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Lately in the Omaha news, there is big talk about all the changes being proposed to the Downtown area. I totally see the pro column, but as a born and raised Omahan, it may be sad to see a lot of the nostalgia gone. My hope is that the Heartland Park stays as much the same as possible because it really does have so much to offer to both residents and tourists alike.
Regardless, for the time being, one of the best Omaha Nebraska attractions (in my opinion) is the free Heartland of America Park right in the middle of Downtown, Omaha. When I have friends or family in town and are looking at places to visit in Omaha, this is always on my list. Combined with a few nearby attractions (see below), you’ve got a really great intro to the Omaha City and the potential for a full day of free Omaha things to do!
If you are at the Heartland Park Omaha, here are some of our favorite ways to enjoy this favorite Downtown attraction.
Take a Walk
One of the most enjoyable things to do is to take an easy stroll around the lake. At just 2.15 miles, the loop trail is perfect for all fitness levels and is quite easy (paved, flat, etc). It’s fun to see different views of the Omaha Skyline as you circle around and you are sure to see plenty of geese, ducks, fish in the water and great fountain views as well. Which leads to…
Feed the Geese (and ducks) as Well as Fish
There are all sorts of birds around the lake and, of course, fish in the pond. Ever since I was a kid, I LOVED dangling my feet over the concrete edges of the lake and dropping food in for fish. Ok, even as an adult, it’s still a fun thing to do!
Granted, I’ve become A LOT more environmentally conscious over time, so just remember that bread can actually be harmful to the ducks and geese, so come prepared with just a few of the following items for better health and safety of the Conagra Lake ecosystem
- Corn (canned or even frozen) are perfect
- Halved grapes a sweet treat
- Any nuts or birdseed is ideal
Enjoy a Picnic
I ALWAYS recommend to visitors of Omaha to bring a picnic to the park. Enjoy any of the rolling greenspaces all around the lake or snatch up one of the many picnic tables throughout the grounds. Personally, one of my favorite spots for a picnic is if you were to walk around the lake, on the East side, there is a set of amphitheater-style steps that lead right down to the water. You get fantastic views of the lake, the grand fountain, a different angle of the Omaha Skyline and is a great people watching spot as well!
Glide in a Gondola
If you’ve ever dreamed of jet-setting to Venice, but couldn’t stomach the price tag, I’ve created a whole “Omaha- Authentic Italian Style” date night itinerary. One of the main highlights of this agenda is the Gondola rides around the lake in the summer months!
Read about the Italian Date Night Idea and Gondola Rides available at the park HERE. Including prices, contact info and more.
Feast Your Eyes on The Fountain
Almost no photo of an Omaha Tour is complete without the iconic Omaha Fountain View! While the 320-foot fountain is impressive any time of day, it really shows off its true colors (pun intended!) at night when it is lit up with ever-changing colors.
Honor our Vets at the WWII and Heartland Airborne Memorial
If starting at the main boardwalk, walk on the left side of the lake and take one of the paths off again to the left to be led to the commemorative statues and memorial to the veterans of the Omaha community.
Other Things To Note:
The park IS dog-friendly, so bring the pooch! Just remember to clean up after your furry friend.
Bathrooms near Heartland of America Park
There is only one set of bathrooms near the main “boardwalk.” However, you can’t always rely on it being open, or worse, clean. This is a huge disservice to the park, but with that information, just make sure you plan accordingly and go beforehand.
If you want to battle me for the title of “World’s Smallest Bladder” and need a few options for a quick restroom break, some other choices are:
- The Omaha Visitor Center: 1001 Farnam St #200 (approximately a 5 minute walk)
- Grab a drink at a nearby bar (they are all over and just a few minutes from the park) and use their restroom
- Start or end at the opposite end of the Gene Lehey Mall and Lagoon and buy a coffee at Starbucks. 222 S 15th St- About a 15 minute walk from the boardwalk of the HoA Lake but only just a minute if starting at the Gene Lehey Mall.
Heartland of America Address
800 Douglas St, Omaha NE 68102*
*This is the official address. However, if you plug this into your GPS you won’t arrive at the actual lake itself (read more below on parking near the lake).
602 Douglas Street is a more accurate “location” but there is not direct parking right at the lake, so regardless, you will have to park and then walk a few minutes to get to the lawn and lake.
Heartland of America Park Hours and Admission
May 1-Oct 31st
Mon-Fri:11am-1pm and again from 5pm-11pm
Saturdays and Sundays: 10:30am-11pm
Parking Near Heartland of America Park
- 800 Douglas Street (8th and Douglas): This parking lot is under the Interstate 480 overpass. It is free and looks a bit sketchy, but this is where I always park and have never had issues with break-ins or theft, especially if going during the daytime hours.
