Source: Flickr / Grand Island Tourism | CC BY 2.0
Grand Island was firstly settled by German immigrants in the 1800s where Nebraska is now currently located. The city thrived with the construction of a railroad which led several factories to establish in the region. Due to its history, Grand Island tells the story of pioneer migration in one of the best museums in the Midwest.
Nowadays, the city is known for hosting the Nebraska State Fair, Fonner horse racing, and the possibility of watching the great sandhill crane migrating during winter. In fact, Grand Island even hosts festivals so its community and visitors can watch the 500,000 birds flying over the region.
Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Grand Island (NE)
1. Fonner Park
Featuring several spaces and entertainment, Fonner Park is where everything happens in Grand Island. You can find pretty much anything, pleasing to all ages and tastes. Among the events held at the park, Nebraska State Fair is the most popular one. The fair counts with food stands, exhibits, live shows, livestock contests, and a great atmosphere with large crowds.
With interactive displays and clever games and programs, the Raising Nebraska Building is yet another facility at the park. There is also the Grand Island City Recreation Field House that is home to 4-H exhibits. Not to mention the Pinnacle Bank Expo Building, the Fonner Park Racetrack, the 5 Points Arena, and more.
2. Stuhr Museum-Prairie Pioneer
Stuhr Museum-Prairie Pioneer showcases exhibits of daily life in Nebraska of settlers and American Indians dating back to the early 1800s. There, you will learn all about the sandhills, pioneers, early settlers, and the farming history of the Platte Valley. Focused on the local history, the museum features treasure trove antiques, memorabilia, and photos. Not to mention all the hands-on exhibits.
During your visit, you will also have the chance to explore some of the local art through glass and metal sculptures, as well as paintings. With an amazing story behind it, be sure to check out the Fonner Rotunda and the Miller brothers’ sculpture in front.
3. Rivoli 3
Located in Hastings, Rivoli 3 is a longtime, family-owned movie theater chain screening first-run films and offering concessions. This lovely, restored theatre has a nostalgic atmosphere with clean facilities and friendly staff. The seats are very comfortable with plenty of legroom.
The Rivoli theater has a very beautiful main auditorium that is reminiscent of the grandeur of cinemas from the early 20th century. The other two auditoriums are smaller and more modern. This is actually the only movie theatre in Hastings. And they offer balcony night and kids free movies during the summer.
4. Platte River
With over 300 miles in extension, the Platte River is a major river in Nebraska and a tributary of the Missouri River. The river drains a large portion of the Great Plains and offers many recreational activities in Grand Island. You can take the entire family to go camping on the margins of the river, go swimming and tubing, or even fishing.
You never know what you will find at the Platte River in Nebraska. The river is a thing of beauty, yet dangerous at the same time. For example, sometimes you can spot trees and debris flowing with force due to flooding and undertow can be expected. So, be safe and respect nature.
5. Island Oasis Water Park
Island Oasis Water Park features a wave pool, lazy river, and high-speed slides, plus a kids’ area. The park is a city-run with plenty of lifeguards which provide a very safe environment.
There is something for everyone there. There are different sizes of slides, a kids’ area with spray fountains and splash pads, an area for the older kids, a fun wave pool, and the lazy mile River. The park also has a picnic area and a volleyball area with sand. You can easily spend the whole day there because they serve food at a very reasonable price.
6. Grand Theater
With a state of the art digital projection and sound system placed within an authentic classic movie theater atmosphere, Grand Theater is located in a local historical landmark. This place is quite a gem. It is a quaint little theater that has been around for decades.
Featuring a well-kept old-style auditorium with a retro feeling, the theater counts with the latest technology. The volunteers work hard and do an awesome job keeping the integrity of this wonderful theater. Be sure to get yourself some fresh and delicious popcorn while at the Grand Theater.
7. Showplex Cinemas Mall Stadium 7
Former Dickinson Mall Stadium 7, Showplex Cinemas Mall Stadium 7 is located at Conestoga Mall and is often referred to as AMC Classic Grand Island 7. The cinema features updated projectorsand calibrated sound. The establishment also counts with a new digital approach providing a RealD 3D experience.
This very affordable movie theatre features a small but complete concession stand. Interestingly, when purchasing popcorn, you pour the butter on it yourself. Overall, it is a very clean and well-kept cinema with friendly and helpful staff.
8. Westside Bowling Lanes
The family-friendly Westside Bowling Lanes is the perfect activity for a rainy afternoon with the entire family. This is because, besides bowling, they also offer a toddler area with climbing, toys, and blocks. The space also counts with an arcade room.
