December 30, 2017

10 Beautiful Midwest Destinations For Families

I’d like this year to be a year of beauty and wonder for my kids. How about you? The good news is that you don’t have to travel far to encounter some truly beautiful or unique places. There are so many beautiful Midwest destinations! Here are a few of my family’s favorites so you, too, can have a year of beauty and wonder with your family.

10 beautiful destination in the Midwest | Family-friendly places to visit in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota #Midwest #familytravel #outdoors

I’m stilling brainstorming where we may go in 2018, so I’d love your suggestions! Where in the Midwest should I go with my family for beautiful sights and wonder-inducing experiences?

Botanica, The Wichita Gardens

Monster Tree at Botanica Wichita in Kansas
The Monster Trees might have been my favorite part of all Botanica Wichita.

Where: Wichita, Kan.

Why it’s beautiful: Obviously, being a botanical garden, things are going to be beautiful. Must-see pretty spots at Botanica include the koi pond and Chinese Friendship Garden.

Why kids will like it: You must take the kids to the whimsical Downing Children’s Garden to see the Monster Woods, musical maze, the familiar storybook character statues. and, being Kansas, the yellow brick road.

Read more about this kid-favorite destination!

Clear Lake

View of Clear Lake, Iowa at sunset
The view from the top of the carousel at Clear Lake’s Fourth of July celebration.

Where: Clear Lake, Iowa

Why it’s beautiful: Like most Midwestern lakes, there’s a beautiful of the sky reflecting on the water and the serene appeal of quiet, lapping waves on a shore. But, the bonus with Clear Lake is that it’s a getaway without being far from modern conveniences. The town of Clear Lake is literally right at the water’s edge.

Why kids will like it: There are a couple beaches to choose from where kids where it’s shallow enough for littles to enter the water safely. My kids particularly remember Clear Lake for its Fourth of July festival…and the chance to stay overnight in a yurt.

Want to stay in a yurt? Here’s a post about the only yurts in Iowa you can stay in. 

Coronado Heights Park

Castle structure at Coronado Heights Park in Lindsborg, Kansas
Coronado Heights Park has a structure that looks strikingly like a castle to young children (and grown ups with big imaginations).

Where: Lindsborg, Kan.

Why it’s beautiful: Coronado Heights sits on a sandstone bluff looking over flat pastures. The beauty is the view, yes, but also the stark contrast of an ancient-looking castle set on the plains.

Why kids will like it: The castle, obviously. It’s not really a castle, but go ahead and let them believe there was once a small, medieval castle just northwest of Lindsborg.

Bonus: Don’t just visit the park and miss out on the charming town of Lindsborg. The town wears its Swedish heritage with pride, and it’s utterly charming to visit.

We tacked on a visit to Coronado Heights during our weekend trip to Wichita. Read about that stop here!

Ledges State Park

Creek at Ledges State Park in central Iowa
We looked for rocks in the shallow river that flowed through Ledges State Park.

Where: Madrid, Iowa

Why it’s beautiful: This park is an unexpected treasure in the middle of Iowa. The walk along the sandstone gorge carved out by a tributary of the Des Moines River is unforgettable.

Why kids will like it: Playing in the water is a big draw, but part of the fun, too, is Canyon Drive, a route that passes through the sandstone gorge and is often partly submerged under water. The bigger the splash, the better.

Loess Hills

Hiking in part of the Loess Hills at Preparation Canyon State Park in Iowa
They don’t call them the Loess Hills for nothing. Don’t expect a flat hike at Preparation Canyon State Park.

Where: Western Iowa and Missouri

Why it’s beautiful: We’ve hiked a few trails in western Iowa’s Loess Hills, and each have had their own unique beauty about them. Trails along these unique formations can sometimes lead to rolling hills or steep bluffs, and have views of prairies or forests. You’ll find them along the eastern edge of the Missouri River flood plain.

Why kids will like it: This is Midwest nature at its purest.

Here are three hikes in the Loess Hills to consider!

Missouri Botanical Garden

Bridge in the Japanese Garden in Missouri Botanical Garden in Saint Louis
The Japanese Garden at Missouri Botanical Garden is 14 acres with bridges, waterfalls and peaceful nooks.

Where: St. Louis, Mo.

Why it’s beautiful: This huge botanical garden has a space that appeals to everyone, but the most beautiful, to me at least, is the 14-acre Japanese Garden. It’s peaceful with its path around the lake, and everywhere you look, you see pure beauty.

