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5 things to do in Ames, Iowa

5 things to do in Ames, Iowa

When you think of places to visit in Iowa, Des Moines, the Bridges of Madison County and Pella are often top recommendations. Throughout the years, I’ve made a lot of visits to the Hawkeye State One place I’ve been to many times is Ames, a city of about 70,000 about 45 minutes north of Des Moines. It’s home to Iowa State University and sits along I-35. Here are five reasons why you should think Ames when you’re in Central Iowa. .

Reiman Gardens

With his red shaped cone hat, thick beard, blue shirt and big belt with a silver buckle, Elwood stands guard over one of the true treasures you’ll find in Ames, Iowa.  Elwood is the largest concrete garden gnome and he stands 15-feet high keeping watch on Reiman Gardens on the Iowa State University Campus.   The idea for the horticulture garden dates back to 1914, an idea that grew to the current 17-acre attraction that includes a conservatory filled with tropical plants, an herb garden and an enclosure housing 800 live butterflies.

Reiman Gardens is located right beside Jack Trice Stadium (Iowa State Football).  Each year there are specially themed exhibits at the gardens including 2019’s life sized toys and games.


Main Street and More

Octagon Center for the Arts

You can get a good feel about a city with a visit downtown.  Along Main Street and throughout the area, the small-town charm gets a big boost from the presence of a large university nearby.  Start your visit at the Ames History Center to learn a little more about the city and how it grew into what it is today. 

Across the street, the Octagon Center for the Arts brings you a taste of the artistic talent in the region offering up both a gallery and a shop with wares from across Iowa.   For a taste of the city check out one of the many restaurants downtown or raise a glass at Torrent Brewing Company.

Ciccotti Art Glass

Just a few miles outside of Ames, a world class artist is hard at work in a shop behind his home in the small community of Napier.   Art Ciccotti attended Iowa State University several decades ago.  While there he learned the art of glass blowing and he’s been perfecting his craft ever since.  Today, you can see him at work in his Ciccotti Art Glass studio, check out his shop and gallery and on occasion learn from this master glass blower himself through one of his workshops.

 Iowa State University

Since Ames is a college town, a trip to the city just wouldn’t be complete without some time in the heart of campus.  (I can’t believe on my many visits before that I hadn’t done this ).  Start your visit at the Memorial Union.  Take a moment to check out the elaborate fountain out front then head inside.  You quickly get a sense of why this is called “Memorial” Union.  Elaborate stained glass windows line the entrance hallway giving it a church like feel.  Just below the windows there are lists of names of people from Iowa State that died in America’s different wars. All the names are etched in stone.  It’s truly a moving experience.   

Beyond the memorials, the rest of the Memorial Union building is what you would expect from a student center. Be sure and browse through the main campus bookstore or grab a bite to eat at the dining hall.

Across the street from Memorial Union is one of Iowa State’s most recognizable landmarks.  The Campanile (a bell tower with a clock) rises 110 feet above the campus.  At the top is a 50 bell carillon.  The Campanile was built as a memorial to Iowa State’s first Dean of Women.  Tradition has it that you officially become an Iowa Stater when you are kissed under the campanile at midnight.

 Searching for Cy

The Iowa State Cyclones just wouldn’t be the same without the school mascot, a cardinal named Cy.  In Ames, you’ll see him all over town.  This public art project has been going on for several years and Cy in many different forms can be found all over the city.  Why not start at the Ames Convention and Visitors Bureau then from there try and see how many you can find.

 Honorable Mentions

Hickory Park Restaurant Ames Iowa

 Since this is in no way a complete list of all that Ames, Iowa has to offer, I do want to add a couple of other things to my list. that are also worth thinking about when you visit.

If you’re looking for a great place to eat, it’s hard to go wrong with Hickory Park. This BBQ joint has been around a long time and is definitely an institution in the city. In fact it was the first restaurant in the city I visited more than 20 years ago. It was recently named as one of America’s 7 Most Legendary College Restaurants.


 U.S. 30 is the main East/West Highway running through Ames. Much of the highway is part of the historic Lincoln Highway. You’ll see signs for it along Lincoln Way and other parts of town. In fact, at one point the Lincoln Highway becomes a dirt road on the edge of town.

Check out even more on what there is to see and do in Ames at the Cytes of Ames website. And if you’ve been to the city (or live there) let me know what’s on your list so I can check it out the next time I’m in town.





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