A Good Place for Kids
by Mary Friesen
These are only some of the activities for children and families in Lincoln. Some were designed and built just for kids and some are fun for almost anyone. So if there are girls and boys in your life, don’t miss out. It’s good to be a child in Lincoln.
Museums & Learning
Since 1965, the Lincoln Children’s Zoo has been a popular destination for Lincoln families. The zoo, now open year round, offers animal exhibits, educational activities and interactive play. There are also pony rides, a train ride around the zoo and the chance to hand feed goats and giraffes. The zoo offers one week camps throughout the year. Along with over 400 animals, the zoo has a number of special exhibits, including the Humboldt Penguin Habitat and Tortoise Trek. Critter Encounters is another favorite, where kids can actually hold and interact with animals. In May 2019, the zoo’s largest expansion opened, featuring four new exhibits—a giraffe feeding experience, an up-close tiger encounter, an indoor adventure center where children can climb with monkeys and a plaza with a playful stream. Phase two of the expansion was completed in June 2020 and includes cheetah and giant anteater habitats and Ellie the Elephant, a 25 foot tall play structure. For more information visit www.lincolnzoo.org.
A city favorite, the 23,000 square foot, three-story Lincoln Children’s Museum combines education and play, providing fun and hands-on learning for little ones. Traveling exhibits, seasonal events, and special programs like summer camps are offered in addition to the permanent exhibits. The museum even helped put Lincoln on the map by hosting an event, sponsored by the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, to break the Guinness World Record for the tallest and largest Lincoln Logs structure in the world. The museum’s largest exhibit, Cuckoo Construction, features a clock towering three stories from the lower level of the Museum all the way to the top floor. The Grow Zone is another exhibit for children ages 0-3 that includes a calm garden that encourages growth. The museum also features a play grocery store, water area, pizzeria, firetruck, apple orchard, spaceship, face painting station and much more. Visit www.lincolnchildrensmuseum.org for hours, admission fees and a full schedule of events.
Directly across from the Children’s Museum is the
Nebraska History Museum, where history from our corner of the world comes to life. Come see artifacts and photos on how Nebraska became a state, as well as exhibits about the native people who lived on this land long before the pioneers. The museum underwent an 8-million dollar renovation in 2015. Visit www.history.nebraska.gov for more information.
For some fast-paced, fun indoor entertainment, there’s Lincoln Laser Tag (www.lincolnlasertag.com) on North 27th Street. If bowling is more your game, try Hollywood Bowl (www.48bowl.com), Madsen’s (www.madsenslincoln.com), Parkway Lanes (www.48bowl.com), Sun Valley Lanes (www.sunvalleylanes.com),or Champions Fun Center (www.championsfuncenter.com). Each has a specialty that adds to the fun, like laser bowling, midnight bowling or music and karaoke.
Located in Gateway Mall, Round 1 Bowling & Amusement offers bowling, arcade games, billiards, karaoke, darts, ping pong and a kids play zone. For more information visit www.round1usa.com/location/gateway-mall.
For those looking for some adventure, try indoor rock climbing at UNL’s Outdoor Adventures Center (crec.unl.edu/outdoor/climbing).
Lincoln is home to the Lincoln Saltdogs and the University of Nebraska baseball, volleyball and softball teams as well as the Lincoln Stars semi-pro hockey and a junior hockey league. Of course, don’t forget the Huskers football team, our local all-time favorite. However, if you like to get out on the field or court yourself, the YMCA and many other private league teams offer organized sports such as football, soccer, baseball, softball, volleyball, cheerleading and basketball throughout the year both indoors and outdoors. You can also participate in swimming or track and field leagues, as well as archery. For more information, visit www.ymcalincoln.org.
Lincoln Parks and Recreation operates five public golf courses. One in particular, the Ager Junior Golf Course, is especially suited for younger golfers or those just learning the game. If you’re not a serious golfer, check out Adventure Golf for a classic game of outdoor miniature golf. Opened in 2020, Prehistoric Putt is an indoor mini golf facility that has two 18-hole courses that feature unique layouts and custom made obstacles.
