Just thirty minutes north of the Iowa state capital (Des Moines) you will find a city with compelling charm and character: Ames, Iowa.
Ames began as a railroad stop, where a college was founded, and it became the first of America’s Land Grant Colleges: Iowa State.
If you drew an X across the state of Iowa, you would find Ames there, smack dab in the middle of it all. It is similar to State College, Pennsylvania, in that respect and in being the home of the state’s land-grant college. And this is Ames’ true glory, both for its students and faculty and for those who come to visit.
What can you see in Ames that you cannot see anywhere else? First of all, you can see Elwood. Elwood is the world’s largest concrete gnome. We know people who drive the nation looking for the largest of any category (chair, hamburger, bridge, waterfall), so they have Elwood on their radar already. Elwood is the star of Reiman Garden (read more below), located near the stadium and also near one of the prettiest of the many beautiful neighborhoods of Ames, so after you stop to see Elwood, take a meander along Country Club Drive, to see the lovely later 1920’s era homes there. For a look at slightly older but also charming homes, of the Craftsman, Tudor, and Colonial styles, see the neighborhood along and beside Donald Street.
The campus of Iowa State also offers you an excellent horticultural adventure with the Reiman Gardens. Floral displays abound, indoors and out. Especially glorious in the warmer months, there are beds and banks of floral displays, often heirloom cultivars or brand new ones. Get gardening ideas first hand, or just savor the beauty. The exotic butterfly exhibit is a magical delight. There are few conservatories and gardens in the nation that can compare with Reiman Gardens.
While you are on the campus, be sure to have lunch at The Joan Bice Underwood Tearoom. No this is not a chintz, scones, and pinkies out tearoom (although we do love those, too). It is a marvel of deliciousness, the food preparation and service being part of the education of those seeking to have a career in the hospitality field. This is one of the best-kept secrets of Ames, and once you have dined here, you will make it destination dining in future. Students are in charge of planning, preparing, and serving the lunch meal. Dinner is offered during Spring Semester on Tuesday and Thursday but check ahead of time as you plan your visit.
The campus has more to offer in the form of the Brunnier Art Museum. It is Iowa’s only accredited museum emphasizing a decorative arts collection. We are especially fond of the pottery and ceramics, but there is also a collection of dolls, ivory, jade and enameled metals to see. And there is no admission fee.
Near the campus is a neighborhood called “Campustown.” Great for shopping and dining. Yes, the student population makes it possible but it is a magnet drawing everyone in Ames and for miles around to saunter and window shop as well as to dine and purchase items to bring home.
There are several breweries and micro-breweries to visit, and of course, there is Iowa State football. All in all, you will never feel aimless in Ames!
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