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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August 15, 2019

14 Great Places To Get Nebraska Donuts

Nebraska might not have an official donut trail like Ohio, but we have some excellent donut shops (or is it doughnut shops?). I created this post to feature donut shops throughout Nebraska, in large cities and small towns. And, because I’m inspired by that Ohio donut trail, I created my own version of a Nebraska Donut Trail at the end of the post. Enjoy!

14 must-visit donut shops in Nebraska - Tour the state by visiting bakeries and trying what they're famous for! Donut shops are all locally-owned and found in large and small towns. If you want a sweet breakfast, check out these places to get Nebraska donuts. #Nebraska #Doughnut #Guide

Why some Nebraska donut shops didn’t make the list

The criteria to be on this Nebraska list included A) the donut shops needed to be locally-owned shops and B) they needed to sell donuts, obviously. In some cases, the bakeries were more famous for other pastries (and I’ll point those out later), but still, donuts have to be available at the bakery in order to be included.

In cities that had more than one locally-owned donut shop, I used two methods to decide on which to include.

For Omaha, I went with my favorite since I have compared the options (and there are a lot of great options). I’m more of a traditional donut fan, so cake donuts without a lot of frills are my favorite, and thus, Olsen Bake Shop was picked over something like, say, Bob’s Donuts.

In Lincoln, I looked at various review sites plus this story about Lincoln donut shops. Since websites kept ranking a chain as the top donut shop, I selected the highest ranking locally-owned shop.

Side note: I nearly included all the Daylight Donuts that popped up in a few Nebraska towns. But, it’s a chain, and not even a Nebraska chain, so please don’t point out that the lone donut shop in your town was left off this list if it’s a Daylight Donuts. 

Where to find great donuts in Nebraska

Ready to explore the state one donut shop at a time? Here are some of the best places to find donuts in Nebraska! Whenever possible, I included fans’ feedback on the bakery.

So, if you are a fan and want to chime in about your favorite bakery, leave me a comment.

Bluffs Bakery

Where: 1520 Broadway, Scottsbluff

About: According to the Bluffs Bakery Facebook page, the Bluffs Bakery bakes its products from scratch and uses all fresh ingredients. “We make every item from scratch. We also try to buy as many local ingredients as we can. That includes Robinson Honey from the honey farm in Scottsbluff, NE.”

Bluffs Bakery is owned by Ron Ahlers, Sr., a master baker, and Chris Ahlers. The bakery’s Facebook page said Ron was one of the first 500 certified bakers in the United States. Two other bakeries on this list are connected with the Ahlers (Gering Bakery and Rolling Pin Bakery).

What readers say: Jessica H. said both Gering Bakery and Bluffs bakery both have cute cookies and an assortment of cakes and donuts but that Bluffs bakery has a larger assortment of cookies, bagels, and muffins, and so many donuts doughnuts. “Bluffs also had Italian sodas (not great) and other breakfast and lunch items.”

Delight Donuts

Where: 818 S. 13th St., Norfolk

About: To be honest, not much is out there about this bakery in Norfolk. From what I can see in photos, though, this donut shop sells giant donuts.

What readers say: According to Jill T. “I can’t be in Norfolk without stocking up on Delight donuts!!! Best donuts and most amazing owners! Definitely a Norfolk staple! Nothing beats seeing that pink box on the break room table.”

Gering Bakery

Where: 1446 10th St., Gering

About: Gering Bakery, along with Bluffs Bakery and Rolling Pin Bakery, is owned by Ron Ahlers, Sr., and Chris Ahlers.

What readers say: Amanda C. grew up in Gering and said “The Gering bakery has delicious donuts and cookies. They also make absolutely incredible cabbage burgers! 🤤 I miss that bakery!”

Katie M. puts it simply: “I love the Gering Bakery!”

Jessica H. said between Bluffs Bakery and Gering Bakery, she prefers Gering Bakery. “Gering Bakery and Bluffs bakery both have cute cookies and an assortment of cakes and doughnuts. Gering has a better and larger assortment of doughnuts and a little bit of bagels. Bluffs bakery has a larger assortment of cookies, bagels, and muffins, but not as large of an assortment of doughnuts. I like Gering’s cookies better.”

Jim And Connie’s Blair Bakery

Where: 132 S. 17th St., Blair

About: Located not too far from Omaha, Jim and Connie’s Blair Bakery has a lot of fans here. They sell more than donuts, including pfeffernusse at Christmas time.

What readers say: Jim R. has childhood memories at the Blair bakery and said they have the best glazed donuts. “I always recommend to friends and coworkers to stop by there and get a glazed donut when they are in the area.”

Susan L. and Annie R. is also fans of their glazed donuts. Annie mentioned something about being sure to get them when warm, because, yeah. “Jim and Connie’s Blair Bakery is the BEST. I drive from Omaha to get their glazed donuts.”

Kelli K. is a big fan, too. “Love love love Jim and Connie’s in Blair!!!! Get the donuts, long johns, bear claws, okay there isn’t any of their pastries that are not delicious. I’ve had co workers in Omaha offices specifically request jim and Connie’s donuts they are so good!! Get there early on Friday, though – it is Blair tradition the high school kids bring donuts to share in homeroom on Friday.”

And, the bakery’s donut holes gets a recommendation from Katie W. “Jim and Connie’s glazed donut holes are one in a million. My coworkers from Omaha request for me to stop quite often and they are never disappointed!”

Kimball Bakery

Where: 124 S. Chestnut St., Kimball

About: Not much is out there about this small town bakery, other than they have the most unique of offerings (I’ve seen the picture): A glazed donut man.

What readers say: Jessica H. said her visit was rather disappointing at Kimball Bakery, but she did let me know they had a cute glazed man.

Kimmel Orchard & Vineyard

Where: 5995 G Road, Nebraska City

About: Kimmel Orchard has been around since 1925. Being an orchard, the draw is all-things-apples. So, obviously, you get the apple donut.

The apple donuts are made fresh every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (seasonally).

What readers say: Maureen Q. said “Best donuts ever!! It’s been too long since I’ve had them.”

Olsen Bake Shop

Where: 1708 S. 10th St., Omaha

About: It’s easy to miss this donut shop just south of the Old Market – it’s a true hidden gem. Olsen donuts are fresh and no frills, just great tasting. It’s near the zoo and botanical gardens if you want a place to walk off the donut calories.

