Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Kalona, IA

  • Published 2023/01/11

Visit Kalona, Washington County, if you want glimpses of what rural America once was.

After all, the area of this east-central Iowa city is known as the home of the largest community of the conservative Amish and Mennonites.

They were among the earliest settlers in Iowa who arrived in the territory in the 1840s and retained their close-knit, religious lifestyle up to the present.

Notably, the Amish and Mennonites have contributed much to making the southeast Iowa region of Washington County the richest among America’s agricultural areas.

Incorporated in 1890, Kalona has grown as Washington County’s second-largest city, spurred as early as 1879 by railroad development in its area.

The city thus boasts of a historic old town and a thriving business district with many endearing places to visit.

Check out those that may appeal to you most in this list of things to do in Kalona.

Visit the Kalona Historical Village

Many tourists visiting Southeast Iowa drop by this historical village on D Avenue for a deeper appreciation of Amish and Mennonite history.

The Kalona Historical Village features 12 restored historic buildings filled with informative and interesting exhibits on the pioneer settlers of the Iowa prairies.

One of these buildings houses the Iowa Mennonite Museum, devoted to the lifestyles and cultures of the Amish and Mennonite communities.

Research materials and genealogy books are among the archival materials found in this museum.

The Kalona Historical Village also boasts two nationally-known quilt galleries.

One of them exclusively features Amish textiles, while the other displays a themed selection of quilts.

In addition, you can find in the Village the premier US collection of antique glass, spool cabinets, gems and minerals, and other collectibles.

Hang Out at the Kalona City Park

This park on the southwest corner of East Avenue and Nutmeg Avenue is an ideal place to spend leisure time when visiting Kalona.

Very well-maintained, Kalona City Park sprawls over about 30 acres and provides diverse recreational facilities.

These facilities include baseball fields, tennis courts, playgrounds, a swimming pool, picnic areas, and pavilions.

The Kalona City Park also features a campground offering 38 campsites with electrical and water hook-ups.

These campsites are available on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Tee Off at the Award-Winning Kalona Golf Club

Located just east of Highway 1, The Kalona Golf Club offers a semi-private golf course open to the public.

Presenting a slope rating of 124, this course is a 9-hole layout with regulation play at par 36/72 over 5,978 yards from its Blue tees.

The Iowa Golf Association has honored the Kalona Golf Club twice as its Iowa 9-Hole Course of the Year.

The beautiful scenery of this course draws repeat visits from out-of-town golfers.

The greens of the course are Bent Grass, while the fairways are Winter Rye and Blue Grass.

Many fairways in the Kalona Golf Club’s course are lined with trees on a rolling terrain, which gives players a downhill or uphill lie.

There are two ponds in the course serving as challenging water hazards when aiming for the greens.

The Kalona Golf Club, an Iowa Golf Association member, affiliated with the USGA, built the course’s current configuration in 1984.

Shop at the Kalona Farmers Market

This farmers market occupies the sidewalks of B Avenue and 5th Street every Saturday from June through September.

Its market hours are between 9:00 a.m. and 12 noon, providing shoppers the opportunity to purchase local farm products and goods directly from their growers and manufacturers.

In the early hours of the Kalona Farmers Market, you will have the chance to see the iconic Amish buggies unloading such items as fresh produce, meats, baked goods, noodles, and handcrafted items.

You will enjoy shopping in this farmers market amid lively music, as its retailers are friendly and offer fair prices.

Pick a Beer at Kalona Brewing Company

Visit Kalona Brewing Company on B Avenue for a wide range of choices on beer varieties.

It takes pride in a 15-barrel brewing system operating throughout the year, coming up year-round with brews like the Kalona Classic Light Lager and Sucha Much IPA.

Ask also about Kalona Brewing’s seasonals and pop-ups on taps for a full appreciation of the choices available in this brewer’s taproom.

Be sure too that you’ll take the opportunity of dining at the Kalona Brewing Company restaurant, which boasts fine dining dishes and comfort food favorites on its menu.

