Ames offers everything you want in an Iowa college town – and more! From award-winning gardens to delicious Iowa food, museums, and parks, Ames is a fun place to visit.
So, if you’re new to Ames (or not), you’ll find some of the best things to see and do below. Plus, there’s the food. And the drinks. And the places to stay. And did we mention the giant gnome? Yeah, there’s that too.
The good news is that Ames is only about 30 minutes north of Des Moines off I-35!
Table of Contents
- Things to Do in Ames
- Best parks in Ames
- Best Restaurants in Ames
- Places to stay in Ames
- Things to Do Nearby
Things to Do in Ames
When in Ames, visit Reiman Gardens. There’s much more to see there than their 26 dazzling garden areas! See the giant gnome, stand among hundreds of live butterflies, and stroll the lovely grounds at this 17-acre marvel.
There’s always something new to see, so you’ll want to keep going back. Find Reiman Gardens near Iowa State University at University Boulevard and South 16th Street. For details, see their website.
See the World’s Largest Concrete Gnome
You can’t visit Ames without seeing Elwood the Gnome. You just can’t. Stop by Reiman Gardens for a look at this fifteen-foot, 3500-pound wonder!
Iowa State University
Ames is home to Iowa State University, where the student body comprises half of the town’s population! The stunning campus is just the beginning. This historic university has eight colleges, with over 100 Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs, 80 Ph.D. programs, and 60 certificate programs.
Jack Trice Stadium
Attend a football game at this state-of-the-art football field! Jack Trice Stadium is home to the Iowa State Cyclones and is ranked one of the best football venues in the nation. It has a natural grass field with a capacity of 61,500 fans, making it one of the largest in the Big 12.
Hilton Coliseum is an Iowa State University sports facility and home of Cyclone basketball, volleyball, wrestling, and gymnastics. Despite its sound controlling structures, crowds there have caused the floor to shake.
Take in a lecture or see a musical, concert, or play at Stephens Auditorium. There’s always something going on there! See upcoming events and purchase tickets here.
Brunnier Art Museum
Brunnier Art Museum has one of the largest collections of decorative public art on any college campus! The museum is inside the Iowa State Center on the ISU campus.
Octagon Center for the Arts
This non-profit center for the arts is a place to make, see, and buy unique local art. It also hosts art classes for children and adults. The best part is that artwork from over 175 local artists is for sale. So you can find that one-of-a-kind piece for your home!
Furman Aquatic Center
The Furman Aquatic Center is the place for fun on a hot Iowa summer day! Cool off in the 550-foot lazy river, and hang out under the waterfall. There are two 200-foot water slides and a 150-foot drop slide for a little more adventure! And the littles enjoy the zero-depth entry pool and play structures.
Coldwater Golf Links is a well-maintained 18-hole public golf course on Ames’ south side and a favorite among local golfers.
Homewood Municipal Golf Course is a 9-hole public golf course on Ames’ north side, with affordable green fees and season passes.
Veenker Memorial Golf Course is Iowa State’s 18-hole public course. It has affordable rates and online reservations.
Ames Golf & Country Club is a private, members-only country club with an 18-hole course, pool, tennis courts, and clubhouse.
Iowa State University Stable Run Disc Golf is a public (free) 18-hole course with tons of trees. There are two pads and two baskets at each hole, with long and short holes.
Carroll Marty Disc Golf Course at Gateway Hills Park is a public (free) 18-hole course with concrete tees and some elevation.
Perfect Games has 24 bowling lanes – but that’s not all! They also have laser tag, mini-golf, an arcade, and a restaurant.
Memorial Union CyBowl & Billiards has eight lanes and five pool tables. They are open to students and the public.
See a movie
Cinemark Movies 12 is on Ames’ southeast side off S. Duff Ave. Theaters have luxury loungers and serve drinks, snacks, popcorn, beer, & wine.
North Grand Cinema is on the north side of Ames at the North Grand Mall. It has reservable luxury recliner seating with affordable pricing.
Best parks in Ames
Inis Grove Park
2500 Duff Ave, Ames, IA 50010
You couldn’t ask for more in a city park! Inis Grove Park is a super fun and scenic park on the northeast edge of Ames. It’s got a fantastic playground, tennis courts, basketball, picnic shelters, and plenty of green space.
It’s home to Miracle Park, a wonderful, giant inclusive playground! Kids can slide, swing, twirl, climb, and play music – and that’s only the beginning! There are tons of unique play structures for kids of all ages and abilities.
