Ames is located in Central Iowa roughly 30 miles north of Des Moines, in the eastern part 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 trains passing through town each day over several at-grade road crossings. Unfortunately, no passenger rail service is available to town. Life in Ames follows the ebb and flow of the academic year at Iowa State University, the city's largest employer. Other large employers include the Iowa Department of Transportation, Sauer-Danfoss, Ball Corporation, and Barilla.
Traveling from the north (e.g., Minneapolis, approximate drive time 2.5 hours) or from the south (eg, from Des Moines, approximately 30 minutes), take Interstate 35 to exit 113 and drive west along 13th Street to Clark Avenue. Head south on Clark Avenue to City Hall and the Main Street district. Travelling 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.
- Trailways. Has a location on the north side of Lincoln Way, east of Duff Avenue and west of Dayton Road, but this location is not yet integrated into the city bus or bike- and foot-path system, so have car transportation arranged if arriving by long-distance bus.
Shuttle service is available from Out of Town transport to/from the Des Moines International Airport. If flying via charter or general aviation, one can use Ames' airport on the southern edge of town, south of Airport Road, but again,
privately-arranged car transport is the best bet from there into town.
The city-university partnership Cyride provides bus service to most of the city. Fare is $1, with monthly passes available for $35.
Ames has a moderately extensive paved trail system for walking and biking.
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 Iowa State University (ISU). Similarly, 13th street runs across the northern edges of the downtown area and the university campus. Main north-south roads include Duff Avenue and Grand Avenue (which together carry U.S. Highway 69 through Ames) and North and South Dakota Avenues.
Apart from Iowa State University 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 Avenue, and the much newer Somerset neighborhood (to the east of Stange Avenue north of 24th Street).
- Brunnier Museum.
- Farm House Museum.
- Christian Peterson sculpture collection - Located around the ISU campus.
- Hoggatt School. A historical one-room schoolhouse.
- Iowa State University Campanile
- Iowa State University sporting event Men's football and men's and women's basketball are probably the biggest draws, but Iowa State is also a national power in mens' 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, .
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.
- Aunt Maude's, Main St (on the west end). Slightly more formal dining.
- Bali Satay House. Vegetarian friendly.
- Cafe Beaudalaire, Lincoln Way, in Campustown. Vegetarian friendly.
- The Great Plains Sauce & Dough Company™, 129 Main Street, (515) 232-4263 . Homemade on the premises, even the dough...incredible pizza.
- Hickory Park, 1404 S. Duff Avenue, (515) 232-8940 . Barbecue-style. Probably the most popular restaurant in all of Ames. The establishment doesn't serve up anything fancy, just good ol' fashioned sandwiches, cuts of meat, and sides. They are known for their incredible array of ice cream toppings and flavors. You can get a meal and dessert for a bit over $10.
- Battle's BBQ, Welch Ave. KC Barbecue--the best in town.
- Santa Fe Espresso, Welch Ave. Coffee, pastries.
- The Spice, excellent Thai cuisine. The establishment has elegant decor.
- Jimmy John's Sandwiches, Welch Ave. Great sandwiches.
- Pita Pita, Lincoln Avenue, just past Welch Avenue. Five bucks gets you a massive pita stuffed with freshly-sauteed lamb, chicken, or falafel; your choice of toppings from an extensive salad bar; and a drink. Don't miss the home-made baklava.
- If it's outdoor grill season, stop by the Iowa State Meats Lab and pick up some cuts.
- Flying Burrito, Lincoln Way (west Ames). Freshly made, HUGE burrito's!
- La Fuente, South Duff. Mexican food and drink. Advertised as the people's favorite Mexican restaurant.
- Old Chicago, South Duff. Chain with pizza buffet and good salads.
- Dublin Bay, West of South Duff on 16th. Irish food, sandwiches and drinks.
The college club scene is served by an ever-shifting array of bars and clubs in Campustown.
- Welch Avenue Station. This bar on Welch Ave is one of the longest-standing bars in town. The atmosphere is more traditional than the more "hip" and "modern" bars around town. Although WAS does provide regular bar food as well as pizza from the Pizza Pit upstairs.
- Mickey's and Paddy's provide a more frat-bar scene with mostly standing room only (on the weekends) and loud music. Although Mickey's has a dance floor in the basment, these two bars are not considered clubs, as the focus is not much on dancing.
- Sips and Element are the dance clubs, enjoying mostly business form patrons looking to dance or meet other singles.
- Estas,People's, and Cy's Roost are other other popular bars located right on Campus.
Paddy's--Laid back dive bar. Best in Ames. Two-Fers on Tuesday nights and Dollar Burgers on Wednesdays.
Whiskey River- The Best Main Street Dive bar in town. it's away from campus and lots of fun.
- Hotel at Gateway Center, off Elwood Drive, south of U.S. Highway 30.
- Memorial Union, Union Drive, ISU campus.
- Microtel Inn & Suites, 2216 SE 16th Street, +1 515-233-4444, . Free local and free long distance calls in the continental United States, and free wireless high-speed Internet access in every, advance online check-in and check-out with unlimited access to online folio information. Other amenities including remote TV with ESPN, CNN and one movie channel and complimentary continental breakfast.
- Other lodging is located near the northwest portion of the I-35 and U.S. Highway 30 interchange (exit 111) and near exit 113 along 13th Street near I-35.
- Story City. About a 15 minute drive north of Ames on I-35 or U.S. Highway 69 to see their antique carousel.
- See the corn maze in the summer just east of Ames, between Ames and Nevada, Iowa on U.S. Highway 30.