The popular choices in this restaurant include its wood-fired, thin-crust pizza topped with mozzarella cheese made in-house.

Browse Items at Woodin Wheel Antiques

Operating since the early 1970s, this shop sells more besides vintage items.

Woodin Wheel has also made its mark internationally for its old and new handcrafted American quilts.

Most of the choices on new quilts are Amish–Mennonite and come in varying sizes from king size to a small block.

The antiques that the shop carries include jewelry, old silverware, linens and laces, glassware, and small furniture pieces,

Amish dolls and crafts are also among the items available at Woodin Wheel Antiques.

Feast on Dairy at Kalona Creamery

Located on Highway 1 corner 540thStreet SW, Kalona Creamery has been operating since 2017 and has become a must-stop for Iowa-made dairy products.

Its offerings include 50+ special types of cheese, 15 house-made ice cream and fudge flavors, and Squeaky Cheese Curds.

At Kalona Creamery, you will also have the opportunity to unique cow galore items, treats for kids, and organic local dairy.

A feast on salads, soups, pesto pasta, and house-made sandwiches made from locally sourced ingredients is likewise a tempting proposition at Kalona Creamery.

Hook Up Your RV at the Windmill Ridge Campground

This is a small, quiet RV campground with 87 sites on 140th Street west of the Kalona Golf Course in the southern part of Kalona.

The Windmill Ridge Campground offers a full range of amenities for campers, including electric and water hookups.

It also provides restroom and shower facilities, as well as fire pits and tables.

In place of a live sewer, the Windmill Ridge Campground provides a dump station that its campers are free to use.

This campground notably hosts the annual Kalona Gospel Sing, traditionally held each August of the year.

Treat Your Sweet Tooth at Kalona Chocolates

A family-owned business, Kalona Chocolates is located on 5th Street and takes pride in its Mennonite–Amish heritage.

Through honest, hard work, Kalona Chocolates is proudly committed to creating handmade, excellent products.

Open daily, except Sundays, this shop for the sweet tooth offers such delights as milk and dark chocolate, truffles, and caramel.

Besides these chocolate gift collections, the shop also produces unique chocolate cards and floral greenery cards.

Adopt a Labrador at Iowa Prairie Dogs

This dog breeder is located on Hazelwood Avenue, specializing in American Kennel Club-registered, champion-sired Labrador Retrievers.

Iowa Prairie Dogs has an adopt-a-puppy system that comes with an AKC-limited registration, veterinary examination, current vaccinations, health record files, and a one-year health guarantee.

Many pet lovers choose to adopt Labradors from Iowa Prairie Dogs and other breeders because these animals are sociable, agile, and gentle.

Labradors are excellent guide dogs, with 70% of them accounting for the canine breeds kept for that purpose.

Take the Amish Byways Tour

Step back in time in the Amish Byways Tour, which is available April through October in Kalona.

These guided tours are via buses arranged through the Kalona Historical Village on D Street.

Tour departures are from the Kalona Chamber of Commerce at B Avenue and will pass through Kalona’s scenic countryside roads.

The tours pass Amish homes, schools, and businesses, with the tour guides explaining the simple lifestyle of the communities and neighborhoods along the way.

During the tours, there are also stops on several points of interest, like the Stringtown Buggy Shop and the Amish Community Store.

Each tour takes 90 minutes, with the touring bus carrying up to 14 passengers who will have the chance for an in-depth view of Kalona history and the Amish community.

Explore the Frytown Conservation Area

Spreading over 94 acres of forested land, this conservation area is accessible via Kalona’s Angle Road SW,

The Frytown Conservation Area is lush with mature hickory/oak stands and younger trees and shrubs planted as a wildlife habitat by its caretaker, the Johnson County Conservation.

Visitors can enjoy hiking in the 2.5 miles of wide grass trails meandering through Frytown’s forest, which was formerly pastureland.

Other recreational pursuits that can be enjoyed in this area include birdwatching and nature observation in the forest habitat.

