10+ Must-Visit Iowa Restaurants

I’ve been planning trips to Iowa (and through Iowa) for years now. And there’s one thing I’m starting to see as a trend: Iowa doesn’t get the love it deserves for having amazing restaurant experiences. Time to set the record straight so you can plan your next road trip accordingly and visit a great restaurant.

I recruited some of my fellow travel bloggers to contribute their favorites to my list of the must-visit Iowa restaurants.

A food lover's guide to the best restaurants in Iowa. Midwest travel writers and locals share their favorite Iowa restaurants, and they offer suggestions on what to try there. #Iowa #Midwest #Restaurants #eatlocal

If you have a favorite restaurant in Iowa, leave a comment and let me know about it!

Eastern Iowa restaurants

The Mississippi River runs along the eastern side of Iowa, and the terrain is more unique (in my opinion) than the rest of the state. After you’re done exploring the outdoors, you’ll want some restaurant suggestions. Here are some eastern Iowa recommendations.

Menu and bread at Brazen, a farm-to-table restaurant in Dubuque, Iowa.
Photo courtesy Gastronom Blog

Brazen Open Kitchen

Where: Dubuque

Why you should go: Brazen Open Kitchen is a farm-to-table restaurant, with a constantly changing menu and a focus on using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients.

From their craft cocktails to their no-freezer focused kitchen, Brazen headed by Kevin Scharpf hits all the points of a top restaurant in Iowa.

Leah and Jay from Gatronom Blog were pleased by everything they ate at the two meals we had there.

They can’t tell you what to order, though, as the menu is constantly changing, but you won’t be unhappy with anything you order! 

Breitbach Restaurant

Where: Balltown

Why you should go: Cindy from Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl discovered the amazing Brietbach restaurant when visiting the National Farm Toy Show. 

The restaurant is memorable for many reasons, she noted, including, the location. The scenery offers views of the Mississippi River and the Great River Road. 

Breitbach’s is a German restaurant and is said to be the oldest food and drinking establishment in Iowa.  Perched high on a hill in Balltown, the view was breathtaking. 

The Breitbach restaurant was opened by Jacob Breitbach, the great-great-grandfather of the present owner. Jacob worked for the original owner and purchased the tavern in 1862. Ever since this has been a family business and the current owners are the sixth generation.

The original building has suffered from two devastating fires, but the Breitbach family rebuilt both times and although not the original building, it is built on the foundation and the building is filled with old country charm and is decorated in turn of the century furniture. 

Breitbach’s makes everything fresh from scratch.  They are the winner of Iowa Pork Producers’ best breaded Pork Tenderloin 2012. Cindy loved the food and the view and said she celebrated her birthday in style (which ended with an amazing snicker pie)!

Fried Brussels sprouts, roasted ramen salad and miso soup dumplings at the vegetarian-friendly restaurant Dumpling Darling in Iowa City.
Photo courtesy Cadry’s Kitchen

Dumpling Darling

Where: Iowa City

Why you should go: Dumpling Darling is a woman-owned restaurant in Iowa City. They started as a stall at the farmers market, and now they have a standalone restaurant in downtown.

It’s a casual, order-at-the-counter type place with indoor & outdoor seating. Great for people-watching in the summer, according to Cadry at Cadry’s Kitchen.

Over half of their menu is vegan or vegetarian. They’re always introducing new creative vegan specials like buffalo cauliflower dumplings or peach pie dessert dumplings.

On their regular menu, don’t miss the miso soup dumplings, chipotle tofu dumplings, roasted ramen salad, and fried Brussels sprouts in Korean BBQ sauce.

Luna Valley Farm in Decorah, Iowa has an outdoor wood-fire pizza oven.

Luna Valley Farm

Where: Decorah

Why you should go: Dining at Luna Valley Farm was one of the most unique experiences I’ve had in Iowa. This is a working farm, but on the weekends in the summer, the owners serve up pizza, beer and good times (in the form of live music).

I went with my sister and friend, and together we delicious wood-fire pizza alongside some local beer. You can’t go wrong with any of the toppings – a lot of the ingredients are grown or raised on the farm.

