consider the Great Iowa Road Trip.

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The ultimate list of things to do, see and eat in Iowa! #Iowa #ThisisIowa #Guide #USA
September 12, 2019

Minneapolis With Kids: A Perfect Weekend Itinerary for Minneapolis

A mix of city and nature, Minneapolis is a great Midwest getaway for families. It has a mix of cultural attractions and tourist destinations that you can easily plan a weekend there. Here’s my recommended weekend itinerary for Minneapolis, with suggestions on things to do that will be fun for kids.

Disclosure: Our visit to Minneapolis was hosted by Meet Minneapolis. Some attractions were complimentary, and some we paid for. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own. This post contains affiliate links.

How to spend a perfect weekend in Minneapolis with kids - Here's a 3-day weekend itinerary for Minneapolis with things to do, restaurants to visit, and activities to try. This itinerary is best for summer vacations, and includes a waterfall, Mall of America, ice cream, and the iconic sculpture garden! #MeetMinneapolis #Minneapolis #Minnesota #USA #FamilyTravel

Having spent a few long weekends in the area, I’d recommend three days to explore Minneapolis and the surrounding cities (AKA, the Twin Cities). This includes St. Paul and Bloomington

We spent a long weekend in Minneapolis in the summer. With two kids, we did a little bit of everything – biking, a museum, a waterfall, and the Mall of America. You can be as cultural or commercial as you want there.

How to get to Minneapolis

Minneapolis is located along the Mississippi River on the eastern side of the state. The nearest airport is about a quick 10-mile drive to Minneapolis. It’s an international airport, and it just so happens to be super close to Mall of America.

Public art in downtown Minneapolis

You can rent a car at the airport or take the light rail into the city.

We opted to drive from Omaha to Minneapolis. It’s about a 5- to 6-hour drive.

Tip: The restaurant stops are few and far between from Omaha to Minneapolis. Plan a stop in Des Moines if you think you’ll need a lunch or dinner stop.

When to visit Minneapolis

Having visited the Twin Cities in the winter and the summer, if you asked me, the best time to visit is summer.  Between the cities’ lakes, abundant bike trails and farmers markets, there’s no shortage of things to do outdoors. 

Planning our day in Minneapolis with a city map

But, the cities are also very well-prepared for inclement weather. You can easily have a great winter vacation there and never really have to venture outdoors (skywalks are everywhere in downtown Minneapolis). Read about spending a winter weekend in the Twin Cities.

Where to stay in Minneapolis

Minneapolis is a large enough city that’s close to other cities, so you can feel overwhelmed with options. I enjoyed staying downtown, though it did have some downsides.

Downtown Minneapolis hotel option

We had the ideal location with The Marquette Hotel, Curio Collection By Hilton, in downtown Minneapolis. It was within walking distance of several shops (including Target and Walgreens for forgotten toiletries), great restaurants, public transportation, and a bikeable distance to riverfront trails and museums.

The Jolliet House restaurant at Marquette Hotel in Minneapolis

The drawback is that it didn’t have a pool, which is a biggie for families, in my opinion. This place would, be however, a great couples getaway hotel.

If you brought a car, expect to pay for overnight parking at most downtown hotels. At The Marquette, parking was $30/night.

Kid-friendly hotel option near Minneapolis

When I told friends I was headed to Minneapolis, the most recommended hotel was Great Wolf Lodge, which happens to be near the Mall of America in Bloomington (about 10 miles from Minneapolis).

Tip: Save up to 25% at Great Wolf Lodge when you stay for two or more nights with promo code WOLF2019.

Sample weekend itinerary for Minneapolis

Day 1 – Biking & Bakken

Morning: We had breakfast at our hotel the first morning, but I would recommend venturing out to a favorite restaurant from our previous visit – Mickey’s Diner (it’s one of the most memorable places in the Midwest for breakfast for good reason). Get an omelet.  

Before things get too warm, take a bike ride along the riverfront, crossing over the Stone Arch Bridge and biking along St. Paul before crossing back over to Minneapolis.

Things to do with kids in Minneapolis - Bike alone the Stone Arch Bridge,  pedestrian bridge in downtown Minneapolis

It’s a very kid-friendly route (mostly – we got a little lost and had to ask directions a few times). I used this map to plan it. It’s not idiot-proof, because, as I said, we managed to wander off the trail a bit.

