Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Pella, IA

  • Published 2023/03/14

Pella, Iowa, is a small yet bustling town the entire family will love.

Rooted deep in history, you can find cobblestone streets in its downtown, complemented with modernity with its shopping scene and craft beer bar.

It boasts 15 parks that offer various recreational activities, along with an outdoor aquatic center and over 10 miles of biking trails that you can access literally from the backyard.

Here, you can find Lake Red Rock, Iowa’s largest lake, which offers tons of exceptional water sports like fishing, paddle boarding, and more.

And if you want to experience a touch of the Dutch culture, come to Pella during its annual festival, the Tulip Time, held every first Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in May.

As declared by USA Today, Pella is named the #3 best place to live in the USA.

While here, safety shouldn’t be an issue, with the town being named one of the top ten cities in Iowa.

And since we already mentioned craft beer, you can find the Cellar Peanut Pub in Pella, the best craft beer in all of Iowa.

The list goes on, and if you’re convinced that Pella is the place for your next holiday, then here are the 20 best things to do in Pella, IA:

Get a Glimpse of Dutch Culture at the Pella Historical Village and Vermeer Mill

Vermeer Mill at Pella Historical Village

Laurens Hoddenbagh /

See the beginnings of Pella by visiting the Pella Historical Village and Vermeer Mill, located on Franklin Street.

Be fascinated to see Dutch costume displays, a general store, and a log cabin.

Street gallery at Pella Historical Village and Vermeer Mill

Laurens Hoddenbagh /

The museum was established by a group of Pella residents with a passion for the preservation of the history of the town in 1935.

Aimed to preserve and tell the story of the past through educational programs, events, and museums, it serves as a cornerstone in the community.

Enjoy a tour of the Vermeer Mills to see and admire one of America’s tallest working windmills.

Explore the Beauty of the Scholte House Museum & Gardens

The Scholte House was owned by Dominie Scholte and his wife, Maria, and built in 1848.

Located on Washington St, it features 22 rooms that have been laid out for self-guided tours, with displays of the objects they owned throughout their stay here.

Its garden is located behind the home and is open to the public, where you can see blooming tulips in the spring and different varieties of flowers in the summer.

Admire the bronze sculptures that celebrate the Dutch immigrants of Pella before enjoying Dutch coffee time at Maria’s Tea Room.

Recently, the home’s exterior has been repainted to its original color, so it’s worth your time.

Take a Closer Look at the Vermeer Mills

Exterior of Vermeer Mill

Laurens Hoddenbagh /

While in Pella, make sure to make a separate tour of the Vermeer Mills to have a closer look at North America’s tallest working windmills.

Lukas Verbij designed it in Hoogmade, the Netherlands, and he disassembled it and shipped it to be re-assembled in Pella in 2002.

You’ll be fascinated by this 1850’s-style ‘koren mill’ or grain mill, which has been named after the Vermeer (Harry and Bernice) family whose dream it was to have it in Pella.

Explore its five floors, including the base where the grains were brought in and the top floor where it was milled.

Make sure to step on the deck to imbibe the stunning views of Pella.

Know the Moments and People of History in Pella with a Visit to the Klokkenspel

Still located on Franklin St is another marker of Pellan history, the Klokkenspel, which features 8-feet mechanical figures portraying the moments and people in Pella’s history.

Behind the tower are flower beds, arched niches, and stone benches—all with Dutch tile scenes.

Meanwhile, you can see on the north side of the Klokkenspel four figures, including Maria Scholte, a Blacksmith, Wyatt Earp, and Dominie Hendrik Scholte.

You can’t also miss the figures on the south side of Klokkenspel that feature Tulip Time.

Your Dutch experience won’t be complete without seeing the flower girls, the wooden shoemaker, and the street scrubbers.

These are all part of Tulip Time.

Visit and Explore Iowa’s Largest Lake—Lake Red Rock

Aerial view of Lake Red Rock

Ken Lund from Reno, Nevada, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Named the largest lake in Iowa, the Lake Red Rock is home to 35,000 acres of land and 15,000 acres of water.

You can experience various recreational opportunities here, including camping, fishing, boating, and hiking.

