Growing up in northwest Iowa, my husband and I both spent many summers at Lake Okoboji with our families. It holds a special place in our hearts, but we realized we hadn’t been back for nearly 14 years. So we decided to head to Okoboji for a long weekend and introduce our kids to some of our childhood favorites and explore how the area has grown and changed over time.
Where to Stay in Okoboji
Rent a Cabin or House
If you’re planning to stay for a week or more, I’d recommend renting a cabin or house through VRBO.com or Airbnb.com. This gives your family more space to sleep, hang out on the deck, and make your own meals. This is also a good option if you’re familiar with the area and plan to spend most of your time on the water and aren’t as interested in visiting tourist attractions.
Stay Near Arnolds Park
There are plenty of hotels in the area, but if you’d like to be within walking distance of Arnold’s Park look for condo or cabin rentals at West Oaks Resort or Fillenwarth Beach Resort. We spent three nights in this area and it was wonderful to be able to explore so many things on foot.
Bonus: We could sit on the deck in the evening and enjoy live music from the outdoor concert down the street.
Do a Waterpark Hotel
Weather in Iowa is always hit or miss, even in the summer. If you want to guarantee some excellent swimming adventures, opt for Bridges Bay Resort. With an indoor waterpark, outdoor pool, waterfront restaurants, and extensive dock, there’s always an opportunity for fun.
Choose a Quieter Location
If you’re looking for serene water views and less hustle and bustle, stay on the west side of the lake at Village West Resort or Crescent Beach Lodge. Next time we go, we’re thinking about trying Crescent Beach Lodge because it has a fun playground, water trampoline, and free onsite mini-golf.
What to Do in Okoboji
With an old wooden rollercoaster along the lakefront, Arnold’s Park is an iconic part of Okoboji history, and one of the things my husband and I loved most as kids. It’s a small amusement park that has the feel of a carnival.
My favorite part is that there was no fee to walk around and see it. You can purchase park bucks to ride individual rides or purchase an unlimited rides wristband for $29. We bought passes for the kids and happily watched them ride their favorite rides again and again. This area also has Pirate’s Cove mini golf and Racewaygo-cartss (for an additional fee).
Outside the amusement park, there’s still much to explore in Arnold’s Park. We visited the Maritime Museum, which has fascinating memorabilia, boats, and pictures of the lakes from the 1800s and 1900s. My kids’ favorite part of the museum was a restored wooden slide, which was an original feature in Arnold’s Park. You can ride it for $1.
While walking through clothing and souvenir shops we stumbled upon Harmony Park, which has a variety of chimes, xylophone, and percussive instruments. They’re all outside and free for kids of all ages to play (or bang on). Surprisingly, the instruments within Harmony Park offer soothing tones, even if you’re toddler hits the same notes 27 times. (Not that that happened to us).
Rent a Boat
The biggest attraction is obviously the lake. There are public access areas if you want to bring your own boat. If you don’t have a boat, treat yourself to a day on the water with a rental.
Mini golfing at The Ranch was also a favorite pastime for our family. Since we last visited, the theme has shifted from Old West to the Wizard of Oz. There’s also a great margarita bar onsite, a kids play area, and space to play tailgate games.
Where to Eat and Drink in Okoboji
This cleverly named coffee shop is just steps from the Central Emporium shops and Arnold’s Park. It’s a great place for a taste of big-city espresso with small town vintage charm. Bring the whole family for breakfast and then you’ll all be ready to go explore.
If getting everyone out of bed in the morning is a challenge, make a donut run to Spudnutz. Located in an old Standard gas station, this place is doing donuts riiiiiight!
If you don’t stop at the Barfoot Bar, is it even a trip to Okoboji? This waterfront favorite is accessible by car or by boat. Float in for a frozen cocktail, tasty appetizers, and lots of fun. Across the lake, The Gardens offers waterfront dining with incredible sunset views.
For a more upscale experience, dine at Maxwell’s Beach Café. At first, the cloth napkins made me nervous about bringing in my brood, but it was very family-friendly. The kids’ meals came out on frisbees. And I got to feel like I was having a nice dinner out. I highly recommend the blackened Mahi tacos.
You know you’re on vacation when you arrive at Bracco. It has an expansive deck overlooking East Okoboji and a Caribbean-inspired menu. This area has a more vibrant summer feel. Right next door is the Waters Edge American Grille, which offers a more upscale dining experience. Enjoy steaks, seafood, or their signature stuffed crepes.