Even with a bit of rain, the atmosphere and crowd attitude was joyful. How could you not be with lights strung up and a band playing?

Tip: It’s off the beaten track, and you’ll make a trek from your car to the barn with the food, so wear comfortable shoes!

Ox Yoke Inn, a family favorite restaurant in Amana, Iowa, known for family-style meals.

Ox Yoke Inn

Where: Amana

Why you should go: Amana is the largest town in the famous Amana Colonies and its home to the “Big 3” of popular Amana restaurants. Each is known for large, hearty family-style meals.

Of the three, Ox Yoke Inn was the standout for me for food and service. You’ll want to get the fried chicken. I also recommend not passing on the homemade strawberry jam.

Northern Iowa restaurants

Northern Iowa is home to remarkable small towns and beautiful great lakes. And, lucky you, there are also some great north Iowa restaurants.

Exterior of Central Perk Coffee Shop in Estherville, Iowa
Photo courtesy Thrifty Jinxy

Central Perk Coffee House

Where: Estherville

Why you should go: Central Perk Coffee House is the kind of coffee shop you wished you had in your own town, according to Thrifty Jinxy. Not only do they have amazing coffee, but they also make hand-crafted smoothies, shakes, and Italian sodas.

What really stands out is their fabulous lunch menu with unique sandwiches and delicious salads. You can try both with their “pick two” option. (Try the Berry Salad – you won’t regret it!)

You can enjoy all this in their artfully decorated space with a heavy emphasis on wood and cozy spaces to enjoy your meal and/or chat with friends. 

Greek-style flies mignon at Northwestern Steakhouse in Mason City, Iowa.
Photo courtesy Wherever I May Roam

Northwestern Steakhouse

Where: Mason City

Why you should go: When you are ready to try one of the best steaks of your life, Melody from Wherever I May Roam recommends to go to Mason City, Iowa, and come hungry! Sink your teeth into a delicious Greek-style filet mignon, which is served swimming in its own natural juices.

Pair your perfect piece of meat with a side of Greek spaghetti, flavored by the steak juices, plenty of butter, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.

The menu is small and the inside is dated, but you’ll never have a better meal than from this 1920 Iowa institution! 

Menu and chips and salsa at Tequila's Mexican Bar & Grill in Northwood, Iowa.
Photo courtesy Flint & Co.

Tequila’s Mexican Bar & Grill

Where: Northwood

Why you should go: Located in a small town in northern Iowa, you’ll find one of the best Mexican restaurants in the whole state: Tequila’s Mexican Bar & Grill. And it’s locally-owned and -operated, to boot.

Mexican food in America is a finicky thing. Some people want TexMex while others want traditional Mexican food. Katy from Flint & Co. said Tequila’s has managed to find a happy balance.

Katy noted that the food is piping hot and fresh with large portions. She recommends going for the chicken nachos.    

While the food is amazingly delicious, the service is just as good, she told me.

Central Iowa restaurants

Central Iowa is home to Iowa’s capital city, Des Moines, as well as quite a few excellent restaurants.

Crab rangoon pizza slice at Fong's Pizza.

Fong’s Pizza

Where: Des Moines

Why you should go: If time allows, Des Moines is always a pit stop for us on any Iowa road trip, and Fong’s Pizza is where we head. There are several locations, but I recommend the downtown Des Moines location for max kitschiness.

When there, I cannot emphasize enough that you need to order a crab rangoon pizza. And if you’re of age, get one of their fun tiki drinks.

Honorable mention for Des Moines: If I don’t feel like eating pizza in Des Moines, my next go-to is Zombie Burger. It’s another favorite of mine.

The decor alone would be reason enough to visit (especially the east end location). The food, though, is superb and creative.

Dessert at the Machine Shed in Urbandale, Iowa.

Machine Shed

Where: Urbandale (there’s also a location in Davenport)

Why you should go: A reader also reminded me of a restaurant near Des Moines that should be on the list (and I agree with him on this): Machine Shed.

We had dinner at this huge restaurant one our Great Iowa Road Trip, and the decor and huge servings were all memorable. Try, try try to save room for dessert.

