Ames is a pleasant college town in Central Iowa, sitting astride the Skunk River roughly 30 miles north of Des Moines. Life in Ames follows the ebb and flow of the academic year at Iowa State University, which is the city's primary draw.
Named after Massachusetts congressman and transcontinental railroad supporter Oakes Ames, the city was founded as a stop along one of the primary rail links to the first transcontinental railroad. The railroad is still a daily part of life in Ames, with nearly 70 Union Pacific long-haul freight trains passing through town each day.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
Traveling from the north (e.g., Minneapolis, 2.5-hr drive) or from the south (Des Moines, 30 minutes), take I-35 to exit 113 and drive west along 13th Street into town. Or take US 30 (exit 111) west to South Duff or University Boulevard and go north into town. Traveling from the east (Chicago, 5.5 hours) or from the west (Omaha, 2 hours), take I-80 to I-35, and then I-35 north and as above. US 30 also reaches Ames direct from Omaha and Chicago.
Burlington Trailways and Jefferson Lines both serve the 1 Ames Intermodal Facility, +1 515 232-2404, at 129 Hayward Avenue, a block south of the Iowa State University campus in the Campustown neighborhood. Jefferson Lines directly connects Ames to destinations north and south along I-35, while Trailways directly links Ames to Des Moines and destinations east along US 30.
There is no commercial aviation to Ames; the nearest major airport is located in Des Moines. Shuttle service is available to/from Ames; Executive Express offers a relatively frequent scheduled service. If flying via charter or general aviation, one can use the 2 Ames Municipal Airport on the southern edge of town, south of Airport Rd; from there automobile is the best bet into town – a Hertz rental car location is available at the airport.
Lincoln Way is the main east-west thoroughfare of the city, passing just south of Downtown (the historic center of town, north of the train tracks between Grand and Duff Avenues) and continuing west to Campustown (the neighborhood immediately south of the ISU campus) along the southern edge of the central campus of ISU. Similarly, 13th Street runs from I-35 across the northern edges of the downtown area and the university campus. Main north-south roads include Duff Avenue (south of Lincoln Way) and Grand Avenue (north of Lincoln Way) which together carry U.S. Hwy 69 through Ames, University Boulevard and North/South Dakota Avenues.
The city-university partnership CyRide provides bus service in Ames. Service hours can be limited (particularly during weekends and school breaks), but the system does a decent job covering the city and is very reliable. Fare is $1.25 ($0.60 for children/seniors).
Ames is very bicycle friendly, with a moderately extensive paved trail system for walking and biking. Apart from ISU itself, there are generally three main pedestrian-friendly concentrations of shops and restaurants: Downtown along Main St between Clark and Duff Avenues, Campustown along Welch Ave south of Lincoln Way, and the much newer Somerset neighborhood directly north of the ISU campus along Stange Ave north of 24th St. Not quite so pedestrian friendly is the two miles of big box stores and strip malls along Duff Avenue between US 30 on the south and Lincoln Way on the north.
- The Downtown district, along Main Street between Grand and Duff Avenues (just north of Lincoln Way and the train tracks), is the historic center of town and makes for a pleasant stroll. The district has most of Ames' civic functions, such as the city hall, the library, and the main post office. Main Street is lined with charming old brick buildings holding small shops and restaurants and often hosts events such as a local farmers' market. At the east end of Downtown on Duff Avenue, in the shadow of Ames' power plant, is 1 Bandshell Park, a pleasant square that regularly holds concerts in the summer months.
Iowa State University
Occupying nearly 500 acres in the middle of town is the scenic main campus of the Iowa State University, with its many lovely green spaces and a large collection of public art scattered throughout. Architecture varies, from gorgeous classically-designed buildings in the middle of the campus to more modern brutalist-style buildings around the edges. A large lawn occupies the very center of the campus, with a small lake at the southern end.
- 3 Brunnier Art Museum, 2nd floor of the Scheman Building, ISU campus, ☏ . Tu-Fr 11AM-4PM, Sa-Su 1PM-4PM. Holding fine and decorative art items from around the world, including European decorative arts and American prints, paintings and sculpture, with an emphasis on Iowan artists. Free; suggested donation of $3.
- 4 Campanile. Overlooking the central lawn is this classically-designed clock and bell tower, frequently used as an icon for the university.