What readers say: “I only eat Olsens bakery donuts. Best in town,” said Jephrey M.

Dan H. agreed, saying “They’re the best I’ve ever had, period. Try other donuts when I’m out of town and nothing ever compares.”

Nebraska Doughnuts - Find some of the best in the state at Olsen Bake Shop in downtown Omaha.

Randy’s Donut Shop

Where: 201 Capitol Beach Blvd., suite 5, Lincoln

About: Randy’s competes with a popular regional chain with Nebraska’s only location (ahem, Hurts Donuts). However, from the reviews I’ve read online, Randy’s has a following.

According to the Lincoln Journal Star “Another family-owned local establishment, Randy’s lauds freshness, hand-made quality and cost as indicators of its success. Staff member Amanda Ryan said that Randy’s price of 85 cents for a doughnut is the lowest in town. Options include the ever-popular original glazed raised doughnut as well as other raised options and multiple cake doughnut choices.”

Rolling Pin Bakery

Where: 2044 10th Ave., Sidney

About: The Rolling Pin Bakery is the third of the Ahlers’ great bakeries in Nebraska. Learn more about their approach to baking in the Bluffs Bakery “About” section.

Am I missing a hidden gem of a donut shop in Nebraska? Leave a comment and let me know!

Rosie’s Deli & Rolls

Where: 1519 M St., Ord

About: Rosie’s is more than only a donut shop – it’s a full deli. A lot of fan reviews online point out that not only is the food great, it’s all reasonably priced.

Sehnert’s Bakery and Bieroc Cafe

Where: 312 Norris Ave., McCook

About: Sehnert’s has been around since 1957 and run by the same family. While this is the place to go to try the famous bieroc of Nebraska, it’s included on this list because they also have tasty donuts.

It’s worth pointing out that this is the lone Nebraska bakery that can say they have a James Beard America’s Classic Award, which they earned in January 2019.

What readers say: Want donut recommendations? Stacy W. has a few. “Sehnert’s is an institution in my hometown. Anytime people come back to town this is a must stop. For donuts the sundae donut and apple fritters are a big draw. My personal favorite item are the peanut butter brownies.”

Monica J. pretty much convinced me that I need to try one of everything off their menu. Here’s what she said about Sehnert’s: “The buttercream frosting is the BEST! I remember my mom ordering cakes from there ever since I was little ❤️ I’ve found no buttercream that compares. With that being said, the chocolate Sundae is freaking the best ever. Also- the cream horns are to die for. Every Holiday season they also make Stollen bread- ridiculous. I can’t even explain the goodness that happens in your mouth after eating a piece of warm Stollen from the oven. I’ve never had anything like it. You can just taste all of the homemade goodness.

Another item I’ve ordered since I was young is the Delaware Doughnut! It’s a cheese and sausage filled “doughnut”- no icing. 🤤🤤 And last- the bieroc (runza). I order dozens of these to take home. There’s just nothing like the homemade “bread” flavor. I personally LOVE the hamburger/cheese/sauerkraut. I can’t eat Runza’s runzas because I grew up on these and they’re that good.”

Nebraska Donuts - Sehnert's Bakery and Bieroc Cafe is in McCook, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Tor Olson – Olson Photography

Sunrise Bakery

Where: 419 Court St., Beatrice

About: This long-time bakery celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017 – and it’s stayed in the family (current owner Clayton Replogle is the great-great-grandson of the original owner).

According to the Beatrice Daily Sun “The donuts, the bread, the cakes, the puddings and creams: everything but the fruit filling is made from scratch in the kitchen.”

What readers say: Samantha M. brought Sunrise Bakery to my attention. She said “My family loves their rolls and when we moved away whenever we visit our grandparents we stop in to get their buttered rolls and donuts!”

Amanda V. agreed, and said “Still trying to find a place in Omaha that even comes close to comparing!”

Verdigre Bakery

Where: 405 S. Main St., Verdigre

About: Verdigre, Neb., is billed as the kolache capital of the world. Soooo, here’s a bakery where you’re probably better off ordering what they’re famous for (kolaches).

But, this is a donut list, so fear not, Verdigre Bakery has donuts.

What readers say: I didn’t get a lot of reader responses about donuts here because – big surprise – kolaches kept coming up.

Beth L. said “We love the kolaches at the Verdigre Bakery!!”

While kolaches are their specialty, Andrea N. said she prefers to order the rohliky there (and if you’re curious, Andrea said the kolaches made by the Methodist church in town during Kolache Days are the best). “Rohliky is the thing at Verdigre’s bakery. I get that every time I go back. … Donuts are good there too! But I nearly always just get rohliky.”

LeAnna B. is another one who has a preference to kolaches made elsewhere (her in-laws’ recipe). She was disappointed with the kolaches there. “I had much higher hopes than what we ate from the bakery.”

Wahoo Bakery

Where: 544 N. Linden St., Wahoo

About: Like any great Nebraska bakery, Wahoo Bakery sells cakes, cookiesand rolls in addition to donuts (and of course, kolaches).

Check ahead of time to see what their donut of the month is. They’ll sell the specialty flavor on Saturdays.

Guide to the best (and locally-owned) donut shops in Nebraska! This post includes the Nebraska Donut Trail, with stops throughout the state, including the Panhandle and cities like Omaha and Nebraska. #doughnut #guide #Nebraska #USA

The Nebraska Donut Trail

Now that you’ve got a list of Nebraska donut shops, why not go visit them? Grab a map and loosen your belts, I created a donut trail for the state.

The Nebraska donut trail starts and finishes in Omaha. The round-trip nature of the trail allows for people to start at any point. The route I have mapped out is a little more than 1,200 miles.

Nebraska Donut Trail - 14 places to get fresh donuts in Nebraska

Here are your stops:

  1. Olsen Bake Shop, Omaha
  2. Kimmel Orchard & Vineyard, Nebraska City
  3. Sunrise Bakery, Beatrice
  4. Randy’s Donut Shop, Lincoln
  5. Wahoo Bakery, Wahoo
  6. Bluffs Bakery, Scottsbluffs
  7. Gering Bakery, Gering
  8. Kimball Bakery, Kimball
  9. Rolling Pin Bakery, Sidney
  10. Sehnert’s Bakery and Bieroc Cafe, McCook
  11. Rosie’s Deli & Rolls, Ord
  12. Verdigre Bakery, Verdigre
  13. Delight Donuts, Norfolk
  14. Jim And Connie’s Blair Bakery, Blair

Many bakeries on this list are known for something other than donuts. It’s forgivable if you show up at one of them and buy something else to eat instead of a donut. I won’t tell anyone.

