Blake Walsh

25 Best Things to Do in Ames, IA

  • Published 2023/03/03

The city of Ames is the ultimate aim for the students who want to pursue architecture, design engineering, or a degree in veterinary medicine.

Home to the world-famous Iowa State University, Ames is one of the most beautiful and well-structured cities in the USA.

It is also one of the most important cities with respect to agriculture and hosts various sites related to animals, such as the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the National Veterinary Services Laboratory, and the National Animal Disease Center.

With a bustling neighborhood and a keen eye for the arts and culture, the city is a delightful place to visit.

These are the best things to do in Ames, Iowa:

Watch the Butterflies Fly About at Reiman Gardens

Lush greenery of Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa

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Reiman Gardens is home to a vast butterfly pavilion where you can watch thousands of butterflies flitting about, spreading their colorful and beautiful wings.

A variety of exotic and endemic flowers are grown at the greenhouse here, which makes for a colorful backdrop.

It is open all year round, except on holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

Fountain at Reiman Gardens

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You can also opt for a guided tour and attend some of the educational events, programs, or lectures related to nature and its conservation that are conducted here.

There are at least a dozen distinct garden areas showcasing a variety of species alongside many beautiful greenhouses.

A large butterfly on a flower sculpture at Reiman Gardens

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You can visit the garden any day of the week.

There is also a quaint little gift shop where you can shop for some lovely souvenirs for your friends and family.

Another exciting aspect is that Reiman Gardens showcases pieces and conduct educational programs based on a specific theme every year.

View of Reiman Gardens

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For example, the theme for the year 2020 was “wild and whimsical.”

Some notable areas that you have to visit are the Mahlstede Building, the Jones Rose Garden, the Herb Garden, and Lake Helen.

A peacock-shaped sculpture at Reiman Gardens

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Admire Art Pieces at the Brunnier Art Museum

The Brunnier Art Museum is one of the most prestigious art museums in Ames and is located on the second floor of the Iowa State Center building.

Founded by the art connoisseur Henry J. Brunner and his wife, this beautiful museum houses a variety of artworks and showpieces to enthrall the public.

The whole museum was named a National Historic Landmark.

The sculpture garden exhibits some really beautiful sculptures by famous artists and constitutes one of the largest works of campus public art in the USA.

The temporary exhibits regularly rotate throughout the year, and the permanent exhibitions are also very pretty.

Some of the décor and art items that you can look at here include furniture, textiles, and silver objects.

Admission is free, but you can donate a little to help maintain this beautiful museum.

Pay a Visit to the Farm House

Front view of Knapp-Wilson House's exterior

HMHC, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Knapp-Wilson House, better known as the Farm House, is a very important and major landmark in the history of Ames, Iowa.

This is because it is the oldest building on the campus of the prestigious Iowa State University and is part of the model farm that went on to become the great state of Iowa.

After being named a National Historic Landmark in 1964, it was opened to the general public as a public museum.

Exterior view of the Knapp-Wilson House

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Two famous agriculturists and teachers, Mr. James Wilson and Seaman A. Knapp, used to live at this very farmhouse, thus giving it historical importance.

It can also be a great place to visit if you’re into looking at beautiful pieces of architecture.

The three-story house is primarily a brick-laid structure, and the bricks are made from locally sourced clay.

The lobby and interior are very beautiful to look at as well.

Play with Your Kids at Brookside Park

Brookside Park is a lovely space to spend some quality time with your kids.

With various sports fields and courts for sports like volleyball, basketball, and tennis, you can spend a fun evening with your kids, teaching them how to play and run about.

There is also a baseball field if you want to polish your skills.

Pack along a delicious picnic with some snacks and cold beverages, and you’re set for a fun afternoon with your loved ones in this open space.

With lush green lawns and tall green trees, this park is everything that you can ask for.

For children of the younger age group, there is even a skating park and a wading pool.

The park is open daily.

Visit Four Museums Together by Visiting the Boone County Historical Society

The wonderful Boone County Historical Society houses four different museums.