We took a break at in East Downtown near the Mill City Museum to stroll around the farmers market and see the nearby park. There was a food truck and vendors where you can get lunch or you can opt for a local restaurant.

We biked back close to our hotel to have lunch at the Hen House Café. It’s a “don’t miss” dining experience in Minneapolis.

Enjoying Izzy scoops of ice cream at Izzy's Ice Cream in downtown Minneapolis.

Looking for ice cream after all that biking? There’s an Izzy’s Ice Cream near Mill Ruins Park. You can get $2 Izzy scoops, which were teeny. At least they didn’t ruin our lunch. (But if you ask me, get a larger scoop!)

Afternoon: We spent two hours at The Bakken Museum, a surprising hidden gem. It’s an eclectic museum, telling the story of Minnesota’s role in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) innovation. Housed in a gorgeous mansion, it’s Minnesota’s only Smithsonian affiliate museum. 

The exterior of The Bakken Museum from the green rooftop.

The entire family had fun in the electricity room, which did involve trying to get each other shocked. That’s how we roll.

My daughter was fascinated by the medicinal garden. We checked out a little backpack with a nature kit, and she had a blast trying to catch and identify insects.

The garden is incredibly peaceful, so don’t skip it!

Near The Bakken Museum is Bde Maka Ska Lake. There are beaches there, bike trails, and watercraft rentals. It was a little too cool for much lake for us, though.

Alternative: I absolutely adored The Bakken, but if you wanted to choose a different museum (and skip the lake), check out the Science Museum of Minnesota. You can easily spend half a day there and not see everything. It’s very hands-on and great for kids. 

Tip: Both The Bakken Museum and Science Museum are members of ASTC, which means if you have a membership to another ASTC museum (like Omaha Children’s Museum), you can get free admission to them for four people.

Evening:  We walked to Pizza Luce in downtown Minneapolis, which was pretty busy on the Saturday night we went. Kids’ meals come with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert. 

Day 2 – Brunch & Mall of America

Morning: Make a reservation for brunch at Hell’s Kitchen, a local restaurant not affiliated with Chef Ramsey or the TV show. It was the food highlight of the entire trip, though the playful “hell” theme made my kids a little nervous. 

Brunch at Hell's Kitchen, a local restaurant in downtown Minneapolis.

It’s a kid-friendly place, though, with a kid’s menu and everything. I recommend getting the lemon ricotta pancakes, and if you’re extra hungry, get the sausage toast appetizer and top it with their famous peanut butter and orange marmalade.

Go by 8:30 a.m. to beat the crowd. If you’re a mimosa or Bloody Mary bar kind of person, go after 9 a.m. so you can enjoy their spectacular 35-foot DIY bar for each.

The Bloody Mary bar at Hell's Kitchen Minneapolis

Afternoon: Head to Mall of America, which is bigger than you can even imagine. You walk more than a mile if you try to explore just one level of the mall!

We spent about 7 hours there and it was not long enough to do all that the kids had wanted. The bulk of our time was spent at Nickelodeon Universe, a 28-acre indoor theme park.

Get there right when the amusement park opens (usually later than the mall) to have you pick of short waits for rides. By noon, expect long lines for the popular rides. That last hour of the day, though, is also a great time for shorter waits.

In addition to the rides, we did Dutchman’s Deck Ropes Course and zip line. It’s an additional fee from the all-day ride pass.

It’s surreal zip lining through the mall. The ropes course was a workout but probably the favorite thing for us grownups. Due to the wait and how long you may want to spend on the course, it can be a major time suck. So if your time is limited, I would advise not doing it.

Related post: Ultimate Guide To Visiting Mall Of America With Kids

We also played a round of putt putt golf at Moose Mountain Adventure Golf at the mall. This activity also takes a lot of time since it’s 18 holes of miniature golf.

Moose Mountain Adventure Golf is an 18-hole mini golf course inside the Mall of America

We also visited SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium on the lower level of the mall. It was one of our final stops of the day, so we had to rush through it a bit. The long tunnels were impressive, but the highlight for the kids was the touch tank.

