July 1, 2019

15+ Things To Do In Southwest Iowa With Kids

Southwest Iowa is full of day trip adventures for families in the Omaha metro. One county that’s has a lot to offer is Pottawattamie County, which includes cities like Council Bluffs, Walnut and Crescent. Here’s a list of attractions, activities and other fun things to do with kids in Pottawattamie County.

Related post: Did you know Pottawattamie County is the Trail Capital of Iowa? Read about 14 trails you can find there!

Water activities in Pottawattamie County

If your kids are like mine, it’s always best if it involves water. Walnut is home to a cool splash pad that is up and running.

If you guys are pool purists, the Oakland Pool is big, with a short diving board and plenty of room for friends. If you are more about zero-depth and water slides, check out the Splash Aquatic Center in Avoca, complete with a dog park next door for your furry friends.

Pools in Pottawattamie County in southwest Iowa - The Oakland Pool has a diving board and spray ground play area.

Related post: Family-Friendly Outdoor Activities Near Council Bluffs

Indoor things to do in southwest Iowa

If you’re looking for rainy day activities or your children are more the indoor history-buff type, do the Highway 59 museum tour.

Indoor things to do in Pottawattamie County - Learn about Iowa history with a stop at the Pioneer Trail Museum in Macedonia.

Head to Macedonia to visit the Stempel Bird Museum and the Pioneer Trail Museum, then on to Oakland to see the Nishna Heritage Museum. The Nishna Heritage Museum has dolls, tools, and clothing from the early 1900s – complete with a jail cell! 

From there, you can visit the Sweet Vale of Avoca Museum, which has a taxidermied bear in it. And if the sun is shining, be sure to check out the musical garden at the Avoca Public Library, it’s new and fun.

Special events in southwest Iowa

Pottawattamie County is also home to great summer events. Catch the Carson Rodeo Aug. 1-3. Thursday night during the rodeo is the kids’ night, including a chance to mutton-bust. (No worries, moms, they can just watch, too.) They also have a parade that Saturday of the rodeo.

Special events in Pottawattamie County Iowa - Parades are held each summer, including a Fourth of July parade in Oakland.

Speaking of parades, Avoca and Oakland both have Fourth of July parades with plenty of candy to last the whole summer. Underwood also has Fourth of July festivities with a downhome feel. 

Rural Pottawattamie takes fairs seriously. Swing through the East Pottawattamie County Fair from July 18-21 for plenty of animals to pet, a tractor pull to watch, and art in the park. 

WestFair kicks off July 24-29 in Council Bluffs with livestock shows and carnival rides for everyone!

Summer events in Pottawattamie County - There are two county fairs to attend in July, East Pottawattamie County Fair and WestFair.

Best free thing to do in Pottawattamie County

One of the most interesting, educational whole family activities I know of is geocaching. Pottawattamie County has a lot of spots including one outside Oakland, one in Carson, and one near Crescent. 

Get a little time in nature and feel the excitement of a treasure hunt with geocaching.

Best southwest Iowa parks

You can’t beat the parks in Pottawattamie County! Double check the one you want to visit is open, as a few are closed due to flooding in 2019. Here are a few you can visit:

– The Shelby Trail has historic architecture and ends at the world’s largest corn stalk. 

– Neola has brand-new playground equipment put in May 2019. Arrowhead Park has fishing and camping.

Best parks in southwest Iowa - Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa, has scenic trails and a tall lookout tower to view raptors and other migrating birds.

– The grand-daddy of them all parks in Pottawattamie County is Hitchcock Nature Center. It’s is worth the hike. The view is amazing and they have programming year-round.

Tip: Hitchcock Nature Center is part of the 99 Parks campaign in Iowa. Read all about it in this post.

Whatever you’re looking for, it’s only a short drive away in Pottawattamie County.

Passing through Iowa on Interstate 80 or planning a trip to southwest Iowa? Here are some kid-friendly and fun places to visit and things to do there! This post covers parks, pools, museums in Pottawattamie County. #familytravel #Iowa #Guide

About the guest blogger

This post was written by a good friend of mine, Erica, who I met when she was a blogger but now she’s the director of Western Iowa Development Association. Have any questions? You can email Erica at EricaForWIDA@gmail.com. She also suggested you all check out the upcoming events at www.WIDAIowa.org.

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June 26, 2019

Everything You Need To Know About Arnolds Park

Arnolds Park Amusement Park is a nostalgic gem in the heart of Iowa. This historic attraction has played a lead role in memories for many people in Iowa and Nebraska who’ve vacationed in Okoboji. I’ve never been until I became a parent, but now I can finally check it off my list.

Headed to Okoboji? A visit to the Great Lakes of Iowa isn't complete without a day at Arnolds Park Amusement Park. Here's everything you need to know to plan a visit  - prices, best time to visit, and the best tips. #guide #Okoboji #iowa #thisisiowa

Want to plan a visit with your family? Read on for my tips on the park, plus all the important things you need to know about Arnolds Park should you be planning your first visit.

Disclosure: My visit was hosted by Vacation Okoboji and I received complimentary passes. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

What is Arnolds Park?

First off, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about Arnolds Park. There is the town of Arnolds Park in north central Iowa and then there’s Arnolds Park Amusement Park. The amusement park is commonly referred to as Arnolds Park, though.

Things to know about Arnolds Park Amusement Park in Iowa, USA - It's home to the 7th oldest wooden roller coaster in the U.S.

