A Family Day Trip to Ames, Iowa

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A Family Day Trip to Ames, Iowa

I’ve lived in Iowa for 13 years but I’ve never ventured to Ames. Located 45 minutes- 1 hour from Des Moines, it’s the perfect distance for a day trip. My family and I were excited to explore the college town and visit two parks from our Trek the Parks list. While we could only stay half a day due to my toddler’s nap requirement, we’ve included many other ideas for a full day of fun ranging from parks, restaurants, shopping, and entertainment ideas. There are many fun things to do in Ames, Iowa. Plan your day trip to Ames today! 

Outdoor Recreation

Ada Hayden Heritage Park Lake

Address: 5205 Grand Avenue, Ames

If you love outdoor activities, Ada Hayden Heritage Park is a great place to explore and play. They offer many picnic areas, bike paths, walking trails, picnic shelters, boat access, nature area, and more. Grab your fishing pool or wander through the park. 

Furman Aquatic Center

Address: 1635 13th Street, Ames

Cool off on a hot day at Furman Aquatic Center! Families will enjoy the water slides, diving board, picnic areas, concessions available, and more. A great place to play in Ames. 

Moore Memorial Park

Address: 3050 Northridge Parkway, Ames, IA 50014

Moore Memorial Park features two playgrounds, a basketball court, and two covered shelters that can be rented for parties. The design of the playground reminds me of Crossroads Park in West Des Moines with castle-like walls. One section of the playground is suitable for younger children. There is a pond with a fishing dock and several kids were fishing when we visited. 

A paved 1.1-mile walking path loops past the playground and through trees with a creek down below. This was our favorite area of the park as there was a Story Walk and so we enjoyed reading each page of a children’s book as we continued our way along the path. My boys also loved spotting squirrels and other birds.

Moore Memorial Park

Miracle Park at Inis Grove (also called Inis Grove Park)

Address: 2500 Duff Avenue, Ames

We’ve played at a lot of parks and this is one of the most amazing parks I’ve visited. Parks should be a place where all children can play regardless of ability or sensory needs. The Miracle Playground and Field, which opened in 2020, is the first inclusive playground in Ames and is fun for everyone. There are several different sections of the park.

  • Slider’s Canyon – Tucked between tall trees is Slider’s Canyon, the main playground area targeting ages 5-12 years old and featuring double ramps for wheelchairs, climbing walls, and slides. It has a foam bottom for safety and ease of navigating devices like wheelchairs. There’s a board that displays the sign language alphabet, sensory panels, and a wheelchair-accessible glider. I enjoyed the nature elements included in the design and my son loved climbing up the fake log to get to the top of the playground.
  • Acorn Music Hall – Enjoy getting creative with sound using an array of musical instruments like drums and large xylophones. There is also acorn-shaped seating for those that want to sit and listen.
  • Mushroom Cove – Geared toward young children, my boys had a blast playing in the small houses located in Mushroom Cove. Each house has a slide and a white picket fence with other sensory panels. A rounded structure called a Cozy Canyon is meant for children to play inside as well as to enter when they might be feeling overwhelmed and need a quieter space.
  • Spinner’s Squall – This is a great area for kids that enjoy spinning and movement. There’s a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round, a roller slide down a hill, and other fun spinning equipment.
  • Sensory Plaza – This area has multiple sensory panels to interact with such as a spinning object and small balls.
  • Swing Alley – Swing Alley has multiple swings including toddler bucket seats, belt swings, and multi-user swings with back support.
  • Accessible and Gender-Neutral Restrooms – There are two large restrooms with sizes to accommodate wheelchair users. There is also an adult-size changing table which is a feature I haven’t seen at other parks. However, the changing table is not height adjustable.
  • The Miracle Field – The baseball field is not the traditional clay/dirt field you will find anywhere else. Instead, it’s made from rubberized turf so that it’s accessible by wheelchair and other devices. There is a scoreboard, lights, and bleachers as well as a much larger dug-out area to accommodate wheelchair users.

There are also tennis courts, basketball courts, and picnic tables located throughout the park.

Miracle Park – Inis Grove

Popular Restaurants

Hickory Park

Address: 1404 S Duff Avenue, Ames, IA 50010

Phone: (515) 232-8940

Hickory Park is a popular barbeque restaurant that is great for families. We decided to try it for lunch due to its extensive ice cream menu. I’m talking about an entirely separate page of only ice cream options from Blue Bunny ice cream ranging from shakes, splits, sundaes, floats, and more. Of course, my own two children stuck with their basic chocolate and vanilla scoops but that’s beside the point. The restaurant is also louder so squeals of excitement (or displeasure) from anyone in your party will likely go unnoticed. 

My sons loved the small stadium seating with a screen featuring the Madagascar movie while waiting for our table. I have not seen this at any other restaurants and the kids loved having a front-row seat. Prices are affordable and portions are large.

