Blake Walsh

25 Best Things to Do in Altoona, IA

  • Published 2023/02/28

Altoona, Iowa, is a modest city with a charming and welcoming personality in the Des Moines metropolitan area.

If you come here for business or pleasure, you’re in for a treat.

Seated in Polk County with roughly 19,000 people, this town is small enough to be cozy and intimate but large enough to fit modern conveniences and fantastic local businesses.

While it might not be as well-known as other cities of its size, Altoona, Iowa, has a lot to offer.

There are many stores and restaurants around the small city, all within minutes.

Here are the best things to do in Altoona, IA:

Have Fun in Adventureland Park

Monster rollercoaster ride at Adventureland Park

TheCatalyst31, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Visiting Adventureland Park in Altoona is like taking a time machine to your childhood, with roller coasters and carousels.

This park has operated since 1974, and it’s no wonder why it’s still going strong.

Adventureland is not just an amusement park.

It’s a theme park with several rides for guests of all ages and interests.

Adventureland Park features more than 100 rides, including roller coasters, water rides, and rides for little ones.

They have something for everyone.

Carrousel ride at Adventureland Park

en:User:Cburnett, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can go on thrill rides like the Monster and the Outlaw, which will get your heart pumping as you zip through loops, corkscrews, and other stunts at 50 miles per hour.

Otherwise, pick the laid-back and more kid-friendly options like the Chuck Wagon and Convoy.

Kids love it because they can ride all day long without getting bored, and parents love it because they know their kids will be safe.

It’s a great place to take pictures or enjoy some snacks while you’re there!

No matter what season it is or how hot it is outside in Altoona, the park always cools down to make visitors comfortable.

Adventureland Park is the perfect place to bring your children, family, and friends to have a wonderful time.

Giant ferris wheel ride at Adventureland Park

en:User:Cburnett, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Admire Nature in Gay Lea Wilson Trail

If you’re looking for a fun way to exercise and explore the natural beauty of Altoona, try heading to the Gay Lea Wilson Trail.

The trail is a 20.9-mile paved path that’s open year-round, and it starts right near the center of this small town.

Gay Lea Wilson Trail is an area rich in natural beauty and history, with plenty of things to do to keep you busy for an afternoon or an entire weekend.

The trail takes you on a walk through lovely surroundings filled with beautiful places where you can stop and rest.

The area is also full of recreational activities, including fishing, hiking, bird watching, etc.

When you visit Gay Lea Wilson Trail, you’ll get some exercise; stretch your legs while exploring a beautiful natural area with family and friends.

Grab a Beer at Brightside Aleworks

There’s something about Iowa that feels different from other places.

Part of it is the friendly, laid-back way of life.

Located just west of the town, Brightside Aleworks is where you take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Brightside Aleworks embodies that friendly spirit with its atmosphere and drinks.

The taproom has an inviting, open feel, perfect for knowing your neighbors or introducing them to your friends from out of town.

They make delicious craft beer here, but they also brew up some pretty exciting concoctions using ingredients like hops, yeast, and barley.

Once you taste their beer and hospitality, you’ll be hooked.

Don’t leave without having tried their signature brews.

Meeting friends at Brightside Aleworks is a great way to spend an evening, especially if you want to do something fun in the Altoona area.

Watch Movies in Cinemark Altoona and XD

If you’re the type of person, who prefers to have a movie theater close by, visit Cinemark Altoona and XD.

The number one reason is for their movies!

They show great movies at reasonable prices, and they serve some of the most delicious snacks you’ll ever eat.

Anyone who loves movies knows that nothing is better than watching them on a big screen with surround sound.

However, in many places, this isn’t possible because of the lack of movie theaters.

Thankfully, Cinemark has opened its doors in Altoona so that people who love movies can enjoy them wherever they are.

The seats are also comfortable for spending hours watching your favorite movies without getting sore from sitting.

Besides the well-equipped screens, the theater also offers a full menu of concessions that pair perfectly with any movie.

Whether you’re looking for popcorn, candy, or something more substantial like a burger or pizza, you’ll find it at this Altoona venue.

Go to Cinemark Altoona and XD is the perfect way to see the latest blockbusters.

It’s worth an excursion from anywhere in the state.

Play Golf with Friends in Terrace Hills Golf Course

If you’ve ever wondered what golfing on a grassy knoll or rolling along a green river feels like, now’s your chance!

Terrace Hills Golf Course is an 18-hole golf course that is open year-round.

Founded in 1964, Terrace Hills Golf Course is a parkland-style course offering a full lineup of amenities and a gorgeous clubhouse.

It’s easy to see why the course has hosted many prestigious events.

It’s easy to get lost in the rolling hills and lush trees that play as your backdrop, with ponds and wildlife scattered.