Men fishing at Lake Red Rock's dam

Rexjaymes /

On both sides of the lake is the Elk Rock State Park as well as the Whitebreast Recreation Area, Wallashuck Recreation Area, Ivans Recreation Area, North Overlook Recreation Area, and the Howell Station Recreation Area nearby.

And if you want to float on the Des Moines River down to the Red Rock Dam, then you should try the Red Rock Water Trail.

Grassy shoreline of Lake Red Rock

Rexjaymes /

Bring Out Your Game at the Bos Landen Golf Club

Into playing golf?

You shouldn’t miss visiting the Bos Landen Golf Club on Bos Landen Drive for a quick (or longer) tee time.

Designed by architect Dick Phelps, this place is an 18-hole championship golf course featuring five sets of tees for various playing levels.

The sets range from 5,100 to 7,000 yards in length.

You’re up for a unique experience here as the course has been named Iowa’s no. 1 public golf course from 1997 to 2001.

Not only that, but it was also ranked among the top 75 Most Affordable Golf Courses in the US by the Golf Digest.

Golfweek April 2017 also included Bos Landen Golf Club among the top 5 best courses in Iowa.

Witness an Outstanding Performance at the Pella Opera House

Visit the Pella Opera House, a historic building on Franklin St that was made possible by Herman Rietveld.

It took the place of the previous opera house that was destroyed in a fire sometime in the late 19th century.

This historic facility is committed to social events and great music.

Today, the Pella Opera House remains a premier performing arts facility that attracts patrons not only in the state but also from all over the country.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it opens its doors to groups that want to tour its facilities.

Visit it and enjoy a great performance.

See the Beauty of the Sunken Gardens Park

Scenic view of Sunken Gardens Park

Bella Bender /

Intrigued by its name?

The Sunken Gardens Park is located some two blocks north of Main Street’s square, featuring its focal point, which is a sunken pond shaped like a wooden shoe.

Enjoy its relaxing ambiance as you see a wide variety of tulip beds, light posts, benches, trees, and a windmill.

A woman sitting on Sunken Gardens Park's bench

Bella Bender /

You can visit and explore the park year-round, but it is best seen in the spring when more than 13,000 tulips bloom in the season.

The scene is truly remarkable as it makes you see that you are in the Netherlands.

In the winter, the locals also enjoy ice skating in the park.

The pond and windmill of Sunken Gardens Park

Bella Bender /

Experience the Historic Learning Walkway of the Tuttle Cabin

The Tuttle Cabin Learning Walkway is a collaboration between the Historic Pella Trust and the City of Pella and connects the Sunken Garden Parks and the Tuttle Cabin.

Situated between these two local landmarks, it features six learning stations that speak about Pella’s history.

These include Pella and the Civil War, why the Dutch left their homeland, the land before the Dutch, Pella’s early years, Tulip Time and Sunken Gardens Park, and the Dutch influence on Pella today.

There have been a lot of visitors to this place that they had to increase or widen the size of the walkway to more than 6-feet wide to accommodate group tours.

Notice how they designed the landscape, which emphasizes Pella’s history through the use of native plant massing of perennials, plants, and trees.

Conquer the Volksweg Trail

Volksweg Trail literally translates to ‘people’s path’ in Dutch.

This trail of 12.5 miles sticks to the rolling hills from Lake Red Rock to the town of Pella.

It’s interesting to note that eagles can be seen frequenting the tailwater area just below the dam, especially during the winter months.

On other days, you can experience exciting outdoor recreational activities such as swimming, kayaking, camping, picnicking, and boating.

See a Replica of the Dutch Canal at the Molengracht Plaza

Lift bridge over Molengracht Plaza's canal

Laurens Hoddenbagh /

Head out to the downtown business area of Pella and see the stunning Molengracht Plaza, spanning more than 100,000 square feet.

This place aims to replicate the authentic Dutch Canal.

What makes the Molengracht Complex a ‘better world’ is that it combines old-world charm with a 21st-century entrepreneurial spirit.

Roam around and see boutiques, meat markets, bakeries, and stores that are easily accessible as these are within just a couple of blocks.

Since its grand opening in 2001, it has grown to already include business offices, retail offices, condominiums, fine dining, and movie theaters.

Try Throwing an Axe at the Ironside Axe Club

Enjoy throwing or want to learn how to throw?