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August 9, 2019

101 Things To Do In Nebraska

Born and raised Nebraska girl here. I love my home state and want to encourage everyone to explore it. I’ve rounded up a huge list of things to do in Nebraska – a list for foodies, outdoor adventurers, fans of the weird, and animal lovers. Nebraska has something for everyone!

Did I miss something? Leave a comment and tell the world!

The ultimate list of things to do in Nebraska - 101 landmarks, restaurants, outdoor adventures, and unique experiences to have in Nebraska #guide #Nebraska #USA

Outdoor adventures in Nebraska

Tanking down a river

This is cattle country, so you’re going to find a few things on this list influenced by, well, cows. Like tanking.

Close to Omaha, you can tank down the Elkhorn River with the aptly named outfitter Tank Down The Elkhorn. Experience taking in the Sandhills with outfitters Sandhills River Trips, taking tankers down the Middle Loup and Dismal rivers. Dusty Trails will take folks tanking in North Platte.

See bison up close (if you’re lucky)

Nebraska’s only drive-thru safari, Nebraska Wildlife Safari, includes a section through the Bison Plains. You’ll see a lot of North American animals during the 4-mile drive, actually.

Ride a horse

Outdoor Nebraska activities - Horseback riding is popular at state parks including Platte River State Park in Louisville.

Several Nebraska state parks offer guided horseback rides, including Buffalo Bill State Historical Park in North Platte; Chadron State Park in Chadron; Eugene T. Mahoney State Park in Ashland; Fort Robinson State Park in Crawford; Indian Cave State Park in Shubert; Niobrara State Park in Niobrara; Platte River State Park in Louisville; and Ponca State Park in Ponca.

Go on an off-road jeep tour

101 things to do in Nebraska - Take an off-road jeep tour at Fort Robinson State Park in western Nebraska.

Jeeps…it’s a bumpy ride, but you’ll love it. Try the off-road jeep tour at Fort Robinson State Park. The views can’t beat!

Venture into a cave

Nebraska isn’t known for its caves, but there are a few notable ones. There is the Happy Jack Peak and Chalk Mine in Scotia and Indian Cave State Park near Shubert.

A little piece of advice, Indian Cave sounds a lot cooler than it really is. Keep your “Goonies” idea of caves in check.

Hikes

As soon as you start seeking out trails in Nebraska, you’ll realize the state isn’t all that flat. Find unique terrain to hike in western Nebraska, including Chadron State Park and Toadstool Geological Park.

In eastern Nebraska, trails at Indian Cave State Park can be fairly difficult, too.

Glamp in Nebraska

Fun places to stay in Nebraska - Try glamping. Slattery Vintage Estates & Tasting Room in Nehawka has glamping tents.

Sure, you can camp throughout the state in gorgeous park settings, but few places offer glamping. Glamping (or glam camping) is offered at Slattery Vintage Estates & Tasting Room in Nehawka and Platte River State Park in Louisville.

Due to limited glamping tents, reservations at both locations fill up quickly, especially weekend dates.

Zipline & rope courses

Zipline courses and rope courses are a starting to pop up, particularly in eastern Nebraska. The first to open up was Go Ape Zip Line & Treetop Adventure at Mahoney State Park in Ashland.

Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue recently opened TreeRush Adventures, which includes seven ziplines, suspended platforms, and ropes courses to navigate.

Pet an alpaca

You can get up close to alpacas at Alpacas of the Heartland in Fort Calhoun during National Alpaca Farm Day in September.

Visit Alpacas of the Heartland in Fort Calhoun on National Alpaca Farm Day (held in September) and get your chance to pet an alpaca. At Butterfield Alpaca Ranch near Republican City, you can request a tour. And in case you’re wondering, they celebrate National Alpaca Farm Day, too.

See the “Disneyland” of pumpkin patches

A visit to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch in Gretna is an all-day affair (or at least a half-day). Sprawling, you’ll need a map to find everything and to keep track of all the shows.

The great thing is most activities are included with admission. Add-ons include pony rides, chucking apples, and that bucket of chocolate chip cookies you know you’re going to buy.

Wall climb

There are no mountains to climb in Nebraska, so we turn to walls. Try your luck at wall climbing in Ashland at Mahoney State Park (find the walls in the Activity Center) or in Omaha at Approach.

See the Sandhill crane migration

Every year, more than 600,000 Sandhill cranes stop along the Platte River valley during the migration. The prime time to see them is between late February to early April.

Kearney is an excellent resource for finding public viewing spots. Also, look into going to Rowe Sanctuary to get an up-close experience.

Bike the Cowboy Trail

This 195-mile rails-to-trail takes cyclists from Norfolk in the east and westward to Valentine.

Go to a waterpark

Want water slides, wave pools or a lazy river? We have that in Nebraska. Island Oasis in Grand Island has all three, as does Fun Plex in Omaha.

In Ashland, Mahoney State Park has a wave pool and water slides. In Columbus, Pawnee Plunge Water Park has water slides, a lazy river, and Nebraska’s only FlowRider (simulates surfing with real water).

Yoga outside of a yoga studio

Ready for a change of scenery for your next yoga session? Head to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo to try yoga in the aquarium or go to Bellevue to try yoga at Fontenelle Forest.

In the spring/early summer, try a goat yoga session led by Prairie Arts Yoga Studio at Victory Hill Farm in Scottsbluff.

Canoe the Niobrara

Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Nebraska has the most miles of river than any other state, and my favorite water trail is Niobrara River. It’s a scenic, easy route to paddle or tube. On the weekends, it can get a little busy.

The thing to do is plan a stop at Smith Falls State Park, which is right along the river.

Visit Big Mac

Big Mac is the popular name for Lake McConaughy located in Ogallala. Featuring more than 100 miles of shoreline, it’s a popular weekend getaway for boaters, windsurfers and beach campers.

See the Kites and Castles

Speaking of Big Mac, each July the annual event Kites and Castles is held at the lake. The competition includes teams and solo builders.