Good luck with that!

Western Iowa restaurants

Western Iowa is known for the trails through the beautiful Loess Hills and its connection to Lewis & Clark. And now, as you’ll learn, it’s known for some great restaurants, too!

Steak at the Le Mars, Iowa supper club, Archie's Waeside.
Photo courtesy Olio in Iowa

Archie’s Waeside

Where: Le Mars

Why you should go: Located in Le Mars, Iowa—the self-proclaimed “Ice Cream Capital of the World”—Archie’s Waeside is a classic supper club and steakhouse with a cult-like following, according to Megan at Olio in Iowa.

Opened in 1949 by Archie Jackson, the supper club was once just a roadhouse with a carry-out window and two small booths. Today it is a full-service steakhouse complete with classic cocktails, an impressive relish tray, and melt-in-your-mouth steaks.

Be sure to arrive early! On any given weekend night, a crowd begins forming outside of Archie’s Waeside in anticipation of its 4:30 p.m. opening.

Archie’s Waeside isn’t just about comfort food. The restaurant has received some notable culinary honors. In 2015, Archie’s Waeside was awarded the James Beard Foundation’s American Classics Award. 

The pork tenderloin at Larsen's Pub in Elk Horn, Iowa, voted "Best Tenderloin in Iowa."
Photo courtesy HodgePodge Hippie

Larsen’s Pub

Where: Elk Horn

Why you should go: From the moment that you walk into Larsen’s Pub, you know that this is the place to eat, Thena at HodgePodge Hippie tells me. With pork tenderloins the size of your head, there is no way that you’re going home hungry.

Their pork tenderloins huge, and they’ve also been voted “Best Tenderloin in Iowa,” as well. And if you’re a lover of sides, like Thena is, you don’t want to miss out on their fries and potato salad.

This ambiance in this pub is one that will have you coming back time and time again.

Goat milk gelato at Stanley's Snack Shack in Honey Creek, Iowa.

Stanley’s Snack Shack

Where: Honey Creek

Why you should go: Quite literally, Stanley’s is a shack in the middle of a field. And it’s worth a trip to visit!

Stanley’s opened after the success of the goat’s milk gelato the Honey Creek Creamery had been selling at farmer’s markets. Now you can go straight to the source for the gelato. While they sell burgers, I’ve only ever wanted the gelato.

When we visited, they had a few goats nearby to meet. We had quite an experience there – one of the employees came out to greet us and show us how to milk one of them.

Tip: The little goats that wander around the goat yoga mats at Honey Creek Creamery grow up to be the very goats you meet at Stanley’s. The creamery is a stop on the Pottawattamie County trail called What In The World?: On the Trail For Stranger Things.

From steakhouses to snack shacks and supper clubs, this list has the best restaurants in Iowa. Restaurants are include some found in Des Moines, Iowa City, Decorah, Le Mars and many more. #Iowa #USA #restaurants #dinner

Now what?

If this post made you hungry enough to explore the whole state, start planning a trip! Get inspired for some fun between restaurants stops with this post sharing 101 Things To Do In Iowa.

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7 Must-Try Restaurants In Kearney, Nebraska

Nestled smack-dab in the middle of Nebraska, the city of Kearney is a fun option for a weekend trip with the family. Complete with museums of all kinds, surprising outdoor recreation options, plenty of arts and entertainment, and some really fantastic restaurants in Kearney, it’s a wonderful option for a memorable getaway that won’t break the bank. 

Things to know about Kearney, Nebraska

Born from the westward push of the railroad after the civil war, Kearney has grown into a thriving college town, providing a home for the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK).

Its main claim to fame, however, is its status as the “Sandhill Crane Capital of the World.” Each year, over 600,000 Sandhill Cranes stop near Kearney to “fuel up” and rest during their migration north. Over 40,000 people — including famed anthropologist Jane Goodall — visit the Kearney area each year in March and early April. 

Now, of course, all of this is interesting, but the BIG question remains: Where do all of these tourists eat when visiting Kearney, Nebraska? 