The amusement park dates back to its first water slide into West Lake Okoboji in 1889. Its most famous ride, the wooden roller coaster called The Legend, opened in 1930. Still in operation, it’s the seventh oldest wooden roller coast in the U.S. and the 13th oldest in the world.

Today, there are about 24 rides and attractions at Arnolds Park Amusement Park. It’s on the small end of amusement parks but I think that’s what adds to the charm. You’re not exhausted by the visit.

Plus, it’s FREE! Well, technically it’s free, but if you want to ride any rides, you’ll need to get a wristband. More on that below.

Hidden gems of Arnold Park

My kids will tell you everything is a gem there. However, there are some hidden gems you should seek out during your visit.

Right outside the amusement park and right in front of a line of souvenir shops, you’ll find Harmony Park. The park has several musical instruments to play.

Things to do near Arnolds Park Amusement Park - Play the instruments at Harmony Park. It's a free park right next to the amusement park!

If your child has sensory overload from all the rides, this is a nice place to sit and chill out. It’s rather calming to play the xylophone and bells.

You may have seen pictures of the huge Arnolds Park slide. My husband remembers the slide from his childhood. It’s no longer in the amusement park itself, but you can find it nearby.

Historic Arnolds Park wooden slide - The slide is found inside Arnolds Park Museum located near Arnolds Park Amusement Park.

The slide is located inside the Arnolds Park Museum (which I found by going through the Maritime Museum). Because we had day passes to the amusement park, we could ride the slide as much as we wanted.

Both museums are interesting to wander around, but good luck doing that with young kids. Most will be more interested in the slide or going back to the amusement park.

What’s the best age to go to Arnolds Park Amusement Park?

When I visited, my kids were ages 7 and 9 and that was, in my view, the start of ideal ages to go. They were tall enough to go on all of the rides, including the thrill rides.

The height requirement for a few was 48 inches to ride alone. The Legend being the only one that required a ride be 48 inches to ride with or without an adults. My youngest only needed me to ride with her on the bumper cars since she wasn’t tall enough to drive.

Roll-O-Plane thrill ride at Arnolds Park Amusement Park near West Okoboji Lake in Iowa

And they were small enough to not feel too self-conscious if they wanted to go on kiddie rides. It was perfect!

If your children are younger than grade school age, there are fewer rides for them. But, you don’t want to skip some of the non-ride attractions like the Mirror Maze and the Tipsy House.

Tip: For the best views of the West Okoboji Lake, ride either the Ferris wheel or The Legend.

Arnolds Park hours and prices

Being an amusement park in the Midwest, you can imagine that Arnolds Park operates seasonally. Arnolds Park opens in mid-May through September.

The hours vary, with the peek operating hours being in June and July. Starting the Friday before Memorial Day, the park starts opening daily at 10 a.m. The closing time varies between 7 to 10 p.m. Check the calendar to plan your visit.

If you want a tip about timing the visit, let me tell you, we went on the Sunday before Memorial Day and it was great! The summer crowds hadn’t arrived yet, so we had minimal waits for rides.

In fact, for my kids’ two favorite rides, The Legend and the Rock-O-Plane, they were able to stay seated and ride a few times before having to exit.

Rock-O-Plane at Arnolds Park - One of the popular thrill rides at the Okoboji amusement park in Iowa

Like most summer tourist attractions, weekends are going to busier than weekdays.

Admission is offered by day pass and season memberships. Day passes are $29.95 if purchased online and two-day passes are $49.95.

Tip: The Sunset Pass is only $24.95 and is good for rides during the last two hours of the day.

You can choose to get some add-ons to your day pass, such adding a ride on the Queen II boat or get the Ultimate Pass that includes a $10 food voucher and $20 in game tickets.

Tip: From experience, the Queen II boat ride is tough for young kids to sit through. The excitement dies down after 3 minutes and then you have about 57 minutes to spend trying to entertain them.

Tip: Not totally unrelated to the previous tip…the Queen II does have a bar. For the kids. I mean, you can get soda and popcorn or candy for the kids. And maybe something for yourself.

The only thing not included with the day pass or membership are the Raceway rides on the Family Track and Slick Track. The Family Track requires riders to be age 9 and older. The Slick Track has the height minimum of 54 inches tall.

Also, if you don’t have a season pass or a day pass, the slide at the Arnolds Park Museum is $1 per ride.

Food at Arnolds Park

Expect to find the typical amusement park concessions at Arnolds Park Amusement Park. Food available includes hamburgers, hot dogs, and popcorn.

Food in Arnolds Park - The iconic Nutty Bar Ice Cream shop is within walking distance of Arnolds Park Amusement Park.

Since you can come and go from Arnolds Park Amusement Park whenever you feel like it, there is the option to leave the park. We left twice during our day there to get food.

Tip: I recommend getting ice cream at Nutty Bar, an iconic ice cream stand located across the street from Arnolds Park Amusement Park.

Arnolds Park events

My visit was a bit early for all the summer events Arnolds Park Amusement Park has each year, but you can plan your vacation to coincide with some great (and sometimes free) events!

Ferris wheel at Arnolds Park Amusement Park - For a good view of West Okoboji Lake and all the happenings at the amusement park, take a ride on this ride.

Among the events are:

Live at the Lake: A free concert series at Arnolds Park Amusement Park. These are held on select weekend nights all summer long. Concerts start at 7:30 p.m. at Preservation Plaza.

Jazzed Up Big Band: Tuesdays from mid-June to mid-August are nights for swing music at Arnolds Park. Music is performed by a 16-piece band.