North River Valley Park
725 E 13th St, Ames, IA 50010
Enjoy a game, picnic, or walk at North River Valley Park. It’s on the Skunk River on Ames’ east side, with trails along the river and connecting to Carr Park to the north. There are also ball diamonds, soccer fields, horseshoes, sand volleyball, and two portable ice rinks in the winter.
Moore Memorial Park
3050 Northridge Pkwy, Ames, IA 50014
Moore Memorial Park is a beautiful park on Ames’ northwest side. Two playgrounds, a basketball court, trails, a gazebo, picnic shelters, a pond, and plenty of green space make this an area favorite. The red barn and silo add some Iowa ambiance and are ideal for photos.
1325 6th St, Ames, IA 50010
Brookside Park is right in the heart of Ames and has something for everyone. Squaw Creek runs through the park, and there are three picnic shelters available to rent. Skate at the skatepark or play sand volleyball, basketball, and tennis! And kids love the wading pool, playgrounds, and the real-life vintage fire truck!
Ada Hayden Heritage Park
5205 Grand Ave, Ames, IA 50010
Ada Hayden Heritage Park is a former rock quarry that’s now a beautiful 430-acre park on Ames’ north side. The 137-acre lake is an area favorite for fishing, kayaking, and lakeside picnics! It has five miles of trails, including a 3.5-mile multi-use loop trail surrounding the scenic lake.
Emma McCarthy Lee Park & Munn Woods
3400 Ross Rd, Ames, IA 50014
Get away from it all at Emma McCarthy Lee Park, a scenic, wooded park on Ames’ northeast corner. Picnic shelters, tennis courts, sand volleyball, and a shaded playground offer many outdoor opportunities. If that’s not enough, access Munn Woods on the park’s west side, where you can find some great hiking.
2098 Scholl Road, Ames, Iowa 50014
This densely wooded area is just northwest of the Iowa State University campus. It’s chock full of native trees and flowers and a fantastic place to hike. There are nearly three miles of trails, popular for hiking and trail running. Muddy when wet!
56461 180th St, Ames, IA 50010
This 200-acre park is northeast of Ames. It has a diverse landscape of prairie and woodlands and 5+ miles of scenic multi-use trails. Also, the 6-acre lake has a fishing dock, and there’s kayak & canoe access. And don’t miss the “Touch-A-Life” interactive paved trail and natural playscape. See our article for more on McFarland Park.
Peterson Pits Recreation Area
55310 180th St, Ames, IA 50010
Peterson Pits is a lovely 200-acre nature area northwest of Ames along the South Skunk River. It’s divided into West Peterson Park and East Peterson Park and is a former gravel quarry turned recreation area. It has a beach, fishing access, kayak and canoe launch, and over 3 miles of multi-use trails. Learn more about Peterson Pits here.
Best Restaurants in Ames
Hickory Park is an area legend known for its extensive menu and smoked meat platters. And then, of course, there’s the ice cream.
Dublin Bay Irish Pub & Grill
An Ames favorite, this pub offers great brews and delicious Irish fare. Add in special events, live music, and theme nights, and Dublin Bay is one of the best places to eat (and drink) in town.
The Mucky Duck Pub
This English pub has authentic British grub, like tea and scones, bangers and mash, and legendary fish and chips! Oh, and a wide variety of unique beer and cider.
There’s nothing quite like farm-fresh food served up bistro-style! The Cafe will keep you coming back for their seasonal menu items. And dessert there is a must.
The Grove Cafe
This award-winning cafe features favorite American-style foods, including their fluffy & famous giant pancakes!
Jethro’s has locations throughout Central Iowa and serves up some of the best BBQs around.
You’re likely aware of the juicy steaks, tender ribs, and classic burgers served at Texas Roadhouse. But did you know you can get on the waitlist before leaving home!?
This one-of-a-kind cafe is an Ames favorite for its lively atmosphere and unique outdoor space. And if you like crepes, this is your spot!
Great Plains Sauce & Dough Company
This family-owned pizzeria is where the locals go to get the best pizza! Homemade dough, fresh ingredients, and plenty of cheese get made to order.
If you’re in the mood for authentic Mexican food, head over to one of El Azteca’s two Ames locations.
Ames Breweries & Wineries
Prairie Moon Winery
This family-owned winery has wine on tap! Taste the unique flavors of this local wine while taking in the scenic Iowa surroundings. And maybe attend an event in their Grand Hall. (Plus, it’s across the street from Alluvial Brewing Co.)
Alluvial Brewing Co.
Enjoy unique local brews on an Iowa farm! Alluvial Brewing has live music regularly and a lovely outdoor seating area too. (And it’s near Prairie Moon Winery.)