Kearney, Nebraska is known as the Sandhill Crane Capital of the world. If you're planning a trip to view the crane migration, here are a few restaurants you'll want to visit! #Kearney #Nebraska #Midwest

Must-try (and family-friendly) restaurants in Kearney, Nebraska

Well, just stick with me, and we’ll focus on some locally-owned, family-friendly restaurants that add value and an all-round good time to your next family getaway! 

Daylight Donuts

A beloved Kearney tradition, Daylight Donuts has been churning out fresh, tasty, unbeatable donuts for as long as I can remember. With crunchy-sweet old fashioned donuts, bear claws as big as a toddler’s head, and satisfyingly-good coffee you don’t always find small donut shops, it really is the perfect way to start a day of exploring Kearney.

A variety of donuts from Daylight Donuts in Kearney, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

Like many classic donut shops, Daylight Donuts is open only in the morning — from 3 a.m. to noon, so it’s important to get there early for the best selection! 

It’s important to note that they have a wide selection of non-coffee drinks like chocolate milk and juice for the kiddos. My favorite recommendation actually isn’t a sweet one — their “gravy wrap” is a decadent concoction of flaky dough and sausage gravy, and I’d probably eat one every day if I could! 

Related post: 14 Great Places To Get Donuts In Nebraska

Barista’s Daily Grind

Another well-loved, always-bustling breakfast option is Barista’s Daily Grind. A Kearney staple since the 90s, you can trust you’ll find a decadent drink, fresh-baked goodies, and even a few savory options to get you through your morning. 

Interior of the Barista's Daily Grind in Kearney, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

Across the street from UNK, this Kearney coffee shop is full of patrons from the university — both students and professors alike — and its constant traffic means it’s not the quietest place during peak caffeination hours. This means you can bring headphones if you need to get some work done, but it also means you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing you can take the kids there without feeling like you’re disturbing someone.

I highly recommend the dirty chai latte! It’s creamy, not too sweet, and served by some seriously friendly baristas. 

A latte at Barista's Daily Grind in Kearney, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

A smaller south location can be found on Second Avenue — the “main drag” — and provides a slightly smaller selection of the offerings found at the main store. 

Komal Mexican Taqueria

This Kearney restaurant is one of my favorite gems — ranging from options that satisfy picky kids who only eat beige-colored food, to incredibly flavorful, authentic Mexican fare that will feed your whole family quickly and affordably. 

Sandwich at Komal Mexican Taquaria in Kearney, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

Tacos, burritos, nachos, tortas, quesadillas, some of the most delicious guacamole you’ll ever eat, and a fantastic salsa bar all come together to make everyone happy in a welcoming atmosphere. Though I’m not vegetarian, I love getting the nachos with guacamole instead of meat, and asking for the chips on the side.

With homemade agua fresca, horchata, and flan, it’s an all-around, honest-to-goodness meal that will keep even the pickiest eaters satisfied until dinner. 

Cunninghams Journal

You’ll find that a lot of restaurants in Kearney serve up the delicious, deep-fried menu options you’d expect in a smaller city, but Cunninghams Journal manages to turn your typical “bar food” into something special. 

Exterior of Cunninghams Journal, a pub restaurant in Kearney, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

Big, fat, juicy burgers, salty fries, and deep-fried pickles are well-made bar staples, but their menu of varying skewer baskets shine for people who are looking for something a little different (not to mention keto and gluten free-friendly, if that’s something you need). Tender chunks of sirloin steak and grilled shrimp are wrapped in bacon, served over grilled vegetables, and brought out with a unique “bistro sauce” to round it all out.

They also have pizza and wings on the menu, meaning my picky kids have options.

Pro Tip: If you’re looking for a chicken nugget option, ask for boneless wings without sauce. 

There are two locations: the original in downtown Kearney, and a newer one right off the interstate, going by the name “Cunninghams on the Lake.”  


Kyoto is a relatively new restaurant in Kearney, and adds a local, friendly vibe to your typical hibachi experience.

Chef at a grill at Kyoto in Kearney, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

What I love the most about Kyoto is that you can enjoy the spectacle of talented chefs tossing shrimp into peoples’ mouths and lighting onion volcanoes on fire, or you can simply dine in and order from the menu.

