It’s been several years since I’ve written a post dedicated to Omaha Children’s Museum. My last non-exhibit post about the museum was written before I started working there. (Now’s a good time to fully disclose, that, yes, I was once employed at Omaha Children’s Museum.) But with more than eight years as a member and six as an employee, people often ask me for tips, so now I’m going to put them into a post. Read on for my tips on the best times to visit the museum, how to navigate special events, and dining at the museum.
Updates: This post was updated in July 2019 to include 2023 special exhibit information.
Who is the museum’s target audience?
I said this before, but children’s museums are geared toward about a 10 and younger audience, while science centers cater to a wider range (but aren’t always zeroes in on the younger kids). In Omaha, I’d say the exhibits are best for 8 and younger, though the Tinker Lab is the exception. My son is 9 and still loves visiting and never misses the chance to build something in the Tinker Lab.
If your kids are preschoolers, you’ll spend most of your time in the museum’s most popular exhibit, Imagination Playground, where you’ll find the mini grocery store, barn, hospital, and climb space. Actually, even early grade schoolers love the space.
There’s a three-tiered water table that pretty popular. There are covers to keep kids dry, but you may want to bring a change of clothes, just in case. The Imagination Playground is a great spot for parents on their own with two or more kids. There is just one way in and one way out.
For kids under 3, there’s a space called the Wiggle Room. You’ll need to remove your shoes or wear shoe covers if you go in there. If you have a baby, the museum has a breastfeeding room. It’s located in the Family Discover Room, which you’ll have to pass through the Imagination Playground to get to. It’s cozy and has peaceful music playing over speakers.
When to go to Omaha Children’s Museum
Weekdays are going to be the best time to visit. In the winter, this is especially the case. When to time the visit depends on your kids, really. When my kids were younger, they got up early and took ridiculously long naps, so afternoons were straight out for going to the museum.
But let me tell you – those last few hours of the day? Those are great times to visit. The morning crowd typically leaves around lunch time (AKA, nap time), leaving the great parking spots open to boot. There’s also a discount on admission if you arrive during the last hour.
Tips for summer at Omaha Children’s Museum
Since the museum caters to a crowd that is in school, summers tend to be busier than any other time of year. The two parking lots can fill up before noon (scroll down and read my tips on parking!). People come to see the summer exhibit, which is only open from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day Weekend (note that the museum is closed on those major holidays).
I think the best time to visit is at the end of the day in the summer. When I walk through the museum during that last hour, it’s just a handful of families. So, if you’re little one isn’t on a strict napping schedule that conflicts with arriving later in the day, I’d recommend going that route.
And pro parent tip: Bring a swimsuit for the kids or a change of clothes. The museum has a small splash pad in front and it’s hard for kids to resist in the heat of summer.
Special events at Omaha Children’s Museum
Omaha Children’s Museum has special events almost monthly, and all but a handful are included with museum admission. That means, the events are free for member families. For Family Fun Weekends, and other events like Star Wars Family Weekend, you do not need to purchase tickets in advance. Just show up and buy them at the front desk.
Eating at Omaha Children’s Museum
The museum has the Rainbow Cafe, located upstairs by the carousel. The prices are surprisingly low for museums or attractions, in my opinion. Of course, there are the not-so-healthy options like pizza slices, large pretzels, and hot dogs.
On the first floor, your offerings are limited to what’s available at the gift shop. This includes $1 popcorn. There’s also coffee available, and a little tip for winter visits, the coffee machine also makes delicious hot cocoa.
The good news is that it’s totally fine to bring outside food here and eat it in one of the designated dining areas. Please do not eat in any of the exhibits spaces. In the summer, I often eat at the picnic tables outside. The tables are next to the antique fire truck kids like play on.
There aren’t a whole lot of restaurants within walking distance of the museum, not at least any that I’d send you guys too. One of the closest is Block 16, and while it’s crazy delicious, you’ll likely encounter a line (and there’s no kid’s menu). You’re better off driving the short distance to the Old Market and trying one of these family-friendly restaurants.
Parking at Omaha Children’s Museum
The museum has two parking lots on the south side of the building. Parking in them is free. On the weekends and in the summer (and on school holidays), the parking lot of the elementary school across the street is available for free, overflow parking, as well.
On busy days, during the summer, and on the weekends, though, the free parking fills up. There are plenty of metered parking spots along the street, but of course, those cost money (except on Sundays). Timing your visit on one of those busy days may help you snag a parking spot in the main parking lots.
I recommend visiting right after the lunch hour, say around 1 p.m. Why? Because families often leave around lunch in order to get home in time for naps.
What makes Omaha Children’s Museum unique?
Very few children’s museums have as many special exhibits each year. In Omaha, there are two big special exhibits in the larger, upstairs space each year. On the lower level, there’s a smaller exhibits space that changes more frequently, and usually includes something seasonal. So, for Halloween, there’s Cobweb Castle and at Christmas time, there’s Santa’s Magic.
The museum is also one of the few to design and build their own exhibits (well, for bigger pieces, they design and then hire places like Heartland Scenic Studio to build them). These exhibits tend to be more hands-on and less branded. They occasionally rent an exhibit, and that’s when you’ll typically see the brand name characters involved.
OCM Family Memberships
If there’s a chance your family is going to visit more than two or three times in one year, I highly recommend getting a membership. Even if you think you’ll only visit twice – get one.
Why? Your membership gets you into other museums and science centers around the country for FREE (they have to belong to the Association of Science and Technology Centers and be more than 90 miles from your home museum). This is why I also recommend getting a family membership even if you have a kid on the verge of aging out (or if your oldest has already aged out). The regular Family Membership gets you reciprocal membership benefits to more than 250 science centers and technology centers. Some of the places I’ve used the reciprocal membership include the Science Center of Iowa and The Field Museum. I explain it better in this post.
If you buy a Patron Family Membership, which costs more, you also get discounted admission into children’s museums that are in the Association of Children’s Museums. ACM doesn’t give you free admission for up to four people, though. It’s usually 50% off. It’s still a nice perk.
I wrote an entire post about the perks of an Omaha Children’s Museum membership; read it to learn about the discounts on camps, birthdays, gift shop purchases, etc.
Discounts to Omaha Children’s Museum
People often ask about free days at Omaha Children’s Museum. Well, hate to break it to you, but there aren’t many free days. The only one is the first Sunday in December during the Holiday Lights Festival’s Family Festival. As you can imagine, it gets very busy and parking is hard to come by.
Your best bet, if you’re local, is to have an Omaha Public Library card. Each OPL branch has a limited amount of family passes to check out. The passes admit up to four people, and you must show your library card when you bring it to the museum. There are some limits to it – you have to be 18 and older, for instance. Other libraries that have similar pass programs include Council Bluffs Public Library and Carter Lake Public Library.
Better yet, if you have a membership to a science center that might belong to the ASCT, use it to get in free! Remember, there are rules that apply, so if your ASCT membership is to a museum closer than 90 miles of OCM, it won’t get you in for free.
Want more Omaha Children’s Museum tips?
I could write another 1,000-word post about the museum, but I’d rather not. Leave me a comment if you have a specific question for me to answer. I’m happy to help!
If you go
Omaha Children’s Museum
Where: 500 S. 20th St.