- Lewis and Clark Landing: 345 Riverfront Dr. This free parking is a great option if you are wanting to do more than just the lake (ie: The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, riverfront walk, etc). Just follow the main path to the right (looking at the Missouri River), follow up along a bridge and you’ll be at the Heartland Lake within minutes.
- Garages: The closest one is at 828 Farnam Street: $0.50/hr
- Street Parking: Unfortunately, the city of Omaha has gone to some pretty crummy metered parking hours. There is usually plenty of metered parking throughout downtown, but you’ll have to either have coins on hand or download the “Park Omaha” App and can pay via credit card.
- Metered Hours: Mon-Sun 9am-9pm. Sundays and Holidays= Free
Things To Do Near Heartland of America Park
Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo
You can’t mention Omaha without going to the Zoo (often rated and voted #1 (ok, sometimes #2!) Zoo in the US! Here are our Top 10 Tips That Only the Locals Know About the Omaha Zoo to enjoy the most out of your visit.
The Lewis and Clark Landing and Riverfront
A great little boardwalk area to walk down along the riverfront, including giant sculptors in memory of Firefighters as well as Labor Workers and a boat marina. Take this path that leads to the…
Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge
Everyone loves “The Bob!” Walk the impressive bridge over the Missouri river and actually stand in two states at the exact same time. People love getting creative with their photo ops at this Omaha Pedestrian Bridge!
Gene Lehey Mall and Lagoon
Basically across the street from the lake is the Gene Lehey Mall. Again, while under scrutiny for some major developmental changes in the upcoming years, this is still a great spot to stroll through in addition to your lake outing. It’s called a “Lagoon” and with a few bridges passing over the water, it’s just an overall fun place to wander through.
(Tip: This area is especially magical during the Holiday season when it is lit up with Christmas lights)
All the locals know what and where “the slides” are in the Gene Lehey Mall. Locals and tourists alike gather on these fun slides and is a great break for the kiddos. To really look like a local, grab a piece of wax paper or cardboard and head towards the “giant slides” near 10th and Farnam. Just ask anyone where “the slides” are and they’ll point you in the right direction!
Omaha Old Market
This whole area is basically known as the “Old Market” which is an absolutely fantastic area to just walk around. With the cobblestone streets, boutique shops and plenty of restaurants, bars and eateries, it’s a favorite place for even locals. Take a magical horse-drawn carriage through the area, grab a beer at a local brewery, have a homemade ice cream cone….there is plenty to do for all ages!
Everything mentioned above (minus the zoo) are free to do while in Downtown Omaha. If you are looking for even more to do, here are a few more suggestions to help round out your Downtown Omaha experience!
Lauritzen Gardens: Covering 100 acres is this beautiful, expansive, 4 season botanical garden that even those without green thumbs will be impressed by! (Approximately 10 minutes by car from the HoA Park. 100 Bancroft St, Omaha, NE 68108. $10 admission for adults
Omaha Orpheum Theater: Omaha is no stranger to amazing performance arts and the Orpheum Theater is the perfect place to catch stunning shows like “Wicked,” “Hamilton” and more.
Holland Performing Arts Center: If you love the fine arts, in addition to fantastic plays and musicals offered at the Orpheum, the Holland has touring and local symphonies and orchestras, comedy shows and more.
Omaha Children’s Museum: A quick 5-minute drive from the Heartland Park will have you at the PHENOMENAL Children’s Museum! If you have kiddos and are downtown, this is a MUST- DO!
Address: 500 S 20th St, Omaha, NE 68102
Durham Museum: Just a 3-minute drive from the park and you’ll be at a fantastic, “hands-on” museum that has something for all ages. Whether you are looking to learn a bit more about the fascinating history of Omaha as well as Nebraska (yes, it actually really is interesting!) or want to go inside real-life Union Pacific trains, there are plenty of things to learn and discover here in addition to it’s touring exhibits.
Address: 801 S 10th Street
Joslyn Art Museum: This FREE museum is another great addition to a Downtown outing if you love the arts. There are always amazing touring exhibits that come through this beautiful museum and is only a 5-minute drive from the lake.
Address: 2200 Dodge Street
Places to Eat Near Heartland of America Park
A few of Omahan’s favorite places to eat are downtown. Here are just a few within a short walking distance from the park.
Taste of Omaha: Every year, Omaha’s favorite restaurants from all over town converge along the riverfront and into the park to showcase some of the tastiest foods Omaha has to offer! It’s a great time to sample great classics as well as newbies as well as attend the attractions and hear great live bands.
2019 Taste of Omaha Festival dates will be May 31-June 1
Upstream: Handcrafted beer and great steaks make this an Omaha Classic!
Ted and Walleys: Homemade, daily made ice cream is the perfect way to finish off time spent at the park.
Himalayas: Great option when craving some Indian food
Roja Mexican Grill: Tex-mex food with really great margaritas
V. Mertz: Upscale with “New American” dining, but despite the fancy schmancy description, locals love this place!