Or you can sit at the sushi bar and watch all of the sushi getting made.

Or you can enjoy a drink at the well-stocked bar and watch the game.

Or you can simply stop in to get a bowl of rolled ice cream without even having to stop for dinner. 

Sushi tray at Kyoto in Kearney, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

The big bonus? They have a kids menu, so if you’re craving sushi and the kids need french fries, everyone can be happy. 

Thunderhead Brewing Co.

Located “on the bricks” — a title that simply refers to the original downtown area with old-fashioned brick streets — Thunderhead Brewing sports a big, beautiful stone oven for pizzas, calzones, and soft pretzels, as well as super-melty mozzarella cheese bread. 

Pizza at Thunderhead Brewing Co. in downtown Kearney, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

While it is a bar, this Kearney brewpub is still a favorite local place for families to gather and enjoy some really awesome stone oven pizza. Little kids might get bored and antsy, but the pretzels come out fast enough to distract them while they wait for the rest of their meal.

The beers are brewed in a nearby town, and are time-tested and well-loved. In fact, Thunderhead has recently opened tap houses in downtown and west Omaha, if you’d like to give their craft brews a try. The only location that serves food, however, is in Kearney. 

I practically insist that, if you’re not afraid of jalapeno peppers, you try the Thunder Pie. It’s a pizza with an alfredo sauce base, shredded chicken, bacon, and jalapenos. Ask for a side of ranch and you’re in pizza heaven! 

Ktown Cakery

Wondering about dessert in Kearney? Look no further than Ktown Cakery, another stop on the bricks. Decadent bars, cupcakes, cake balls, cookies, call-ahead full-sized cakes, and even ice cream from the UNL Dairy Store await you in this adorable little shop on Central Avenue.

Macaroons at Ktown Cakery in Kearney, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

The staff is friendly, and there are a couple of tables available to sit and enjoy your treats with the family. 

Ktown Cakery supplies a handful of local businesses with sweet treats (you can find their cookies at the aforementioned Barista’s Daily Grind), so don’t be surprised if you see their goodies at multiple places! 

The location is quite small, however, so if you’re traveling with a big group it might be a better idea to call ahead and order some treats to take to your hotel room or a nearby park.  

Family fun and fantastic restaurants in Kearney, Nebraska

Kearney is certainly smaller than Lincoln or Omaha, but don’t let that scare you! With culture, history, recreation, and unforgettable food, this lively college town in the middle of the state might just surprise you! 

Thinking of exploring more of Nebraska? Read 101 Things To Do In Nebraska for inspiration!

Planning a trip to see the Sandhill crane migration? You're going to need a place to eat while there. Here's a local's guide to the best restaurants in Kearney, Nebraska - each are family-friendly, too. #Nebraska #Restaurants #Midwest #local

About the guest blogger

Lauren Bonk, owner of the Curtain and Pen, hails from Kearney, Neb., where she works as a freelance copywriter for small businesses, startups, and even larger corporate entities in need of professionally-written marketing content for their businesses and organizations.

With a background in both Theatre and English, Lauren loves to help companies find a voice, fine-tune it, and authentically utilize it in written collateral like blog posts, website copy, and social media content.

You can typically find Lauren drinking coffee, listening to music that’s probably a little too loud, and daydreaming about drinking more coffee the next morning.

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Ultimate Winter Guide To Mahoney State Park

I love Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, but I’m most familiar with the park in the summer. However, we’ve started visiting on unseasonably warm winter days and discovered a whole other side to the park. We enjoyed it so much, I decided to share my tips for visiting Mahoney State Park in the winter.

Should you spend a day at Mahoney State Park in Nebraska...or a weekend? Here's a guide to winter at Mahoney State Park - with tips on things to do at the park (both indoors and outdoors), where to stay, and what kids will like. #Nebraska #statepark #outdoors #winter #guide #USA #Midwest

Turns out, it’s worth a visit during the winter, especially with kids.

