Things to do in Ames, Iowa.
If you’re like me, you’ve been to a number of cyclone games in Ames, but you probably have not taken full advantage of everything that Ames has to offer. I can think of all the times I went to games and then Hickory Park or Great Plains Pizza (which are both great places), but did not take the time to find out what else was in this college town of 66,000. So when we got the invitation from Discover Ames, we jumped on the chance to road trip to Ames, to discover something new.
Disclaimer: This trip was hosted by Discover Ames, they covered meals and attraction costs. However, we selected all of the locations to visit and the opinions are our own.
Take in a game at Jack Trice Stadium
Iowa State’s Jack Trice Stadium is home to some great college football traditions including:
Tailgating: The parking lots between Trice and Hilton are the prime tailgating zone. As one Iowa Road Trip follower noted, “You just need to bring a fork. And maybe a napkin.” There’s an incredible amount of truth in this statement. Ames is the definition of “Iowa Nice” and if you know someone who is friends with someone else who is tailgating – that’s usually more than enough to earn you a plate.
Weather Alert: Before the game, the tornado siren plays across the entire stadium letting everyone know that the Cyclones are about to take the field.
Varsity Marching Band entering the stadium: Another tradition that I think really great – the marching band rolling through thousands of tailgaters under cadence as they head into the stadium.
Sitting on the hill: On the north end of the stadium, there are two large grass hills that slope down towards the field. You need just a general admission ticket and then it’s first come, first served for seating. Our neighbors love sitting on the hill during Cyclone games, so during our most recent game, we stopped over during the game to check it out. You’ll see a lot of families spreading out blankets and kids playing catch in the grass. A perfect family atmosphere to take in the game.
Sweet Caroline: If the Cyclones pull out a victory, you’ll also get to experience the crowd singing Sweet Caroline.
Check out the butterflies at Reiman Gardens
Right next to Jack Trice Stadium sits Reiman Gardens (pronounced rye-men). It’s a 17-acre facility known for indoor and outdoor gardens. The current facility opened back in 1995 and is run by Iowa State University, and is open to the public with admission.
Some of the highlights you will want to see:
Christina Reiman Butterfly Wing
The butterfly wing opened in 2002 and features a year-round butterfly garden. On the day we visited, there were over 800 butterflies fluttering throughout the area. With benches and other seating areas, the butterfly garden is the perfect place to hang out on a cool day – as the temperatures are always kept at 80 degrees.
Patty Jischke Children’s Garden
It contains a number of hangouts and hideaways for kids. You can also walk across the covered bridge. We also enjoyed the garden kaleidoscope.
Elwood the world’s largest concrete gnome
Don’t forget to stop by and see Elwood, he’s the world’s largest concrete gnome and is located in Reiman Gardens. Elwood stands 15 feet tall and weighs 3,500 pounds. Originally, Elwood was being constructed as the world’s largest garden gnome – but at the last minute, an 18-foot garden gnome was released in Poland. However, since the Polish gnome was made of fiberglass, the title was amended to the largest concrete gnome, which appears to be a record that has stood for about the last ten years.
Did you know that on football game days, you can show your football ticket to get free admission to Reiman Gardens?
Also, watch the Reiman Gardens website, as they offer a number of events each season.
Take a stroll on the Iowa State University Campus
Iowa State University frequently ranks as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the United States. If you’re looking for an explosion of autumn colors, this campus is your place. Also, stop by the Union to load up on your favorite Cyclone gear!
Here are some specific places on campus to check out:
Brunnier Art Museum
Located inside the Scheman Building, the Brunnier Art Museum emphasizes decorative arts and has a regular change of exhibits.
Christian Peterson Art Museum
The museum is located inside Morrill Hall. Peterson was a Danish-American sculptor who was the first permanent artist in residence at any American college. His sculptures are well-known around the campus. I also found it interesting that it was Grant Wood who invited him to Iowa State to participate in the PWAP, Public Works of Art Project. Peterson also has a connection with the Iowa State Fair’s famous Butter Cow – as Noma “Duffy” Lyons, the famous “Butter Cow Lady” was a student of Christian Peterson.
Grant Wood Murals
During the Depression, the government started the PWAP or Public Works of Art Project. For this project, the state of Iowa hired Grant Wood as the leader and director. Wood oversaw hundreds of projects across the state – but there are several murals that were done specifically by Grant Wood himself. You’ll find them in the older section of the Parks Library. What I found unique about these murals is that they are completely open to the staff, students, and public – they aren’t roped off or secured. It’s a rare opportunity to get really close to an original Grant Wood mural.
