Combining the best aspects of small town Iowa with the vibrant atmosphere of a university city, Ames is a truly wonderful place to live as a graduate student. There are a plethora of wonderful and affordable things to see, eat, and do in this city. Here are just a few of the best local spots to enjoy during your adventure at Iowa State.
Where to eat and drink:
1404 S Duff Ave, Ames, IA 50010
Hickory Park has been an Ames landmark since 1970 and for good reason! They offer an enormous menu of standard American fare featuring ice cream sundaes and barbecue. Hands down the busiest restaurant in the city, Hickory Park serves approximately 15,000 guests per week. But don’t fear the wait time – they have a vintage candy shop to peruse while your table is being made ready.
2410 Chamberlain St, Ames, IA 50014
You’ll find this charming dive of a Thai restaurant tucked in a hidden corner of Campustown. Thai Kitchen’s large menu is bursting with authentic flavor that caters to vegans and meat-eaters alike. At under $10 for most entrees, Thai Kitchen is a must-stop spot for graduate students.
6162, 328 Main St, Ames, IA 50010
Downtown Deli is an old school delicatessen known for their locally sourced ingredients, sliced-to-order meats and cheeses, and welcoming employees. Ask anyone behind the counter for a suggestion and they will happily give you a free sample and take the time to explain their menu. In addition to sandwiches, Downtown Deli serves a rotating menu of homemade soups and pies. Under the same ownership for 34 years, you can often find the owner himself manning the counter and catching up with regulars.
Torrent Brewing Company
504 Burnett Ave, Ames, IA 50010
New to the Ames beer scene is Torrent Brewing Company. With a large selection of house-brewed beers and sodas, everyone will be sure to find an enjoyable beverage on tap. Their spacious interior includes a pool table, lots of board games, and plentiful TV screens to watch Cyclone sports. Torrent offers free WiFi and allows patrons to bring their own food, which makes it a surprisingly pleasant place to study. They often host pub trivia, retro video game nights, and movie screenings.
4625 Reliable St, Ames, IA 50014
Housed inside of an old feed mill and warehouse in the residential West side of Ames, Lockwood Cafe is a truly unique place to grab an artisanal coffee or crepe. The cafe is just a small part of the collective known as Reliable Street, which works across the disciplines of art, design and business seeking to strengthen the connection between the public and place-making. At Reliable Street, you can find a community garden, free thrift shop, artist studios, and collaborative space.
413 Northwestern Ave, Ames, IA 50010
Wheatsfield is a cooperative grocery store, meaning it is member-owned and operated. Members and non-members alike enjoy browsing the aisles of gorgeous produce, meat and dairy, readymade selections, beer and wine, and natural health products. With a focus on local goods, the shelves are full of products made right here in Iowa. Students qualify for a discounted membership – only $20 per year to take advantage of special discounts, events, and cooking classes.
Grandpa Noodle Gallery
926 S 16th St, Ames, IA 50010
Grandpa Noodle Gallery was opened by two Iowa State graduates just over a year ago. They specialize in fresh-made noodles and authentic Chinese dishes. Their dining space features an on-display kitchen where patrons enjoy a mesmerizing show of noodles being made to order. Grandpa Noodle supports the local economy while providing the finest ingredients by sourcing from local meat lockers and hand selecting in-season produce.
Things to do
Main Street Farmers’ Market
424-498 Main St, Ames, IA 50010
Running May-October, the Main Street Farmers’ Market is a weekly community event featuring over 100 vendors from the Ames area. You’ll find seasonal local produce, flowers, meats, cheeses, handcrafted goods, and much more for purchase. In addition to vendors, the market also features live entertainment, local nonprofit booths, and childrens’ activities.
Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad
225 10th St, Boone, IA 50036
Just down the road in Boone, you’ll be able to board a one-of-a-kind railroad ride. 1920s-style vintage coach cars transport passengers from Boone to the old coal-mining town of Fraser. The open-air car offers stunning views of the scenic valley, especially in Autumn when leaves are vibrant. The ride also features a museum and library dedicated to Iowa’s railroad history.
2229 Lincoln Way, Ames, IA 50014
The Workspace, located in the basement of the Memorial Union, is makerspace for students and non-students alike. Students may be familiar with the Workspace from their crafting events at Iowa State After Dark. In addition to craft nights, The Workspace offers a variety of visual art and dance classes. If you have an artistic eye but no space or tools, The Workspace is for you. For a small fee, you can use their open studio space which includes all you need for ceramics, woodworking, metalsmithing, glass, fibers, screenprinting, and mat cutting.
