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17 Incredible Things To Do In Ames, Iowa

Ames might first come to mind as a college town. But there’s lots to see, do, eat, and drink in this central Iowa destination. The next time you’re planning a visit, you won’t want to miss these fun things to do in Ames, Iowa.

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Be Blown Away by Botanicals

If you’re looking for a beautiful place to find inspiration while in Ames, look no further than Reiman Gardens. This gorgeous 17-acre garden is open year-round and is a great place to take a scenic walk or attend a special event.

Reiman Gardens is a 17-acre oasis in Ames, Iowa
Photo courtesy Iowa Tourism Office

Whether you want to wander the rose garden or take in the 2,500-square-foot Butterfly Wing with hundreds of gracefully gliding butterflies, there’s something for everyone here. 

1. Reiman Gardens, 1407 University Blvd.

Enjoy a Mouthwatering Meal

If you find yourself hungry on your visit to Ames, there are lots of amazing restaurants where you can enjoy a mouthwatering meal. If you’re craving pizza, Great Plains Sauce & Dough Co. is an Ames institution. My go-to order is the Prairie Special on Denver crust.

Up-close photo of pizza at Great Plains Sauce & Dough Co. in Ames, Iowa
Photo courtesy Great Plains Sauce & Dough Co.

If barbeque is what you had in mind, there’s a reason that Hickory Park is a local favorite. And if you want to pretend you’ve crossed the pond, the Mucky Duck Pub is a cozy British pub with traditional fare like Scotch eggs, fish and chips, and more. 

2. Great Plains Sauce & Dough Co., 129 Main St., suite 101

3. Hickory Park, 1404 S. Duff Ave.

4. Mucky Duck Pub, 3100 S. Duff Ave.

Shop Along Main Street

While you wander Main Street in Ames, be sure to stop in to support some of the city’s amazing small businesses. Bookworms will love Dog-Eared Books, an indie bookstore that features a great coffee bar and a very sweet shop dog.

A picture book display at Dog-Eared Books in Ames, Iowa
Photo courtesy Dog-Eared Books

Oak Lane Candle Co. is a candle shop and pour bar where you can make your own custom creations. And for anyone trying to live more sustainably, Z.W. Mercantile is a zero waste shop that has all sorts of homegoods and housewares.

5. Dog Eared Books, 203 Main St.

6. Oak Lane Candle Co., 121 Main St.

7. Z.W. Mercantile, 301 Main St., suite 8

Grab a Drink at an Ames Brewery or Winery

If you prefer to sip small, Ames has got you covered. Torrent Brewing Co. is located right in downtown Ames and has a great taproom with plenty of space to relax and enjoy a pint or two.

A beer being poured into a pint glass

While Alluvial Brewing is a bit of a drive, it’s well worth the trip from the center of Ames to enjoy the microbrews and the beautiful prairie landscape. Conveniently located right next door to Alluvial, Prairie Moon Winery & Vineyard is a beautiful backdrop to enjoy some Iowa-made wine, mead, and hard cider. 

8. Torrent Brewing Company, 504 Burnett Ave. 

9. Alluvial Brewing, 3715 W. 190th St.

10. Prairie Moon Winery & Vineyard, 3801 W. 190th St.

Explore the Iowa State University Campus

Because it’s a college town, Ames has lots of great amenities relating to Iowa State University. Catch a concert at Stephens Auditorium or cheer on the Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium or the Hilton Coliseum.

Exterior of Jack Trice Stadium at Iowa State University in Ames
Photo courtesy Ark-Angel114 via Flickr

11. Stephens Auditorium, 1900 Center Drive

12. Jack Trice Stadium, 1732 S. Fourth St.

13. Hilton Coliseum, 1705 Center Drive

Appreciate the Art

Art lovers will have a lot to enjoy in Ames. If interior design is your interest, you won’t want to miss the Brunnier Art Museum on Iowa State University’s campus. This unique museum is the only accredited decorative arts museum in the state and features rotating exhibitions as well as a permanent collection.

The gallery at Octagon Center for the Arts in Ames, Iowa
Photo courtesy Octagon Center for the Arts

Support local arts with a visit to the gallery of the Octagon Center for the Arts, a local nonprofit that helps bring art to the community and its residents.

14. Brunnier Art Museum, Scheman Bldg, 295, 1800 Center Drive

15. Octagon Center for the Arts, 427 Douglas Ave.

Embrace the Outdoors

While Ames has a city vibe, it’s located just a short drive from some seriously beautiful outdoor spaces. The most popular is Ledges State Park in neighboring Madrid, Iowa. This state park features ample hiking options to the top of sandstone ledges towering above the Des Moines River.

A family wades through a creek at Ledges State Park near Madrid, Iowa

It’s arguably one of the Midwest’s most beautiful hidden gems.

Or take the kids to enjoy some summer fun in the sun at the Furman Aquatic Center.

16. Ledges State Park, 1515 P Ave., Madrid (it’s also not far from Boone, Iowa)

17. Furman Aquatic Center, 1635 13th St.

About the Guest Blogger

Megan Bannister is a freelance writer and blogger at Olio in Iowa based in Des Moines, Iowa. When she’s not sampling and writing about food, Megan enjoys visiting unique destinations, roadside attractions, and “world’s largest” things across the Midwest and beyond. Her book, Iowa Supper Clubs, highlights classic eateries past and present from around the state.

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Brian Balk

Saturday 3rd of June 2023

There is AMAZING food and a great selection of local beers and wines at Cornbred. Don't miss a Friday or Saturday evening steak!

Doug Brand

Saturday 14th of January 2023

I am 75 and long retired in sunny Florida. However, I have a great deal of fond memories as a youngster living in Ames. Mind you I'm going backside 70 years in a time when things were much simpler. We lived on Hodge (?) St. and I attended St. Cecelia's Catholic School with older brother Jim. Downtown Main Street was a post card capture of small town America in the '50's. I remember the train station depot and dentist Dr. Walsh who had his office across the street. McFarland Clinic and Dr. Cole, the pharmacy owned by the Clark family, Dr. Herrick was the local vet, a hotel called the Sheldon Munn (sp?), a little diner off main street that made "Made-Rite" loose meat sandwiches, Ober's Clothing Strore and a restaurant named the Solar Inn. The Vivian family owned the big Caterpillar dealership outside of town. We belonged the the Ames Country Club. I recall it was located out towards ISU. We spent many a summer in the pool or on the golf course getting in the way of serious golfers. Sundays after church, we'd ofter have lunch on campus at the Union Hall. I had an afternoon paper route throwing for the Tribune. Winter snow storms were brutal and that's partly why I settled in Florida. At least we don't have to shove cold!

I'm rambling so it's best to stop before I turn that into a novel. I love the mid-west...the people, places and memories that make them so special.


Saturday 8th of April 2023

@Doug Brand, Enjoyed your “rambling” about your hometown Ames!

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