Weekend staycation lets us look at Omaha’s holiday attractions as ‘visitors’


Tis the season!

We wanted to take a look at Omaha tourist offerings during the holiday season from the eyes of visitors. Lisa and I discussed what attractions we would look for if we didn’t live here. Since we like downtown areas of most cities we visit, we focused on that area.

Our final choices were: Children’s’ Museum, Durham Museum, Hollywood Candy, Hot Shops art center, Gene Leahy Mall Christmas lights display and Lauritzen Gardens.

Since we are Omahans and have been to most of those places before, we set out on our holiday weekend in Omaha.


Our first stop was the Children’s Museum. For this visit, we recruited a child – our 9-year-old niece, Cory.

Cory had a lot of interest once we arrived at the museum. In the arts area of the museum, she and Lisa worked on making a book for Cory. Serena, the museum’s aid for arts, helped Cory pick out a book cover. We all helped in cutting it out of a larger book of covers. IMG_0059

Then, Cory added some blank pages for her book. I helped her punch some holes in the back of the book. Serena then assisted with running some string through the holes.

Once the book was put together, Cory moved to the paint area to add some color to her book. By color, I mean purple. Just purple. The girl loves her some purple.

After she was done, we moved on to the science center. Here, kids can learn about pneumatics, hydraulics and mechanics. There is a ball drop area that builds up an abundance of balls through kids playing with the aforementioned sections. Once there are enough balls in the bin, it opens and they fall on top of all kinds of kids who jump in the middle of the display for the chance to get bonked on the head.

IMG_0233Another cool interest was the tornado machine. It creates a tornado in a small box. Kids can break it up by running their hands through it.

IMG_0263Cory sat on a chair that was part of a pulley system. She pulled herself up in the air by pulling on a rope ladder that guided the chair. She loved it, as we spent several minutes here.

IMG_0372We enjoyed the museum’s special exhibit – Things that Go. Cory “drove” a bus and a Werner Enterprises semi truck (among the items on display). Of course, these vehicles were mock ones created for this exhibit.

She worked hard pedaling a bike to create electrical power. She lit three light bulbs out of seven on the tower.

IMG_0788We finished our visit to the Children’s Museum with a visit by Santa Claus. The jolly old elf visited the children’s theater with “Santa’s Magic.”

IMG_0821The show starts with an elf helping to get the kids in the holiday spirit. Then, the snow queen arrives. She leads the kids in a Christmas tune. Then…Santa Claus came down through the chimney. After visiting with the crowd, Santa sat and listened to each child’s Christmas wish.

IMG_0833Since we were done at the Children’s Museum, it was time to dump the kid back on her mom. Only kidding! Cory had plans that afternoon with her family.

For more information on the Omaha Children’s Museum and its exhibits, please visit www.ocm.org.

When we were back downtown, it was lunch time. Again, we prefer to eat at local places when we travel, so we thought what would be a nice local eatery in the Old Market? We settled on Spaghetti Works. We haven’t been there for a while, so it was a nice choice.

IMG_0934We each had a nice pasta dish – chicken alfredo for Lisa and spaghetti with chili for me. The salad bar is housed in the bed of an old Model T truck. There are two; each serving half of the establishment.

IMG_0903Lunch was good. The salad bar was nice. I would suggest they use larger plates, since they offer quite a nice selection – lettuce, toppings as well as side salads (cole slaw, potato and macaroni salads), and beets. The veggies were fresh.

The entrees were tasty. I enjoyed the spaghetti with the chili topping. Lisa liked her fettuccine. Our meals came with a side of garlic toast. IMG_0933

Spaghetti Works opened the Old Market location in 1973. It’s a locally based business. Spaghetti Works has another location suburban Ralston, as well as Des Moine, IA.

For more information on Spaghetti Works, please visit www.spagworks.com.

After lunch, we headed to the Durham Museum. Despite the frigid temperature outside (below zero wind chill), we decided to walk the approximate six blocks to the museum. We had a nice parking spot downtown and didn’t want to risk losing it.


The Durham has its annual Christmas tree celebration going on. A huge (47-foot?) tree sits near the northeast entrance. It is decorated nicely. On one side of it, a group of women sang Christmas carols. On another side, Santa Claus sat, meeting with children.

IMG_0944We stopped in the soda fountain, where an old-fashioned soda fountain is used to serve visitors.

IMG_0979The museum sits at the old Union Station building. The upstairs is almost a museum, with statues dotting the landscape and a ticket office (actually, the gift shop).

The lower level has galleries highlighting Omaha’s history and hosting special exhibits.

The current special exhibits are Goose Bumps – the Science of Fear – and a Civil War exhibit, telling the history of fight to end slavery played in the “war between the states.”

The main attraction for me was the annual holiday tree exhibit. It is a display of 5-7 trees using ornaments that represent the customs of other countries or ethnic groups.

A Native American tree had dream catchers as ornaments.

Other trees included a Scandinavian one (special to me, as my dad was Swedish), Polish, Lithuanian, German (also special, as my daughters and their mom are part German) and Japanese.

For more information on the Durham Museum and its exhibits, please visit www.durhammuseum.org.

Our holiday weekend in Omaha continued with a stop at Hollywood Candy on Jackson Street. This is a store with tons of nostalgic candy, but also an eclectic offering of pop culture. Life-sized statues of Elvis Presley, John Wayne and the Terminator stand alongside tons of Pez dispensers (they may have the world’s largest collection in my eyes). An aisle of old-style soda pops is located there.

IMG_1216 - CopyAs you enter the store from the front, the Blues Brothers welcome you.