See Nebraska’s iconic landmark

Chimney Rock National Historic Site is quite possibly the state’s most recognizable landmarks. Find Chimney Rock in Morrill County in western Nebraska.

The land around Chimney Rock hasn’t changed much since pioneers on the the Oregon, California and Mormon trails passed by it (though now there is a visitor’s center). If you want to learn more about exploring the Oregon Trail in Nebraska, read this post on Her Heartland Soul!

Visit Nebraska’s “Badlands”

Most interesting terrain in Nebraska - Head to Nebraska's Badlands, Toadstool Geologic Park.
Let’s play “Spot the trail” in this picture at Toadstool.

Toadstool Geologic Park (the Oglala National Grassland), has fascinating rock formations the look like another planet. It’s like a much smaller version of South Dakota’s Badlands. You can hike it in a short amount of time.

Take an airboat ride

It’s not the Everglades, but you can take an airboat down the Platte River. Bryson’s Airboat Tours is based out of Fremont.

Nebraska State Fair

Whether you’re there for the Midway rides, live music, or the animals, the Nebraska State Fair fairgrounds in Grand Island are a lively place to be for about 10 days each summer.

I recommend checking out the Nebraska Games and Parks exhibit, and obviously, getting some sort of food on a stick.

Scotts Bluff National Monument

Nebraska at its finest. That’s the area around Scott Bluff National Monument near Gering. The monument is a landmark many pioneers passed on their journeys along the Oregon, California and Mormon trails. If you’re lucky, you may even find old wagon ruts.

Catch a parade

Some of the most entertaining parades include the Cinco de Mayo parade in South Omaha the first Saturday in May and the AppleJack Festival parade in Nebraska City each September.

Ride in a stagecoach

Head out west for this one. At Fort Robinson State Park, there are inexpensive stagecoach tours.

Watch a rodeo

Bucking broncos or trick ropes sound interesting to you? Catch a rodeo at NEBRASKALand Days in North Platte every June. Or, on a smaller scale, see one of the weekly rodeos held at Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford.

Burwell is known as the Outdoor Rodeo Capital of Nebraska, and holds Nebraska’s Big Rodeo each July.

Ride in a covered wagon

Up near Niobrara State Park, you’ll find Kreycik Elk & Buffalo Ranch where guests ride a covered wagon to see the wild animals (and sometimes, you can feed the them).

Cross a suspension bridge

Find a suspension bridge in Nebraska - There's one at Schramm State Recreation Area in Gretna

Find a small suspension bridge hidden in the forest at Schramm State Recreation Area in Gretna. The hike to it is just long enough hike to tire out little ones.

Stay overnight in a teepee

Platte River State Park in Louisville offers the unique experience in its Teepee Village. It’s fairly inexpensive, and just a notch above camping in a tent.

Related post: 10 Unique Places To Stay In Nebraska

Stay in a caboose

While it’s not as cozy as a cabin, the cabooses at Two Rivers State Recreation Area in Waterloo do have water and air conditioning. They sleep up to six people.

Stand under a waterfall

We don’t have many waterfalls, but we have some beauties. Head to Smith Falls State Park to dip your hand (or if you’re brave, your whole body) into the waterfall – it’s the state’s tallest waterfall.

It’s cold and pounds your body, so, yeah, perfect for a summer day.

Snake River Falls, the state’s biggest waterfall (by volume) is in the same county, and it’s worth the hike to see. However, you’re not permitted to actually wade near it.

Play in the Treetop Village

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure in Nebraska City is home to the Treetop Village, a series of tree houses above the forest floor connected by rope bridges. There are slides, a net trampoline, and a lookout tower.

Related post: 10+ Best Things To Do In Nebraska City

Take a riverboat cruise

River City Star is an excursion boat offering public cruises along the Missouri River leaving from Omaha. These cruises range from an hour to 90 minutes, and some include food.

If you’re over 21, they also have themed party cruises.

Conquer the inflatable floating obstacle course

Water fun in Nebraska - One of the popular summer activities to do is play on the inflatable floating obstacle course at Louisville State Recreation Area.

In a small(ish) state recreation area called Louisville SRA (in Louisville…go figure), you’ll find the state’s only floating inflatable obstacle course. It’s very popular and limited to the number of people per session.

Don’t just drop your kids off to do 90 minutes of slides, jumping and swimming. Do it with them! It’s a killer workout.

Hot air balloon festivals

The Old West Balloon Fest in Scotts Bluff County is a biggie, with about 90 balloons each year now that it incorporates the U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championship. It’s held in August each year.

Like wine with your hot air balloons? In Elkhorn, there’s the annual Nebraska Wine & Balloon Festival (also in August).

Food & drink in Nebraska

Try unique ice cream flavors

Ice cream

I’m absolutely biased, but Omaha has the best ice cream in the state with several locations offering unique, rotating flavors. My picks? Coneflower Creamery and Ted and Wally’s.

Coneflower even makes its own waffle cones, so there’s the extra temptation. If you’re lucky, they’ll have sweet corn ice cream.

You’ll also find tasty and quirky flavors at Ivanna Cone in the fun Haymarket District in Lincoln.

Eat a bieroc

Runzas are essentially a bieroc, beef and sauerkraut-stuffed bun. One of the most famous places to get it in Nebraska is at Sehnert’s Bakery & Bieroc Cafe in McCook. The bakery is a James Beard Foundation 2019 American Classics Award Winner.

Try a Runza sandwich

Runzas are essentially a bieroc, just produced on a much larger scale and sold in a regional fast food chain restaurant. You’ll find locations of this fast food restaurant throughout Nebraska.

People who grow up and leave Nebraska often complain about the lack of Runzas elsewhere in the world. It’s sad. And true.

Dine at a quirky restaurant

Nebraska is home to many quirky restaurants. Start with the some of the standouts like Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse & Lounge in Paxton, home to stuffed wild game on display; Around the Bend Steakhouse in Ashland, Neb., which is known for its annual Testicle Festival; and Alpine Inn in Omaha, where diners watch raccoons through large windows as they dine on discarded chicken bones.

Related post: 15+ Quirky Restaurants in Omaha

Try the state salad dressing

Dorothy Lynch is the salad dressing of my childhood. My grandparents had it on the dinner table at every Thanksgiving. The orange, sweet dressing originated in Nebraska. You’ll find it on the menu of many restaurants, particularly in more rural parts of the state.