I spent quite a bit of time researching where to eat at the mall because I’d heard some grumblings about the typical mall fare there. With that in mind, we chose to have lunch at Twin Cities Grill. It was a welcome respite from the loudness of the mall and rides. As a sit down restaurant, though, it does take a while to get through the meal.

Alternative: Looking for someplace fun but not an all-day experience like Mall of America? Can Can Wonderland is an indoor miniature golf place where artists created each unique hole.

It’s a colorful, zany dream space – you have to see it to believe it. Plus, there are some fun arcade games to keep you entertained while you wait. 

Evening – If you’re not totally exhausted from your day at the mall, head to Surly Brewing Co. for dinner and beer. The large brewery is surprisingly family-friendly and if the weather is nice, you can enjoy the immense patio and green space.

Surly Brewing Co. in St. Paul, Minn., is a surprisingly family-friendly beer hall and brewery.

Day 3 – Art & a Waterfall

Morning– Start the day off early and visit the Sculpture Garden outside the Walker Art Center. You’ll see the iconic sculptures without crowds of people in the background (plus the light will be best). And to boot, you get prime parking on the street.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and its famous "Spoonbridge & Cherry" sculpture

Most of the artwork is hands-off for good reason, though if you walk around, you will find one “swing” that the kids will enjoy.

Afternoon – Head to Minnehaha Falls, a beautiful waterfall located inside city limits. It’s a short walk to see the waterfall, but prepare for several steps down and back up.

Minnehaha Falls is a waterfall located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Down river from the waterfalls, find a wading area where kids and grownups like to cool off. The kids were excited to join the others in the cold water.

Meanwhile, I grimaced as I stepped on the rough rocks.

Tip: Bring water shoes!

Cooling off in the water near Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis, Minnesota

If you brought bikes, plan on doing a bit of riding since the paved trails there are great for families.

No bikes? Rent a bike or four-person surrey bike in the park.

The park is home to Sea Salt, a popular seafood restaurant, which I had planned on us dining at. Apparently, half of the city was there and the wait was close to 45 minutes just to order.

As luck would have it, though, there was a bluegrass festival at the park that day and several food trucks were parked nearby. There also happened to be a Surly beer truck, if a cold beer sounds good to you after a bike ride and trip to a waterfalls. (FYI: Sea Salt also has beer on tap)

Looking for fun things to do in Minneapolis with kids? Here's the perfect 3-day itinerary for Minneapolis, especially for families! Guide includes kid-friendly restaurants (and a brewery), plus recommended museums, attractions and bike trails. #Minnesota #USA #MeetMinnapolis #FamilyTravel #Guide

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August 22, 2019

35 Things To Do In Kansas City With Kids

My family has visited Kansas City so many times for weekends and even one-day getaways. We’ve discovered there is a lot to do in Kansas City with kids – way more than you can fit into two days. If you’ve yet to plan a weekend trip to KC, or you’re just looking for something new to do for the next visit, this list is for you!

Looking for fun things to do in Kansas City? Here's a list of kid-friendly attractions and restaurants in Kansas City. This post includes some of my favorite holiday events in KC, too! #Missouri #KC #Guide #familytravel #USA

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking the link, I receive a small referral stipend.

Kansas City attractions for kids

American Jazz Museum – The American Jazz Museum is one of those KC gems I discovered pre-kids. It’s on my list to bring the kids to one of these days, because it’s a great museum with interactive exhibits.

City Market – The City Market has a year-round farmers market that’s heated and indoors in the winter. Browse shops and visit the FREE Steamboat Arabia Museum. On our last visit, there was a mini train for the kids.

Mini train ride in the City Market in downtown Kansas City

Country Club Plaza – If you have young shoppers, this is a charming destination with unique architecture and high-end stores to choose from. This would also be the place to reserve a carriage ride.

Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead – Learn about farm life and get up close to animals at Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead in Overland Park, near Kansas City. The farm offers hands-on experiences like bottle-feeding goats and milking cows.

Great Wolf Lodge – While technically a hotel, Great Wolf Lodge does offer day passes for families to enjoy the indoor water park without staying overnight. Plan your next family getaway now at Great Wolf Lodge. Save up to 25% on your stay of two nights or more with Promo Code WOLF2019.

Hallmark Visitors Center and Kaleidoscope – This Crown Center attraction allows kids to make art using materials from Hallmark’s manufacturing processes. Sessions last 50 minutes, and it’s FREE, so simply pick up tickets the day you visit.

