Ames, located just 45 minutes north of Des Moines, might not be the first place you think of when it comes to family fun. But, don’t overlook it! We have some pretty awesome amenities you can’t find anywhere else.
Why I Love Ames
I’m an accidental Ames resident. I went to school here, ended up staying, and am now raising a family a couple blocks from Jack Trice stadium. Yes, it’s weird living in a college town. You don’t go to Target during move-in, babysitters are easy to find, tailgates are like holidays, and when our oldest started t-ball, he wondered which stadium he was playing in.
We have the benefit of a large university with a small-town feel. Catch a kid-friendly show, take an art class, explore outside, or relax at a winery while the kids play. I’d recommend planning a trip to Ames around an event. So, head north and follow these tips for a day of family fun in Ames.
Live shows, classes, and cooking – take in the arts!
The Iowa State Center offers performing arts for kids. Things like the “Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “Click, Clack, Moo,” and the “Pout-Pout Fish” are in the lineup this year. It’s easy to park and navigate the facility with kids of any age.
For hands-on art, check out the Octagon Center and their kid-friendly classes.
I consider food an art and love cooking with kids. Cooks’ Emporium in downtown Ames is an amazing kitchen store with a classroom that looks like it fell out of the pages of Better Homes & Gardens. The staff is wonderful and they offer classes designed for kids (and hands-on birthday parties!).
Go to a Big 12 sporting event
Not a Cyclone fan? It’s okay, they let Hawkeyes come. Our kid-friendly favorites tend to be women’s basketball, soccer, wrestling, and gymnastics. The events aren’t overly crowded and the athletics’ department does fun things, like superhero night, aimed at kids. Plus, Hilton Magic is real and seeing that through the eyes of a kid is pretty cool. They are in awe of the athletes, cheer squad, and everything else that goes along with Division I Big 12 athletics.
Exploring the outdoors
Reiman Gardens is a great place for kids to explore. They change exhibits throughout the year and have holiday events like breakfast with Santa. In addition, there are 36 parks in town perfect if your kids need to burn some energy.
Just north of town, a winery and a brewery are neighbors on an open prairie. Prairie Moon is a winery with a stellar line-up of live music and Alluvial brews excellent beers in a casual atmosphere. They both have plenty of room for kids to play outside.
A Trip Back in Time
In the world of Amazon and two-hour Target pickups, the era of toy-store magic is passing us by. You can still find it at The Pumpkin Patch in downtown Ames. It is like stepping back in time when the goal wasn’t about how much or how cheap, it was about how special. They have Brio and Schleich brands and a book room you’ll want to hang out in all day. We go before Christmas and let the kids make a list. If you time it right, stop at Mel’s Sweet Occasions next door for a boutique bakery treat.
Where to Eat in Ames
The local food scene in Ames is outstanding. Here’s a list of our favorites:
- The Filling Station – It’s actually part of a gas station where the interior design reminds me of Magnolia. Their coffee comes from Windmill Coffee Roasters (good coffee is a must on a day out with kids). And, the breakfast menu is perfect for kids.
- Provisions – Our youngest still talks about their cake. It is more upscale but it’s still kid-friendly – especially for breakfast or lunch. The food is delicious, they have a patio, and their kids’ menu is really good.
- Wallaby’s – They have great food and a really cool sports-themed atmosphere.
- Great Plains Sauce & Dough Company – Trust me, get the thick crust and put honey on it. So good! During weekday lunches, they sell by the slice. If you order from the menu, their scratch-made pizza will take a bit longer. It’s downtown so you could hit up a few local shops while you’re there.
- Hickory Park – Hickory Park could be one of the most well-known things about Ames. It’s absolutely perfect for families, the cost is very reasonable, the food is good and ice cream is a must (if you have room for it!). For a different experience, you can order ahead, pick it up and then have a picnic at a local park.
- Cornbread – New on the Ames scene, this restaurant started as a food truck. They’re now open in an old downtown train depot and the interior is amazing. Get the Pig Candy and Crunch Corn to start your meal – trust me, it’s worth it.