Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Waterloo, IA

  • Published 2022/11/07

Waterloo is one of the most populous cities in Iowa, making it the ideal place to visit with its endless amenities and tourist attractions!

Located in Black Hawk County, this city boasts about its extensive network of facilities and activities that caters to visitors and their families.

Packed with museums, art centers, and galleries, the finest family-owned and operated eateries, and everything in between, there’s so much to see and do at Waterloo!

You can even wind back and get away from the bustling, loud streets by visiting their nature facilities and hiking trails to admire the natural beauty that surrounds Waterloo.

Experience this city to the fullest with this curated list of places you can visit in this waterfront district!

Go Camping at George Wyth State Park

Snow at George Wyth State Park

Melissa L Oltman /

Featuring four lakes within its vicinity, George Wyth State Park is best known for its water sports and activities!

Named after a wealthy businessman, this park has a lot of outdoor activities to offer you, providing you with a fun, enjoyable getaway from the city’s busy streets.

Boating and fishing amenities are available for use where you can go fishing and swimming!

Snow covered bench at George Wyth State Park

Melissa L Oltman /

Guests can also find hiking and walking trails that take you around George Wyth’s trail system, where you can spot a variety of species of birds that fly overhead.

This particular state park has also been deemed as an “urban sanctuary” with the wildlife, woodlands, and vast open space found here!

They also have massive campgrounds with electric and non-electric sites, which you can reserve to guarantee a slot!

A snow covered shed at George Wyth State Park

Melissa L Oltman /

Cool Off at Lost Island Waterpark & Adventure Golf & Go-Karts

This water and theme park at the heart of Waterloo is perfect for spending time with friends and family!

Since its opening in 2001, this establishment has been family-owned and operated and has continually expanded over the years, gathering traction as one of the best parks in the country and the largest park in the state of Iowa.

Lost Island Waterpark & Adventure Golf & Go-Karts prides themselves with their numerous water slides and other water sports facilities to cool you down on a hot summer day!

They also feature a wide variety of rides that cater to both children and adults, along with thrilling rides for the adventurous daredevils.

This park continually adds new rides on a regular basis, so be sure to check those out, too!

Go Bowling at Cadillac XBC

Cadillac XBC is best known for its bowling alleys with a long history in Waterloo City!

Home to various bowling tournaments and league bowling games, Cadillac XBC is the go-to place for both amateur and professional bowlers!

They also feature arcade games and virtual reality options, complete with a food and drink bar to keep you energized and entertained.

One of their main events, known as “Xtreme Cosmic Bowling,” provides guests with a unique bowling experience with their art light and sound like no other!

Conveniently located right at the city center, Cadillac XBC is easily accessible for all visitors, so make sure to add this place to your itinerary!

Visit an Art Museum at Waterloo Center for the Arts

Waterloo Center for the Arts collects a wide variety of artworks and artifacts from all over the world, including American Art, Midwestern Art, and International Folk Art, for a unique educational experience combined with fun!

This museum is home to one of the largest collections of Haitian art in the nation that can give you a glimpse into the history and culture of Haiti!

One of their star collections comes all the way from Mexico, with their Mexican Folk Art set up on display for all to see.

Their carefully curated and selected collection of displays and exhibits aims to provide visitors with a culturally diverse environment.

They even feature workshops and classes for anyone above the age of 3 to learn the basics of various forms of art mediums that include painting, pottery, digital arts, and more!

Situated in downtown Waterloo, this museum has so much in store for you, so be sure to check them out!

Learn about Iowa’s Veterans at Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum

Exterior of Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum

RifeIdeas, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum honors the lives of the veterans who have sacrificed their lives for the country.

This particular museum is part of the Grout Museum District of museums that span across the city to give visitors an educational experience during the events of the war from the viewpoint of the veterans.

Part of Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum's building

RifeIdeas, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum was named after the five Sullivan brothers who passed during the war to honor the sacrifice they’ve made for the nation.

Inside, they feature interactive exhibits that share with all visitors the lives of these people who fought in the Civil War up to the present.

There truly is a lot to learn at this museum, so be sure to purchase a ticket to see what they have in store for you!

Watch Science Come to Life at Bluedorn Science Imaginarium

Also known as the “Carl A. and Peggy J. Bluedorn Science Imaginarium,” this science museum is full of things to learn and see!

This interactive science center takes you on an educational tour of this three-floor facility, sharing with you how important science is in our everyday lives!

Named after the museum’s founders, younger audiences will be enthralled and mesmerized by the many exhibits that show them just how wonderful science is.

This establishment will leave you with lasting memories and experiences with the 91 hands-on exhibits and displays.

Since its opening in 1993, Bluedorn Science Imaginarium has been serving the community of Iowa by providing a playground for the imagination for both kids and adults!