Kansas City Zoo – This is one of the few zoos I know of that has a boat ride, but obviously, there are more reasons to visit the Kansas City Zoo. The 200-acre zoo includes exhibits featuring African elephants, penguins, kangaroos, and the awesome Polar Bear Punnel.

Photo courtesy Visit KC

Kemper Museum of Contemporary ArtKemper features modern works of art that may entertain or challenge your kids. This FREE museum also has a Instagram-worthy collection of outdoor sculptures.

Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Historic Farm Site – Just outside of Kansas City is Olathe, where you’ll find the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop. A living history museum and the last working stagecoach stop on the Santa Fe Trail, a stagecoach ride is in order when you visit. Plus, a big draw for kids will be the animals on the farm.

Museum at Prairiefire – There’s one particular room in Museum of Prairiefire that I guarantee your kids will love: The Discovery Room. Well, unless they love dinos

LEGOLAND Discovery Center – This place will be a hit with your LEGO-loving kid. It’s important to note that while there are two rides, LEGOLAND Discover Center is NOT an amusement park. Don’t confuse it with LEGOLAND.

Kansas City attractions for kids - Racing cars at LEGOLAND Discovery Center

There are a lot of opportunities to build and a fun climbing structure, though. Do not skip the 10-minute 4-D movie. It’s next door to SEA LIFE Kansas City Aquarium.

Check out this guide to Crown Center to see what else you can do there beyond LEGOLAND Discover Center!

Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank – Heads up, when you visit this museum, you receive a complimentary bag of shredded currency there as a souvenir – worth $165.

National Museum of Toys and Miniatures – This museum featuring toys from different decades will be more of a trip for you than your kids. The building is huge – more than 70,000 items are on display!

National World War I Museum and Memorial – This World War I museum is not so much a museum of war, but a reminder of a war that was declared “the war to end all wars.” It includes interactive exhibits, as well as several displays of weapons, uniforms and trenches.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum – For baseball fans, this museum provides insight into the sports unique Negro leagues.

Nelson Atkins Museum – Those famous shuttlecocks on the lawn you see in photos? Those are at the Nelson Atkins Museum. But you’ll want to venture indoors, too, and see the impressive permanent collections. Kids will particularly like the medieval area with a suit of armor. Best part? It’s FREE.

Summer things to do in Kansas City with kids - Oceans of Fun is a popular summer attraction in KC

Oceans of FunOceans of Fun is a seasonal outdoor water park connected to Worlds of Fun (so two theme parks for the price of one admission!). My strategy in the summer is to ride popular roller coasters at Worlds of Fun in the morning and when things start to get hot in the afternoon, we cool off at Oceans of Fun.

Powell Gardens – Located southeast of Kansas City, Powell Gardens is the city’s botanical gardens, covering more than 900 acres.

Science CityScience City is a science center meets children’s museum that’s fun for all ages. If the weather cooperates, don’t miss the outside space, Simple Machines At Play.

Outdoor play space at Science City at Union Station in Kansas City

Tip: Science City is part of the Association of Science & Technology Centers, and if you have a membership to Omaha Children’s Museum, you receive admission for up to four people into Science City!

Learn more about reciprocal membership benefits here.

SEA LIFE Kansas City Aquarium – Get up close to sharks, sting rays, an octopus and other sea life at this attraction in Crown Center. Due to the proximity to LEGOLAND Discovery Center, you can get a combo ticket to visit both.

Shoal Creek Living History MuseumShoal Creek is a FREE outdoor living history museum in Hodge Park that celebrates Missouri history (on select weekends you can find reenactments). Beyond historic buildings, there’s a bison enclosure.

Union Station – Science City is located inside Union Station, so you can explore both in one outing. Union Station has an escape room, a virtual reality game, and usually some pretty unique traveling exhibitions. Don’t skip the model train room. 

Worlds of Fun – Worlds of Fun appeals to a wide range, with youngsters enjoying all the rides at Planet Snoopy and the big kids enjoying the variety of roller coasters. This park can easily occupy a full day, if not two days.