The Frytown Conservation Area, though, is a primitive site, with no restrooms or structures onsite.

Shop for Supplies at the Stringtown Grocery

Run by the Amish/Mennonite religious community, this retail shop on 540th Street is not your typical grocery store.

Many shoppers from out of town flock to Stringtown Grocery because of its amazing selection of groceries and hard-to-find items.

On the warehouse-like shelves of this shop, you will have choices on bulk groceries, all reasonably priced.

The myriads of goods stocked in Stringtown Grocery include spices, nuts, candies, meats, cheese, cereals, noodles, and every conceivable item that you can find in an Amish kitchen.

Stringtown Grocery also carries various kitchen utensils ranging from pots and pans to canning jars.

Hunt for the Rare in English River Antiques

This antique shop on B Avenue is small but has been drawing patrons not only from Kalona but also from Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and their nearby areas since 2001.

Its wide variety of rare items on stock brings customers to English River Antiques & Collectibles.

Its inventory includes vintage jewelry, comics, stamps, pottery, art, coins, and so much more.

On its brimming shelves, for instance, you will find one-of-a-kind pieces of Hawkeye and Star Trek memorabilia.

From this antique shop, you can turn to its neighbor Vintage Chic, also a retailer of collectibles, including décor and refinished old furniture.

Join Local Events of Kalona Days

Catch the exciting and fun downtown attractions of Kalona Days.

This much-awaited local event is held yearly to celebrate all things unique about Kalona.

Watch the parade on the sidewalks with your family and enjoy live music after.

Sign up and join the crowd for the morning Fun Run or watch who bags the prize for the Kalona Days Pie Baking Contest.

Your little ones will have lots to enjoy with pony rides, barrel rides, face painting, kid’s games, and other enjoyable activities.

Drop by the lines of food trucks and try assorted specialties and baked goods like pies and donuts.

Visit other stalls and you’ll find an array of arts and crafts, fresh produce, meats, noodles, preserves, and more; likewise, there are more great finds at the Farmers Market in the evening.

You’ll surely enjoy other Kalona Days attractions like the YMCA volleyball tournament and a free movie at the Kalona Library lawn.

Sip Coffee Brews at Kalona Coffee House

Right at B Avenue, Kalona Coffee House is a great cafe to get your caffeine brews.

You can drop by the coffee shop from Monday to Saturday.

Enjoy assorted premium coffee blends in a relaxing and laid-back setting with artworks of local artists on display.

Smell and sip your cup of Americano and Cappuccino, Mochas in hot or iced blends like White Mocha or Menno Mocha, or Latte and Breve flavors.

For cold beverages, try their Frozen selections on the menu like Mocha or White Mocha Frappe, Chocolate or White Chocolate Creme Slush, or Blended or Dirty Chai.

Like something fruity? Order fruity Smoothies like strawberry, raspberry, wildberry, peach, mango, or strawberry-banana.

Likewise, kids will enjoy Smoothies, Cream Slush, Cider, and other kiddie drinks.

Kalona Coffee House also serves other drinks like London Fog, Italian Soda, and more.

Have a Pleasant Stay at Dutch Country Inn

If you’re looking for old-fashioned Kalona hospitality at its best, get your accommodations at Dutch Country Inn.

Have a comfortable stay with views of beautiful Amish farms, steel-wheeled tractors, horse-drawn buggies, and scenic country settings.

Owned by singers and country farmers, Marlin and Becky Bontrager, the business aims to preserve heritage and traditional service to its guests.

Enjoy continental-style breakfast every morning which includes the all-time favorite caramel cinnamon rolls, coffee, bagels, muffins, and more.

Relax, read a book or watch TV, or just hang out in the lobby.

Dutch Country Inn located on East Avenue is also accessible from popular attractions.

Enjoy the Fall Festival Celebration

The Fall Festival celebration of downtown Kalona is an event you wouldn’t want to miss on your visit.