The large, well-maintained greens have challenged even experienced golfers.

It’s an excellent place for any golfer to enjoy an afternoon of putting, chipping, and pitching the ball across the field.

Place Your Bets in Prairie Meadows Casino and Hotel

Entrance sign of Prairie Meadows Casino and Hotel

University of College /

Visiting Prairie Meadows Casino in Altoona, Iowa, is like going on a mini-vacation to Las Vegas.

You don’t even have to leave the state!

The casino has more than 2,000 slot machines, including penny slots perfect for a new player.

There are also plenty of table games if you’re looking for something more social.

You can play blackjack and baccarat, roulette and craps.

Likewise, it’s hard not to feel good with restaurants preparing food from the casino’s award-winning chef.

You can also check out shops that offer everything from cowboy boots to designer dresses.

Then, you can try race and sports betting.

Get ready for an evening of fun with nonstop gaming action, tasty food and drinks, and some of the best entertainment in the area.

Relax at Enabling Garden

Enabling Garden is one of the things to do in Altoona that you don’t want to miss.

The Polk County Extension District Master Gardeners and the City of Altoona operate the garden.

A group of residents founded the garden in 2002; they wanted to create something positive for their community.

The Master Gardener Enabling Garden project aims to create an area that demonstrates gardening for physically challenged people.

They started with a small plot of land in their backyards and worked together to plant flowers and vegetables.

Residents started the Enabling Garden to beautify the area and educate people on gardening and environmental sustainability.

The gardens are open year-round but tend to be most spectacular during the spring and summer months when flowers are blooming.

Visit the Horses in Pine Hollow Stables

Visiting Pine Hollow Stables in Altoona, Iowa, is like stepping into the pages of a children’s book.

The grounds are set up to make your visit as easy and fun as possible.

You can eat lunch or early breakfast at the picnic tables near the stables while waiting for your lesson.

The main draw of this stable is its famous horse rides.

Their experienced guides will teach you the history of horses while taking you on an exciting journey throughout the countryside.

It’s a fantastic experience for anyone looking to get outside, learn something new, and gain a deeper appreciation for the animals.

They also offer lessons for everyone, from beginners to experienced riders.

If you’re interested in owning your own horse but don’t know where to start, you can find one that fits your needs and experience level at this stable.

Explore the Bass Pro Shop

If you’re a fan of nature and the great outdoors, you might have heard of Bass Pro Shop.

It’s an outdoor superstore that sells fishing gear and hunting supplies.

If you’ve never been there before, you’d be surprised by how much more it is than just a store.

It’s like a living display of the natural world.

The store itself is a spectacle to behold.

It features a museum, aquarium, education, conservation, entertainment center, art gallery, and an antique store in its 145,000 square foot space.

They have aquariums with freshwater fish from the area.

The aquariums at Bass Pro Shop are filled with fish such as bass, catfish, trout, and many more.

If you want to get up close to these creatures without getting wet, you can view them through glass windows as they swim inside their tanks.

Even if you don’t like hunting or fishing, you’ll love learning about the animals from the different regions of the world.

No matter your hobbies, Bass Pro Shop has something that will interest you.

Shop Till You Drop at Outlets of Des Moines

If your idea of a fun getaway is checking out the latest styles, visit an outlet mall.

The outlets of Des Moines in Altoona has over 50 outlet stores, which means that you’re sure to find something you like.

This unique shopping experience is unlike anything else in the state.

The variety of styles and brands makes it easy for everyone to find something they love for a fraction of the price.

You’ll find outlet stores for your favorite brands, like Nordstrom, Gap and the Banana Republic; some lesser-known boutiques specialize in clothing and accessories.

Even if you aren’t in the market for any new clothes or shoes, it is worth visiting this outlet mall for the food alone.

You can eat lunch at Charley’s during lunchtime and enjoy Auntie Anne’s pretzels and other delicious desserts after dinner.

Fill Your Empty Stomach with Jethro’s BBQ

Jethro’s ‘n Jake’s Smokehouse Steaks is a unique spot because it offers some of the best barbecues you can get while giving you all the traditional comforts of home-cooked meals.

They have everything from fresh salads to homemade bread to go with your meal and a wide selection of drinks.

Their full menu includes everything from appetizers to sandwiches to main courses and side dishes.

Every meal here comes out fresh every single day, so you know you’re getting thoughtfully prepared food for your enjoyment.

Jethro’s offers something for everyone, whether you want to enjoy a nice plate at lunch or dinner or get a party platter for your next social gathering.

No matter what you order, Jethro’s will give you something that tastes great, prepared precisely how you like it.

Do Some Tricks in Altoona Skatepark

Among other things, Altoona has a skate park.

It’s not the kind that has a few ramps and some slapped-together pieces of wood, either.

