20 Things To Do In Ames

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Named after 19th century Massachusetts Congressman Oakes Ames and situated just 37 miles (60 km) north of Des Moines, Ames is a charming and immensely historic college town home to the Hawkeye State’s largest public university. The city and its university have stood at the forefront of several significant research efforts and inventions, including the development of the first atomic bomb and the world’s first digital electronic computer.

Steeped in Iowa history, with a rich agricultural background and enjoying a youthful spirit, Ames is one of Iowa’s major cultural hubs and a diverse city where almost everything seems to revolve around the Iowa State University campus. Here are the top things to do in Ames.

Ames, Iowa

20 Things To Do In Ames

1- Stroll Around Iowa State University Campus

Iowa State University tower, blue sky and green lawns with sign
One of the top things to do in Ames is to visit Iowa State University.

As the biggest university in the Hawkeye State, the Iowa State University Campus dominates the city of Ames’ culture and way of life.

The university was founded as the Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm in 1858 and became one of America’s first land-grant institutions in 1862.

The university features a massive campus home to more than 30,000 students and faculty members every year.

There are several notable attractions and landmarks on the ISU campus, such as the famous Farm House, the Campanile, Jack Trice Stadium and Beardshear Hall.

The birthplace of the world’s first digital electronic computer and a significant role player in the development of the first atomic bomb, the ISU campus is a fascinating place to discover that’s always worth adding to any Ames itinerary.

2- Unwind At Scenic Ledges State Park

The incredibly scenic Ledges State Park is a stunning 1,117-acre (452 ha) outdoor paradise and one of Iowa’s most unique natural landmarks.

Established in 1924, the park was among the first to be declared a State Park in Iowa and was once home to the Sioux, Sauk and Fox Native American tribes.

The park lies just 17 miles (27 km) west of downtown Ames.

It treats visitors to towering sandstone bluffs, navigable stretches of the Des Moines River, several camping sites, beautiful hiking trails, and plenty of native Iowa wildlife.

Ledges State Park is at 1515 P Ave, Madrid, IA 50156.

3- Catch A Football Game at Jack Trice Stadium

Nicknamed “The Jack” by Iowa State University’s faithful football supporters, Jack Trice Stadium is a 61,500-capacity football stadium that is the official home of ISU’s Cyclones.

The venue was opened in 1975 as the ‘Cyclone Stadium’ but was renamed in honour of former Cyclones player Jack Trice, an African-American student who died due to injuries sustained during a 1923 game against the University of Minnesota.

Electric during fall weekends when the Cyclones host some of the best collegiate teams in the country, this is one Ames attraction that you wouldn’t want to miss when visiting this charming Iowa city.

Jack Trice Stadium is at 1732 S 4th St, Ames, IA 50011.

4- Visit Reiman Gardens

Spanning over 17 acres (7 ha), the Reiman Gardens has been among Ames’ most popular outdoor attractions since the venue was established in 1995 by the University of Iowa State.

The gardens have been a mainstay on the ISU campus ever since the university moved its horticulture garden to the facility, which was first planted more than 100 years ago.

Named in honour of Roy and Bobbi Reiman, the facility’s two biggest donors, the gardens are among Ames’ most popular attractions and one of the many significant landmarks to visit on the ISU campus.

The Reiman Gardens is at 1407 University Blvd, Ames, IA 50011.

5- Discover Ames Main Street

aerial view of Ames
Looking for things to do in Ames? Check out our list of 20.

Ames Main Street is a significant historic district recognised across the United States and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.

Regarded as the city’s cultural and economic hub, the district covers most of downtown Ames and is lined with historic 19th and 20th-century brick buildings which house the city’s shops, restaurants, bars and art galleries.

Perfect for a casual afternoon stroll or a shopping spree, the district is one of the best free-to-visit attractions in Ames and is constantly pulsing with youthful energy no matter the day of the week.

6- Visit the Boone County Historical Society

In the city of Boone, just 17 miles (27 km) west of downtown Ames, the Boone County Historical Society serves as custodian to some of Iowa’s most prized artefacts and items.

The society oversees four different museums and historical landmarks dotted throughout downtown Boone.

The two most famous are the Mamie Doud Eisenhower Birthplace and the Boone History Center, the society’s headquarters.

Teeming with loads of Iowa history to discover and located right next door to Ames, Boone and its impressive historical society are among the best attractions to visit if you want to learn more about Iowa and its people.

The Boone County Historical Society is at 602 Story St, Boone, IA 50036.

7- Tour The Farm House Museum

Housed inside the Knapp-Wilson House, better known as the Farm House, the Farm House Museum is a beloved Ames historical landmark recognised as the oldest building on the campus of Iowa State University.