Visit a Nebraska winery

Grab yourself a Nebraska Wine Passport and start visiting one of more than two-dozen wineries in the state. Most wineries are in central and eastern Nebraska.

James Arthur Vineyards, is in Raymond and one of the larger wineries to visit. It’s a scenic place to visit.

Like music and a view with your wine? Look up the live music schedule at Soaring Wings Vineyard in Springfield.

Stomp grapes

Things to do in the fall in Nebraska - Try a grape stomping competition at a winery like Soaring Wings Vineyard

Remember the wineries I mentioned above? Some have fall festivals, and some venture into “I Love Lucy” territory and have grape stomps.

One to try is at Soaring Wings Vineyard in Springfield. You race against other teams to stomp grapes.

I tried it. All I can say is: Beware of the bees.

Visit a brewery

Nebraska has at least 40 craft breweries scattered throughout the state. A few favorites of mine that I’ve tasted include beers from Infusion Brewing Co. in Omaha, Nebraska Brewery Co. in LaVista, and White Elm in Lincoln.

Chuckwagon dinner

There are chuckwagon dinners in the summer at two Nebrasksa State Parks. In western Nebraska at Fort Robinson State Park, you can buy tickets to buffalo stew and steak cookouts.

At Niobrara State Park, their chuckwagon dinners include cowboy poets and storytellers as entertainment along with their buffalo cookouts.

Compete at the Testicle Festival

Eating competitions in Nebraska - Try competing in the Testicle Festival's competition held every June at Round The Bend Steakhouse in Ashland.
Photo courtesy Round the Bend STeakhouse

I mean, you could just go to Round The Bend Steakhouse and order an appetizer of fried testicles any old day, but where’s the fun in that?

Every June, the restaurant in Ashland holds the popular Testicle Festival. During said festival and there is an eating competition to see how many you can eat in a set time limit.

Good luck with that.

Eat some steak

This is Nebraska, after all. The Blind Goose in Llewellyn is said to serve the best ribeye in the Panhandle of the state. Looking for hearty fare? I hear The Drifter Cookshack in Crawford is the place to go for it. Want steak a different way? Try the steak nachos at The Steel Grill in Gering.

Try bison

Why stop at steak? You can find Nebraska restaurants that serve bison, including Sandstone Grill in Burwell.

Get a treat at an old-fashioned soda fountain

Springfield Drug and The Durham Museum are two I’m most familiar with since one’s in Omaha (Durham) and one’s nearby (in Springfield). Both are completely charming!

Head to Central Nebraska for the Atksinson soda fountain called R F Goeke Variety.

Drink in a speak-easy

Why go through a regular doorway to get to a bar when you can enter through a secret passageway behind a bookshelf? Omaha’s speak-easy is called The Wicked Rabbit and Lincoln has one, as well, called The Other Room.

Be in chocolate heaven

One of the state’s most well-known candy makers is called Bakers Candies, located in Greenwood. Want someplace with a lot of options? Want a variety? There’s The Chocolate Bar in Grand Island. How about artisanal? In Omaha, I’m partial to the works of (chocolate) art at Choclat Abeille and in Lincoln, try Lulubee Chocolates.

Eat where Reubens were invented

The state is pretty adamant that the Reuben sandwich was invented din Omaha. The city even has a Reuben Festival.

If you miss the festival, no biggie. You can always go to the neighborhood where it originated (The Blackstone) and order the class at Crescent Moon.

Things to do in Nebraska’s biggest cities

Attend a College World Series game (or at least tailgate for one)

Photo courtesy Visit Omaha

The greatest show on dirt is the NCAA Men’s College World Series, held each June in Omaha at TD Ameritrade Park. It’s a spectacle in the ballpark and in the streets nearby.

Here’s the essential guide to College World Series, which is especially good for first-timers.

Trek an indoor rain forest

The largest indoor rain forest in the U.S. is found at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. It’s two levels, so don’t skip walking around the dirt path on the lower level – it’s the best part.

Little tip: There are free-flying bats and they starting being really active at around 4 p.m. and later.

Related post: Experts’ Tips For Visiting Omaha’s Zoo

Attend a concert at a stunning concert hall

I always tell friends that if their favorite band or musician has a concert booked for the Holland Performing Arts Center, they MUST go. The state-of-the-art concert hall is acoustically like no other in the state. Plus, it’s just stunning to see.

Find the Typewriter Poet

Omaha’s Old Market is home to many types of buskers, typically the musical kind. But there’s also Britny Cordera Doane, AKA, the Typewriter Poet.

I haven’d had the luck of finding her, yet. If you do, she’ll tap out a poem in about 10 minutes for you.

Make music on the stairs

The stairwell at Omaha Children’s Museum is musical. You’d be surprised how many times the adults are more amused by the stairs than their children.

Broadways shows

Nebraska’s largest cities, Omaha and Lincoln, bring in Broadway touring productions each year. Catch them in the Orpheum Theater in Omaha and the Lied Performing Arts Center in Lincoln.

Visit the state capitol building

The Nebraska state capitol building is located in downtown Lincoln. You can take a guided tour or look around yourself. There are impressive paintings and murals to see, plus you can go to the observation deck on the 14th floor the building.

Attend a game at Memorial Stadium

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Huskers football team has had sold-out games for years and years, each time making the population at Memorial Stadium as large as the state’s third largest city. Being in that sea of red is an experience like no other.

Attend a Husker volleyball game

One of the most impressive sports team in all of Nebraska is the UNL Women’s Volleyball team. They’ve won national championships and continue to dominate NCAA Div. I competitions.

Catch a home game at the Devaney Center in Lincoln.

See Santa scuba dive with sharks

Unique Christmas tradition in Nebraska is the scuba diving Santa at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium.

This is one of my favorite holiday traditions! Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo has scuba divers swim in the shark tank a few mornings each December. They’re dressed as Santa, elves, and other holiday characters.

It can get crowded in the tunnel to see the characters, so I recommend arriving early and securing a spot.

See Nebraska’s largest indoor Christmas tree

Every year, a ginormous REAL tree is placed inside The Durham Museum in downtown Omaha and decorated with ginormous ornaments and lights. It’s on display from Black Friday until early January.

For a real treat, attend the tree lighting ceremony held the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Look for Warren Buffett

Omaha’s most famous billionaire has been known to be spotted from time to time, often with celebrity friends. And come to think of it, often he’s spotted with ice cream. Most recently, he was with Bill Murray at Ted and Wally’s ice cream shop, and a few years ago, it was Paul McCartney at eCreamery.

