As a Papillion, Nebraska orthodontist, Gretna resident and father of four daughters with tons of energy, Dr. Hawley has the inside line on all of the awesome things to do with kids in Omaha and the surrounding areas. As much as children, tweens and teens love being out of school for a few months, the boredom tends to set in pretty quickly and the cost of keeping the whole family entertained can really add up. Hawley Orthodontics to the rescue! We’re sharing the scoop on the best summer activities for kids in Papillion, Bellevue, Gretna and Omaha. Even better, they’re all affordable or free!
1. Papillion Days – Various Locations, Papillion – The 70th annual Papillion Days celebration will be held this year from Wednesday, June 14 through Sunday, June 18 with tons of family-friendly events in Papillion. You can see the full schedule here. The Papillion Days Kick-Off Event will commence on June 14th at SumTur Amphitheater starting at 6 p.m. After Mayor David Black gives a welcome speech, attendees can enjoy food trucks, a free concert featuring Hotel Desperado and a free movie (Star Wars: Rogue One) at dark. Thursday through Sunday, head to City Park for the carnival, vendor booths, food, games and pony rides. On Friday, June 16, don’t miss the epic fireworks display beginning at 9:45 p.m. Yet, the real highlight will be the Papillion Days Parade on Saturday, June 17th at 2 p.m. The parade route will run from Fourth Street to Halleck Street on Washington Street. Keep an eye out for the Hawley Orthodontics team as we march with our huge shark balloon!
2. Papio Bay Aquatic Center – 815 East Halleck Street, Papillion – Woohoo! The acclaimed Papio Bay Aquatic Center opened Memorial Day weekend for the season. This is one of our favorite Papillion activities for kids because you can keep them entertained all day long. The incredible five-acre park has heated water throughout, certified lifeguards, two water slides, wading pools, diving boards, a zero-depth swimming pool, sand volleyball courts, a sand play area, concessions and more. It even won the Excellence in Aquatics Award by the National Recreation & Parks Association! Residents and non-residents alike can buy a season pass or just drop-in for the day for a really reasonable price. If you’re in the market for Papillion swimming lessons, Papio Bay offers certified lessons for ages six months and up and registration is currently open.
3. Kids Dream Summer Film Series – Twin Creek Cinema, 3909 Raynor Parkway, Bellevue; Majestic Cinema of Omaha, 14304 West Maple Road, Omaha; Midtown Cinema, 3201 Farnam Street, Suite 6111, Omaha; Village Pointe Cinema, 304 North 174th Street, Omaha – Sometimes you just need to beat the heat (or the rain) and the movie theater is a great place to do just that. On Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays at 10 a.m., from June 11 through August 16, several movie theaters in Omaha and one in Bellevue will host the Kids Dream Summer Film Series with $3 admission and concessions specials ($2.75 popcorns and $2.75 fountain drinks). Kick back and relax with a family-friendly flick ranging from The Secret Life of Pets to Monster Trucks.
4. Summer Fun at the SumTur Amphitheater – SumTur Amphitheater, 11691 S. 108th Street, Papillion – There are tons of cheap and free family events in Papillion at the SumTur Amphitheater. Watch movies under the stars during the free Starlight Movie Series. Bring a blanket or some lawn chairs to sit on and be sure to arrive early to take in the pre-show entertainment. Gates and concessions open at 7:30 p.m. and the movies start at dusk. Films will be shown on select Fridays throughout the summer. The line-up includes: The Jungle Book (June 2), Pete’s Dragon (June 30), The Lego Batman Movie (July 28), The Secret Life of Pets (August 4) and Finding Dory (August 11).
You can also spend an evening at the theater with older children or teens when the Papillion La Vista Community Theatre presents Guys and Dolls at SumTur, July 14 through July 16 and July 20 through July 22 at 8 p.m. General admission tickets are $8 and VIP tickets go for $15 each. Don’t forget to celebrate Independence Day with a free concert by USAF Heartland of America Band on July 3 at 7:30 p.m. (gates open at 6:30 p.m.).
5. Bridge Beats – Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge Plaza, 705 Riverfront Drive, Omaha – Bridge Beats is back for its fifth season. The free concert series is one of the most popular Omaha activities for families. Held on every other Friday in June and July, from 6 to 9:30 p.m., the lineup features four Omaha cover bands: Eckophonic opened by the 402 Arts-Musician Collective (June 16), Taxi Driver (June 30), Secret Weapon (July 14) and Lemon Fresh Day (July 28). New this year is the “Beat Zone” where the Children’s Museum will put on its Amazing Bubble Show. Kids can discover new tools for creating bubbles some of which turn bubbles into smoke or make bubbles big enough for a human to stand in! Bring lawn chairs and blankets as well as a picnic dinner or grab a bite from one of the local food trucks on site.