Note: There is construction at Mahoney State Park right now that’s slated to last until fall 2020. The Walter Scott Jr. Observation Tower and surrounding trails at park are closed temporarily to accommodate the painting of the tower and Riverview Event Center construction project. The tower and trails will reopen at completion of the construction projects.

Where is Mahoney State Park?

Mahoney State Park is located in southeastern Nebraska along Interstate 80, about midway between the state’s two largest cities, Omaha and Lincoln. It’s roughly 30 miles from each city (give or take).

Take exit 426 off of Interstate 80 to get to the park. That exit happens to get you to a variety of fun family destinations in the winter. Two I recommend would be the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum and the indoor education center at Schramm Park.

Day trip or overnight trip to Mahoney?

Living in Omaha, Mahoney State Park is almost always a day trip for us. However, we have made whole weekends of a visit, and I recommend trying it at least once…but plan ahead.

Mahoney State Park has notoriously popular cabins, making it difficult to book a cabin on a summer weekend unless you plan a year in advance.

Mahoney State Park Cabin in the winter.

Booking a cabin in the winter is a different story. Non-peak season cabins are easier to come by, and cheaper too. Look for non-holiday weekends for your best (and discounted) options.

It’s worth noting that Mahoney State Park also has a lodge. The rooms at the lodge are much cheaper than a cabin. It’s similar to staying at a hotel, but staying at one without a pool.

Indoor winter activities at Mahoney

First, the indoor stuff. This is my favorite since I hate being cold. Luckily, Mahoney has a few very good indoor options for active families.

Activity Center

One must-visit place is the Activity Center. If you’ve never been, you’re going to won why you hadn’t been here sooner with the kids.

The best place to go with young kids at Mahoney State Park: The indoor activity center.

For $2 each (FREE for kids 2 and younger), you get endless play on their indoor playground. It’s pretty sweet, even for a grown up. Don’t be shy, put down your smart phone and get in there and play with your kids. 

The Activity Center also has an outdoor ice rink, with a $3 skate rental fee. If it’s fairly warm, part of that rink melts (duh), as was the case on the day we visited. 

We returned another month and managed to make our shaky way around the rink.

Ice skating at Mahoney State Park

The newest addition my family has loved at the Activity Center is the indoor wall climbing. It’s a pretty affordable, all-day activity. Buy the wristbands and have access to climb for the entire day.

The cost is $11 for adults and and $10 for children ages 12 and younger.

Things to do indoors at Mahoney State Park - Indoor wall climbing

There is food available for purchase at the Activity Center, like pizza, hot dogs and nachos. You’re not supposed to bring in outside food or drinks. *supposed to*

The Activity Center’s winter hours in 2019-2020 are from September to May. It’s open:

  • -Monday, Thursday & Friday: 4 to 8 p.m.
  • – Saturday: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • – Sunday: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • – Tuesday & Wednesday: CLOSED

Mahoney State Park conservatory

Not a far walk from the Activity Center is the conservatory/greenhouse.

Inside the small conservatory at Mahoney State Park

This is a great place for a quick warmup if it’s particularly freezing outdoors. It’s like 150 degrees in there. It’s small but there’s a lot to look at, including a fish pond.

In a separate room, there are a couple aquariums featuring native Nebraskan animals, like snakes and a turtle. The kids liked looking at them.

Two other indoor options I can’t vouch much for since we tend to do more active things while we’re there:

  • – The park has moved the arts and crafts center over to the marina. You can paint ceramics, work with leather, and do all sorts of other crafts for a nominal fee.
  • – The park offers live theater with family-friendly fare year-round. See which melodrama is playing and buy tickets here.

What to do outdoors at Mahoney State Park in the winter

A big outdoor draw at the park is the toboggan run. It has been relocated in the past year, so if you used to go here, know that the sledding hill is now by the Activity Center.

The toboggan run at Mahoney State Park is a pretty nice, long hill but not too steep. I like that it was far enough away from trees that I could relax.

This is a FREE activity, just bring your sleds.

Another FREE activity is hiking around the park. While I prefer my hikes when I can feel my fingers, trails are still open at Mahoney in the winter.

Exploring the easy-to-hike trails near the lookout tower. If you time it right, you can catch a nice view of passing trains.

