Guest Blogger: Joshua and his family live in Nebraska and like to travel on the cheap and keep costs as low as possible. They’re saving up to buy a travel trailer so they can be even more mobile. Follow along on Instagram!
Omaha, Nebraska is a city many people have been through but not many have been to. Situated on the Nebraska-Iowa border with I-80 running through, Omaha has seen its share of cross-country travelers heading anywhere but there. The city is home to the College World Series, the ever-growing Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, world-class hospitals, and numerous colleges and universities. Restaurants are everywhere and serve everything. There are shopping malls abound.
But what if you find yourself in town for the day with a little time to kill? We recently had to take our two-year-old to the wonderful Children’s Hospital and Medical Center for a specialist visit. Children’s is an amazing place that you hate to need but love to have. They saved our little girl’s life, and we will be forever grateful! We had to make the 4-5 hour drive from our home, so we spent the night and had some free time after the appointment. You guys know how hard it can be to spend the whole day in the car with a two-year-old, but we also have an eight-month-old tagging along. Yep, we definitely needed to stay the night!
Omaha has been around for a while and hasn’t stopped growing. Since it is bordered by the Missouri River on the east, all of the city’s growth is to the west. Downtown is where we are heading today. Heading east on I-80, you can see the big glass Desert Dome at the zoo off to the south. Let’s exit there, but we are going to head north into a neighborhood. We’ll save the zoo for another day when it’s a little warmer outside. Down through the neighborhood on Bancroft Street is our destination. Several people on the street have RVs parked in the driveways, so you can probably get down there with yours. It’s so well hidden that we lived in Omaha for several years before having kids and never knew it was there.
Lauritzen Gardens is a hidden gem that makes a perfect afternoon stop. For starters, parking is free and actually near the entrance. There’s even space for buses, so folks with RVs should be fine. You can stop at the park on the grounds to have a picnic before heading in, or you can eat in the café next to a fireplace with a nice view of a seasonal indoor display. This winter, it’s a huge poinsettia tree and model train sets weaving in and out of a winter wonderland.
Admission is only $10 for adults, $5 for ages 6-12, and free for kids under age 6. We’ve found that prices for everything seem to be going up these days, so we thought $20 was a pretty good deal to get our family in.
One of the best things about Lauritzen is the enormous greenhouses. If you’re in Nebraska in December and need something warm to do, a greenhouse is the place to be! They have a couple of buildings with different climates, but everything is connected. There are elevators and paved paths through the buildings, but be warned of the slight incline. We would recommend leaving strollers at the entrance if possible. Kids big enough to walk will love stretching their legs and getting up close with all the unusual plants. After all, that’s why you came to a botanical garden, right?! We put the little guy in our baby backpack so even he could sit up to look out and touch. However, the building is accessible for strollers and wheelchairs for those who need them.
While the greenhouses at Lauritzen are big, they are very densely packed. This is a great place to spend as much or as little time as you want. You can stop and admire each plant and its unique characteristics, or you can quickly stroll through each building and still see everything. We spent about 90 minutes to 2 hours and found that to be sufficient. Little kids won’t last much longer than that, but you could spend longer with older kids and make quite a learning experience out of it. Keep in mind that I’m writing this in December, so there isn’t a lot to see outside at this time of year. I saw signs for an outdoor walking path and gardens, which must be fantastic in the spring and summer. A narrated tram tour runs in the summer and is only $3 extra. We can’t wait to go back in the summer and try that out!
Speaking of going back…the multitude of special events convinced us to buy a membership! For $55 (today’s admission counts) you can upgrade to the yearly membership. Omaha is a sister city with Shizuoka, Japan, where we lived in a previous life, and Lauritzen has a couple of Japanese events every year in the spring and summer that we are really looking forward to. There’s also a photographer who hosts a couple of workshops for various skill levels throughout the year. The “Lil Sprouts” programs are specially designed for ages 3-5 and run August-May. Flower arrangement classes for adults are held during the winter. There’s a Mother’s Day Brunch in May with a menu that includes roast beef, coffee cake, and French toast casserole. Can’t go wrong there! Oh, and you get a free subscription to Better Homes and Gardens or Martha Stewart Living with your membership fee. Who doesn’t like a free bonus gift?
The employees and volunteers were very helpful and courteous and did a great job interacting with our little ones. We found the building very easy to get around. The restrooms were clean. The visitor center provided plenty of brochures on all the activities available. Parking was convenient. Lauritzen Gardens is really a fantastic spot for the whole family and will make a great pit stop for you on your way through Omaha. And if you’re coming through town in the evening during the winter, be sure to head downtown to see some beautiful lights on the Gene Leahy Mall!
We hope you enjoyed experiencing one of Omaha’s hidden gems! I know we’ll be stopping by on our cross-country drive next summer!
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