Movies at the Park: Every Wednesday night is a different free, family-friendly movie screening. They start at sunset at Preservation Plaza.

Rock The Roof: Thursday nights are set aside for music and dancing, starting at 6 p.m. Cost is $8 or $15 per couple. Season passes are available.

Roof Garden Concert Series: This is a ticketed concert series held inside the iconic Roof Garden concert venue. Concert dates, start times and ticket prices vary.

Guide to planning a family vacation to Arnolds Park, a historic amusement park in Iowa. Get all the details on rides, food, prices and the best time to visit. #Guide #Okoboji #Iowa

Plan your Okoboji trip

Want to plan an Okoboji trip for your family? Start with this guide to Okoboji in the summer (with kids) and get more inspiration from my Iowa Bucket List.

Coming soon! I’ll go into details of some of our favorite things in Okoboji in these posts:

Best Okoboji Restaurants For Families

Where to stay lakeside in Okoboji

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June 17, 2019

Best Okoboji Restaurants For Families

We recently spent a three-day weekend in Okoboji in northern Iowa that draws a lot of vacationing families because of the lakes. There were some hits and some misses. Here are some of my family’s favorite Okoboji restaurants that I’d recommend if you have kids in your group.

Headed to Okoboji for a family vacation? Here are some of the best restaurants in Okoboji for families to visit while you're there! Get tips on where to go in Okoboji for breakfast, lunch, dinner and ice cream treats. #Iowa #Okoboji #Guide #FamilyTravel

Disclosure: We were hosted by Vacation Okoboji. Some meals were complimentary; some we paid for ourselves.

Best Okoboji restaurants for families for breakfast

Arnolds Perk was my favorite, just because the coffee was so good, and the power breakfast sandwich was filling and delicious.

Where to eat in Okoboji - Arnolds Perk is a family-friendly coffee shop. The decor inside is colorful and comfortable.

I rarely go to a restaurant twice on a trip, but we visited Arnolds Perk twice in three days. It’s just a charming place to sit and relax.

We also had breakfast at the well-known diner O’Farrell Sisters. We got there right before the rush (so, 9 a.m. on a Saturday). Parking wasn’t great, so I imagine finding a spot once a lot of people are there is difficult.

The Friends with Benedicts selection were great (and funny), and I tried the Cake Bene (which included the restaurant’s famous pancake).

Popular restaurants in Okoboji - O'Farrell Sisters is a long-time favorite of breakfast in Okoboji. Expect a wait if you arrive after 9 a.m.

The pancakes are pretty good. They also have “famous cinnamon rolls,” so we split one between the four of us. (Yes, I’m a sucker for items on menus listed as “famous”).

By the way, this place apparently delicious pie that I forgot to order to go. People in the know tell me I could’ve eaten said pie at breakfast and not been judged, but I feel like we indulged plenty already with the pancake benedict and cinnamon roll.

Lunch restaurants in Okoboji

Most of the restaurants in this post could easily be the go-to for lunch. But there’s only one restaurant that stands out for lunch not only for food but for the most pleasant service: Tweeter’s.

Okoboji restaurants for families - Tweeter's is a comfortable restaurant with a kid's menu and tasty dessert.

I ordered a salad at Tweeter’s because I knew I’d want dessert (grasshopper pie, please). A lot of people were ordering taco salads, but I just stuck to a simple Caesar salad. The garlic bread served with it was delicious.

FYI: The kid’s meals come with a chocolate or strawberry sundae.

We also had lunch outside Arnolds Park Amusement Park at the popular Bob’s in Arnolds Park. The view was perfect.

I wish I could say that it was a great lunch, we ordered Bob Dogs and chips thinking that’d be quick. They’re hot dogs.

For whatever reason, the wait was about 45 minutes. The kids were able to play at the beach, at least.

Bob's in Arnolds Park overlooks a beach in Okoboji, making the wait for lunch more manageable.

Tip: They’re known for their Bob Dog, which is just a hot dog. But, if you get one with “everything,” it’s topped with loose meat, onions, ketchup and mustard.

While we didn’t eat at Barefoot Bar, I’d say it’s pretty kid-friendly. This famous spot on the lake is the famously “no shoes, no shirt, no problem” kind of place.

It’s a little confusing ordering at Barefoot Bar, as you can get your drink order taken at the table, but for food, you’ll need to go to the counter. There are a couple counters.

Lakefront Restaurant in Okoboji - Barefoot Bar is a popular restaurant on the lake. Kids enjoy the slide that dumps kids into the lake.

I loved the atmosphere, with the tiki huts, live music and palm trees, but was a little peeved that they’d charge for water. I can only imagine how hot it gets in the middle of summer.

This is the place that has the slide into the lake. Kids were drawn to it like moths to a light, even though the water temperature was cold.

Best restaurants in Okoboji for dinner

The best pizza we had was the BBQ Chicken at Pub 19 Bar & Grill, a restaurant situated on a golf course. We went on a particularly busy Friday night, so the wait was long. We waited on the patio and enjoyed the view, at least.

Restaurants in Okoboji - Pub 19 Bar & Grill is located on a golf course. They're pizza is great, making it a nice place to go with kids.

One night, we had dinner at Snappers Turtle Bay Café, which was a short walk from Barefoot Bar. This fairly new restaurant was pretty casual with yard games to keep the kids busy while waiting.

We had to stalk tables to get one in the sun by the water. For whatever reason, we got a table quickly but the wait for food was long.