The Ironside Axe Club, located on Washington St, can teach you the tricks.

Whether you want to throw to compete or just for fun, this place offers indoor family fun for team buildings, open throwing, leagues, corporate outings, and tournaments.

There are a lot of axe coaches who can help you with your throw.

You can relax knowing that this is a totally safe environment where you can enjoy throwing an axe.

Do the Wyatt Earp Experience

You must have already heard about Wyatt Earp.

The Wyatt Earp Experience is a historical exhibit that features the life of the person of the same name, from his childhood and relationships to the legacy that he left behind.

Go on a tour exploring the rooms in the house where he lived in the early 1860s.

The home where Wyatt grew up in is still standing in its original spot, which is now a part of the Pella Historical Village.

And each year, the Pella Historical Museums celebrates the life of the town’s most infamous resident through the Wyatt Earp Days.

Visit the Pella Opera House

Exterior of the Pella Opera House

Boscophotos, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The opera was a popular form of entertainment during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Built in 1900, the Pella Opera House is the city’s premier performing arts venue.

It’s a beautiful piece of architecture restored to its former glory.

Due to its popularity, it stood the test of time, allowing visitors to enjoy the beauty of the building and experience a unique piece of history.

Today, the opera house is still up and running, hosting various events, including concerts, theatrical performances, and community gatherings.

Visitors can enjoy a guided building tour or catch a show in the stunning 324-seat auditorium.

The place is also available for rent—you can host parties, conferences, and other special events in one of the most beautiful venues in town.

Celebrate and Learn About Pella’s Roots During the Tulip Time Festival

People at the Tulip Time Festival

yosmoes815 /

Each spring, Pella hosts the Tulip Time Festival, a celebration of the city’s Dutch heritage and the blooming of thousands of tulips throughout the city.

As one of the year’s most anticipated events, Pella’s Tulip Time festival celebrates Dutch culture and traditions with activities like carnival rides, live music and shows, food stands, and much more.

It’s a city-wide celebration perfect for families and friends alike, as there are plenty of things to do and enjoy.

Participants of the Tulip Time Festival parade

yosmoes815 /

Visitors can also try traditional Dutch food and crafts and a parade featuring floats adorned with tulips.

As a highlight of the year in Pella, the Tulip Time Festival draws visitors from around the world.

So if you’re into festivities and celebrations, mark the Tulip Time Festival in your calendar.

People waiting for the Tulip Time Festival

yosmoes815 / Shutterstock.comfa

Other Things to Do Nearby

Taste Fine Wines at the Tassel Ridge Winery

Tassel Ridge Winery is a family-owned winery situated in an Iowa farmland, specifically on 220th St. in Leighton.

One of the largest wineries in Iowa, it is home to more than 30 award-winning wines, all of which are fermented, blended, and bottled on-site.

Enjoy the taste of white and dry red, fizzy, fruity, sweet, and semi-sweet dessert wines.

The Northern Grape varieties grown in the vineyard make up most of the wines, including Steuben, St. Croix, Marquette, La Crescent, Edelweiss, and Brianna.

Go Swimming and Camping at the Whitebreast Recreation Area

The Whitebreast Campground is located in Knoxville, IA, some 17 minutes away from Pella.

It features 128 camping spots with access to playgrounds, shower facilities, picnic shelters, a fish cleaning station, a hiking trail, a swimming beach, and a boat ramp.

Speaking of swimming, the Whitebreast Beach is located nearby, allowing you to experience the sun and ambiance of the area.

There’s also a lot of wildlife to enjoy watching with the kids.

Whitebreast Recreation Area brings bonding opportunities for the entire family.

Final Thoughts

Pella in Iowa is a great place for a holiday.

It welcomes people from all walks of life from all corners of the world with its many amazing offerings.

There are numerous recreational parks to let the children enjoy the outdoors, as well as museums and historical landmarks that preserve the town’s past.

It has successfully survived and thrived in modern times while still preserving its culture and heritage.

So, if you and your family are looking for a place for your next holiday or excursion, Pella is a great recommendation.

It awaits to show you its beauty and value that’s not too harsh on the pocket.

Plan your trip to Pella today and make sure to include these 15 best things to do in Pella, IA.

See you there!

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