It was built in 1861 as part of a model farm that would eventually become the state’s largest university and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

Renowned agriculturalist and ISU teacher Seaman A. Knapp and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson were both former inhabitants of the Farm House, and it is in their honour that the house was officially named after.

Converted into a museum in 1976, the venue serves as the birthplace of the university.

It is home to a large collection of historic Iowa artefacts for visitors to discover, making it one of the most important landmarks in Ames.

The Farm House Museum is at 601 Farm House Ln, Ames, IA 50011.

8- Stop By The Ames History Museum

The Ames History Museum was founded by local Ames historian Farwell T. Brown and was known as the Ames Heritage Association when the venue opened in 1980.

Operating as a non-profit organisation, the museum has played a pivotal role in saving important Ames landmarks from demolition, including the Bauge Log Home and the Hoggatt School.

Renamed in 2003, the museum is regarded as the biggest historical archive and source of historical artefacts in Ames.

It is worth visiting to learn more about this Iowa college town’s storied past.

The Ames History Museum is at 416 Douglas Ave # 101, Ames, IA 50010.

9- Tour Brunnier Art Museum

Situated on the campus of Iowa State University, the Brunnier Art Museum is a world-class arts institution founded in 1975 by Ann and Henry J. Brunnier.

The centre is recognised as having the most extensive public art collection of any on-campus art institution in the United States, ranging across mediums such as paintings, prints, sculptures and textiles.

The museum is free to enter and features a good mix of permanent and rotating exhibits, keeping the museum an interesting place to tour no matter how many times you’ve visited it.

As the only accredited museum in Iowa that focuses mainly on decorative arts, it’s a truly unique Ames attraction widely regarded as one of the city’s best free things to do.

The Brunnier Art Museum is at 1800 Center Dr, Ames, IA 50011.

10- See A Performance At Stephens Auditorium

The state-of-the-art Stephens Auditorium on the Iowa State University campus is Ames’ theatre and concert hub, hosting everything from university-led productions to Broadway shows.

Opened in 1969, the centre sits right across from the Hilton Coliseum and Iowa State Center and serves as the full-time home of ISU’s theatre and music departments.

Complete with a star-studded line-up of local and world-renowned shows.

The centre is among the best cultural institutions to visit in Ames and always has something interesting to keep you entertained.

The Stephens Auditorium is at 1900 Center Dr, Ames, IA 50011.

11- Reconnect With Nature At McFarland Park

Home to a wide range of biomes and landscapes that ranges from prairie to woodland, the 200-acre (81 ha) McFarland Park is one of the most scenic attractions near Ames.

The park lies just 8 miles (13 km) northeast of downtown Ames and is popular thanks to its many outdoor activities.

Visitors to the park enjoy access to some of the best fishing and wildlife-watching opportunities in Iowa, whilst wintertime brings cross-country skiing to the park.

Open year-round, this beautiful Iowa park is easy to reach from Ames and is an excellent addition to any Iowa itinerary.

McFarland Park is at 56461 180th St, Ames, IA 50010.

12- Catch The Cyclones At The Hilton Coliseum

Ames vector drawing
It may not be the biggest city but you’ll find enough things to do in Ames to keep you busy.

Officially titled the James H. Hilton Coliseum, Ames’ Hilton Coliseum is the permanent home of Iowa State University’s men’s and women’s basketball teams and the university’s wrestling, gymnastics, and volleyball teams.

The venue seats up to 14,267 people and was opened in 1971, forming part of the nearby Iowa State Center and Jack Trice Stadium.

Regarded by many pundits and basketball fans as one of the country’s top 10 best college basketball arenas and was named in honour of ISU’s former president, Dr. James H. Hilton.

Since its opening, the venue has hosted music concerts by some of the world’s most prominent artists, such as Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Queen, giving the arena its reputation as Ames’ live entertainment hub.

The arena even has a mystical aura surrounding it dubbed “Hilton Magic”, which Cyclones fans believe helps their beloved Cyclones achieve ‘unexpected victories’ against bigger opponents.

The Hilton Coliseum is at 1705 Center Dr, Ames, IA 50011.

13- Visit The Ada Hayden Heritage Park

The Ada Hayden Heritage Park, named in honour of celebrated botanist and former curator for the Iowa State University’s Herbarium, Ada Hayden, is a sprawling 437-acre (177 ha) outdoor recreational area situated just north of downtown Ames.

Established in 2004, the park features a large freshwater lake and a wide range of landscapes which range from prairie to wetland.

The park is a popular destination among avid hikers and is home to over 10 miles (16 km) of navigable pathways and some of the best fishing opportunities near Ames.