Mucky Duck

Address: 3100 S Duff Avenue, Ames, IA 50010

Phone: (515) 232-8888

If you love fish and chips, this British-style pub is a must-try. Mucky Duck uses a simple flour-based mixture to coat their North Atlantic Cod. They also offer other popular British and Irish favorites like Bangers and Mash (sausage and mashed potatoes) and Shepherd’s Pie. The patio is dog friendly and they offer both karaoke nights and trivia nights. They also sell British goods like tea and hot sauce as well as other imports.

The Café

Address: 2616 Northridge Parkway, Ames, IA 50010

Phone: (515) 292-0100

The Café serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with seasonal menus and ingredients coming mostly from local farmers. Dishes range from salads, sandwiches, and mac and cheese to salmon and Peruvian chicken. They offer a weekly rotating menu of fresh-baked bread.

Favorite Activities

Ames Main Street

Enjoy shopping at local shops along Downtown Ames Main Street and throughout the downtown area. Shop for consigned children’s items and Melissa and Doug toys at Duck Worth Wearing, browse through titles at Dog-Eared Books and enjoy gourmet chocolate at Chocolaterie Stam. Don’t forget to pick up something for your fur children at Treats on a Leash. On Saturdays during May-mid October attend the Ames Main Street Farmer’s Market with a variety of local vendors, live music, and children’s activities.

Iowa State University

Youth programs are offered year-round including Summer Day Camps, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) programs, and 4-H camps. Check out the ISU Extension and Outreach Sioux County page for more information and special events. Your family may also enjoy walking around the Iowa State University Campus. The 490-acre campus which was listed as one of the top 25 most beautiful campuses. My boys love football and enjoyed looking at their practice field as well as Jack Trice Stadium located next to the Reiman Gardens. 

Next on our bucket list is to attend a show at Stephens Auditorium. They have theater performances, music/concerts, and dance performances as well as Broadway shows and international orchestra performances. View their event schedule here. Upcoming shows for 2023 include the popular comedian Matt Rife, the Emmy Award Winning Fab Four performing the Beatle’s Tribute, and Wild Kratts based on the hit animated show.

Perfect Games Arcade and Bowling

Address: 1320 Dickinson Avenue, Ames, IA 50014

Phone: (515) 598-BOWL (2695)

Looking for a fun indoor venue to keep the kids busy and active? Check out Perfect Games Arcade and Bowling featuring a bowling alley,  arcade, mini golf, and laser tag. They also have a kid zone perfect for running, jumping, and getting out all the energy. Order a pizza at their full-service restaurant before anyone gets hungry. Check out their website for daily specials on food and games.

Reiman Gardens

Address: 1407 University Blvd, Ames, IA 50011

Phone: (515) 294-2710

My first trip to Reiman Gardens did not disappoint. I was worried that it would not be too exciting for my young boys but I was pleasantly surprised. First, we toured the indoor Christina Reiman Butterfly Wing and enjoyed the hundreds of butterflies flying around us. Small children may need close supervision so that they don’t attempt catching a butterfly, which is of course not allowed for the safety of the butterflies. This was a little too tempting for my boys so we didn’t spend as much time here. 

Our favorite area was the Patty Jischke Children’s Garden. When I think of gardens, I picture a quiet, meditative place. However, it’s clear that all are welcome as an entire area is dedicated to the enjoyment and play of children. We had fun making pretend milkshakes and cakes in the mud kitchen, stacking wood pieces, stirring “ingredients” (mud, leaves, mulch) in large pots but everything came to a halt once we discovered the water frogs. 

Winter Wonderscape, Winter Wonderscape Holiday Light Show, Des Moines, Iowa, Ames, Reiman Gardens, holiday lights, Des Moines events
Winter Wonderscape at Reiman Gardens

An entire area of water is fun with hand pumps that squirt water, frogs that shoot water out of their mouths, and fountains of water that burst out of the ground. My boys were drenched and shrieking with laughter. A few hours later (well it felt like it) we finally explored other parts of the gardens including meeting Elwood, the World’s Largest Concrete Gnome. 

The public garden was breathtakingly beautiful and I took lots of pictures so my husband could replicate something in our own backyard. 

Other Things to See and Do in Ames, Iowa

Thanks, mi amor! Until next time, Ames!

Whitney Alaniz, MOT OTR/L

Whitney Alaniz, MOT OTR/L

Whitney Alaniz, MOT OTR/L is an occupational therapist turned (mostly) stay-at-home mom. She has worked with adults to young toddlers and has a special interest in early childhood development targeting fine motor skills, feeding, sensory processing, and coordination. She loves incorporating this knowledge with her own two little boys through play. When she’s not running after her little ones she enjoys traveling, cooking new recipes and eating chocolate from her secret stash.

2 thoughts on “A Family Day Trip to Ames, Iowa

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    My favorite place to eat is Great Plains Sauce & Dough Pizza Yum!!

  2. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I agree–Great Plains Sauce & Dough is the best!

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