- 5 Christian Peterson Art Museum, Morrill Hall, ISU campus, ☏ . M-F 11AM-4PM. Located in one of the oldest buildings on campus, this museums holds a series of changing contemporary art exhibitions. A small sculpture garden with changing exhibits is located behind the building. Free; donations accepted.
- 6 Farm House Museum, in the center of the ISU campus, ☏ . M,W,F: noon-4PM, Tu,Th: 12:30-4PM. The oldest building on campus, the Farm House was the center of life for the model farm that was the entirety of the university during its founding years. Today it is operated as a historical museum with period furnishings. Free, $3 suggested donation per visitor.
- The main library on campus, 7 Parks Library, is notable for holding a set of murals painted by Grant Wood (creator of the famous American Gothic painting). Located down a quiet side hall and an adjacent study room, the murals depict agrarian life and the home and agricultural-based education ISU is noted for.
- 8 Reiman Gardens, 1407 University Blvd (shares a parking lot with Jack Trice Stadium), ☏ . Daily 9AM-4:30PM; extended hours in summer. Originally created to provide staff and students of the university a place to relax and enjoy nature, this is a large botanical garden with indoor and outdoor displays. Among the highlights are a lovely rose garden, a conservatory, and a popular butterfly garden. $8 adults, $7 seniors, $4 children.
- ISU Cyclones, +1-888-478-2925. ISU's football and basketball teams are the biggest draws, but ISU is also a national power in wrestling and the university fields teams in several other sports in the Big 12 Conference, at the NCAA Division I level. The sports complex is just southeast of the main campus; the football team plays at 1 Jack Trice Stadium on University Blvd just south of Lincoln Way, while the basketball, wrestling, volleyball, and gymnastic teams play at 2 Hilton Coliseum, at Lincoln Way & University Blvd.
- Next to the stadium complex are Iowa State's two performing art centers, the 3 Stephens Auditorium and the 4 Fisher Theater, both of which play host to a variety of concerts and plays.
- 5 Ada Hayden Heritage Park, 5205 Grand Ave, ☏ . 6AM-10:30PM. Just north of town is this small lake that makes for a pleasant fishing and picnicking spot. A biking/hiking trail circles the lake, and a ramp for small boats is also available. Free.
ISU Cyclones' licensed paraphernalia (sweaters and such) are available from several retailers around town, but perhaps most notably at the 1 Iowa State University Book Store in the Memorial Union on campus facing Lincoln Way. Other specialty shopping can be found along Main Street in Downtown, which is lined with a number of small boutiques and stores.
Most of the big-box chain stores in town are along Duff Avenue on the south side of town, between Lincoln Way and U.S. Highway 30. There's also a Wal-Mart and some strip malls along North Grand Avenue on the north side of town, as well as Ames' only indoor mall, the small 2 North Grand Mall between 24th and 30th Streets.
Dining-wise, Ames is mostly a pizza-and-beer kind of town, perhaps reflecting the tastes of the local student population. However, there are some standouts:
- 1 Aunt Maude's, 547 Main Street, ☏ . Lunch: M-F 11AM-2PM; Dinner: M-Sa 5PM-close. Pricey but popular steakhouse with semi-formal atmosphere, which has made it something of an Ames standby with so few formal restaurants to go around. Patio and bar. $15-$40.
- 2 The Cafe, 2616 Northridge Pkwy, ☏ . M-Th 7AM-9PM, F-Sa 7AM-10PM, Su 7AM-8PM. Very popular restaurant with farm-to-table cuisine, vegetarian options, casual but chic atmosphere. Great desserts and wine list. $5-$20.
- 3 Downtown Deli, 328 Main St, ☏ . Very bare-bones, but a nice local choice for sandwiches.
- 4 The Great Plains Sauce and Dough Company, 129 Main St, ☏ . M-Th 11AM-2PM, 4:30PM-midnight; F-Sa 11AM-midnight, Su 11AM-11PM. Pizza is hearty, but popular because of the crust. Has honey as a dipping sauce.
- 5 Hickory Park, 1404 S Duff Ave, ☏ . Su-Th 10:30AM-9PM, F-Sa 10:30AM-10PM. A huge and very popular Western-themed restaurant that has long been an Ames staple and is great for kids, parties, and large groups. American and Iowan fare, featuring pulled pork/beef sandwiches and a dessert menu boasting over 50 selections. Huge seating area, though there is often a wait to get a table on the weekends; however, the wait passes quickly and the waiting area has enough interesting decor and distractions like a TV and cheap candy to keep you occupied. Very popular with families. Diabetics beware. $10 with dessert.