Okoboji Store is one restaurant we really want to go to, but didn’t carve out time. It’s another one of those waterfront popular spots, with live music. I guess we’re saving it for next time.  

Finding ice cream in Okoboji

There are surprisingly few places to get ice cream or treats in Okoboji, at least in the areas we visited. Nutty Bar is pretty iconic for the area, so we had some Nutty Bars during a break from Arnolds Park Amusement Park. It’s right outside the front of the park. Service was quick.

Where to get ice cream in Okoboji - Nutty Bar is a long-running ice cream shop near Arnolds Park Amusement Park in Okoboji.

A Nutty Bar is pretty much a cube of vanilla ice cream, dipped in chocolate and rolled in peanuts. You can get cones there, as well.

Family-friendly places in Okoboji to enjoy local beer

I love trying local beers and wine while on vacation (responsibly). Throughout the weekend, I enjoyed trying various West O Beers. You can visit the brewery, which is located in Milford near West Okoboji Lake.

We almost made it to the brewery, actually. The plan was to get dinner to go and bring it to West O. We heard there were games to occupy kids while adults enjoy beverages.

We’ll have to go next time, because I liked all the beers I tried throughout the weekend.

All the waterfront restaurants and bars in Okoboji

With five interconnected lakes, you can imagine Okoboji has some restaurants with epic lake views.

Waterfront restaurants in Okoboji - Bob's in Arnolds Park has patio seating with a view of the sandy beach and lake in northern Iowa.

Here’s a list of all the restaurants where you can dine with a view:

  • -Barefoot Bar
  • -Bob’s In Arnold Park
  • -Dry Dock Lounge
  • -Godfather’s Pizza (the Arnold’s Park location) 
  • -Hi-Point Sky Lounge
  • -Kazarellis
  • -Main Event Bar & Eatery
  • -Maxwell’s
  • -Okoboji Store Bar & Kitchen
  • -Pirate Jack’s
  • -Snappers Turtle Bay Café
  • -The Gardens
  • -The Ritz
  • -Water Edge Grille
  • -Woude’s Bay Bar

Plan your Okoboji trip

Want to plan an Okoboji trip for your family? Start with this guide to Okoboji in the summer (with kids) and get more inspiration from my Iowa Bucket List.

I go into details of some of our favorite things in Okoboji in these posts:

Tips for Visiting Historic Arnolds Park

Where to stay lakeside in Okoboji

Going to Okoboji with kids? Here are kid-friendly restaurant suggestions for breakfast, lunch, dinner and ice cream. Read on for the best Okoboji restaurants for families, including which are waterfront. #Iowa #Okoboji #Guide #familyfriendly

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June 4, 2019

Guide To Okoboji In The Summer With Kids

Okoboji is one of Iowa’s biggest tourist magnets each summer, with its glacier-carved lakes being the main attractions. Built around the lakes are summer staples like a historic amusement park, waterside bars and restaurants, and a ton of kid-friendly activities. It’s the perfect Midwestern summer destination.

We had a lot to see and do and only three days to do it. (I’d recommend adding an extra day or two to fit it all in at an enjoyable pace.) Want to visit? Here’s my guide to visiting Okoboji in the summer with kids.

Disclosure: Our trip to Okoboji was hosted by Vacation Okoboji. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own. 

All the fun things families can do in Okoboji, Iowa this summer - There's plenty to do on the lakes, but read up on outdoor adventures, indoor recreation and kid-friendly dining options. #Guide #Midwest #FamilyTravel

Where is Okoboji?

First off, let’s talk about how Okoboji is more than a single city (though there is the city of Okoboji). When I started planning a trip to Okoboji, I was looking at a map of Iowa, trying to figure out where exactly I should be staying to get the “Okoboji” experience. Turns out, it’s not that simple.

Guide to Okoboji in the summer - Fun things to do with kids outdoors include fishing

Okoboji is a region in northern Iowa and consists of several towns on the edge of the Iowa Great Lakes. Pretty much, you’re in “Okoboji” if you stay somewhere along the lakes of West Okoboji, East Okoboji, Upper Gar, Lower Gar, Minnewashta, and the largest natural lake in Iowa, Spirit Lake. Most of the lakes, except Spirit Lake, are interconnected.

For our trip, our lodging (Crescent Beach Family Resort) was in Wahpeton. It was on West Okoboji Lake, which is a pretty blue, spring-fed lake. Depending on your preference, you can stay within walking distance of a lot of attractions or find a place a little outside of the hubbub.

Kid-friendly lake activities in Okoboji

By far, the lakes are the draw for this region, so you’ll likely spend a lot of time out on the water or near it. I paddled the lake with the kids during our stay, since our hotel allowed free use of their equipment. Our hotel also had standup paddleboards and paddleboats.

You’ll find places to rent speed boats and pontoons around the region, plus places that will do parasailing.

Okoboji in the summer means a lot of time on the water - One popular activity for families is canoeing

The Queen II is a famous boat excursion that leaves from Arnolds Park Amusement Park. It’s about an hour long. My kids were impressed with the boat and excited to ride it…for about 5 minutes. I bought some snacks and got another complaint-free 10 minutes out of them. After that, they were not interested in the narration and the remaining 45 minutes were long.