This two-day annual event is held in September with lots of educational and fun attractions for all ages.

It was first celebrated in 1972 as a fundraising event to preserve local buildings of historic significance.

Enjoy live bands, choirs, and other musical performances along with contests and raffle draws throughout the event.

You can also catch demonstrations on weaving, quilting, broom-making, cornmeal grinding, and much more.

Watch home-cooking demos and learn how to make breakfast burritos, pie and ice cream, apple fritters, tenderloins, and more.

Let your little ones join fun-filled activities like barrel train rides, face painting, pony rides, kids’ corn bins, and library-sponsored programs and crafts.

Enjoy other Fall Festival attractions like quilt galleries, antique displays on historic buildings, agricultural exhibits, wine samplings, wagon rides, and more.

Shop and Eat at Kalona General Store and Eatery

For more samples of local goods and unique products, you can drop by the Kalona General Store and Eatery.

The iconic store on 5th Street was originally set up during the 1880s and underwent several changes and management throughout the decades until Susan and David Finley managed the general store and opened its doors to the public in 2007.

Browse through the store and you’ll be served with hometown service and an experience of the traditional American general store.

Get an array of food items like homemade butternuts, local honey, bulk spices and seasonings, Amish jams and jellies, and more.

You can also choose from a wide selection of local wines, old-fashioned candies, cheeses, specialty meats, Amish Country Noodles, and items from housewares, health and beauty products, giftwares, to souvenirs.

When you feel hungry while at the shop, you can grab delicious lunch or snacks at the eatery.

Satisfy your big appetite with a Mad Cow burger or Giant Chili Cheese “Mad Dog” or tasty Panini-Grilled Sandwiches like Kalona Triple Cheese, Italian Melt, Steak & Cheese.

Club Sandwich choices like the Amish, Turkey, and American Club Sandwiches along with made fresh to order Classic Sandwiches are equally satisfying.

Try all-time favorites like B.L.T., Chicken Salad, Liverwurst Sandwich, soups

sides and salads along with delicious baked goods like Amish-style Pie, Cookies, Fella Dutch Letters, and Amish-style Giant Pretzels.

Get all you need at the Kalona General Store and Eatery.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Hike in the Redbird Farms Wildlife Area

Hikers are few on the two-mile trail of this wildlife habitat on Black Diamond Road SW in Iowa City, some 10 miles north of Kalona.

The trail is moderately challenging, and a full trek on it can take less than an hour to complete.

Birdwatching is an ideal side activity while hiking in this wildlife area covering 500 acres.

Birds thrive well in this area mainly because of its two sections of second-growth forest.

Further boosting this wildlife habitat, the area has three large ponds along its southeastern woodland.

In the central stretch of the Redbird Wildlife Area, there is also a meadow that transitions into pastureland.

Some of the bird sightings in this area include Wood Thrush, American Bittern, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Black-billed Cuckoo.

Take the Kids to Belgum Grove

This nature park is a small wetland on 500th Street SW, Iowa City, 12 miles northeast of Kalona.

Belgum Grove offers a range of kid-friendly activities, including fishing in its pond stocked with bluegill, largemouth bass, and catfish.

A fishing license is required to fish at Belgum Grove’s pond.

Belgum Grove is great to explore and photograph, with its beautiful rolling landscapes which emerged from a reconstructed prairie.

The mowed trails of Belgum Grove are wide enough for trail runners as well as dog walkers.

Its shallow water habitat and small, excavated wetland are ideal for kids collecting specimens like frogs, toads, turtles, and snails.

Charming birds, like waterfowl, sparrows, and finches, also inhabit Belgum Grove.

Final Thoughts

A visit to Kalona promises the rare experience of stepping back in time and interacting with the descendants of its pioneer settlers—the Amish and Mennonites.

As these religious folks helped shape the city into what it is today, Kalona has created many unique shopping and dining opportunities.

Even just a day trip to this city would be enough to create many wonderful memories, as its area also offers a lot of outdoor points of interest.

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