Kansas City's popular amusement park for families, Worlds of Fun

Kansas City sports and families

If yours is a sports-watching family, Kansas City is probably already on your radar. The city has three professional sports teams — the Kansas City Royals, the Kansas City Chiefs and Sporting KC — and a few minor league teams, as well.

Here’s a bit more on the three pro teams:

Kansas City Chiefs – There are certainly fewer home games when it comes to football, so if you can’t catch the home team playing, you can still tour Arrowhead Stadium.

Kansas City Royals – Time your visit right to take in a home game for this baseball team or, at least, tour Kauffman Stadium.

Sporting KC – For soccer fans, the Major League Soccer team Sporting KC is a hot ticket. Matches are at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.

Restaurants in Kansas City for kids

Kansas City restaurants for kids - Eggtc near the Country Club Plaza

There’s a great food scene in Kansas City, especially if you’re a barbecue fan. We’ve visited frequently, but have yet to have a big list of restaurants that were both hits with us adults and the kids, so that’s why this KC restaurant list is rather short.

Blue Bird Bistro – This charming breakfast spot is admittedly one I’ve only been to with Mr. Wonderful, but I loved it so much, I want to bring the kids there (though, from what I can tell, there is no kid’s menu). It’s farm-to-table goodness.

Corner Café – This North Kansas City restaurant serves ginormous cinnamon rolls, along with hearty breakfasts. 

Eggtc – This was one of my favorite breakfast spot discoveries in Kansas City. One bonus is they gave us some coffee to go after our meal. It’s like they know me so well.

Fiorella’s Jack Stack BBQ – This Kansas City institution has five locations. We tried the one near Union Station. It’s a great kid-friendly place to try if you’re looking for barbecue.

Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant – How can a family resist this: A model train delivers the meal to your table? It’s a hit with kids. The menu includes hamburgers, sandwiches and fries.

Family-friendly restaurant in Kansas City - Fritz's Railroad Restaurant

Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que – We went to the Leawood location, not the original in a gas station. It was smack-the-table good, and I recommend ordering the Z-Man Sandwich.

Looking for ice cream? Of course you are. Here’s a post on the best locally-owned ice cream shops in Kansas City.

Holiday events & holiday activities in Kansas City

Christmas is our favorite time to visit Kansas City! I wrote an entire post featuring 15+ things to do during the holidays in KC. Here are a few notable events: 

Crown Center Ice Terrace – The Ice Terrace is a popular seasonal, outdoor ice skating rink at Crown Center open November through February each year. For more Kansas City holiday inspiration, check out my Kansas City Christmas Bucket List.

Mayor’s Christmas Tree – Crown Center not only has the ice skating rink, it has a wonderful, FREE, holiday display centered around the Mayor’s Christmas Tree. There are wooden structures set up around the Christmas tree for kids to climb and play in.

Holiday events in Kansas City - Visit Crown Center to see the holiday decorations surrounding the Mayor's Tree

City Market at Christmas – We timed one of our visits to see City Market’s Whoville experience at Christmas time. It’s FREE, and extremely popular (read: expect a wait).

Christmas at Worlds of Fun WinterFest is an annual holiday event is at Worlds of Fun, and visiting the park when it’s decorated so brilliantly was a lot of fun. This is an evening event, and many of the rides are open, so it was a hit with every age in our group.

Holiday lights at Planet Snoopy inside Worlds of Fun

Christmas not that big of deal for you? Planning a visit sometime other than November or December? Got it.

Here are great annual events celebrating different holidays in Kansas City:

Halloween at Worlds of Fun – There are two sides to Worlds of Fun at Halloween. The daytime amusement park is full of playful activities and photo opps for the Great Pumpkin Fest. At night, it’s a massive haunted house. Of course, there are rides to enjoy, as well. 

Halloween in Kansas City - Worlds of Fun has the Great Pumpkin Fest by day and at night, the amusement park becomes a lot scarier.

St. Patrick’s Day in KC – The family-friendly side of St. Patrick’s Day is typically a parade, and Kansas City has its fair share of them. The big one is Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which begins at Linwood & Broadway and finishes in Westport. Westport has road races that day, including a three-block dash for youngsters.

If you’re in KC the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, Snake Saturday Parade kicks things off in North Kansas City.

Find 35+ fun things to do with kids in Kansas City, plus kid-friendly restaurant suggestions! #Missouri #familytravel #USA

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