The Altoona Skate Park is a legit skate park with an excellent bowl, an enormous quarter pipe, rails, ledges, and jumps.

Skateboarding is all about the freedom to go where you want, when, and how.

At the Altoona Skate Park, you can go up the steps of a pyramid-shaped ramp and cruise down into a bowl below.

Otherwise, hit the quarter pipe along one edge of the bowl before jumping off another ledge.

Then spin along the ground through some gaps in the rails.

The park is well-maintained, even if it’s not quite as flashy as some of the more famous skate parks, like Des Moines or Bettendorf.

This might be an excellent place to start if you’re ready to move up from flat ground and ramps but aren’t prepared for street skating or anything too gnarly yet.

Let the Kids Sled Down the Hill at Ironwood Park

If you’re traveling with kids, they too can have their time of life at Ironwood Park.

The park features a few nice hills for sledding, which is one of the best activities to do while exploring the area.

The hills are just right on the walking and biking paths, which kids love.

It’s known for its pirate ship play equipment with treasure maps, slides, as well as a spot to walk on a bouncy plank.

Ironwood Park is located off 3rd Avenue Southwest.

Grab a Cup of Coffee at Scooter’s Coffee

As soon as you kickstart your day in Altoona, treat yourself to your favorite cup of coffee at Scooter’s Coffee.

Enjoy the coffeehouse’s espresso, latte, brewed coffee, cappuccino, and Americano, as well as its signature Scooter Shooter.

It also serves cold beverages, including smoothies, iced coffee, blenders, and more.

If you’re a breakfast person, pair your coffee with its delicious sandwiches, muffins, cookies, and sweet goodies.

Also, its Spicy Sausage Burrito and its popular Crème Brulée Latte are a must-try!

You can find Scooter’s Coffee at 2nd Avenue Southwest.

Bring a Picnic to Village Park

Picnics are always fun when shared with loved ones, and if you’re a traveling family, spend a delicious lunch or snacks at Village Park.

The park features both large and small picnic shelters with tables and grills to use for cookouts.

Your entire family will enjoy a day at the park, which also has a nice play area with swings and a three-story tower with a slide.

There’s also a separate play area for smaller kids, as well as a few athletic fields for those who love sports.

Village Park is entirely a great spot to spend a day with your family as it provides both enjoyment and a relaxing atmosphere.

Work Out at Altoona Campus

Working out is also easy in the city, especially since Altoona Campus features excellent exercise amenities for every visitor.

The facility offers special programs and classes, including yoga, boxing, Zumba, cycling, swimming, and many more.

For transient exercise, you only have to sign a guest waiver and you’ll be ready to use the fitness equipment for your workout.

Altoona Campus also hosts party packages and holds workshops for wellness, summer camps, and training, among others.

To find Altoona Campus, head to 8th Street Southwest.

Buy Fresh Produce at the Olde Town Altoona Farmers’ Market

On Thursdays from June to September, the Olde Town Altoona Farmers’ Market opens featuring local farmers and vendors.

Here, you can buy fresh produce, including vegetables, fruits, plants, herbs, homemade jams and jellies, baked goods, and delicious home-cooked meals and beverages.

Local crafters also have displays of their works like handmade jewelry, home decor, and many other unique handcrafted finds.

First established in the 1990s, the Olde Town Altoona Farmers’ Market is one great way to support local farmers and vendors.

You’ll surely find unique and pretty products here to bring home and taste local food.

Have a Latin Feast at Guadalajara Mexican

Guadalajara Mexican is easily one of the most popular dining establishments in Altoona, famous for its authentic Mexican food.

You’ll get all the basic Mexican delicacies here plus more, as Guadalajara Mexican has a huge menu that’ll make you want to come back for more.

They’re also famous for their vibrant atmosphere, accentuated by amazing drinks like their margaritas.

Overall, this is a fantastic place to socialize with friends and family thanks to its modern design, large menu, and vibrant ambiance.

Find Guadalajara Mexican along Adventureland Drive.

See the Veterans Memorial A7-D Jet Display

Located in the Sam Wise Youth Complex lies one of the best artworks in Altoona—the Veterans Memorial A7-D Jet Display.

An actual aircraft suspended in the beautiful greenery of Sam Wise Youth Complex, Veterans Memorial A7-D Jet Display is a great photo opportunity—especially for aviation enthusiasts.

This type of aircraft was used heavily during the Vietnam War, and was actually brought to Altoona during the late 1990s heavily damaged.

However, through the work of locals, this fighter jet was restored to its original glory and now sits as an icon of Altoona.

Both a showstopper and a historical marker, you can visit this amazing fighter plane along 8th Avenue Southeast.