Torrent Brewing Co.
Sample a flight of local brew and play a little foosball too! They don’t serve food, but you can bring your own or buy a snack to tide you over.
Ames Coffee Shops
- Burgie’s Coffee & Tea has three locations in Ames: 110 Airport Rd, 1111 Duff Ave, & 3701 Stange Rd.
- Morning Bell Coffee Roasters, 111 Main St #101-103, Ames
- Cafe Milo, 4800 Mortensen Rd, Ames
- Cafe Diem, 229 Main St, Ames
- Stomping Grounds Cafe, 303 Welch Ave #101, Ames
- Cabin Coffee Co., 2721 E 13th St #101, Ames
- Vinyl Cafe, 303 Kellogg Ave, Ames
- Scooters & Starbucks have a few locations in Ames.
Places to stay in Ames
- GrandStay Hotel & Suites
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott
- Radisson Hotel Ames Conference Center @ ISU
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites
- Hilton Garden Inn
- Country Inn & Suites by Radisson
- Courtyard by Marriott
- Gateway Hotel & Conference Center
- Best Western Plus University Park Inn & Suites
- Comfort Inn & Suites near ISU Campus
- Sleep Inn & Suites Ames near ISU Campus
- Baymont by Wyndham
- Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott
- TownePlace Suites by Marriott
- Staybridge Suites Ames
- Days Inn by Wyndham
- Hampton Inn & Suites
- Quality Inn & Suites
- Microtel Inn & Suites
- AmericInn by Wyndham
- Super 8
- Red Roof Inn Ames
Inns and B&Bs
This unique hotel has 15 guest rooms, historic charm, and modern amenities. And, of course, included in every stay is a complete, complimentary breakfast.
Raspberry Hill Bed & Breakfast
This secluded B&B is on 73 acres on the outskirts of Ames. Rent the entire house or a suite and escape to nature in this beautiful home.
Loya’s Little House Bed & Breakfast
Rent the entire house, a room, or a suite at this quaint B&B, and enjoy a farm-to-table breakfast! Enjoy a walk through the gardens, or head to the prairie and woodlands for a hike during your stay.
Camping near Ames
Whispering Oaks Campground
Whispering Oaks Campground is 16 miles north of Ames off Interstate 35 in Story City. They have several full hookup sites. For more info and reservations, see their Facebook page.
Ledges State Park Campground
Ledges State Park is one of the most visited Iowa state parks, just 17 miles west of Ames. The campground has over 90 electric and non-electric (and hike in!) campsites. Reserve a campsite at Ledges State Park online through Reserve America.
Twin Anchors Campground
Twin Anchors Campground is 17 miles east of Ames near Colo and is open from April to October. It has 100+ sites with electric and full hookups (ask them about winter availability). Amenities include a lake, boat rental, petting zoo, and nearby restaurant.
Two Bears Campground
Two Bears Campground is a small campground 22 miles west of Ames near Boone. There are ten campsites with electric and water hookups and WiFi. See their Facebook page and contact them for more information.
Swede Point Park Campground
Swede Point Park is 23 miles southwest of Ames near Madrid. It has 24 electric and ten non-electric sites, all first-come, first-serve. And it’s just a couple of miles from the High Trestle Trail bridge!
Things to Do Nearby
Ledges State Park has 100-foot sandstone ridges, fun fords, and excellent hiking. And it’s just a short drive 17 miles southwest of Ames. More on Ledges State Park here.
Seven Oaks Recreation is about 20 minutes west of Ames, near Boone. They have a paintball field in the summer, plus full-service canoe, kayak, and tube river floats. You can ski or snowboard the slopes in winter or go snow tubing.
The Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad is 18 miles west in Boone. Take a train ride over a 156’ tall bridge and through the Des Moines River Valley!
The High Trestle Trail is 30 minutes from Ames. And it has one of the largest pedestrian bridges in the world. The 130-foot tall, 2300 feet long bridge offers panoramic views of the Des Moines river valley. Ride your bike or walk to the bridge from the parking areas outside Madrid. More on the trail here.
The Iowa Arboretum is about 30 minutes southwest of Ames. Explore restored woodlands and prairie on self-guided trails through hundreds of species of plants and trees.
Jester Park, Big Creek State Park, and Saylorville Lake are excellent outdoor recreation areas 30 miles south of Ames near Des Moines. Each area has many things to do, including trails, beaches, and boating. Stay awhile at the Jester Park or Saylorville Lake campgrounds!