Why kids will like it: The kids enjoyed feeding the Koi fish at the Japanese Garden and looking for turtles around lake. However, you’d be making a huge mistake if you skip the seasonal Doris I. Schnuck Children’s Garden. It’s a lot of fun (pack their swimsuits).

They don’t call this place one of the most beautiful gardens in the U.S. for nothing! Read why here.

Smith Falls

Nebraska's tallest waterfall, Smith Falls
A view of Smith Falls on a sunny day.

Where: Cherry County, Nebraska (nearest city is Valentine, Neb.)

Why it’s beautiful: Located in Smith Falls State Park, this 63-foot waterfall is the tallest in Nebraska. You don’t forget the first time you ever see this waterfall.

Why kids will like it: You hear the waterfall before you actually see it, which thrills children to no end. The fun part is that you can stand under the water, if you dare (it’s very cold no matter the season, and the water hits you pretty hard).

Bonus: Getting to Smith Falls from Omaha is half the fun – you drive through the beautiful Sandhills of Nebraska. Plus, most people opt to canoe the Niobrara River to Smith Falls State Park, which in my opinion, is another beautiful thing to experience.

Get Western Nebraska road trip inspiration to visit Smith Falls here!

Sylvan Lake

Walking stones in Sylvan Lake at Custer State Park in South Dakota
Hiking around Sylvan Lake at Custer State Park.

Where: Black Hills, South Dakota

Why it’s beautiful: Sylvan Lake is found within Custer State Park in South Dakota, which is itself, a truly unique and wonderful destination. Visit Custer, and make sure Sylvan Lake is on your list of stops. This gorgeous lake is a worthy destination for any family, either for an easy hike, water sports, or a waterside picnic.

Why kids will like it: The trail around lake is mostly easy, but there are some more challenging points that kids love. This is a spectacular spot to immerse yourself in nature.

Get inspired for a Black Hills road trip starting with this post!

Table Rock Lake

Jumping off a small cliff into Table Rock Lake in Missouri
Jumping into Table Rock Lake to cool off in the summer.

Where: Stone County, Missouri

Why it’s beautiful: Table Rock Lake is a reservoir in the expansive Ozarks region of southern Missouri (and expands well into Arkansas). I particularly enjoyed Table Rock because it offered an peaceful escape from the frenzy of nearby Branson, Mo.

Why kids will like it: Water sports and small cliff jumping is a big appeal here. If you plan ahead, you can rent a houseboat to extend your stay on the water.

Toadstool Geologic Park

The trail into Toadstool Geological Park in western Nebraska
Nebraska’s own Badlands, AKA Toadstool Geological Park.

Where: Harrison, Neb.

Why it’s beautiful: This is Nebraska’s own Badlands. It’s off the beaten path, and much smaller than South Dakota’s Badlands, but park is just stunning to hike.

Why kids will like it: I suspect they like it because they’re imagining they’re on the moon. At least, that’s why I liked the park. Please note: The trail can be challenging for young children, and seriously panic-inducing for parents who bring their young children. Hike with care.

Read some Western Nebraska road trip inspiration in this post!

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December 20, 2017

Staying Near Country Club Plaza in KC

One of the most-visited areas in Kansas City is the beautiful Country Club Plaza. There are few trips we make to KC that don’t involve a stop there.

Until recently, we’ve never stayed near there, though. If you’re looking for a hotel near Country Club Plaza, here’s what we found at Holiday Inn Country Club Plaza. It’s within walking distance to great shops and a ton of restaurants. Disclosure: Our stay was complimentary for this review.

Holiday Inn Amenities

We were in Kansas City for a quick holiday getaway, and we wanted to stay somewhere near some of our key activities like ice skating at Crown Center, playing at LEGOLAND Discovery Center and Science City, and hopefully, getting some shopping done. So, we opted for a hotel near the Country Club Plaza. It was nowhere near our third destination of the trip (Worlds of Fun).

The lobby at the Holiday Inn in Kansas City was welcoming. You can’t see it, but off to the side was a Christmas tree for the season.

Traveling to big cities, parking can be costly. A great perk at Holiday Inn near Country Club Plaza is the complimentary self-parking. Having it underground is a bonus, especially in the winter.

My family includes two young kids so one big thing is a requirement for hotels: A pool. This Holiday Inn has one, but alas, it’s outdoors and open seasonally. To keep the kids occupied, you could check out an Xbox Connect or board games.