1407 S University Blvd, Ames, IA 50011
Reiman Gardens is an ever-evolving green space that can be enjoyed by Iowa State students free of admission. It features a large variety of plants, innovative landscape architecture, a native prairie, artist installations, and an indoor tropical butterfly garden that can be enjoyed year-round. Located next to Jack Trice Stadium, students can take a short bus ride from campus to hang out with butterflies and play in interactive exhibits.
Berry Patch Farm
62785 280th St, Nevada, IA 50201
Berry Patch Farm is a sustainable fruit and vegetable farm just east of Ames in the town of Nevada. During harvest season, locals can pick their own apples, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, rhubarb, pumpkins, potatoes, and more. In addition to fresh produce, their shop offers a variety of local products including baked goods, apple cider, Iowa honey, and homemade ice cream. In the fall you can catch a hayrack ride and listen to live music in their gift shop.
Octagon Center for the Arts
427 Douglas Ave, Ames, IA 50010
Since its inception in 1965, The Octagon Center for the Arts has been the visual arts hub of Ames. The center boasts three galleries, offers nearly 200 classes, houses an eclectic local art shop, and hosts an annual arts festival. Their rotating galleries feature artwork from Iowa artists and travelling exhibits from all over the world. Octagon’s galleries are free and open to the public, making it a must-see for all students.
125 Welch Ave, Ames, IA 50014
Grandma’s Attic is a funky little bead shop in the heart of Campustown. Its focus is on jewelry-making and beads, but you will find an array of eclectic goodies inside. Colorful tapestries line the walls, guitars hang from the ceiling, and every surface of the shop is covered with baskets of quirky gifts. Each product in the store has a unique story – the owner sources her goods anywhere from local garage sales to jewelers in Guatemala. Walk-in classes are encouraged at Grandma’s Attic. On any given day, you can walk in, pick out materials, sit down with the owner to make a piece of jewelry, and walk out wearing your new creation.
313 Main St, Ames, IA 50010
Cook’s Emporium has been a mainstay of the Ames culinary scene since 1979. With the mission of equipping at-home chefs to Michelin-starred chefs, they carry everything you need to create a masterpiece in the kitchen. The owner keeps a close eye on cooking trends and always stocks new gadgets to experiment with. Cook’s Emporium not only supplies tools; they also dish up inspiration by offering cooking classes, community events, and a thriving recipe and lifestyle blog.
7229, 122 Welch Ave, Ames, IA 50014
Opened in 2012 by an ISU graduate, Portobello Road is the place to go for on-trend clothing, gifts, and decor. The boutique carries unique and trendy fashion hand-picked by the owner and modeled by locals. Its name is an homage to Portobello Market, one of the world’s largest flea markets, and its ambiance captures the feeling of shopping the London streets. Located in the heart of Campustown, students can stop in and shop between classes.
223 Main St, Ames, IA 50010
Worldly Goods is a non-profit, fair trade store operated by volunteers. Fair trade fosters a positive and direct relationship between artisans and consumers by paying artists fair wages and putting people before profit. Worldly Goods carries and array of lively products from over 50 countries. At Worldly Goods you’ll find sustainably sourced coffee, chocolate, clothing, stationary, toys, home decor, jewelry, and more under one roof. Voted best gift shop in Ames in 2018, it is clearly worth stopping in to experience the colors, smells, textures, and human stories from around the world.
330 Main St, Ames, IA 50010
Random Goods is your one-stop shop for vintage clothing, accessories, and costumes in historic downtown Ames. You will always find a treasure among their ever-changing mix of fun and offbeat wearables. Be sure to search their racks of vintage Iowa State gear for your next tailgating outfit. Though Random Goods specializes in clothing, you will also find Mid-Century Modern and Art Deco furniture and home accessories to furnish your college dwelling.
329 Main St, Ames, IA 50010
Celebrating its 96th birthday this year, Everts has been Ames’ go-to florist for nearly a century. They have thrived as a small business by changing and adapting throughout the years. They expanded their shop past flowers to include holiday items, home decor, yard art, gourmet chocolates, and specialty paper products. They even have a DIY succulent bar where you can create your own living artwork! Pop in to browse and you will be meet their shop cat, Remington, who greets everyone at the door.