For game-lovers of all ages, Champions Fun Center is a longtime favorite of both kids and adults. Champions boasts 70+ arcade and redemption games, go-karts, open and cosmic bowling, batting cages, miniature golf, water wars, and a heart-stopping four-story free-fall ride. The youngest family members will enjoy the adventure maze, which features a ball pit and a three-story climbing structure. Visit www.championsfuncenter.com for more information.
Lost in Fun is another popular indoor recreation center for birthday parties or simply a day of fun. Learn more about their traditional and inflatable play-sets, foam pit, laser maze, toddler area and video games at www.lostinfun.com.
Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park offers a wide variety of attractions for kids and adults. They have the Sky Rider (indoor coaster), ropes course, climbing walls, an indoor playground, warrior obstacle course, trampolines and the battle beam, where you can sword fight with foam swords on a balance beam. Visit www.urbanairtrampolinepark.com for more information.
If you like to spend your days outdoors, Lincoln has a variety of parks to take advantage of in nice weather. Pioneers Park, with several ponds, miles of trails and open green spaces, has been a Lincoln favorite for years. Located southwest of the city, it is a great place for picnics, biking, hiking, flying kites and even horseback riding. Its western edge is also home to a nature center, where families can see live animal exhibits including elk, deer, and bison and hike through native prairie and wooded landscapes.
At Woods Park, kids can swim or play tennis at the site’s fifteen regulation courts. Some are even enclosed year-round, making them a top-choice for Lincoln tennis buffs. Once a week, members of Lincoln’s local Society for Creative Anachronism group gather at Woods to practice medieval swordplay and other forms of hand-to-hand combat. Interested in participating? Visit magmor.calontir.org and get some training.
Antelope Park and its enormous play structure is an obvious favorite of children around the city. The main play structure, with multiple slides and climbing features, caters to older children, while the designated toddler area and amazing sandbox appeals to the younger Lincolnites.
Lincoln’s skaters even have three parks with features just for them—Peter Pan Park, Tierra Park and The BAY Skatepark.
If you plan on spending time outdoors this summer, make sure to take a break from the heat in the largest pool in Lincoln, Star City Shores. With a variety of water features, slides, and zero-entry, it’s the perfect place for visitors young and old.
Every Tuesday night in June, grab a blanket and some snacks and join the Sheldon Museum of Art on the University of Nebraska campus, where it hosts free Jazz In June concerts. Other free summer concerts, from hip-hop to kitsch, can be found at the Antelope Park Bandshell.
Movies and Performances
Pinnacle Bank Arena brings in some fantastic national acts, including those just for kids—like Disney, the Muppets and the Shrine Circus. See www.pinnaclebankarena.com.
The Ralph Mueller Planetarium, located inside the University of Nebraska State Museum, combines classic rock and modern pop music with spectacular laser light shows. Come back another afternoon or evening to explore the universe via one of the astronomy shows. For details, visit www.spacelaser.com.
Catching a movie is always a good time, and Lincoln has plenty of screens to offer. Independent, foreign and other non-Hollywood flicks are screened at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center (www.theross.org).
The 14-screen Grand Theatre, SouthPointe, Edgewood and East Park theatres offer state-of-the-art viewing of newly released movies. And on Tuesdays, all movies are only $5. See the current listings at www.marcustheatres.com/theatre.
Marcus Theatres also has a summer movie series called Kids Dream Summer Film Series at their Lincoln Grand and SouthPointe theatres.
The Joyo Theatre is an old-fashioned theatre that is enjoying a second life as a place for second-run movies, cult films and movies for kids. The Joyo’s schedule can be found in the Lincoln Journal Star or on its Facebook page.
The Lied Center for Performing Arts brings in performing artists from around the world to its 2,200-seat auditorium. The majority of its shows are appropriate for older children who can tolerate a longer performance; however, the FamFest series was specifically created for kids. With shows in a one-hour format, this is a great way to introduce children to live performances. All Lied performances are listed at www.liedcenter.org.
The Lincoln Community Playhouse also offers a variety of family performances. They also offer many classes in their Theatre Arts Academy for youth interested in learning more about acting and other theatre-related skills. They also offer a program called The Penguin Project®. This is a theatre program for children with disabilities. Visit www.lincolnplayhouse.com.
From toddlers to teens, Lincoln offers something entertaining for almost everyone.