Guide to Okoboji in the summer - Hour-long tours aboard the Queen II are held several times most days

On shore, there are several beaches to play in, including a pretty popular one right by historic Arnolds Park Amusement Park. Our hotel had a private one that my kids enjoyed. Public beaches include:

  • Gull Point Sate Park on the southwest shore of West Lake Okoboji
  • Arnolds Park City Beach off Highway 71 in Smith’s Bay on West Lake Okoboji
  • Arnold’s Park Amusement Park Beach on West Lake Okoboji
  • Orleans Beach on the southwest shore of Spirit Lake
  • City Park on the south shore of Silver Lake at Lake Park
  • Emerson Bay State Park at the Emerson Bay campground on West Lake Okoboji
  • Okoboji Boat Works Beach in Smith’s Bay on West Lake Okoboji
  • Marble Beach on the western shore of Big Spirit Lake
  • Terrace Park Beach in Brown’s Bay on West Lake Okoboji
  • Pikes Point State Park on the northeastern shore of West Lake Okoboji
Playing at the beach in Arnolds Park in Okoboji. This beach is near Arnolds Park Amusement Park and Bob's in Arnolds Park.

Fishing is another big thing to do in Okoboji, by boat and by land. We didn’t seek out any special fishing holes, and instead, just enjoyed being steps from our hotel room and fishing.

More things to do outdoors in Okoboji in the summer

You can’t write about Okoboji and kids and not talk about Arnolds Park Amusement Park. This historic amusement park was a hit with my kids. We went at the start of the season and enjoyed no lines on some of the biggest attractions, including The Legend, the 13th oldest wooden rollercoaster in the U.S.

Guide to Okoboji in the summer - A visit to the Okoboji region isn't complete without a day at Arnolds Park Amusement Park

Tip: Get the all-day pass for your kids if they’re in grade school or older. My kids loved riding the same favorite rides over and over again, and paying for each ride would’ve racked up a high price otherwise. They particularly loved the Rock-O-Plane, which they stayed on for three rides in a row (the perk of going early in the season!).

Outside Arnolds Park Amusement Park is Harmony Park, a small grass patch in a shopping area with musical instruments to play. It’s a low-key place in the shade, and just right for a break from rides.

Playing the instruments at Harmony Park located near Arnolds Park Amusement Park

If you’ve got bikes, bring them! I found the Okoboji region to be incredibly bike-friendly, with miles of bike path to get you to various attractions. With the kids, we traveled from Dickinson County Nature Center the short distance to Pearson Lakes Art Center, and then onward to Tweeters. That route was really easy for all abilities between the first two stops. Between the art center and Tweeters, though, you’ll cross Highway 71 twice at crosswalk, and end with a brief stint on a sidewalk. Not ideal, but it was fine for our kids to manage.

Things to do Okoboji in the summer with kids (besides being on the lake) - The area is surprisingly bike-friendly with plenty of bike trails.

Our hotel had a large, old playground on property that my kids got to enjoy for a hot minute. If we had an additional day there, I think we’d have carved out more time to play there and probably did a round of putt putt (free at the hotel).

We missed quite a few activities that my kids were hoping to do, actually, including putt putt golf at Treasure Village and the go carts at Arnolds Park Amusement Park.

Kid-friendly indoors activities in Okoboji

The weather isn’t always going to be sunny and blue skies. We found that out on our third day when it was pouring buckets. One of our favorite indoor stops was free: The Dickinson County Nature Center. It has a lot of hands-on activities for kids, including a neat sand table. My kids love animals, so they enjoyed looking at the displays and playing the activities at many of them.

Guide to Okoboji in the summer - If you're traveling with kids (and even if you're not), plan a stop at the free Dickinson County Nature Center for several hands-on exhibits

The nature center had a large honeycomb to climb through. It entertained the kids for a good 30 minutes.

Tip: If isn’t raining, don’t miss the outdoor nature playscape at Dickinson County Nature Center. There are things to climb on, a tunnel to crawl through, and a sandbox.

The Pearson Lakes Art Center is another free option for families. If you’ve got young kids, head downstairs to the ArtSMART room. My kids loved playing with the blocks and putting on a short play with the costumes.

Guide to Okoboji in the summer - The ArtSMART room at the Pearson Lakes Art Center is a fun indoor option, especially on rainy days.

Don’t leave without seeing the art center’s collection of Russian Impressionist art. This was a hidden gem that you’ll be surprised to find. It’s the second largest collection outside of Russia, and it’s impressive (if you love Impressionism).

The large Russian Impressionist collection at The Pearson Lakes Art Center is a good indoor activity and doesn't take too long.

The Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum, located outside Arnolds Park Amusement Park, is also free. While the maritime portion may or may not appeal to the little ones, you’ll want to go in anyway because it’s home to old amusement park items like the giant wooden slide from olden days at Arnolds Park Amusement Park (I believe, technically, it’s in the Arnolds Park Funhouse Museum). If you have a day pass to the amusement park, you can go down it repeatedly, which my kids did. You can also pay a couple dollars to slide down it if you don’t have the day pass.

Take a ride down the indoor slide at the Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum. The wooden slide was once located in Arnolds Park Amusement Park.

It’s a tall slide and looks pretty intimidating at the top, but it’s not nearly as fast as you think it would be. It was totally manageable for my 7-year-old, at least.

Okoboji Classic Cars is part museum, part art gallery, and 100% designed to appeal to car fanatics. It’s a little pricey, and you have to take the tour, which could be a disaster with an uninterested kid. Still, even I was impressed with the collection and I’m only mildly interested in cars. Kids are given a scavenger hunt to complete during the tour, which was enough to please my kids.