Its grounds also comprise the childhood home of former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower and a beautiful park.

Look at a resourceful school called the Hickory Grove School, which also finds a place on this campus and is just a little one-room schoolhouse.

Try Camping at McFarland Park

Bird at McFarland Park

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McFarland Park is a highly recommended spot if you’re planning to visit Ames with friends, as the youth camping site here is one of a kind.

There is a long trail for hiking that goes on for as long as 5.5 miles.

Cycling is also another fantastic option you can enjoy here.

A huge 6.5-acre lake awaits you at this park, where you can go fishing.

Bird at McFarland Park

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The best part about this park is that it covers a variety of geographical areas, including prairie and the woodlands.

There is also a special trail where a variety of plant species are planted.

The Conservation Center is also beautiful and houses a lot of endemic and rare species.

The park is open from Monday to Friday.

Learn Something New about Fashion at the Textiles and Clothing Museum

Fashion is something that has always fascinated the human race.

So, it’s no surprise that this humble museum has reached a great height today, having gone from out as a small space in the Iowa State University College of Human Sciences to getting a vast area for itself.

Built painstakingly by students over the years, what started as a small and simple collection is now spread over three groups with as many as 9,500 pieces of clothing from various eras of history.

You can look at some pretty pieces of clothing, which range from fashion from the Roman times to modern fashionista pieces.

The cultural aspects of the United States and all over the world are also kept in mind by showcasing the displays.

Though essentially built as a teaching tool for teachers, the museum is also open to the public.

Watch a Live Performance at Stephens Auditorium

Exterior of Stephens Auditorium, Iowa

Ken Wolter /

The pretty Stephens Auditorium is another place to visit on the campus of the famous Iowa State University.

Established by Clifford Y Stephens in 1969, it was built to encourage a spirit of love and affection for the performing arts among the students.

A variety of theatrical performances are hosted here, including musical concerts, plays, and dances.

View of Stephens Auditorium from across the road

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There’s also a sports arena and theater which has been built over the years.

It sometimes acts as a venue for the local students as well as for artists from all around the world.

Stephens Auditorium has a total of 2,602 seats.

You can check out the auditorium website to buy tickets and to learn about the upcoming shows.

Outside view of Stephens Auditorium

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Relax on the Farm at Alluvial Brewing Company

Alluvial Brewing Company is located inside a farmhouse.

Since its humble beginning on a small farm, this brewing company has come a long way because of its unique brand.

What makes the brewery extra special is that a slow process is followed by using some really unique ingredients, like coffee, maple, and peanuts in its brews.

The taproom is located on the farm itself so that you can grab a drink and enjoy and relax while sipping on it peacefully.

Stroll about the peaceful grounds while hand in hand with your significant other, or play a relaxing board game while enjoying your chosen brew.

Have a Day of Family Fun at Inis Grove Park

Inis Grove Park is a fun place to visit with your family while vacationing in Ames.

With all the typical courts for sports like basketball and tennis, this park is excellent for a fun picnic and playtime.

There are playgrounds and trails available where you can hike or cycle.

Another specialty is that the children’s area is separated for the younger and older kids.

The restrooms and other amenities are also clean and well-maintained.

Take Your Pets to Ames Dog Park

A publicly owned park, Ames Dog Park is a playing spot for dogs of various breeds, and many dog lovers flock to this park all the time.

You’ll find a variety of pet parents using this facility to take their dogs for a walk.

It is compulsory for the people who enter the park with their dogs to show that their dogs are protected against rabies and are properly vaccinated, or they are not permitted to enter.

This ensures a friendly and safe atmosphere for all those who visit this lovely park.

There is also a walking path to take a peaceful stroll.

Drinking fountains are also placed at various corners to quench your and your pet’s thirst.

Go Boating at the Ada Hayden Heritage Park Lake

Swans on the water of Ada Hayden Park, Ames

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Ada Hayden Heritage Park is one of Ames’ many beautiful parks.