Straddle the Nebraska-Iowa state line

The Bob, the popular name for the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge spanning the Missouri River, has the quintessential photo opp waiting to happen. The state line between Nebraska and Iowa is painted on bridge. Find it in Omaha.

It’s not a long walk to get to it, either, so you need not fear breaking (much) of a sweat to reach it.

Catch a AAA baseball game

No, we don’t have a pro team, but we do have the Minor League Baseball team the Omaha Storm Chasers. The activities and promotions surrounding the game are almost more fun than watching it.

If you bring kids along with you, be sure to check out the Family Fun Zone. And be sure to read these Storm Chasers fans’ tips before you go.

See pro soccer

OK, the pro team isn’t up and running in Nebraska yet, but it will be! Omaha announced its own USL team in 2019, and it’s looking like they’ll play a league game some time in 2020.

Feed a giraffe

Why not, right? The state’s two largest zoos, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Lincoln Children’s Zoo, offer this add-on experience.

Be a ninja

Active things to do indoors in Nebraska - Try a ninja course in Omaha

You’ve seen “American Ninja” and thought, I could do that. Haven’t you?

See how you do on a ninja course. In Omaha, you’ll find a tough one at Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park. I tried this course and it made me re-evaluate my sense of strength.

In Lincoln, a miniature ninja course recently opened at the Lincoln Children’s Museum. Obviously, it’s geared toward a younger age set.

See a show at the largest community theater in the U.S.

Omaha Community Playhouse is, indeed, the nation’s largest community theater. With performances on two stages – ranging from musicals to dramas – there’s usually something for every taste each season.

The long-running “A Christmas Carol” is presented annually at the theater, and it’s one show you should see at least once there.

Things to do with Nebraska history & culture

Go to an art museum

Museums of Nebraska - There are several art museums with free admission, including Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha.

One thing to love about Nebraska is that there are a lot of art museums that are free. Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha is large and has a lovely collection of Native American and Western Art (though I’m partial to the Impressionist gallery and my kids would tell you the Art Works play area and the fountain outside are the not-miss things).

Other museums include the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney and Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln.

Attend a cultural festival

Pick your mother land: Whether you descended from Irish, Czech, Greek, Swedish, Mexican or just wish you did, there’s a festival for you. Find about a dozen annual festivals that celebrate the heritage of our forefathers on this Nebraska Festivals post.

Observe working archeological dig sites

Visit Ashfalls Fossil Bed State Historical Park and watch paleontologists at work. Another spot you can watch an active dig is called Hudson-Meng Research and Education Center where there’s an excavation of a 10,000-year-old bison bone bed is on-going.

Find fossils of your own

Things to do in outdoors in Nebraska - Look for fossils at Schramm State Recreation Area

My kids are a bit more hands-on when it comes to dig sites, so simply watching others do the digging just doesn’t cut it for them. I get it. It’s more fun to get your hands dirty.

Head to Schramm State Recreation Area in Gretna, where there’s a small fossil dig site. You can’t bring actual digging tools or anything like that, but if you spend just a little time looking closely at the surfaces of rocks, you may luck out and find a fossil to keep.

Visit the Nebraska’s Fourth of July City

Seward is home to one of the biggest Independence Day celebrations in the state. Over a period of a few days, more than 40,000 people attend the festivities.

Nebraska celebrates big, so see even more Nebraska Fourth of July events here.

Take a selfie with a woolly mammoth

OK, not a living mammoth, obviously. Find Wooly Mammoths in the Hall of Mammoths at Morrill Hall on campus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Officially, I believe the exhibit is called “Paleontology of Nebraska.”

This is also the best place in Nebraska to see fossils and impressive natural history displays.

Old time-y photo opps

It’s not done going back in time? Go to Winston to explore the Boardwalk Back in Time, featuring replicas of early storefronts and school. Or head to Ogalalla to see Front Street, which looks like a Old West town from the 1800s.

See living history reenactments

101 things to do in Nebraska - Learn about Nebraska history by watching historical reenactments, like the ones that occur at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park in Fort Calhoun.
One of the first rooms you’ll likely enter when you first get there is the Colonel’s office.

I’m most familiar with Fort Atkinson State Historical Park in Fort Calhoun, where actors reenact life in the 1800s on the first weekend of the month six months out of the year.

Other places to see living history include Rock Creek Station Historical Park in Fairbury; Fort Kearny State Historical Park in Kearney; Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park in Burwell; and Homestead National Monument of America Education Center in Beatrice, which holds unique events including Homestead Days and Living History Extravaganza.

To see what life was like on a farm, head to York to see re-enactments at Wessels Living History Farm.

Attend a Native American powwow

The Winnebago Homecoming Powwow and Celebration is more than a 150-year tradition in Winnebago. It’s held in July and includes traditional songs, dancing and drumming.

I attended the Fort Omaha Intertribal Powwow, held in September at Metropolitan Community College’s Fort Omaha Campus in North Omaha. Various tribes from Nebraska and the region include Ponca, Omaha, Santee Sioux and Winnebago.

These powwows are open to the public. If you’ve never been to one, here’s a 10 things to know about attending a powwow.

Trek to Carhenge

Nebraska’s off homage to Stonehenge is the delightfully quirky Carhenge, located in Alliance. Exactly what it sounds like, there are old cars arranged to look like the original.

Admire classic cars

If you prefer your cars kept in pristine condition, visit one of Nebraska’s museums dedicated to automobiles. There’s Classic Car Collection in Kearney, Museum of American Speed in Lincoln and Chevyland USA in Elm Creek.

Join in the world’s largest chicken dance

Each July, Wayne is home to the Chicken Show. Over the course of a weekend, there is a general festival feel to things, but of course, there are a number of activities inspired by chickens. One you should participate in is the world’s largest chicken dance.

Of course, if you’re not a team player and would rather hog all the glory to yourself, they have competitions all weekend, too. I recommend doing the National Cluck-Off (there’s prize money to be had).

Peep petrified wood

What started as two brothers’ collection has grown to Petrified Wood Gallery in Ogallala. The collection contains ancient woods and fossils plus Native American artifacts.