Catch a Game at Riverfront Stadium

Throughout the seasons, this 5,000-seater stadium is best known for its baseball games at collegiate and high school levels!

Riverfront Stadium has been Waterloo’s historic stadium since its establishment in 1946 and has been home to various games and events.

The most well-known team to play in this stadium are the two-time winning Northwoods League Champion Bucks, who attract large audiences with their intense plays.

Complete with a concession stand, a lounge, and even a vast space for events and parties on their deck, this stadium also offers a wide variety of activities to cater to families.

Don’t forget to buy tickets to catch a baseball game at this stadium in downtown Waterloo!

Lay in the Grass at Cedar River Exchange Park

Cedar River Exchange Park is a park and recreational facility where families can gather and relax under the shade of the cedar trees!

This park has a wide range of amenities, including an open area where kids can run around, basketball and volleyball courts, and even a boat ramp by the riverfront for some water activities.

It also features a disc golf course for those who want to try this uncommon sport!

You may even opt to bring rollerskates or a skateboard to maximize your use of the skatepark and ramps.

Their picnic tables are perfect for outdoor meals, so be sure to bring some snacks with you to this spacious park!

Enjoy Nature at Cedar Valley Nature Trail

Small spider on a yellow flower at Cedar Valley Nature Trail

mgb111 /

Stretching over 67 miles, Cedar Valley Nature Trail is the perfect place to go biking, jogging, or running!

With the length of this trail, you may even opt to go cross country skiing in the winter or rollerblading in the summer or take a simple stroll and take pictures of the surrounding environment.

This historical trail runs through a multitude of small towns in Iowa, along its farmlands and wetlands that give you that refreshing nature atmosphere.

Cedar Valley Nature Trail has been one of the staple roads in this city since its debut in 1984 that was originally built on a trail line.

You may even spot a few creatures such as birds and deer while visiting this trail that will give you a revelatory and relaxing experience.

Spend the Day with Family at Palmer’s Family Fun

A short 10 minute drive up north away from the heart of Waterloo takes you to Palmer’s Family Fun, an entertainment center that is best known for its family-fun activities!

Previously named Airline Amusement Park, Palmer’s Family Fun features facilities for all ages, including go-karts, miniature golf courses, a batting cage, archery, laser tag, and many more!

Their driving range is also available for young adults to practice their driving skills within a safe place.

This family-owned and operated facility has been the go-to destination for groups, both large and small, for all the activities they have to offer!

Make sure to drop by this family-friendly establishment to see all the fun they have to offer.

Test Your Bravery at The Heart Of Darkness

The Heart of Darkness is a haunted house that’s been voted as #1 in the state of Iowa!

This horror house has been serving the community for over two decades with its spooky entertainment.

Inside, you can find 13 different haunted complexes, each that will send shivers down your spine, all while prioritizing your safety.

Some attractions include the Claustrophobia Black Out Maze, Grizzly’s Chainsaw Massacre, Zombie CDC, and more!

Guests may also get the chance to experience horror up close and personal with their 3D Killer Circus!

Complete with a concession stand, horror movie showings, and a photo booth, you’ll make lasting memories here!

This haunted house is not for the faint of heart, so get ready to be spooked at The Heart Of Darkness.

Dance the Night Away at The Bunker Live Music Co-op

This concert venue in Waterloo provides guests a night of dancing and singing, featuring some of the best local artists!

Previously well-known as Spicoli’s Reverb Concert Hall & Rock Museum, they’ve rebranded as The Bunker Live Music Co-op but still provide the same fun and entertainment as before!

Since its establishment over 20 years ago, this live concert venue has been dedicated to preserving and promoting local bands and artists.

With a wide range of genres from rock to pop and everything in between, this entertainment center hosts various events throughout the seasons.

This facility does not take walk-ins, so be sure to book in advance to guarantee your entry!

Eat Italian Cuisine at The Brown Bottle

Inside The Historical Russell Lamson Building, built in 1913, you can find The Brown Bottle, a restaurant specializing in Italian cuisine!

Serving the community with its rustic and casual atmosphere, this family-owned and operated restaurant has been one of the go-to eateries in Waterloo, with its menu that caters to all preferences.

They even have gluten-free options available to ensure that everyone has a great meal!

You can find some of the most expensive and extensive lists of wine selections at this restaurant that you can choose from.

Their meals come from family-created recipes made daily to ensure the best quality just for you!

Check the Displays at the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum

Located beside the TechWorks Campus, the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum is one of the specialized museums you can visit with your kids.

The site is the very first factory of the Deere tractor company.

You’ll not only learn about the history of the John Deere factory but discover early innovations and developments of machines and engines manufactured by the brand.