Just be warned, Mahoney isn’t the best place for hikes in this part of Nebraska. There aren’t a lot of trails at this park.

But, then again, it’s not like you want to hike very far with young children in the middle of a Nebraska winter.

Or do you?


My kids slept 12 hours straight after our visit to Mahoney in the winter. I’m sold on visiting parks in the winter now.

We're smiling because we know these two monkeys are going to sleep well tonight.

My kids loved the Activity Center so much, I’d even make the drive out to Mahoney just for that. I bet you will be driving home with some tired kiddos after visiting the Activity Center, too.

Special events at Mahoney

I recommend checking the Nebraska Game & Parks calendar before planning your visit. You may be able to time a winter visit to coincide with a memorable holiday event or family-friendly event.

One year, we visited the park when they had ice fishing for children. The park already made the holes in the ice and provided the fishing gear for the kids.

More about Mahoney State Park

Where: Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, 28500 West Park Highway, Ashland, Nebraska

Cost: You need a valid Nebraska State Park annual pass or you can pay a daily admission per vehicle. Annual permits are now $30. A day pass is $6.

Ice Rink conditions(402) 944-2523, Ext. 7122

Mahoney State Park is one of Nebraska's most-visited parks. See what there is to do at Mahoney in the winter, from ice fishing and sledding to indoor wall climbing and a huge activity center. #Nebraska #statepark #winter #winterfun #Midwest

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Bakken Museum: A Minneapolis Hidden Gem

Minneapolis, Minnesota, has so many museum options for families, it’s tough to figure out where to go first. On our recent summer visit, we found a true Minneapolis gem: The Bakken Museum. And to think, we nearly didn’t go to it!

Our quiet afternoon The Bakken Museum was full of wonder. I’m certain your family will love it as much as mine. Read on for why the museum won a place in our hearts.

The Bakken Museum is an under-the-radar Minneapolis Museum you should check out! Here's a guide to the museum: What to expect, what kids will like, and why you need to visit. #Minneapolis #TwinCities #Minnesota #MeetMinneapolis #FamilyTravel

Disclosure: Our trip to Minneapolis was hosted by Meet Minneapolis. Our visit to The Bakken Museum was complimentary. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Where is The Bakken Museum? 

The location of The Bakken Museum is the main reason we picked it as the lone museum to visit during our summer getaway to Minneapolis. It’s near Bde Maka Ska, a popular lake in Minneapolis. 

Walking along the shore of Bde Maka Ska, a lake near The Bakken Museum in Minneapolis.

We visited the museum first and then dipped our toes into the lake. It wasn’t exactly beach weather that day. (Hope you have better luck!)

What kind of museum is The Bakken Museum?

I would describe The Bakken Museum as part science museum with a touch of children’s museum in a beautiful historic mansion. It’s not overwhelmingly immense and packed with information like some science centers, nor does it bombard the senses like many children’s museums.

The medicinal garden and fountain on the grounds of The Bakken Museum.

The Bakken Museum describes itself as intending to inspire “a passion for innovation by exploring the potential for science, technology, and the humanities to make the world a better place. Housed in the historic West Winds Mansion, the museum offers unique artifact and book collections, seasonal medicinal gardens, dynamic exhibits, and rich education experiences.”

It was established in 1975 to house a world-renowned collection of artifacts and books that detail the history and innovation of electricity, magnetism and their influence on medical innovation. 

The library inside The Bakken Museum.

Since it’s home to the Florence Bakken Medicinal Gardens and Dakota Native Plant Gardens, as well, the museum is able to tell the story of Minnesota’s role in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) innovation, making it a global leader in improving the lives of people around the world. 

How long does it take to visit The Bakken Museum?

Exhibit inside The Bakken Museum

Most families could spend about two to three hours at The Bakken Museum. Of course, if you or someone in your group enjoys reading about each exhibit, add another hour to your visit.

We visited at the end of the day and left less than two hours to explore. It turned out to be enough time for us, though we didn’t get to linger for long at any one place.

What can kids do at the museum?

A lot! Every room has something (or many things) for kids to explore. I spotted the youngest visitors enjoying the circuits the Electropolis exhibit.