It is especially famous for the boating activities that you can enjoy here.

Rent a boat and have a relaxing afternoon ride on the calm blue waters.

Colorful sunset over Ada Hayden Heritage Park Lake

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Short, quaint walking trails are also available alongside some biking paths.

You can also follow it up by having a picnic at one of the many picnic areas.

Fishing is also allowed on the lake, and you can fish for some local species.

Spend a Day of Fun Games and Entertainment at Perfect Games

Whether you’re a traveling family, friends, or co-workers, lots of games and entertainment await you at Perfect Games.

The center offers 24 lanes of bowling, a two-story laser tag arena, a kids’ play space, an 18-hole mini golf, a restaurant & bar, and more than 70 arcade games.

This would be your perfect spot if you want a day of entertainment and exciting games to do.

What’s more is that if you’re a family spending time here on Sundays, you’ll get half-price games.

Perfect Games is located off Dickinson Avenue.

Browse the Art Exhibits at the Octagon Center for the Arts

For art enthusiasts, you can enjoy your time browsing through the art galleries at the Octagon Center For the Arts.

The center showcases the artworks of local artists in rotating exhibits found on the first floor and more galleries on the third floor.

Adjacent to the first floor’s gallery is a small shop, where you can also buy artwork and handmade pieces.

The Octagon Center for the Arts has been serving the community since 1966 through its arts classes, workshops, and outreach programs, including the annual Octagon Art Festival.

You can find it on Douglas Avenue.

Enjoy a Swim at the Furman Aquatic Center

On hot summer days, take a plunge at the Furman Aquatic Center; a perfect destination for traveling families with little kids.

It has a bit of everything for all ages from water slides, lap lanes, diving boards, a lazy river, tube slides, splashing buckets, and a wading pool for the little ones.

If you need a quick bite, there’s also a snack bar on-site.

Lifeguards are on duty, but you still have to look after the kids to ensure their safety.

The Furman Aquatic Center is located at 13th Street.

Raise a Glass of Wine at Della Viti

Chill out with your buddies or loved ones at Della Viti and enjoy a delicious selection of wine in town.

The bar serves wine by the glass or bottle for you to relax and enjoy the warm and cozy atmosphere with genuine smiles from the bartenders.

What’s more, is that you can have your glass at your own pace through its self-service wine machines!

If you’re up for a beer, the bar also offers rotating craft beers as well as premium handcrafted drinks to pair with your fresh appetizers.

Also, its delectable selection of charcuterie boards is a must-try!

Escape the Rooms at No Escape Iowa

For a challenging and exciting activity for the whole family, friends, or co-workers, head to No Escape Iowa.

You have an hour to solve the mystery puzzles and escape the themed rooms.

Choose from its different escape rooms: The Teacher’s Pet, Game On, Where’s The Remote, and Ghostly Figures.

These are all great for all ages, may it be kids, teens, and grown-ups.

No Escape Iowa also offers workshops for theoretical electronics and puzzle building.

It also hosts birthday parties or corporate events.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Watch a Movie at Boone Theater

A hot favorite among the nearby Boone community is Boone Theater, which showcases many popular Hollywood titles.

The theater is located just a 25-minute drive away from Ames.

It is a family-friendly place, and the movies shown are also usually on the family watch list.

With multiple movie screens, you’re bound to get a seat when you visit.

There is also a service bar where you can opt for a tub of popcorn and also choose some candies from the candy bar alongside.

Go Skiing at the Seven Oaks Recreation

A 25-minute drive away from Ames, this recreational facility is a hardcore favorite for those interested in playing in the snow or enjoying some snow-related games like skiing and snowboarding.

Snowshoeing is another exciting activity that you can enjoy here.

The long list of winter activities that are conducted and played here will surely get you to tick a lot of winter experiences off your wish list.

Rentals are available for skiing and other games, which are not very expensive and totally worth the fun that you will encounter.