Okoboji Classic Cars is part museum, part art gallery. It's a good rainy day activity in Okoboji since everything is indoors.

Family-friendly restaurants in Okoboji

Okoboji has A LOT of restaurants, but it’s not too easy to figure out which ones you’d want to bring your kids to. I go into details about the restaurants we visited in this post, but until then, here are the restaurants we liked the most during our trip:

Arnolds Perk Coffee House was my favorite place for breakfast, just because the coffee was so good, and the power breakfast sandwich was filling and delicious. I rarely go to a restaurant twice on a trip, but we did visit Arnolds Perk twice. It’s also just a charming place to sit and relax.

Another good option is O’Farrell Sisters, just get there early to avoid a wait.

Everyone's going to tell you to try breakfast at O'Farrell Sisters, and they're going to tell you to get the pancakes and/or the cinnamon rolls. But it's a small place, so get there early.

The most friendly service we had was during the lunch hour at Tweeter’s Bar & Grill. The menu if huge – burgers, salads, Mexican, etc. They have a kid’s menu.

While we didn’t eat at Barefoot Bar, I’d say it’s pretty kid-friendly. This famous spot on the lake is the famously “no shoes, no shirt, no problem” kind of place. I loved the atmosphere, with the grass-thatched huts and palm trees, but was a little peeved that they’d charge $2.50 for water. After that, I decided not to even check the price of pizza.

Looking for a good outdoor restaurant for families in Okoboji - The Barefoot Bar is a popular place for boaters and families visiting the area. It has a slide that goes into the lake.

Bob’s in Arnolds Park is a popular spot for families who are spending the day at Arnolds Park Amusement Park. We went on a Sunday and the wait was very long. Luckily, there’s a beach right in front of the restaurant, so the kids were kept occupied.

For dinner, we found most places had a long wait, so go prepared to keep your littles occupied. The best pizza we had was the BBQ Chicken at Pub 19 Bar & Grill, a restaurant situated on a golf course.

We also had dinner at Snappers Turtle Bay Cafe, which was a short walk from Barefoot Bar. To keep the kids occupied here, there are a few yard games set up on Astroturf. It did the job.

There are surprisingly few places to get ice cream or treats in Okoboji, at least in the areas we visited. Nutty Bar Stand is pretty iconic for the area, so we had some Nutty Bars during a break from Arnolds Park Amusement Park. It’s right outside the front of the park. Service was quick. A Nutty Bar is pretty much a cube of vanilla ice cream, dipped in chocolate and rolled in peanuts. You can get cones there, as well.

Family-friendly restaurants in Okoboji - It's not summer without ice cream. The Nutty Bar Stand is a long-time favorite ice cream stop for families vacationing there. It's near Arnolds Park Amusement Park.

Plan your Okoboji trip

Want to plan an Okoboji trip for your family? I’ll go into details of some of our favorite things in Okoboji in these upcoming posts:

Best restaurants for families in Okoboji

Tips for visiting Arnolds Park Amusement Park

Where to stay lakeside in Okoboji

Okoboji has been on my bucket list for years. Read this Iowa bucket list post to get inspiration to round out planning a trip to the Hawkeye State. Want Iowa travel inspiration that’s less bucket list and more realistic for a family? We spent about a week exploring central Iowa, riding a train, staying in a yurt and playing in lakes during what I call the Great Iowa Road Trip.

Planning a trip to Okoboji in the Iowa Great Lakes region? Use this guide to get ideas on kid-friendly things to do there, both on the lake and indoors. Plus, read up on recommended Okoboji restaurants for families. #Iowa #VacationOkoboji #familytravel

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May 27, 2019

20+ Best Fourth Of July Events In Nebraska In 2019

Communities across Nebraska celebrate the Fourth of July with parades, concerts and, of course, fireworks. Some cities begin patriotic festivities up to a week before July 4. From Lincoln to Norfolk and Hooper, here are the best 2019 Fourth of July events in Nebraska! You’ll find all of the big Omaha fireworks displays and Fourth of July events on this list, too.

If you have an event you’d like to see added to this list, please email me – ohmyomaha@gmail.com.

Updated list of Fourth of July celebrations in Nebraska, including fireworks displays, fun runs, parades and free concerts. Family-friendly events in Nebraska | Things to do in Nebraska this summer | Things to do on the Fourth of July in Nebraska | Omaha Fourth of July #USA #Midwest #events

I’m going to divide this up into two sections: One for Omaha Fourth of July events (and Omaha fireworks) and the rest of Nebraska. There’s just a lot going on in Omaha!

Omaha Fourth of July Events

City of Omaha Celebrates America Free Concert & Fireworks Show

When: June 28, 6 p.m. (fireworks at 10 p.m.)

Where: Memorial Park in Omaha

What: A live concert by co-headliners Little Steven (Steven Van Zandt) and Chris Isaak followed by the fireworks finale.

Cost: FREE

Autism Friendly Independence Day Celebration

When: June 29, 6 to 10 p.m.

Where: Autism Center of Nebraska in Omaha

What: Autism Society of Nebraska hosts the family-friendly event includes indoor and outdoor activities, and ends with a fireworks display. To accommodate noise sensitivities, ASN will provide earplugs or bring your own headphones.

Cost: FREE

College Home Run Derby & OWH Independence Day Fireworks

When: June 29, 7 p.m.

Where: TD Ameritrade Park, 1200 Mike Fahey St. in Omaha

What: The top men’s NCAA baseball players participate in a home run derby followed by fireworks.

