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Ames is located in Central Iowa roughly 30 miles north of Des Moines, in the Western edge of Story County, astride the Skunk River. The city was named after Massachusetts congressman, shovel tycoon, and transcontinental railroad supporter Oakes Ames. The railroad is still a daily part of life in Ames, with nearly 90 Union Pacific long-haul freight (non-passenger) trains passing through town each day over several at-grade road crossings. Life in Ames follows the ebb and flow of the academic year at Iowa State University.

Get in

By car

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 St to Clark Ave. Head south on Clark to City Hall and the Main St district. Or take US 30 exit 111 west to South Duff and go north through many businesses to Main St. 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.

By bus

Trailways, +1 800 776-7581, [6], serves a location at 2229 Lincoln Way, on the Iowa State University campus in front of the Memorial Union building.

By plane

There is no commercial aviation to Ames; the nearest major airport is located in Des Moines - shuttle service is available to/from Ames. If flying via charter or general aviation, one can use the Ames Municipal Airport [7] on the southern edge of town, south of Airport Rd; from there automobile is the best bet from there into town - a Hertz rental car location is available at the airport.

Get around

The city-university partnership Cyride [8] provides bus service to most of the city. Fare is $1 ($0.50 for children/seniors), with monthly passes available for $35.

Lincoln Way is the main east-west thoroughfare of the city, running from just south of downtown west to Campustown and along the southern edge of the central campus of ISU. Similarly, 13th St runs across the northern edges of the downtown area and the university campus. Main north-south roads include Duff Ave and Grand Ave (which together carry U.S. Hwy 69 through Ames) and North and South Dakota Avenues.

Ames has a moderately extensive paved trail system [9] for walking and biking. Apart from ISU itself, there are generally three main pedestrian-friendly concentrations of shops and restaurants: Downtown on Main Street between Clark and Duff Avenues, Campustown south of Lincoln Way along either side of Welch Ave, and the much newer Somerset neighborhood (to the east of Stange Ave north of 24th St). Not quite so pedestrian friendly but with new sidewalks is the two miles of big box stores and small shops along Duff Avenue between US 30 on the south and Lincoln Way on the north.


  • Hoggatt School. A historical one-room schoolhouse.

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 trees 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.

  • Brunnier Art Museum, 2nd floor of the Scheman Building, ISU campus, +1 515 294-4442, [10]. Tu-Sa 11AM-4PM, 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; donations accepted.
  • Campanile. Overlooking the central lawn is this classically-designed clock and bell tower, frequently used as an icon for the university.
  • Christian Peterson Art Museum, Morrill Hall, ISU campus, +1 515 294-9500, [11]. M-F 11AM-4PM. Located in one of the oldest buildings on campus, this museums holds a collection of historical sketches and models of campus buildings as well as a series of changing contemporary art exhibitions. Free; donations accepted.
  • Farm House Museum, in the center of the ISU campus, +1 515 294-3342, [12]. M-F Noon-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, donations accepted.
Butterfly inside Reiman Gardens butterfly exhibit
  • Reiman Gardens, 1407 University Blvd (shares a parking lot with Jack Trice Stadium), +1 515 294-2710, [1]. 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 spectacular rose garden, a conservatory, and a popular butterfly garden. $8 adults, $7 seniors, $4 children.


  • ISU Cyclones. Men's football and men's and women's basketball 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.
  • Cultural events at Iowa State Center - Concerts and plays at Scheman and Fisher theaters.


  • Iowa State University, [13].


The university is the largest employers. Others include the Iowa Department of Transportation, Sauer-Danfoss, Ball Corp., and Barilla.


ISU Cyclones' licensed paraphernalia (sweaters and such) are available from several retailers around town, but perhaps most notably at the bookstores on or near campus along Lincoln Way. Other specialty shopping can be had in Campustown, Somerset, or downtown.

For big-box chain stores, the major shopping areas are along south Duff Avenue from Lincoln Way south past U.S. Highway 30, and along east of north Grand Avenue near the North Grand Mall, between 24th Street and Bloomington Avenue.


  • The Great Plains Sauce and Dough Company™, 129 Main St, +1 515 232-4263, [2]. Pizza is hearty, but popular because of the crust. Has honey as a dipping sauce.
  • Hickory Park, 1404 S Duff Ave, +1 515 232-8940, [3]. American and Iowan fare, featuring pulled pork/beef sandwiches and a dessert menu boasting 50 selections or more. Huge seating area and the wait passes quickly. Very popular with families. Diabetics beware. $10 with dessert.
  • The Spice. Featuring Thai cuisine and elegant ambiance.
  • Pita Pita. Massive pita stuffed with freshly-sauteed lamb, chicken, or falafel. Choice of toppings from an extensive salad bar. Homemade baklava. $5.
  • Stomping Grounds. Popular cafe.
  • Jeff's Pizza, 2402 Lincoln Way, + 1 515 292-2321, [4]. Su-T 10:30A-1A, W-Th 10:30A-2:30A, F-Sa 10:30A-3:30A. Pizza place offering some unusual toppings, Iowa State student favorite. Eat in or delivery.
  • Black Market Pizza, 2610 Northridge Pkwy (in Somerset, Stange Rd. to Northridge), +1 515 292-1111, [5]. 11-9. Chicago-style deep dish pizza, as well as other varieties with unique toppings. Eat-in or delivery.


Alcohol purchases end at 2AM.

Campustown bars and clubs

  • Cy's Roost. For the big game.
  • Element. Dance club.
  • Estas. For when you want to get hammered and have a great time.
  • Mickey's. Frat-bar with dance floor in the basement but not considered a club.
  • Paddy's. Laid back dive with mostly standing room only (on the weekends) and loud music for dancing. Two-Fer-Tuesdays and dollar burgers on Wednesdays.
  • People's.
  • Sips. Dance club.
  • Welch Avenue Station (WAS). 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.


  • Whiskey River, Main St. Dive bar. A bit away from campus and lots of fun.


  • Hotel at Gateway Center, off Elwood Dr, south of US Hwy 30.
  • Memorial Union, Union Dr, ISU campus.
  • Other lodging is located near the northwest portion of the I-35 and US Hwy 30 interchange (exit 111) and near exit 113 along 13th St near I-35.

Get out

  • Story City. About a 15 minute drive north on I-35 or US Hwy 69 to see their antique carousel.
  • See the corn maze in the summer between Ames and Nevada on US Hwy 30.

Routes through Ames
Minneapolis-Saint PaulMason City (via US-18) ←  N noframe S  AnkenyDes Moines

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