Enjoy Skating at the Prairie Ridge Skate Park

Skating is one of the many exciting sports that you can watch and play at the same time.

Head to the Prairie Ridge Skate Park for a day of fun.

The skate park is located in the neighboring city of Ankeny and is only a 30-minute drive outside of Ames.

Even if you’re not into skating or do not know how to skate, this is fine as well, since it’s a delightful experience to simply watch people as they go about grinding on the rails.

There is also a diameter bowl which is 15 feet in diameter and a four-foot pyramid located here.

Quarter pipes are also present for those who want to have some adventure while skating.

Benches are placed nearby so you can enjoy a show.

A drinking fountain is also located on-site.

Have a Fun Night Out at Cabaret Bar and Patio

Cabaret bar and Patio is one of the many places near the city where you can enjoy a luxurious dining experience with live performers and DJs at the house throwing some rock music.

It’s located in Ankeny, just 30 minutes away from Ames.

Order some delicious food from the extensive menu, pair it with your favorite drink, and enjoy a fun night.

Private rooms are also available for rent if you’re going with a group.

Explore the City’s Past at Ames History Museum

In the heart of Ames, Iowa, the Ames History Museum tells the narrative of the city’s founding.

As a non-profit organization, the Ames History Museum’s mission is to preserve and promote local history via exhibits, research, and educational and outreach activities.

The Hoggatt School, which is thought to have been the first school in Ames, is maintained by the group.

Permanent and rotating exhibitions include a wide range of themes relating to the area’s history.

Clothing, glassware, toys, books, maps, and pictures are just some of the artifacts in the museum’s collection.

The Hoggatt School is open to the public both in-person and online.

Spend the Night at Iowa House

The Iowa House in Ames is a one-of-a-kind place to stay.

The old fraternity house, renovated in 2008, currently has 15 different rooms that can sleep 35 people.

Hotel suites and rooms provide complimentary Wi-Fi, Jacuzzi spas, and pillow-top mattresses, ideal for families.

Wall-to-wall quilts made by Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon quilter Helen Paine fill Iowa House, styled in a retro-futuristic manner.

Each morning, breakfast is offered, with local bakery goodies rounding out the variety.

Near Iowa House, guests can discover the Furman Aquatic Centre and various golf courses.

If you are a parent or a guest at Iowa State University, here is the place to stay!

Catch a Performance by Ames Town & Gown Chamber Music Association

On November 26, 1950, the Ames Town & Gown Chamber Music Association (formerly the Ames Performance Association) held its first concert.

In 1969, it was renamed the Ames Town & Gown Concert Association in honor of the university’s close ties to the city.

Chamber music concerts are held in an intimate setting by the Ames Town & Gown Chamber Music Association, attracting some of the world’s most renowned musicians.

To enhance the community and cultivate audiences for the future, it regularly organizes extra programs that bring our artists into touch with students.

Students in college master’s courses are typically sponsored by Iowa State University.

Nearly 600 pupils from Perry’s primary school attended QuinTango’s performance.

Cavani Quartet appeared at Marshalltown Veterans Home as part of a collaboration between Ames Town & Gown and Ames Public Library, which included The Rose Ensemble in a casual workshop setting.

Take a Stroll at Ames Main Street

Metal benches on the grounds of Ames Main Street

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The Main Street is a historic area in Ames that has received national recognition.

In 2018, it was recognized as a historical landmark.

The city’s core business center is almost entirely under its jurisdiction.

Brikck buildings along Ames Main Street

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There are several two-story brick buildings on the city’s Main Street as you go around the city center.

Many of the buildings in the area are one story, although there are also a couple that reaches three floors.

Formerly Main Street Cultural District, it was rebranded Ames Main Street in 2018.

A street musician at Ames Main Street

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Final Thoughts

Ames offers a wide range of enjoyable activities, such as going on picnics, eating al fresco, and shopping.

It’s easy to see why people flock to this city with so many open areas, museums, parks, exhibitions, and restaurants.

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