The Bakken Museum is a kid-friendly Minneapolis museum and includes exhibits like Electropolis.

My youngest (7 years old)  spent most of her time outdoors in the medicinal garden. It’s a beautiful and peaceful place to explore.

The museum provides backpacks to check out, each containing kid-friendly activities like an insect identifying kit with bug descriptions and a net to catch them and a nature bingo card.

Things for kids to do at The Bakken Museum - Check out a backpack to explore the gardens.

Don’t miss the chance to see the medicinal gardens, if only to have a quiet moment by the fountain. But, since you’re already outside, walk to the other side of the building to see the rooftop garden.

My oldest (9 years old) is into design and building, so he spent a lot of time at the Minnesota Made and Designing For Life exhibits. These exhibits felt more reminiscent of the self-directed, hands-on activities we encounter at children’s museums.

Minnesota Made exhibit at The Bakken Museum

Tip: Frankenstein’s Laboratory is a 10-minute, immersive show about Frankenstein’s monster and his tragic story. Signs were posted saying it may scare children under a certain age, so we skipped it.

A friend of mine has seen the show and she confirmed there is a surprise in it that could, indeed, scare a kid. Glad we skipped it!

SAVINGS TIP: The Bakken Museum belongs to the Association of Science & Technology Centers, meaning if you have a family membership to places like Omaha Children’s Museum, you receive FREE admission for up to four people thanks to the reciprocal membership perks. Read this post for more details.

What was the museum’s highlight?

My entire family had a lot of fun playing in the exhibit Ben Franklin’s Electricity Party. The small room has some of his nutty electric parlor tricks, which he was known to share at parties he’d host in the 1700s.

Electricity Party at The Bakken Museum

Some of the tricks moved butterflies or made a bell ring. Some of the tricks shocked you. We tended to giggle loudest with those tricks.

So, yes, basically my family spent our time watching each other get a mild shock. Ahh, family memories. 🙂

More things to do in Minneapolis

We’ve explored Minneapolis and St. Paul in the summer and the winter. Here are some more fun things to do and places to visit in the Twin Cities (and nearby):

A Perfect Weekend Itinerary For Minneapolis

Holiday Weekend In Minnesota 

Ultimate Mall of America Guide – For Kids!

What Young Kids Like At Science Museum Of Minnesota

Christmas at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis

Where To Stay Near The Twin Cities

Hotel In Downtown Minneapolis: The Marquette Hotel

Roseville & Twin Cities Bucket List 

Planning a trip to Minneapolis and the Twin Cities? Here's a great museum for families and travelers interested in science and medicine: The Bakken Museum. Learn about the museum's history, what you'll find inside, and what kids will like to do at the museum. #MeetMinneapolis #museum #guide #Minnesota #USA #familytravel

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Top Posts In 2019

Reader Favorites Of 2019

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

Ultimate Mall Of America Guide For Kids

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

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

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

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

Where is Mall of America

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

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

Mall of America hours

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

Nickelodeon Universe rides at Mall of America

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

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

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

Rides at Mall of America

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kid-friendly restaurants at Mall of America

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

Recommended Mall of America restaurant - Twin City Grill

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

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

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

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

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

Shopping at Mall of America

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

Mall of America has more than 500 stores

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

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

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

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

More things to do at the mall

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

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

Here are the notables:

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

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

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

Most unique experience at MOA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to stay in Bloomington

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

There are even hotels connected to the Mall of America.

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

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

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

Plan a Minneapolis family trip

We’ve explored Minneapolis and St. Paul in the summer and the winter. Here are some more fun things to do and places to visit in the Twin Cities (and nearby):

A Perfect Weekend Itinerary For Minneapolis

Holiday Weekend In Minnesota 

Bakken Museum: A Minneapolis Hidden Gem

Ultimate Mall of America Guide – For Kids!

What Young Kids Like At Science Museum Of Minnesota

Christmas at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis

Downtown Minneapolis Hotel: Marquette Hotel

Where To Stay Near The Twin Cities

Roseville & Twin Cities Bucket List 

Like this post?

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