There’s actually a year-round outdoor pool in Kansas City, and I highly recommend it for families (read about it in the Sheraton Hotel review here). It’s not within walking distance of the Plaza, though.

Another nice amenity is the free wi-fi access at the hotel.

Holiday Inn Rooms

The Holiday Inn near the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City had really comfy beds that were perfect to fall into after a busy day.

You can bet after a day of ice skating and strolling around Worlds of Fun’s WinterFest, the family was beyond tired. Our room at two double beds with the coziest pillows ever. The blackout curtains insured the kids slept in for as long as they needed.

Our room overlooked the pool courtyard, which I imagine would be nice other times of year. During the winter, there isn’t much to see.

Free Dining

I didn’t get a chance to dine at the Holiday Inn’s restaurant, but for families on a budget, here’s the deal: Up to four kids ages 11 and under eat free any time of the day in any Holiday Inn® on-site restaurant.

Walk to the Country Club Plaza

The Country Club Plaza in Kansas City is stunning any time of year. The architecture is beautiful. However, around the holidays, the KCP&L Plaza Lights at night add an extra “aww” factor to your visit. The Plaza Lights run Thanksgiving through Jan. 14 from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily.

It doesn’t get much more Christmas-y than this photo of the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. Photo courtesy Visit KC

There are several other events at the Plaza besides the Plaza Lights. You can get event details here.

One more tip: If you’re looking for a great breakfast choice, eggtc. is a KC staple with a location less than a mile from the Holiday Inn. It’s very family-friendly, but you want to get there early to beat the local rush.

 

If you go

Holiday Inn Country Club Plaza

Where:

Book a stay!

 

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Want more KC family vacation ideas?

Our WinterFest visit was part of a 24-hour trip to Kansas City, packed with a ton of fun, great food, and beautiful sights. Be sure to read all about our adventures:

24 Hours In Kansas City With Kids

Tips For WinterFest At Worlds Of Fun

5 Things To Know About LEGOLAND Discovery Center

Kid-Friendly Indoor Activities For KC Winter Getaways – Jan. 11

 

Looking for more things to do during the holidays? Here’s a post with 15+ fun things to do in Kansas during the holidays and a KC Holidays Bucket List.

If you have a little more time for your visit, check out fun things to do in the winter with kids in Kansas City or see what family-friendly activities are near Worlds of Fun.

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February 15, 2017

Odd Squad Live! Coloring Contest

I love the Omaha Performing Arts’ Family Series. Doesn’t matter if I’ve never heard of the performer or show, if it’s in that series, I know my kids will love it.

The final show in the 16-17 Family Series is “Odd Squad LIVE!”, which some of you are probably familiar with if your family is a PBS kind of family.

In advance of the March 2 “Odd Squad LIVE!” show at the Orpheum Theater, Omaha Performing Arts is offering a fun way for kids to win tickets: A coloring contest.

How to enter the coloring contest

1. Download this coloring page.

2. How your kiddo color it.

3. Enter the contest by snapping a picture and tagging Omaha Performing Arts on social media (@OPerformingArts on Twitter, @OmahaPerformingArtsOrg on Facebook, and @operformingarts on Instagram) – don’t forget to use #OddSquadColoringContest. Your other option to enter is to scan your child’s masterpiece and email it to socialmedia@omahaperformingarts.org.

4. Winners will be chosen on Feb. 24. Two winners will a 4-pack of tickets to the show!

 

What is Odd Squad LIVE!?

Here’s the synopsis: Attention Odd Squad fans! Things are about to get very odd in Omaha, and Ms. O needs YOU to help solve the case. Odd Squad LIVE! is springing into action on stage in this action-packed, laugh-out-loud adventure where kids get to participate in solving a seriously strange case. When agents Orion and Oleanna get turned into grown-ups by villains, it’s up to the kids in the audience to use their math skills and help the agents decode, decipher and unravel clues.

“Odd Squad LIVE!” is filled with the coolest new gadgets, funniest and quirkiest villains  like “Father Time” and “Lady Terrible,” and catchy hit songs from the Odd Squad-favorite band, Soundcheck. The side-splitting humor and oddly irresistible fun that earned the “Odd Squad” writing team a 2016 Daytime Emmy Award for “Outstanding Writing in a Children’s Series” will burst onto the stage in this wonderfully weird, hilarious and interactive live show that is not to be missed!

If you go

“Odd Squad LIVE!” is in Omaha March 2, 2017. Photo courtesy Omaha Performing Arts

“Odd Squad LIVE!”