Cost: Tickets start at $10

Lake Manawa Fireworks

When: June 29, 10 p.m.

Where: Lake Manawa State Park, 1100 S. Shore Drive in Council Bluffs, Iowa

What: Free fireworks show in a state park setting.

Cost: FREE for Iowa residents; $5 entry fee for non-Iowa residents

Monday Night At The Movies “Independence Day”

When: July 1; park opens at 5 p.m. and move starts at dusk

Where: Turner Park at Midtown Crossing in Omaha

What: Enjoy a free movie in the park. Bring blankets and chairs.

Cost: FREE

Ralston Independence Day Celebration

When: July 3 and 4

Where: Ralston, Neb.

What: An annual event that includes a family street dance, fire department water fights, Picnic In The Park, and a parade.

Cost: FREE

Firecracker Flight

When: July 4, 8 to 11 a.m.

Where: Baxter Arena, Omaha, Neb.

What: This Fourth of July-themed running event is for families and includes a 5k and 10k option.

Cost: $32 if registered before June 16. 2019; kids’ fun run is FREE.

Boys Town Fireworks

When: July 4, at around 10 p.m.

Where: Fireworks shot from the football field at Boys Town in Omaha.

What: A long-time tradition, the fireworks display at Boys Town is large.

Cost: FREE

Omaha Storm Chasers Game & Fireworks

When: July 4 and 5, game starts at 7:05 p.m. with fireworks following

Where: Werner Park, Papillion, Neb.

What: Enjoy fireworks following the Storm Chasers’ games against the Nashville Sounds.

Cost: $8 for berm seating on up to $25

Red, White & Zoo!

When: July 4-7, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, 3701 S. 10th St.

What: Go on a self-guided tour in search of red, white and blue animals. The first 500 people to walk through the gates on Wednesday, July 4 will receive a free patriotic gift 

Cost: Included with regular zoo admission

Nebraska Fourth of July Celebrations

47th Annual Platte Center Fourth of July celebration

When: June 28-28 and July 4

Where: Platte Center, Neb.

What: Several events are planned including a mud volleyball tournament and Red, White & Blessed Fun Run on June 29,  and a parade at 10:30 a.m. on July 4.

Cost: FREE (fun run and volleyball tournament have admission fees)

Red, White, & Brass featuring the Plymouth Brass

When: June 30, 4 p.m.

Where: First-Plymouth Church, 2000 D St., Lincoln, Neb.

What: It’s a concert featuring patriotic music performed by a brass band.

Cost: $20, adults; $15, seniors; and $10, students

Independence Day Celebration

When: June 30 through July 6

Where: Nebraska City

What: A small-town celebration of freedom with a weeklong carnival and an hour-long fireworks extravaganza. Some events planned include yoga, a fun run and an ice cream social.

Cost: FREE (carnival wristbands and some tournaments and events are additional fees)

Seward Fourth of July

When: July 1-4

Where: Seward, Neb.

What: Seward, recognized as “America’s Small Town Fourth of July City,” hosts an old‑fashioned family celebration each year that lasts several days.

Cost: Most events are FREE

Related post: The Seward celebration is on the list for the 10 Unforgettable Things To Do This Summer In Nebraska.

Uncle Sam Jam

When: July 3, 4 to 10 p.m.; live music starts at 6 p.m. and fireworks will go off at 10 p.m.

Where: Oak Lake Park, First and Charleston streets, Lincoln, Neb.

What: A family-friendly community celebration with games, canoeing and live music by Soul Dawg. Fireworks end the night. Food vendors will be there.

Cost: FREE

Annual Hooper Fourth of July Fun Run

When: July 4, 8 a.m.

Where: Begins and finishes at Hooper Park in Hooper, Neb.

What: There are two races – a 10k and a 2-mile run/walk. The course is flat and will be run through the residential area of Hooper.

Cost: Entry fee is $20 with a T-shirt if received by June 23, 2019. As of June 24, entry to the race will be $25 and participants will not be guaranteed a race shirt. Day of entries will be accepted at $30 and will not be guaranteed a shirt.

Madison Fourth Of July Parade

When: July 4, 10 a.m.

Where: Main Street in Madison, Neb.

What: Madison’s annual parade to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Cost: FREE

Stanton Fourth Of July Parade

When: July 4, 10 a.m.

Where: Stanton, Neb.

What: Stanton’s annual parade to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Cost: FREE

Norfolk Fourth Of July Parade

When: July 4, 10 a.m.

Where: Norfolk Avenue in downtown Norfolk, Neb.

What: Norfolk’s annual parade to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Cost: FREE

1899 Independence Day Celebration

When: July 4

Where: Stuhr Museum of the Pioneer Prairie in Grand Island, Neb.

What: This summer tradition includes a parade through our 1890s Railroad Town, a concert by the Silver Cornet Band, historic patriotic program, pie eating contests, games on the green and more.

Cost: Adults, $10; children, $8; Stuhr members, FREE

Murdock Fourth of July Celebration

When: July 4

Where: Murdock, Neb.

What:  The town of Murdock has an all-day Fourth of July celebration.

Cost: FREE

July Fourth Flea Party

When: July 4

Where: Fairbury City Park, 421 City Park Road, Fairbury, Neb.

What: In addition to the flea market, the Fairbury Community Band performs at 10:30 a.m. and there is a fireworks display at dusk.

Cost: FREE

City of Hickman Fireworks Display

When: July 4, 10 p.m.