Bowling itself is very fun at Westside. The lanes and equipment are well-kept, the staff is cordial and helpful, and the shoes look brand new. Also, the scoring machines are all easy to use and recently updated. With a snack bar and recently renovated, Westside is also extra affordable.
9. City of Grand Island – Heartland Public Shooting Park
Home of the National 4-H Shooting Sports Championship, Heartland Public Shooting Park offers a great course with no hills or trees. And yet, it is still very challenging and fun. With both indoor and outdoor shooting facilities, they have a great set-up with a ton of ranges and lots of different activities.
If you like archery or shooting guns, this is the place for you. There is even a campground on-site. They hold lots of competitions for archery, shotgun, rifle, pistol, and black powder. The park also features skeet shooting, long-range rifle targets, as well as shotguns and go-karts to rent.
10. Rowe Sanctuary
With a riverside viewing with telescopes and binoculars, Rowe Sanctuary is a great place to go watch the sandhill cranes flying in the middle of farmland. The trails, visitor’s center, and proximity to Platte River are always great but the spring season of the great Sandhill Crane migration is the highlight!
This way, Rowe is a wonderful place to view and learn about cranes. They have done a fantastic job of giving the cranes the optimal place to roost. Early morning and evening stay in the blinds can be very chilly so dress in layers for more comfort. The sanctuary also has a nice gift shop where you can get your Nebraska souvenir to take home.
11. Edgerton Explorit Center
Located in Aurora, less than 30 minutes driving from Grand Island, Edgerton Explorit Center is a great museum in the heart of Nebraska featuring many neat science exhibits. The museum is very unique with an intriguing history and cool, interactive science displays. The exhibits range from building blocks and electronic switches to noisemakers and flight simulators.
There is also a presentation given by the staff that explains and gives sound and visuals of science-related topics. Make sure to check out the science lab presentations and let the kids be involved in motion, static electricity, and hydrogen bomb construction. Overall, this is a very educational and fun experience for the entire family to enjoy.
12. St. Mary’s Cathedral
The very welcoming St. Mary’s Cathedral features amazing glasswork and beautiful services. Everyone is welcome to visit at any time.
They do a lot for the local community. For example, they serve homemade meals every week and have tables with sheets to take home with other items as well. And if you know someone in need, they will let you take whatever they might need. They also offer other services such as immigration help. Besides, there is a small thrift store in the church that is reasonably priced.
13. Railroad Town, Nebr.
Located inside the Stuhr Museum-Prairie Pioneer, Railroad Town offers a fascinating step back in time with lots of local history, live educational demonstrations, and local art displays. There, you will learn about the history of how things were in the old days, around the 1800s.
While walking through this old town, you can visit several buildings including the saloon, tin shop, hat shop, and hardware store. Not to mention the veterinary shop. Railroad Town is a great living history pioneer town with a working mill shop, blacksmith, and millinery shop. Be sure to buy souvenirs in the general store or a bottle of cold sarsaparilla at the cafe.
14. Happy Jack Chalk Mine Association
Happy Jack Chalk Mine Association is not your typical underground experience. The cave is wide, with an easy flat floor, and the temperature is cool but not cold. If you are a fan of history and underground places, this is a worthwhile stop when journeying through the area.
The cave itself is very interesting to explore. Most of it has been closed off due to the history of the place, but there are still 1,500 feet of the cave to see. Watch out for the bats on the ceiling, although most have migrated elsewhere over the past few years. And at the end of your visit, take the path to Happy Jack’s lookout. It is worth the hike!
15. Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center
Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center is a lovely sandhill cranes conservation center featuring guided tours and short trails. The visitor’s center itself is incredible and very well done. Their overnight blinds are in a great location on the south side of the river with multiple options that give you the ability to get some great images without the birds having any clue you are among them.
You should definitely make time to see the crane migration at least once in your life. The Crane Trust gives great opportunities to fit anyone’s budget so you can enjoy the cranes while also supporting an organization designated to help these unique birds.
16. Skate Island
Located in Northwest Commons, Skate Island offers good old fashioned family time at a roller skating rink. The establishment has a nice history of families that go there, being a very popular activity among the local community of Grand Island. Overall, it provides great exercise for all ages and they even have walkers to help those who are just learning how to skate.
Skate Island also counts with a snack bar selling all kinds of food and beverages, arcade games, and friendly staff. They also take reservations for private parties.