When: March 2, 7 p.m.

Where: Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St.

Cost: $15-$50

Get tickets here

 

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post. Since you’ve stuck around all the way to the end of the post, I’ll let you in on the surprise: I’ll be giving away tickets to the show soon. Stay tuned! 🙂 

December 15, 2016

3 Fun Things To Do Dec. 16-18

This time of year is so busy, with so many great events planned just for families. Check out my huge list of fun things to do all month long here.

From that list, I picked three fun things to do this weekend with the kiddos. You can make FREE gingerbread houses, you can splash around the pool with inflatables, or take in a charming Christmas play.

 

Inflatable Fridays

Inflatable Fridays at the Kroc Center. Photo courtesy Salvation Army Kroc Center

Inflatable Fridays at the Kroc Center. Photo courtesy Salvation Army Kroc Center

When: Friday, 4 to 7:30 p.m.

Where: The Salvation Army Kroc Center, 2825 Y St.

Why: Your kids have so much energy being cooped up indoors, you need to take them somewhere to work it all out.

Who’d like it: Active families; kids of all ages; water babies

 

 

Get Crafty: Gingerbread Houses

omaha-public-library-logo

When: Saturday, 10 to 11:30 a.m. (South Omaha), 1 to 2:30 p.m. (Main, kids), 3 to 4:30 p.m. (Main, teens)

Where: Omaha Public Library South Omaha branch and W. Dale Clark Main Library

Why: FREE holiday craft activity? Sign us up! (I recommend you pre-register, though)

Who’d like it: Families on a budget; preschoolers and older; those with a sweet tooth

 

“Prancer”

Chloe Irwin and puppeteer Shannon Wade in "Prancer," on stage at The Rose through Dec. 23. Photo courtesy MJB Photography

Chloe Irwin and puppeteer Shannon Wade in “Prancer,” on stage at The Rose through Dec. 18. Photo courtesy MJB Photography

When: Friday at 7 p.m., and Saturday & Sunday at 2 p.m. (final weekend!)

Where: Rose Theater, 2001 Farnam St.

Why: You remember the movie growing up, right? Now it’s time to share the magic of one special reindeer with your kids. Plus, there is some real theater magic going on in the show.

Who’d like it: Kids ages 7 and older; theater geeks

Read the review

 

Want Christmas-y events? Find all that you could ever need at Family Fun in Omaha – she’s got you covered!

 

Don’t miss out on any fun!

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October 11, 2016

Omaha Neighborhood Favorites

Whether you’re visiting or lived here for 20 years, there’s a good chance you don’t know about a few of our hidden gems. I’m sharing some of my Omaha neighborhood favorites so that you can get out there and explore the city.

Kids will definitely like anything in blue lettering!

Guide to Omaha neighborhoods - Where to shop, where to eat and what to do #Omaha #Nebraska

Downtown

Includes: Old Market, NoDo

Eat: Plank Seafood Provisions, Blatte Beer & Table (they even have a changing table in the bathroom), Wilson & Washburn, Ted & Wally’s

Drink: Upstream Brewing Co., La Buvette

Caffeinate: Culprit Cafe (one of the recommended coffee shops on the list of Omaha’s Best Coffee Shops)

Shop: City Limits, Jackson Street Booksellers, Hollywood Candy

Do: See a show at Bluebarn Theatre or The Rose Theater, walk across The Bob, get creative at Art Works inside Joslyn Art Museum (read about Art Works in this post!), see the train garden and children’s garden at Lauritzen Gardens 

Play: Try the big slides at Gene Leahy Mall, Omaha Children’s Museum

Benson

Where: West of downtown

Eat: España, Lot 2 Restaurant & Wine Bar, Ted & Wally’s

Do: See a concert at The Waiting Room

Drink: Krug Park, Benson Brewery, Infusion Brewery

Caffeinate: Hardy Coffee Co. (now going by Hardy’s Coffee, but it will always be Aromas in my mind)

Play: Benson Park for the kids; for grown ups, go to the Beercade and play some old school arcade games.

