Updated: Jun 18
Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is one of the premiere zoos in the country. I've visited it hundreds of times dating back to when I was very young. Now I take my girls there many times a year. It has changed tremendously over the years, countless exhibits have been updated and added, and it makes visiting other zoos seem a little boring. For most families, you really need several days to see everything it has to offer. Limiting this list to 5 things was almost impossible, many fantastic things had to be cut. But if you only have one day or less, here are my top 5 Omaha Zoo must do things:
1. Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium
In most other cities, this 70,000 square foot aquarium would be a stand alone attraction, but it is included with the price of admission at the Omaha zoo. The shark reef tunnel is amazing, and the penguins are a show stopper. Giant stingrays, sea turtles, eels, jellyfish, and octopus are all featured here. It's also nice and cool if its hot outside. It can get a little crowded, particularly with all the strollers, but this is a must visit location during any Omaha Zoo trip
2. Skyfari (additional charge)
One thing my family has to make time for on every visit is the Skyfari, a chairlift that gives you spectacular views of the zoo. Its also a nice way to get off your feet for a few minutes (or about 30), although said feet will be dangling over the tops of rhinos, giraffes, and even the koi fish pond.
3. Lied Jungle
This exhibit was a game change for the zoo when it opened in 1992, really putting the Omaha Zoo on the map, and its still a must visit today. The exhibit is so immersive, and many of the animals roam freely about the exhibit. There is a rope bridge you can cross (or skip if you choose) and a thundering waterfall. Pro tip: eat lunch at the Durham treetops restaurant. You can get the same burgers you get a Glacier Bay, but you sit in air conditioned comfort with giant windows overlooking the jungle.
4. Stingray Beach (additional charge)
These stingrays are more attention starved than my dog...
they circle the pool looking for hands in the water waiting to "pet" them. You can also buy minnows to feed them, they suck them right out of your hand like a vacuum cleaner. Like the Skyfari, our kids always want to visit Stingray beach when we visit, despite having done it many, many times. Having a close encounter with these beautiful creatures never gets old.
5. Sea Lions
One of the newer exhibits in the zoo is Owen Sea Lion Shores. Sea lions are not new to the zoo, but they got a new home in 2020 when this fantastic exhibit was opened. The star of the exhibit is an underwater viewing area, and the sea lions love to put on a show for their fans. There are also scheduled times throughout the day when a trainer will put on a demonstration. These animals are highly entertaining! As with all the newer exhibits, the immersion is really a big feature, you feel like you are in the animals natural habitat, in this case the "Pacific Northwest".
Cutting this list down to 5 things was very difficult, so I would be doing you a disservice if I didn't have an honorable mention list:
Ride the Train (additional charge)
Visit the Gorillas
Feed the koi fish from the bridge
Visit the elephants, giraffes, lions
If you have children, visit the Bay Family Children's Adventure Area
Kingdom of the Night
I highly recommend getting a wristband that lets you do all the "additional charge" attractions as many times as you would like. This includes the train, the trams, stingray beach, the Sue's Carousel, and Skyfari.
And if you will be visiting the zoo multiple times in a year, it doesn't take very many visits with a family of four to come out ahead by getting an annual pass.... and if you move up to a patron membership, you can then add on an unlimited wristbands pass, meaning your entire family gets wristbands to all the attractions each time you visit. Again, if you do the math, this can be much cheaper when you start making multiple visits.
The Omaha Zoo is really not a one day experience. If you can allow for a multi-day visit, I would highly recommend it. If you have to squeeze it all into one day, do some research and come with a plan, because there is no way you will be able to see and do everything.