Get to explore the fun interactive displays and see antique machines used in the early periods.

See the rare and exclusive artifacts that show the evolution of horse-drawn machinery to powerful horse-powered engines.

Take your grip on the steel plows and see if your strength matches the machine’s horsepower.

The John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum is open to the public with free admission.

See Fun Exhibits at the Phelps Youth Pavilion

Art museums can also be fun for little ones, and the Phelps Youth Pavilion is one of the attractions that prove that.

The museum is part of the Waterloo Center for the Arts and it’s a place where kids of all ages can discover and learn about the world of arts.

Get your kids to practice their creative little hands and try the hands-on experiences to learn arts, culture, and music.

Let them use their imagination from simple drawings to painting their masterpieces.

Little tots can also enjoy the PlayScape with safe play equipment they’ll enjoy for hours.

The Phelps Youth Pavilion has over 40 exhibits that all provide fun while learning; try the digital painting, discover languages and cultures from all around the world, and let kids drive a tractor and pass through a Grand Wood painting.

View Victorian Artifacts at the Rensselaer Russell House Museum

Experience stepping back in time as you visit the Rensselaer Russell House Museum.

This landmark is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and recognized as one of the state’s best examples of classic Italianate architecture.

Observe one of the oldest residences in Black Hawk County and the home of the Russell family for three generations.

The house was built by Rensselaer Russell, a native of New York who migrated to Waterloo in 1857.

Observe and see the detailed brick structure and step inside the house to see more artifacts and family heirlooms.

You’ll see the well-preserved classic Victorian interiors and original and antique pieces that belonged to the family.

Take a look at the 1889 Steinway Grand Piano, where Rusell’s wife Lillian gave piano lessons; it’s also one of the first grand pianos in the area at that time.

Enjoy visiting the historic Rensselaer Russell House Museum.

Chill at Sidecar Coffee

Looking for a coffee fix? Sidecar Coffee is a great stop for some great coffee.

This locally-owned roaster and retailer business opened its first roasting facility in Cedar Falls in 2012, until they moved their coffee roasting operations to Waterloo in what used to be the historic Wonder Bread Bakery.

Currently, they have four cafes on Ridgeway Avenue in Waterloo, College Hill, Grand Crossing, and 1st & Hudson.

You’ll enjoy the smell of fresh coffee and the cozy minimalist cafe decor, just right to give you a place to relax and hang out.

Buy coffee blends and exclusive merchandise to gift or bring home.

Sidecar Coffee is not your usual coffee shop because they also offer coffee-making workshops; you can join this fun activity and get to make great coffee right from the comfort of your own home.

Enjoy the Local Events at Friday Loo

The city’s Friday Loo has been a favorite local event celebrated for more than 20 years.

The festivities are held every Friday during the summer months in the downtown area.

It’s one of the most exciting events looked forward to by many locals every year and also welcomes visitors who want to experience Waterloo’s unique character.

Catch nonstop live music with the Summer Concert Series while enjoying the best of local food specialties and refreshments.

Friday Loo is simply fun, free, and always on a Friday.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Challenge Yourself at an Escape Room at Escapology Escape Rooms Cedar Falls

Cedar Falls is one of the neighboring cities of Waterloo, a 10-minute drive from the heart of the city where you can find Escapology Escape Rooms Cedar Falls.

This establishment houses over five different escape rooms of varying difficulty levels to challenge how well you do under pressure!

You’ll be given the opportunity to book a private room where you’ll be required to solve puzzles and riddles under a time limit.

Guests have the option to select team members of up to 8, where you need to work together to solve the missing codes to unlock the room!

Do you have what it takes? Book a room now at Escapology Escape Rooms Cedar Falls!

Splash around at The Falls Aquatic Center

The Falls Aquatic Center is a public pool and swimming area for all to freely enjoy!

Featuring towering water slides, tubing and rafting options, and even a lazy river where you can float in, this establishment is the perfect place to cool down and relax.

This facility is also kid-friendly, making it suitable for family trips and getaways!

They offer scuba and snorkeling lessons where you can learn the basics of these water sports within a safe environment with your personal coach and instructor, complete with gear and equipment.

You also have the option to participate in their water exercises that’ll keep you active all day for a small fee.

Drop by this aquatic center to try out their amenities on your trip!

Final Thoughts

Whether it’s a thriving nightlife you’re looking for or a quiet getaway to nature reserves, Waterloo City has it all for you!

Combining leisure and education, their numerous museums have lots for you to learn and see!

There’s something for everyone in this fun downtown area ranging from water and theme parks to award-winning museums and family entertainment centers.

This vibrant district is sure to give you lasting memories and unforgettable experiences, so book a trip now!

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