Central Omaha

Includes: Midtown Crossing, Blackstone, Aksarben Village

Eat: Mula Mexican Kitchen & Tequileria, Modern Love, The Grey Plume

Drink: Crescent Moon, try a frose (a frozen rose drink) at Herbe Sainte

CaffeinateCrane Coffee, ROAST

Shop: The Afternoon

Do: Attend a free movie screen or outdoor concert in the summer like Jazz on the Green at Midtown Crossing; coming soon – see a movie at Alamo Drafthouse

Play: Aksarben Village’s Stinson Park, play games at Speilbound (with or without kids, it’s a fun place)

Dundee

Where: West of downtown

Eat: Marks Bistro (grab a table on their patio), eCreamery, Dundee Dell, Dario’s Brasserie, Great Harvest Bread Co. (get a free slice of bread!)

Do: See a show at Omaha Community Playhouse

Shop: Scout Dry Goods & Trade

Play: Memorial Park (this place is great for sledding, but also don’t skip the rose garden in warmer weather)


South Omaha

Where: South of downtown

Eat: Guaca Maya Mexican Restaurant, Jacobo Grocery, Bakery & Tortilleria (you’re going to want to get the fresh chips and salsa from their deli), Lo Sole Mio

Do: Stroll Historic South 24 Street, visit El Museo Latino

Play: Kroc Center Omaha Family Recreation Pool

Northwest Omaha

Eat: Flagship Commons

Do: Visit Heron Haven, try standup paddleboarding at Cunningham Lake

West Omaha

Eat: Over Easy, Shucks Fish House and Oyster Bar, Twisted Cork Bistro

Do: Ride the ferris wheel inside Scheels, visit Boys Town 

Shop: Fat Brain Toys

Play: Lake Zorinski, Amazing Pizza Machine, Dave and Buster’s, get your ninja on at Urban Air Adventure Park

This post was inspired by a recent Kansas City trip I was planning. I’d stumbled across this post and thought I could do something similar for Omaha.

Your turn: What are your favorites around the city? Please leave a comment and let me know!

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October 3, 2016

Nebraska Bloggers Series – Hannah Christensen

I’ve had a lot of fun learning about fellow Omaha bloggers, so I thought it’d be interesting to expand that circle and tell you about some Nebraska bloggers. Today is the first installment of this occasional series!

Lovely Little Lives

 

Nebraska blogger at Lovely Little Lives

Name: Hannah Christensen

Blog: Lovely Little Lives

Find her on: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter 

Home base: Lincoln, Neb.

 

Describe your blog in five words. Motherhood, Loveliness, Family, Faith, Blessings

What are the two most popular posts on your blog? The most popular post is: “To My Little One” where I poured out my grief and my love into a letter the week after I lost my third child to an ectopic pregnancy. I think it resonates with readers because so many people have either lost a baby or experienced grief and because it is a completely raw and genuine letter where I spill my heart on the page.

to-my-little-one

The second most popular post is “One Boot Print at a Time” where I reflect on my younger brother’s wedding and the beautiful cycle of romance, marriage and children. The descriptive imagery and the heartfelt display of family emotions really come out in the post and I think that touches readers and perhaps reminds them of their own wedding or parental experiences.

What social media channel are you on the most and why? Instagram. I found it’s much easier to post little snippets of my story on there than to try to do multiple blog posts a week. I have daily moments of encouragement I share on Instagram and my Facebook page if you want to check that out.

encouraging-moments

You get one hour to spend on writing, where do you go? I love the new little coffee shop we have in Lincoln: Gianna’s Java and Gelato at 2241 O St. They have authentic Italian gelato and it is amazing!

If friends visit from out of town, what three places would you take them to? The Farmers Market on Saturday mornings in Lincoln’s Historic Haymarket.The brand new gorgeous Cathedral that was built for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln students. Any one of the three main college sport complexes for football, basketball and baseball but particularly Memorial Stadium, home of Nebraska Huskers Football. This link shows all the impressive Nebraska Lincoln complexes.

What’s your favorite free thing to do in your city? Visit the lovely Pioneers Park. We have spent memorable summer evenings there grilling out, playing on the playground and playing yard games with friends. There also is a beautiful wooded hiking trails, a great little nature center designed for kids and a children’s ABC garden.

 

More about Hannah

Hannah and her family

Hannah and her family

Hannah Christensen and her husband, David, have been married for five years and have two lively little girls. A stay-at-home mom and medical biller, Hannah loves morning coffee, scrap-booking, themed parties, date nights, play groups, mom friends, creative writing, Husker sports, and all things organized. She manages a personal blog where she explores the little lovely moments of everyday family life: lovelylittlelives.com.

Want to be a featured Nebraska blogger? Email me at ohmyomaha (at) gmail (dot) com to find out how!