Where: Main Park in Hickman, Neb.

What: A long-running tradition, this fireworks display can be viewed from Main Park. Bring chairs.

Cost: FREE

Living History Fourth Of July Celebration

When: July 6 and 7, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Fort Atkinson in Fort Calhoun

What: See volunteers portray what life was like on a military fort in the 1820s. The theme for the weekend is the Fourth of July and activities will be based on the holiday celebration.

Cost: Included with valid Nebraska State Park permit

Related post: Living History At Fort Atkinson In Nebraska

Big Bang Boom

When: July 6, 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Where: Skyview Lake, Norfolk, Neb.

What: The inflatable midway and food vendors start at 1 p.m. Live music begins at 5 p.m. and fireworks start at 10 p.m.

Cost: There is a fee for the wristbands for the midway.

Fourth of July is celebrated with parades, festivals, baseball games and more throughout Nebraska. Check out this list of things to do in Nebraska every 4th of July, including Omaha 4th of July events! List includes community-wide celebrations, concerts, fireworks displays and more. #familytime #fourthofjuly #USA #Nebraksa

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May 20, 2019

Fun Things To Do With Kids In Springfield

Springfield, Ill., offers a great variety of things to see and do, especially attractions and sites related to Abraham Lincoln and Route 66. Whether you’re planning a family visit or just passing through, here’s a list of fun things to do with kids in Springfield.

Kim’s note: This is a guest post written by Oh My! Omaha friend, Cindy, from Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl. I asked her to write about Springfield and all the fun things families can do with kids when they visit. If your family enjoys U.S. history, especially presidential history, you’ve got to visit Springfield!

Things to do with kids in Springfield, Illinois - This guide includes Abraham Lincoln historical sites, Route 66 quirkiness, and restaurant suggestions. #familytravel #illinois #guide

Where to learn about Abe Lincoln in Springfield

Springfield offers an array of sites to visit to learn about Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. He lived in this Illinois city from 1837 to 1861, before moving to the White House as president.

The most amazing site of all related to Lincoln is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Fun things to do with kids in Springfield, Illinois - Learn about the 16th president at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum
People visiting Springfield, Ill., usually seek out all-things Abraham Lincoln. One place to visit in the city is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. Photo courtesy Cindy Ladage

Kids will also enjoy Union Station, which is part of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, especially the brand new exhibit, “All Aboard: America’s Love of Railroads.” The display marks the 150th anniversary of the first transcontinental railroad, a project championed by Lincoln.

Downtown, families will enjoy taking pictures of the cool murals that grace many buildings and the lovely bronze statues of Honest Abe and his family that dot the downtown landscapes. While the Lincoln Law Office is not totally open to tour, you can go inside the first floor of the building where the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau is located. Here you can get tips and may even be able to receive a parking pass for your visit.

Be sure to stop by the Lincoln home and its visitor’s center. The home in Springfield is the only home that Abraham Lincoln ever owned.

If weather is fitting don’t forget Lincoln’s New Salem Historic Site. While this is a bit of a drive from Springfield, it is a village where kids can interact and see amazing log cabins and early pioneer life where Lincoln spent his early years.

The Lincoln Tomb may be too somber, but getting a chance to rub Lincoln’s nose is fun for kids of all ages. Lincoln Memorial Garden & Nature Center is located around Lake Springfield and offers easy trails to walk and a chance to view Lake Springfield. There is also a fun gift shop and interactive little nature room as well.

Route 66 stops in Springfield

A bit of Route 66 may be in order. Stop by the Cozy Dog Drive In and try this fun treat that was invented in Springfield.

If you want heartier fare that is still kid-friendly, D’arcy’s Pint has a Springfield invention, a horse or smaller pony shoes (hamburger, ham or other meat, covered with French fries and cheese sauce). While not especially healthy, it is quite tasty!

Then there is also Charlie Parker’s Diner in the Quonset hut with the giant pancakes for a breakfast bonus! This award-winning restaurant also has amazing horseshoes, as well.

More kid-friendly attractions include the Route 66 Drive In and Knights Action Park. Route 66 Drive In is a quintessential drive in movie theater. Knights Action Park is a water park, theme park and a drive in move theater.

There are many hotels to choose from in downtown Springfield. The Route 66 Hotel & Conference Center has a fun little car display in the hotel lobby.

These are just a few of the family fun things to do in the Land of Lincoln. Springfield’s Old State Capital is another wonderful historic stop. Find your way to the Illinois Capital and check it out!

Springfield, Illinois is famous for Abraham Lincoln so read this post to find out all the fun places to take kids to learn more about the 16th president. Beyond history, get the scoop on drive in movie theaters, a water park, and family-friendly restaurants. #Guide #Springfield #Illinois #USA #familytravel

About the author

Cindy Ladage is farmer’s wife, a presenter and an award winning journalist and columnist for “Farm World.” In 2018 and 2016, she won the American Women in Communications Clarion award and has been a bronze winner and finalist in the North American Travel Journalists Association.

Ladage writes for antique tractor and collector publications and specializes in travel stories for several publications like Senior News & Times of Illinois and more. Her travel blog is Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl, where she
shares her travels on the back roads and byways. In her writing, Cindy shares her passion for preserving agriculture and promoting agri-tourism and rural areas. She is also an author of children’s books and adult fiction as well. Ladage lives on a farm in central Illinois and has three grown children and two grandchildren. She is retired from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency where she worked with the Illinois Radon Program.

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