Originally built in 1897, it stands 110 feet tall and is the iconic symbol of Iowa State University. According to legend, you’re not a true Iowa Stater until you’ve kissed under the campanile at midnight.
Places to eat in Ames, Iowa.
A trip to Discover Ames won’t leave you hungry. If tailgating isn’t enough, the local food scene will have you covered. During our trip, we stopped at:
The Cafe is a popular local spot featuring a full range of breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We visited for breakfast and had a Denver omelet and french toast. They have a huge selection of baked goods and desserts as well.
While shopping downtown, we stopped at Cornbred Barbecue. The restaurant is nestled in an old train depot on Main Street. I had a half pound of beef brisket and the hallajuha potatoes. Yum! For a larger group, it looks like folks order a number of items and then just share everything family style.
(right) Aunt Maude’s was our pick for capping off the evening. Technically, they didn’t open until 5pm and we showed up at 4:55pm – and found out that the place was almost full. But it only takes a few minutes to find out why – the services at Aunt Maude’s is incredible.
We started at the bar as we waited for a table. After ordering drinks, I asked if we needed to close the tab before moving on to a table and the bartender explained how they share tips and that their goal was to take care of us tonight – and he had a number of options that I could select from. With this response, we knew that Aunt Maude’s was going to take us back to the time when dining was an experience. You went out not just for good food, but to be taken of. And Aunt Maude’s does just that.
In fact, everyone we encountered on their staff was not only on their A game, it’s as if their A game is all they know. After seeing so many places struggle with staffing and services issues over the past few years, it was really refreshing. In terms of atmosphere, it’s your normal dim-lit, romantic ambiance. The atmosphere was just perfect for my wife, as the loves people-watching in this environment. Her eyes wander across the room, guessing at each couple: are they dating? are they married? are they about to get married?
Of course, to top off the experience, the food has to be excellent – and it was. She ordered salmon, and I ordered tri-tips, veges, and fries. We finished up with their go-to dessert – the peanut butter pie.
Great Plains Sauce and Dough Co.
Located on Main Street, Great Plains is your classic college town pizza, remembered fondly by alumni from Iowa State. My personal favorite is the Denver style, a hand-rolled edge whole wheat crust, piled with real cheeses. And make sure you drizzle honey on the crust!
Hickory Park is a classic Ames location featuring both barbeque and ice cream. It’s also a great location if you have a large group.
Shopping on Main Street in Ames, Iowa
Take a stroll down Main Street in Discover Ames – as its filled with unique shopping and experiences. Here’s some of the places we visited:
I wasn’t sure what to expect. Antiques? Collectibles? Lindsey Loo’s is more like a really cool trip back through the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.
Moose on the Loose
Moose on the Loose – You’ll feel like your shopping in Breckenridge in this store that features beyond the cutest kids’ wear (see photo) as well as adult and home decor.
Pumpkin Patch is a toy store that will take you back in time with many of the classics that you remember as a child. Check out that front counter that greets you on the way in – they don’t make them like this anymore.
Dog Eared Books
Dog Eared Books is an independent bookstore featuring lots of seating and some Instagram-worthy photo stops. We also loved how many of the books were tagged with a short description from their staff recommendations – this made it really easy to browse the stacks to find your next treasure.
Best treats in Ames, Iowa.
After shopping in Discover Ames, you won’t have to search very far to satisfy your afternoon sweet tooth.
Marmalade Moon features an ever-changing menu of homemade ice creams. Stop in and ask for a sample to find your perfect favor. There are also gifts, greeting cards, and a full coffee bar.
Chocolaterie Stam Ames
We were surprised by the spacious seating available inside, as well as the significant crowd that was on hand enjoying their treats, including Belgian chocolates and Italian gelato. Find them online at https://www.facebook.com/amesstam/
The peanut Butter Pie at Aunt Maude’s is absolutely divine. You might suspect that this would be super rich and hard to finish – but that’s not the case. This was probably my favorite dessert on the whole trip and you’ll just never be disappointed with the service from Aunt Maude’s
The Cafe features baked goods, cookies – and of my gosh… look at those cakes!!
Prairie Moon Winery & Alluvial Brewery: The best brewery/winery combo you will find
Located just a few miles north of Discover Ames, you’ll find Alluvial Brewing Company and Prairie Moon Winery and Vineyards. They not only share the same desire for home-crafted drinks, but they also share the same physical parking lot. Park once and you get to visit two tasting rooms!
Left: $6 for 4 wine samples at Prairie Moon Winery
Right: $12 for 5 brew samples at Alluvial