6. Programs for Budding Engineers – Gretna Public Library, 736 South Street and Gretna City Hall, 204 North McKenna Avenue, Gretna – While there are several free activities for kids in Gretna, two events offered by the library will encourage your child to tap into their creativity and help keep their brain in tip-top shape over the summer. Both are open to the public and don’t require registration or a library card. Builder’s Club, for people of all ages, meets on Thursdays from 3 to 4 p.m. June 8 through July 27 in the main library. Attendees will make creations out of things like LEGO blocks, books, pool noodles, pipe cleaners and recyclables. The Art of Engineering (grades k through 5) is held Tuesdays, June 6 through July 25, from 3 to 3:45 p.m. at City Hall. The series includes Kandinsky Geometry (June 6), LEGO Mosaics (June 13), Origami (June 20), Circles (June 27), Architecture (July 11), Tangrams (July 18) and Paper Sculpture (July 25).
7. Family-Friendly Events at City Park – City Park, West Lincoln Street, Papillion – City Park is a happening place in the summer with all sorts of free Papillion activities for kids and families including the Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays through August 23. Kiddos will love seeing the colorful rows of local fruits and veggies and cool crafts. From 5 to 8 p.m., swing by to stock up on fresh produce, baked goods and even plants. The Parks and Recreation staff will host some special events in the park too. On July 12 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., attend the Parks & Recreation Celebration. There will be free food, games and a bounce house. On August 9 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., the Back to School Bash will feature games, crafts, a chance to win a backpack full of school supplies and more.
8. Aksarben Aquarium Outdoor Education Center – 21502 West Highway 31, Gretna – This outdoor aquarium isn’t just free, it also houses the largest exhibit of native aquatic species in Nebraska with 12 tanks of fish, reptiles and amphibians. Check out the aquarium and terrarium, the interactive classroom and the World Herald Auditorium. You can access the nature trails, ponds and fish hatchery at Schramm Park, which is directly east of Aksarben.
9. Fontenelle Forest – 1111 Bellevue Boulevard North, Bellevue – Fontenelle is a 1,400-acre forest is brimming with activities for kids in Bellevue. Get in a little family exercise on a hiking rail, eat lunch at one of the picnic facilities, let your children expend some energy at Acorn Acres, the one-acre natural playscape, beat the heat at Habitat Hollow Indoor Play Area or meet small forest creatures at the Nature Center all for less than $10 a person.10. Papillion Splash Pads – Eagle Ridge Splash Pad (2 blocks east of 66th Street and Ashwood Avenue) and Schwer Park Splash Pad, 800 West Centennial Road, Papillion – The City of Papillion offers two free splash pads so kids and parents can cool off Memorial Day through Labor Day. Both are open from noon to 7 p.m. and can be activated by pushing a button on a pedestal. The Eagle Ridge Splash Pad in the Eagle Ridge subdivision features a pelican dump-bucket, a whale misting system, bubblers, sunflower sprays and a geyser. The Schwer Park Splash Pad has shower flowers, spray cannons, dumping buckets and rainbow rings.
11. Gretna Days – North Park and Peterson Park, Gretna – Gretna Days was started over 50 years ago and the tradition continues today with family activities for an entire weekend in July. This year, Gretna Days will run from Thursday, July 27 through Sunday, July 30. See the full schedule of events here. Highlights include the Gretna Days Carnival, a spectacular Friday night fireworks show, a teen dance as well as the Saturday night dance in Village Square, the annual Gretna Days Volunteer Fire & Rescue Waterfights and Gretna Days Rides, Games and Fun in Peterson Park. Don’t forget the popular free community picnic scheduled this year for July 30 at 11 a.m. at Peterson Park.
12. Joslyn Art Museum – 2200 Dodge Street, Omaha – While an art museum may not sound like it would be among the top free kids’ activities in Omaha, the Joslyn isn’t your average museum. It features free general admission and the innovative ART WORKS: A Place of Curiosity. ART WORKS is a 1,500-square-foot interactive space where visitors of all ages can connect with the visual arts. It’s bright, colorful and will stimulate your child’s imagination. You’ll find fun activities and experiences as well as art-making opportunities.
13. Bellevue Berry Farm and Pumpkin Ranch – 11001 South 48th Street, Papillion – You can pick your own organic berries at Bellevue Berry Farm. Raspberry season begins at the end of June and the blackberries come in at the start of August. Stock up on the summer treats and don’t forget to visit the play and animal areas Tuesdays through Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The cost of berries rings in at $3 per pound and admission to the play areas is $4 per child between the ages of three and 16 (free for adults and children two-years-old and under).
14. Eugene T. Mahoney State Park – 28500 W. Park Highway, Ashland – Okay, so Mahoney State Park is technically closer to Ashland but it’s one of the Hawley family’s favorite summer spots. The modern park, located just off of I-80 at exit 426, is awesome for camping and has an endless array of recreational opportunities year-round. However, Memorial Day through Labor Day is when it’s really fun. You can stop by the Owen Marina and venture around on paddleboats or splash about in the Family Aquatic Center, which has water slides, a wave pool, a lap pool and a concession stand.
15. Park & Read Storytime – Washington Park, Franklin Street at West 20th Avenue, Bellevue – Pack a lunch, spread your blanket out on the grass and listen to stories in the sunshine at Washington Park on Mondays from 12 to 12:45 p.m. This free Bellevue activity for kids is hosted by the Public Library.