Walk over Interstate 80…safely

The Archway in Kearney spans across Interstate 80, giving you a chance to not only learn about the history of the state, but to walk across the interstate (technically, over the interstate).

See all the trains

North Platte is home to the largest railroad yard in the world, Bailey Yard. Open 24 hours, seven days a week, about 14,000 rail cars are handled on the 17 receiving and 16 departure tracks.

See mini trains

If miniature trains are more of your speed, head to The Durham Museum in Omaha. On the lower level, find a fantastically large O-scale model train set.

Also in Omaha, the Model Train Garden at Lauritzen Gardens is a must-see for miniature train lovers. G-scale trains run through a gorgeous setting of naturally-constructed elements. Around the holidays, the trains are moved indoors and runs throughout the poinsettia display.

See a church built from baled straw

The appropriately named Strawbale Church was in Arthur was built in 1928 out of baled straw. Eventually, it was plastered inside and out and still stands today. I think it goes without saying that this thing is one of a kind in the U.S.

Visit to small’s courthouse ever built in U.S.

Guess what? Arthur is also home to the smallest courthouse. Not bad for a town with population a little more than 100 people.

See Boys Town

The National Historic Landmark Boys Town was started by Father Flanagan in 1921 for a few orphaned boys near Omaha. Today, you can visit the campus near Omaha, making stops at the Hall of History, Flanagan’s home and the Visitor’s Center, which happens to have the world’s largest ball of stamps.

Find a sanctuary

The Holy Family Shrine isn’t a church, though this little chapel overlooking Interstate 80 has a sacred feel to it. Visit for a little peace or if you’re a religious person, attend mass.

Religious or not, this building is just a marvel to see up close.

See the “floating cars”

If you happen to be in Grand Island, head down Fourth Street to look for G.I. Body Shop. The display of vehicles held high in the air is totally worth the side trip.

Go on a barn quilt tour

It’s the Midwest after all. Head to Dawson County to seek out these unique barn quilts. The scenic drive is off Interstate 80 and Highway 30. Get a map at CozadChamber.com.

See the national monument to Homesteaders

Homesteaders were the folks from around the world who sought the free land provided by the Homestead Act signed in 1862. In Beatrice, you’ll find Homestead National Monument of America. It’s at the site of Daniel Freeman’s property, who was thought to be the first homesteader to request a claim.

Swing on World’s Largest Porch Swing

I’ve been to Hebron to see this swing, and it’s ridiculously large. It seats more than 20 adults! Find it in the city park.

Learn about Nebraska authors

Nebraska is home to several notable authors. Find Willa Cather’s childhood home in Red Cloud. Learn about Mari Sandoz at the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center in Chadron (located on the Chadron State College campus).

Watch an Old West shoot-out

The Crystal Palace Revue in Ogallala is a summer-time western theater production with songs and dance…and a nightly shoot-out.

Climb into a cockpit

Places to visit in Nebraska - Strategic  Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland

Not all the planes will be open for you to climb into at Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, but there are enough to satisfy your dream to reenact “Top Gun.”

Plus, if you really want to feel like you’re flying, the museum has a flyer simulator ride (for an additional fee).

Visit the Klown Doll Museum

More than 4,700 clown dolls are on display at the Klown Doll Museum in Plainview. It’s not for everyone.

Watch turtles race

Head to the Sandhills of Nebraska for this annual event held in August. The Starving Stallion Saloon hosts the Sandhills Turtle Races in Ericson.

See a sod house

Many pioneers in Nebraska built their homes out of sod, since trees weren’t abundant in this part of the country. You can see one still-standing sod house in Comstock – the Dowse Sod House.

Comstock was once considered the Sod House Capital of the World, FYI.

Shopping in Nebraska

Go on a junk hunt

Consider Junk Jaunt the largest neighborhood garage sale ever. For one weekend each September, people travel around more than 500 miles to find hundreds of garage sales along Loup River and Sandhills Journey scenic byways. In recent years, there have been between 300 and 400 vendors, or garage sales to peruse.

“Junk” is loosely used here. You’ll find antiques, collectibles and knick knacks.

Shop at the best roadside shop

It’s a guilty pleasure of mine to stop at Fort Cody Trading Post in North Platte. It’s kitschy, sure, but you can find great souvenirs (especially for kids). Plus, you’ve got to see the miniature Buffalo Bill Wild West Show.

Huge list of things to do, places to see and unforgettable experiences in Nebraska! #Guide #Nebraska #USA #USAtravel

Nebraska road trip ideas

The list above is just the beginning. Visit my Nebraska Pinterest board full of road trip ideas, city itineraries and outdoor destinations in the state.

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July 23, 2019

25+ Nebraska Festivals and Events Worth The Road Trip

How does one even begin to list all the unique annual festivals and events in Nebraska? Well, you can’t. Nebraska has a ton of festivals. So, I created this post to include the best festivals that I think are worth the drive or are so quirky, you have to go to it at least once.

Unique and quirky, ethnic festivals and rodeos, here are 25+ Nebraska festivals. Some of the more unique annual events include the Wayne Chicken Show, Half-Way To St. Patrick's Day and NEBRASKAland Days, as well as many foodie festivals. Events on this list are in all seasons, so there's always something to see and things do in Nebraska.

This post is divided into sections to help you narrow down your list. First, I included the biggies, the festivals that are incredibly popular that I think should be on your radar. Then, I’ve got categories for quirky Nebraska festivals, ethnic festivals and other random themes I came up with.

Finally, at the end of the post, I wrote about which part of Nebraska all these festivals are, in case you’re not sure where some towns are located on a map.

If you think there’s a Nebraska festival that should be on this list, leave me a comment or send me an email!

5 Nebraska festivals you should go to at least once

Must-see Nebraska festivals - Railroad Days is held each year in July in Omaha and in nearby Council Bluffs

AppleJack Festival – Every September, 60,000 to 80,000 people flock to Nebraska City for a weekend of, well, apples. Think apple cider donuts, candy apples, apple pie…you get the idea. The AppleJack Festival also a craft fair, parade, carnival. and more.

MAHA Music FestivalMAHA Music Festival is Omaha’s largest multi-day music festival. Some of the biggest names currently touring play on the MAHA stages each August.

NE SciFest – For most of April each year, locations around Nebraska hold special events as part of Nebraska Science Festival. Some of geared toward kids, like Lil’ Scientist Day, some are for adults (usually involving chemistry and booze), but overall, most events are for the entire family.