Go for a Stroll Along Prairie Heritage Park

Prairie Heritage Park is one of the biggest green spaces in Altoona, housing the Enabling Garden as well.

Marketed by Altoona as one of their go-to places for relaxation, Prairie Heritage Park offers scenic restored wetlands that showcases the diverse flora and fauna of the city.

With beautiful gardens, huge walking spaces, you can easily get lost and marvel at the simple beauty of Prairie Heritage Park.

There’s also a large pond here that’s open for public fishing, given that you have a fishing license.

You can access this wonderful park via Venbury Drive.

Satisfy Your Carnivorous Cravings at The Big Steer Restaurant and Lounge

The Big Steer Restaurant and Lounge is one of the most popular restaurants in Altoona, famous for its hearty dinner plates that feature mouthwatering steaks and ribs.

One of their most sought after dishes is their prime rib, a must try if you’re a big lover of beef.

Apart from that, The Big Steer Restaurant and Lounge also features a slew of appetizers that’ll make your head turn.

Mozzarella sticks, onion rings, mashed potatoes—most of your favorite American classics are all found in this lovely restaurant.

Besides their food, The Big Steer Restaurant and Lounge also became a hotspot because of their service—giving them the pedigree to handle large groups.

You can try their scrumptious entrees and appetizers by visiting them along Adventureland Drive.

Take a Dip at Altoona Aquatics Park

If you’re visiting the hot summer months in Iowa, Altoona Aquatics Park is a great and cost-effective way to cool down.

This public swimming pool is beloved by the locals because of their competitive pricing that features good food as well, making it a perfect destination for large families or groups of friends.

There’s also a lot of shallow waters for kids to enjoy at Altoona Aquatics Park, so expect a lot of children here.

Still, adults can enjoy their spacious facilities as well.

Altoona Aquatics Park is located along Venbury Drive.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Join the Fun at Iowa State Fairgrounds

People at the Iowa State Fairgrounds


The Iowa State Fairgrounds is a perfect home base when you’re looking for nearby things to do.

It’s just 13 minutes away from Altoona.

The Iowa State Fairgrounds is a great place for newcomers.

It’s where all of the magic happens that makes Iowa such a great place.

Children trying the giant slide at Iowa State Fairgrounds


From the first day of summer through the last day of the year, spend them at the Fairgrounds.

You can go on carnival rides, buy crafts and baked goods from local vendors, listen to live music, and sample foods like corn dogs, lemonade, and pork chops.

If you’re in the mood for some food, you’ve come to the right place.

The Iowa State Fairground has many delicious and reasonably priced options.

The Iowa State Fairground has tons of events throughout the year, so it’s worth checking out to see what’s coming up next.

Fire acrobats at Iowa State Fairgrounds


Find Treasures at the Brass Armadillo Antique Mall

Visiting the Brass Armadillo Antique Mall is a general rule of thumb for anyone traveling to Des Moines, Iowa.

It’s a delightful outlet home to unique trinkets, artifacts and antiques.

Brass Armadillo Antique Mall is an antique mall with a twist, founded in 1992.

You can find Brass Armadillo Antique Mall after a 12-minute drive from Altoona, along 50th avenue in Des Moines.

Its proximity to the interstate makes it easy to find if you’re coming from Des Moines.

Likewise, its name is so memorable that you won’t have any trouble remembering where it is if you’re driving through Altoona.

With deals as good as theirs, you’re bound to leave with something unique you couldn’t have found anywhere else.

Vintage clothing and accessories abound at the Brass Armadillo, along with vintage furniture and knickknacks.

If you’re looking for something in particular or are interested in antiques in general, browse the stacks.

Bring your wallet so you can buy what tickles your fancy!

Unwind at Thomas Mitchell Park

Thomas Mitchell Park is just seven kilometers away from Altoona.

If you want a perfect destination for a leisurely afternoon with friends and family, head to Thomas Mitchell Park in Mitchellville, Iowa.

Thomas Mitchell Park is a fantastic place to visit because they have everything you could want in a park, from the conventional to the unexpected.

There are picnic tables throughout the area for people to eat their lunches or have picnics on a sunny day.

Other amenities at Thomas Mitchell Park make it the perfect place for get-togethers or activities.

Lastly, there are plenty of trails around the park’s perimeter to take long walks or bike rides while taking in scenic views of both Iowa City and Altoona.

Final Thoughts

Altoona is charming and quaint, the place you’d like to bring your loved ones.

What’s great about it is that you don’t have to go far from Altoona to find other fun places.

It might not be the place that makes you say, “Wow, I can’t wait to see what’s there!”

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit.

It’s got plenty of cool stuff hidden right in plain sight.

Once you arrive, you’ll find that Altoona is an idyllic little city with a charming downtown full of locally-owned shops and restaurants, and you might never want to leave.

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