- 6 Jeff's Pizza, 2402 Lincoln Way, ☏ . Su-Tu 10:30AM-1AM, W-Th 10:30AM-2:30AM, F-Sa 10:30AM-3:30AM. Pizza place offering some unusual toppings, Iowa State student favorite. Eat in or delivery.
- 7 The Spice, 402 Main St, ☏ . M-Sa 11AM-2:30PM, 5PM-9PM. Thai cuisine with a nice ambiance.
- 8 Stomping Grounds, 303 Welch Ave, ☏ . M-F 7AM-midnight, Sa-Su 8AM-midnight. A coffee shop/art gallery that is a popular student hangout and serves good cappuccinos and mochas, along with decent sandwiches and teas. Service takes a while, though.
- 9 Thai Kitchen, 2410 Chamberlain St (just off Welch Ave), ☏ . Tu-F 11AM-8:30PM, Sa-Su noon-8:30PM. A small Thai restaurant with friendly atmosphere.
- 10 West Street Deli, 2810 West St, ☏ . M-Sa 11AM-8PM. A pleasant and rather unassuming deli on a quiet side of campus. Excellent sandwiches.
Alcohol purchases end at 2AM.
- 1 Cy's Roost, 121 Welch Ave, ☏ . For the big game.
- 2 Mickey's Irish Pub, 109 Welch Ave, ☏ . Frat-bar with dance floor in the basement but not considered a club.
- 3 Paddy's Irish Pub, 124 Welch Ave. Relaxed dive bar with mostly standing room only (on the weekends) and overly loud music for dancing. Two-Fer-Tuesdays and dollar burgers on Wednesdays.
- 4 Sips, 124 Welch Ave, ☏ . Dance club.
- 5 Welch Avenue Station, 207 Welch Ave, ☏ . M-Th 4PM-2AM, F 1PM-2AM, Sa-Su 11AM-2AM. One of the longest-standing bars in town. The atmosphere is more traditional than the more "hip" and "modern" bars around town. Has regular bar food as well as pizza from the Pizza Pit upstairs.
- 6 Whiskey River, 134 Main St, ☏ . M-Sa 11AM-2AM, Su 10AM-2AM. Dive bar on Main Street in downtown, three miles from campus.
Most lodging in Ames is of the chain variety and is generally located either along I-35 or US Hwy 30. A collection of motels is located at the southeast corner of town off the Dayton Ave/US Hwy 30 interchange. There's also a couple of motels off the 13th St/I-35 interchange (exit 113) on the east side of town and south of the University Blvd/US 30 interchange on the south side of town.
- 1 Gateway Hotel, 2100 Green Hills Dr (off University Blvd, south of US 30), ☏ . One of the more reputed hotels in Ames. Heated indoor pool, fitness center, whirlpool and sauna, free parking, free wireless internet, room service, on-site restaurant, meeting/conference space. $100-$200.
- 2 Iowa House, 405 Hayward Ave, ☏ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. A small bed and breakfast in an old fraternity house that's well furnished with friendly service. In a nice neighborhood and very convenient to Campustown. $95-$235.
Free wi-fi is available for guests on the ISU campus, although it requires you to register with the server when you open your internet browser.
- 1 Ames Public Library, 515 Douglas Avenue, ☏ . M-Th 9AM-9PM, F-Sa 9AM-6PM, Su 1-5PM. Free wi-fi for anyone with their own device and computers available for guest use.
- Story City is about a 15 minute drive north on I-35 or US Hwy 69 and has an antique carousel.
- Boone, about 20 miles to the west on US Hwy 30, is home to a scenic railroad. South of Boone is Ledges State Park, a scenic area with cliffs and bluffs along the Des Moines River.
- Des Moines, the capitol and largest city of Iowa, is 30 miles to the south on I-35 and has a number of attractions.
|Routes through Ames|
|Minneapolis/Saint Paul ← Clear Lake ← Jct W E ←||N S||→ Ankeny → Des Moines|
|Missouri Valley ← Boone ←||W E||→ Marshalltown → Cedar Rapids|