NEBRASKAland DaysNEBRASKAland Days is part music festival, part rodeo. Held each June in North Platte, the weekend is packed with the usual fair events like a parade, as well as big name music acts and the Buffalo Bill Rodeo.

Railroad DaysRailroad Days celebrates the Omaha metro’s connection to the railroad (Ground Zero started across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa). Several cultural venues and museums plan activities to celebrate, including music, mini train rides and the chance to tour each location and get up close to trains. I update the events each year on the blog.

Quirky Nebraska festivals and annual events

Quirky Nebraska Festivals - Kool-Aid Days is held each August in Hastings, Nebraska
Photo courtesy of Kool-Aid Days

Avoca Duck Races – On the last Saturday in January, the town of Avoca holds the annual Avoca Duck Races as a fundraiser for the volunteer fire department. Being January in Nebraska, the race is on ice. That’s right, real ducks race across ice.

Wayne Chicken Show – The Wayne Chicken Show is held on the second weekend of July in Wayne, Neb. The theme is always chickens, and from that, all things are planned (with a lot of humor). There’s an unusual egg judging contest, the world’s largest chicken dance, and the Wayne Chicken Show National Cluck-Off…to name just a few things planned. It’s an entire weekend of festivities.

Kool-Aid Days – Since Kool-Aid was invented in Nebraska, it makes sense that we’d celebrate it each year. Kool-Aid Days is held the second full weekend of August each year in Hastings, Neb., and it features an assortment of fun events and games like a Kool-Aid drinking contest, rides, and the world’s largest Kool-Aid stand.

Nebraska Prairie Chicken Festival – Male prairie chickens are known to do a pretty interesting dance to attract a mate. So, obviously, there needs to be a weekend dedicated to it. The festival takes place every April in Burwell, and as you can imagine, involves quite a bit of bird-watching.

Testicle Festival – Held every Father’s Day weekend at the Ashland restaurant, Around The Bend, the Testicle Festival is a big event. Featuring live music and a beer garden like any decent festival, with the real draw being a chance to try fried bull testicles. For the daring, you can take part in the ball eating contest.

Experience the world at Nebraska ethnic festivals

Ethnic festivals in Nebraska include the annual Cinco de Mayo celebration in South Omaha.
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

†††Wilbur has a festival called Czech Days in August. It’s self-proclaimed the Czech Capital of the U.S.A. Another “capital” is the Danish Capital of Nebraska, Dennebrog, where they celebrate the town’s heritage one weekend in June during Grundlovsfest.

For a taste of Germany, Henderson is home to the German Smorgasbord every March. GermanFest is held in Syracuse in July. Okotoberfest is big in Omaha, and you can find celebrations at Crescent Moon and the German-American Society. Find other Oktoberfest celebrations in Norfolk.

For more than 90 years, Bridgeport has held an annual Greek Festival every August. In Omaha, St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church puts on a Greek festival for three days every August.

There are a lot of Irish in Nebraska, so you can bet there are big Irish celebrations. What can you expect from the Irish Capital of Nebraska, O’Neill? O’Neill has a huge St. Patrick’s Day festival with the claim to fame of having the world’s largest shamrock and their own 13,410-pound O’Neill Blarney Stone. Nearby Greeley, also celebrates St. Patrick’s Day…six months in advance. The town has the Half-Way to St. Patrick’s Day Festival every September and it’s so popular, the population nearly quadruples for the day.

There’s just one festival to keep in mind if you want to experience Mexico: South Omaha’s Cinco de Mayo festival. This huge event the first weekend in May is popular and includes a very popular parade and carnival.

Nebraska has its fair share of Swedish descendants. Enjoy the Swedish Midsommar Festival in Strombsburg, Swedish Days in Holdrege or the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival in Omaha. June is the time for these Swedish festivals.

Two towns have festivals celebrating the Czech and Slovak dessert, kolache or kolach. There’s the Kolache Shoot-Out in Elba every February and the Kolach Days each June in Verdigre.

There’s a unique festival celebrating Sister Cities, rather than a single country. Each year on two Sundays in August, families can visit Omaha’s Sister Cities from Ireland, Mexico, Lithuania, Japan, China and Germany. The WorldFest is held at Omaha Children’s Museum.

Top festivals in Omaha

Top festivals in Omaha - Every June, the Omaha Summer Arts Festival is held in downtown Omaha. The Children's Fair at the festival includes the opportunity for kids to buy art.

Holiday Lights Festival – Christmas lasts six weeks in Omaha. The Holiday Lights Festival kicks off on Thanksgiving night with a tree lighting ceremony in downtown Omaha and a free concert at the Holland Performing Arts Center. Then events and activities are held around downtown Omaha, including outdoor ice skating, a free family festival on the first weekend of December and fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

Note: Due to construction in downtown Omaha, the tree lighting will be held in the Old Market in 2019.

Omaha Summer Arts Festival – It’s not summer without this arts festival. Held during a weekend in June in downtown Omaha, the Omaha Summer Arts Festival includes juried art displays, live music, a children’s fair, and plenty of food options.

Omaha Restaurant Week – Every September, Omaha’s best restaurants participate in Omaha Restaurant Week. Restaurants offer a pre fixe menu making it very affordable to try some of the best in the Omaha food scene. As a bonus, a portion of Omaha Restaurant Week proceeds will go to Food Bank for the Heartland.

O Comic Con – Celebrate pop culture and comics with fellow fans at O Comic Con. Enjoy meet and greets, demonstrations, children’s activities, and more during this two-day event. Originally, the annual event in June was held in Omaha but now it’s just across the river in Council Bluffs (but it still counts as an Omaha festival, right?).

Omaha Film Festival – Since 2005, Omaha has had its own film festival. It’s grown so much, Omaha Film Festival been named one of MovieMaker Magazine’s 2019 “50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee.” The festival is held every March.

Taste of Omaha – A festival celebrating the food scene in Omaha, Taste of Omaha is a June outdoor event with vendors, live music, and demonstrations. It’s not unusual for it to take on a carnival atmosphere, as there are typically some rides, as well.

Explore Nebraska one festival at a time - From the Chicken Show and Kool-Aid Days to Avoca Duck Races, Nebraska has a variety of festivals and annual events for families and those seeking the quirkier side of the state. #Nebraska #festival #guide

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