The Ada Hayden Heritage Park is at 1523 N. 33rd St, Lincoln, NE 68583.

14- See A Movie At The Boone Theater

One of Ames’ biggest hidden gems is the Boone Theater, a 600-seat movie cinema that’s not located in Ames, but rather Ames’ western neighbour, Boone.

The theatre was opened in 1967 and is a popular local landmark that’s located within 17 miles (27 km) from downtown Ames, perfect for a quick afternoon visit.

The theatre is beloved by residents of both Ames and Boone thanks to its affordability and plethora of film screenings, showcasing both new releases and timeless classics.

The theatre is a fantastic option if you’re looking for a quick attraction to visit on a whim that won’t break the budget.

The Boone Theater is at 818 Story St, Boone, IA 50036.

15- Cool Off At Furman Aquatic Center

The Furman Aquatic Center is downtown Ames’ go-to destination during the warm summer months, featuring fun family-friendly attractions that include a 550-foot (168 m) lazy river, two 200-foot (61 m) waterslides, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Complete with zero-depth splash pools and aquatic play areas for the kids, the centre boasts all the comfort amenities you’d expect to find at a waterpark 10 times bigger.

The park has been a favourite attraction for locals ever since it first opened in 2010, and with direct bus routes and bike paths connecting it to the rest of downtown Ames, it’s easy to access too.

The Furman Aquatic Center is at 1635 13th St, Ames, IA 50010.

16- Spend An Afternoon At Brookside Park

Brookside Park is everything you’d expect from your typical urban park with a unique twist.

The park is among the best places near Ames for birdwatching, attracting a range of migratory avian species, including warblers, vireos and thrashers.

The park features a plethora of scenic nature trails which meander through the park’s thick wooded areas.

Apart from its natural splendour and proximity to the Furman Aquatic Center, the park is filled with all your favourite park amenities, including designated picnic areas, playgrounds, tennis and volleyball courts, and spectacular views of the nearby Ioway Creek.

Brookside Park is at 1325 6th St, Ames, IA 50010.

17- Explore The Octagon Center For The Arts

The fascinating Octagon Center for the Arts is a non-profit organisation in downtown Ames that promotes art and local artists throughout Ames and the surrounding areas.

Featuring a varied collection that includes mediums such as paintings, pottery, clothing, prints and textiles, the centre hosts all sorts of educational art classes and special themed events throughout the year.

This beloved Ames cultural landmark has attracted over 30,000 people a year since opening in 1966, making it one of the city’s most popular art institutions.

The Octagon Center for the Arts is at 427 Douglas Ave, Ames, IA 50010.

18- Try Local Craft Beer 

craft beer sign
Drinking craft beer is one of the things to do in Ames.

One of Ames’ best attractions is its craft beer scene, which consistently ranks among the best in the Midwest.

The city’s youthful nature, large student population and reputation as one of Iowa’s hippest towns have spilt over into the beer brewing business.

As a result, several successful craft breweries have made quite a name for themselves in Ames.

There are several great breweries and beer houses to visit in Ames, such as Alluvial Brewing, the Fenceline Beer Lab and the Torrent Brewing Company, each offering a unique beer variety.

If you’re all hopped up after sampling Ames’ best craft breweries, check out the dozens of other breweries between Ames and Des Moines for an all-inclusive Iowa craft beer experience.

19- Test Your Gaming Skills At Perfect Games

Touted as Ames’ best family-friendly entertainment venue, Perfect Games is a lively arcade/sports bar/pizza restaurant with something to do for visitors of all ages and interests.

The centre is Ames’ bowling mecca, treating amateur and pro bowlers to 24 bowling lanes to work on hitting strikes and spares.

There are more than 70 different arcade games and a two-story laser tag arena at Perfect Games to keep you busy and entertained all day.

Perfect Games is at 1320 Dickinson Ave, Ames, IA 50014.

20- Discover The Textile And Clothing Museum

The Textile and Clothing Museum is a world-class cultural institution in Ames, home to a vast collection of more than 9,000 individual textiles and clothing items.

Situated on the campus of Iowa State University and forming part of ISU’s Department of Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management, the museum’s a popular destination among fashionistas, with certain items and artefacts dating back as far as the 16th century.

Whether it’s to learn more about the fashion trends of the 1500s or to browse the museum’s varied exhibits, it’s among the unique places to stop by in Ames and a great addition to any Iowa itinerary.

The Textile and Clothing Museum is at 1015 Morrill Hall, 603 Morrill Rd, Ames, IA 50011. 

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Jessica Shaw is a storyteller who has lived in four U.S. states - Missouri, Georgia, Ohio and Illinois - and has visited many others. She loves history and nature and is a big fan of road tripping.