An old-fashioned soda shop sits in the middle of the store. We had a root beer float during our visit.

IMG_1294Hollywood Candy has an actual theater. People can rent it and watch movies there. You bring in a DVD and up to about 50 friends and viola, your own personal screening. In the meantime, trailers of old black and white movies run on the screen. The theater has actual movie seats.

IMG_1304Of course, the store has its own Santa Claus, too.

IMG_1225 - Copy

For more information on Hollywood Candy, please visit www.hollywoodcandy.com.

Since it was pushing late afternoon, we decided it was time to head to our hotel and freshen up.

We had a complimentary night offered to us at The Magnolia. This had nothing to do with a previous post (“Magnolia Hotel offers classy boutique stay in downtown Omaha”).  Since we have a travel blog, the hotel wanted to get our view on a stay.

Our hotel room, err, suite was outstanding. We had a queen-sized loft suite on the second floor. The living room, dining area and kitchen are on the first level. The bedroom and bathroom are on the loft level.

We had a nice view of the Italian-designed courtyard with a Christmas tree and other decorations.

Later in the evening, we had cookies and hot chocolate in the lounge area. There was milk and coffee also available. The hotel manager’s nightly reception in the lounge for guests and the cookies and milk later in the evening are nice touches.

Continuing our holiday staycation, we drove to NoDo (North Downtown) to check out the Hot Shops arts center. It’s an old warehouse a few blocks north of the TD Ameritrade Park Omaha baseball stadium. IMG_1416

After finally finding a parking spot (this is a very popular area during its open house weekend), we visited galleries and stores on all three floors. We opened with a walk through the 1301 art gallery. I have to admit that I am an art idiot. While I recognize the quality of artwork, I am often at a loss as to understand the meaning of some pieces.

Lisa said it’s often open to a person’s interpretation.

“I’d like someone to tell me what my interpretation is,” I replied.

My favorite place at Hot Shops is Crystal Forge. They actually forge the crystal they sell. People were lined up to watch the artists work on the pieces. They put the blow tube with the molten glass pieces in the furnace, take them out, sit and work the heated glass into designs.


I can watch them for hours, which is why Lisa had to pull me away after about 15-20 minutes.

We stopped in at other galleries, including a few photography ones. I love looking at other people’s work and dream that I could be half as good as they are. Then, I drop my head and shuffle on out.

We even ran into a friend and her friend while visiting the Hot Shops. That was a nice surprise.

IMG_1554Moving along, we enjoyed the performance of a couple of acoustic musicians.

For more information on Hot Shops, please visit www.hotshopsartcenter.com.

Once done at Hot Shops, we decided it was time for dinner. We chose Union Pizzeria at the Holiday Inn hotel on Cuming Street, basically across the street from the baseball stadium.

We had a cheeseburger pizza. It had cheeseburger toppings, including pickles and ranch dressing. It was an excellent choice. Our server even said she was hungry for it, so she was going to have one made for her to take home. By the way, the server was outstanding.

The restaurant has plenty of TVs available for sports viewing. We watched part of the Big Ten football championship, American Conference game, and the ACC championship game. A couple of TVs had the Nebraska NCAA tournament volleyball match against Oregon.

After dinner, we drove around the Gene Leahy Mall looking for a parking spot, so we could tour the Christmas light display. It only took about 15 minutes a few trips around the block to find a spot.

IMG_1575We grabbed a view of Omaha’s central park area at the arch entrance.  The city’s Holiday lights festival starts at the Gene Leahy Mall pedestrian park. The outer trees are decorated with white lights.

We walked a block and checked out the ConAgra Shine the Light on Hunger tree at 10th and Farnam. It’s located on the campus of the Fortune 500 company.

IMG_1594Blue barrels with white snowflakes on the side form a tree. The goal is to raise enough donations to provide more than 1 million meals in the Omaha area. The company sponsors an outdoor ice rink on its campus during the holidays to help raise money.

On our way back to the car, we checked out the Gene Leahy Mall once again for some photo opportunities.

IMG_1603Once at the hotel, we enjoyed our cookies and hot chocolate before retiring for the night.


Sunday morning, awakening to freshly fallen snow, we took a few pictures of the courtyard area, and headed for breakfast. The full buffet was delicious. They serve biscuits and sausage gravy in addition to the usual items, such as eggs, bacon and potatoes.

IMG_1637For more information on the Magnolia Hotel, please visit www.magnoliahotels.com.

Once we checked out of the hotel, we headed for out last stop of the weekend – Lauritzen Gardens.

IMG_1657Omaha’s botanical garden hosts a poinsettia exhibit annually.

A holiday tree made from poinsettias sits in the exhibit area.

IMG_1748More than 25 types of poinsettias are displayed in the area, housing them with replicas of city landmarks, including the Durham Museum, Joslyn Castle, Central High School and St. Cecilia Cathedral.

IMG_1687Lauritzen’s exhibit starts in July. More than 5,000 poinsettia cuttings arrive at the garden. They are then grown in the greenhouse.

IMG_1756For more information on Lauritzen Garden and its exhibits, please visit www.lauritzengardens.org.

In approaching the stay in Omaha as visitors, we can appreciate the holiday-themed attractions that Omaha has to offer.

We will be publishing more indepth posts on the main attractions we visited during the upcoming days.

Disclosure: We’d like to thank Children’s Museum for providing us a family pass during our visit; The Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau for passes to Durham Museum and Lauritzen Garden; and Magnolia Hotel for the evening stay. However, all comments and thoughts belong to us. We will be open and honest regarding service and/or attractions.