17. Plainsman Museum
Located in Edgerton Explorit Center, Plainsman Museum covers six acres and house treasures and artifacts from the time Platte Valley was first settled. The museum has a lot of history of the plains with exhibits that are specific to Aurora and the surrounding communities.
From the main building with its old-time boardwalk and military memorabilia and the agricultural building’s antique cars to the working blacksmith shop, prairie schoolhouse, and home of Civil War General Delevan Bates, The Plainsman Museum offers a relaxing and educational journey through the past. They have storefronts inside the building where you can walk down a boardwalk and look into historical stores.
18. Hornady Manufacturing
Featuring the highest quality products along with Nebraska hospitality and dedication to worker safety, Hornady Manufacturing makes some of the best equipment and ammunition in the world. They also give factory tours of their bullet manufacturing plant. Their bullet engineering and manufacturing is top-notch. During the tour, check out the huge precision machinery producing vast quantities of perfect bullets, from .17 HMR to .50 BMG. They even rebuild the massive old precision presses in-house!
The test-firing range inside gives every batch a rigorous quality control test firing routine. They will not allow any sub-par or blemished bullets to reach the market, representing a fine quality control.
19. Hastings Museum
Featuring three levels of displays, a small children’s area, IMAX, and a gift shop, Hastings Museum has all kinds of things to see and learn about! From prairie settlers to a planetarium, lots of animals, and the Kool-Aid exhibit. Yes, there is an area dedicated to the history of Kool-Aid which was curiously created in Hastings.
The large-format theater of Hastings Super Screen is the nicest theater around. It is cool, the seats are comfortable, the floor is carpeted, the sound system is great and of course, there is a huge screen.
20. Mormon Island State Recreation Area
Featuring lakes, a beach, and a family-friendly campground, Mormon Island State Recreation Area offers close contact to the nature around Grand Island. The area has a great wooded space around several small lakes that are perfect to walk your dog.
There, you will have a few small lakes to choose from for your fishing pleasures or the river on the backside of the campground. There is also a great beach for swimming which is always clean of debris. And the tent camping sites are large and covered with trees so you can get out of the sun if you want.
21. The Lark
Located in downtown Hastings, The Lark is a hidden gem and a very cozy event venue. They host a wide variety of entertainment such as live concerts and local bands’ debuts. The open space can fit a crowd of about 100 to 150 people.
The building itself has been beautifully renovated and is perfect for small group gatherings. Overall, it is an amazing place and a great venue to reserve for weddings, reception, birthdays, and reunions. However, it is also a great place to visit even when there is no event being held. The Lark is clean with a friendly and delightful atmosphere.
22. Bigfoot Crossroads of America Museum
Showcasing theories and interesting banter, Bigfoot Crossroads of America Museum presents many interesting and detailed stories about this curious legend. Whether a believer or not, it is worth a quick stop. There is something weird, wild, or otherwise interesting around every corner.
The owner, Harriet is very informative and thorough in her presentation. The museum is actually her home, and she is a real character. If you have any curiosities about Bigfoot, she is a great source!
23. Conestoga Mall
Conestoga Mall is your typical shopping center with a variety of stores with great options to choose from and some decent eating spots where you can get a delicious snack or even sit down for a meal. Overall, it is a good mall to walk around since it is pretty much open and alive.
Some of the special places you can find there include the Imperial Palace, Jo-Anns Fabrics, Best Buy, and more. Also, you will encounter great service at The Buckle. Not to mention it is quite convenient to have a movie theater in the mall.
24. Children’s Museum of Central Nebraska
With its open concept, the Children’s Museum of Central Nebraska is a great place for children to engage their imaginations, play creatively, and explore, which is so important for their development. The museum focuses on providing interactive “hands-on”, educational environments and exhibits.
Once the kids start playing you will understand why this museum is so popular. There are so many things to do and play with. There are a ton of different play areas, including a pizzeria, grocery store, dress-up area, doctor’s office, and even an infant play area.
25. Tommy’s Restaurant
Tommy’s Restaurant is an old-school, family-owned diner offering fried chicken, steaks, and classic breakfasts round-the-clock. This is the perfect classic diner specialized in serving delicious homecooked food. Besides great food and friendly service, the restaurant features a wonderful decoration. There is always a daily special with very friendly service no matter which attendant waits on you.
The food is delivered on time with great portions and great taste! Some of their most popular dishes include blueberry pie and fried chicken.