Family Fun in Ames

ames iowa family fun
photo courtesy of Discover Ames

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 am an accidental Ames resident. I went to Iowa State University, ended up staying in Ames, 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. Head north and follow these tips for a day of family fun in Ames.

Ames, Iowa

Take in the arts!

The Iowa State Center offers a youth matinee series for kids and an overall event lineup that brings in a variety of performances, making it a good stop for a date night.

Boy with a black hat dripping colored ink on ice cubes to create an ice dye pillowcase.
One of our sons creating an ice dye pillowcase in The Workspace of Iowa State’s Memorial Union.

Ames is also a great place for hands-on art classes. Our sons love going to Iowa State’s campus and visiting The Workspace in the Memorial Union. We’ve done drop-in crafts (ice dye pillow cases and sugar skulls were favorites!), art kits to go and trying a “paint your own pottery” drop-in craft is on our list for this spring.

I like The Workspace because the staff is great with kids, programming is constantly changing. We all know kids’ schedules can be unpredictable and the variety of drop-in class options works great for our family.

Go to a Big 12 sporting event

Our sons spotted Allen Lazard, former Cyclone and current wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers, at a basketball game.

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. Hilton Coliseum is easy to navigate the athletics’ department does fun things, like superhero night, aimed at kids. 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. And sometimes, one of your NFL heroes happens to be in town from Green Bay catching a Cyclone game!

Explore the outdoors

The walk-through holiday light show at Reiman Gardens has become a December tradition for our famiy.

Reiman Gardens is a great place for kids to explore. They change exhibits throughout the year and have holiday events like breakfast with Santa and the Winter Wonderscape Holiday Light Show. In addition, there are tons of parks in town perfect if your kids need to burn some energy.

Slowdown and Visit Downtown

Downtown Ames has done a great job of retaining historic architecture and supporting a variety of business. It is a relaxing place to walk around with (or without!) your kids and visit local shops.

In the world of Amazon and two-hour Target pickups, the era of toy-store magic is fleeting. 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.

Dog-Eared Books is worth the drive to Ames all on its own. This locally-owned book store is a place my kids absolutely love. It’s beautiful, has a coffee/snack bar, the book selection is excellent for all ages, and the staff is great.

Oak Lane Candle Co. is a great stop and they have a “pour bar” where you can make your own candle. Life Distilled also offers classes, great for a girls’ night out! I also like their selection of health and wellness products designed for the whole family. The owner is a mom of three and makes fun products like Monster Spray!

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 It is more upscale but 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 can hit up a few local shops while you’re there.
  • Hickory Park – Hickory Park might be one of the most well-known things about Ames. For a different experience, order ahead, pick it up and then have a picnic at a local park
  • Cornbread – What started out as a BBQ food truck is now a restaurant located downtown in a wonderfully-renovated train depot.
  • Alluvial and Prairie Moon – North of town on a picturesque piece of land, Alluvial (a brewery) and Prairie Moon (a winery) sit next door to each other. They’re a great stop with or without kids and do a nice job with their summer concert series.

Looking for more?

There really is always something happening in Ames. You can check out Iowa State University’s calendar here. And, the Ames Convention and Visitors’ Bureau has even more tips for a trip to Ames.

// RELATED CONTENT: Our Favorite Parks in Ames //

What are your favorite things to do in Ames? 

Ames, Iowa


  1. I’m interested in learning more about the area and wondering if there is a MOMS Club in Ames. I appreciate any connections you can share. Thanks!


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