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Why Cedar Valley, IA is a Great Place to Live 

The fun is never done in Cedar Valley; here are some of the shopping and socializing high points.

By Amy Antonation on November 11, 2022

Woman browses at a local boutique in the Cedar Falls area.
Courtesy Cedar Falls

The retailers and restaurateurs of the Cedar Valley are a diverse bunch. You can find an upscale sports bar, an experimental brewery and a bookseller building a community hub — all along the banks of the Cedar River.

This region’s spirit makes having fun look easy. Looking for where to hang out during the day – and night? Here are some places to explore.

Owner of Soul Book Nook, Amber Collins, stands in front of the counter with books in the background. The bookstore is located in the Cedar Valley region of Iowa.
Experience Waterloo

Retail Therapy

Start your shopping spree in Waterloo at Soul Book Nook bookstore. Owner Amber Collins grew up splitting her time between Waterloo, where she lived with her grandparents and traveling the world with her mother, from whom she acquired her lifelong love of books.

In September 2020, Collins says she opened the bookstore “to provide a sense of self, safety and security in our community.” Her goal: to create a safe place that brings together people — regardless of ethnicity or politics.

Two years later, she says it’s been a great success. The shop’s windows entice with colorful BIPOC-centric publications, though Collins welcomes any and all book lovers to enjoy the shop’s wide selection and cushy armchairs. 

Cyclists ride through Anton's Garden Biergarten in downtown Waterloo, Iowa.
Jeff Adkins

Across the street is shady Newton Park. Anton’s Garden, a German-style beer garden, pops up there in summer months and is the perfect spot to enjoy a brew with a new book. Just over the Cedar River is Pretty Good Co., a custom antique printing press offering adorable greeting cards, fun printmaking and craft workshops.

Check out the Barn Happy store in Cedar Falls for a taste of Iowa’s agricultural roots. The refurbished dairy barn now sells local honey, flowers, organic produce and Iowa-themed gifts. In a similar setting in Grundy Center, Red’s Barn sells home goods from local vendors.

Those looking to take advantage of Iowa’s great outdoors can venture a bit further north to Waverly’s CrawDaddy Outdoors, a three-story outfitter offering one of the state’s largest selections of kayaks, climbing and camping gear.

Food for Thought

After a day of shopping, you’ll need sustenance, and the region offers a bevy of dining options at all price points.

El Patron Mexican Restaurant in downtown Waterloo turns out colorful margaritas and trendy birria tacos in a family environment. Just half a mile away, event venue Cappella Magna — the only replica of the Sistine Chapel ceiling in the world — offers a high-end experience with six- to eight-course tasting menus.

Fast casual joint Greenhouse Kitchen serves up salads, wraps, and rice and poke bowls at locations in both Waterloo and Cedar Falls. Other dining options in the Cedar Valley that locals rave about include Rancho Viejo Mexican Restaurant, The Pub at the Pinicon and Klunder’s Kafe.

Women enjoy cocktails on the patio at the Brass Tap in the Cedar Valley region of Iowa.
Jonathan David Sabin

Raise a Glass

A variety of taverns line Cedar Falls’ charming Main Street. Double Tap Beercade serves up nostalgic fun with nearly 40 arcade and pinball machines, and beer lovers will find a sudsy soulmate among the over 30 craft beers at The Brass Tap. For a view, Bremer Brewing Company in Waverly overlooks the 338-milelong Cedar River.

Locavores won’t want to miss SingleSpeed Brewing Co., a Cedar Valley original with taprooms in both Cedar Falls and Waterloo. The brewery’s Waterloo location is inside a refurbished Wonder Bread factory built in 1927. There’s nothing white bread about SingleSpeed’s beer, though. Its lineup includes classic pilsners, stouts and IPAs, plus experimental and sour brews.

A family plays old school arcade games at Double Tap Beercade Cedar Falls, which is located in the Cedar Valley region of Iowa.
Double Tap Beercade Cedar Falls

New to the region’s restaurant scene is Denali’s on the River, which opened in the former Okoboji Grill at River Ridge Golf Course in Independence.

Owner Brad Knepper has made extensive renovations to the restaurant, including replacing frosted-glass windows with clear windows to offer views of the Wapsipinicon River. In addition, a dock and walk-to-service boaters have been added as well as a pick-up window to serve golfers more quickly.

According to an article by John Klotzbach in the Independence Bulletin Journal, Knepper’s wants to create an “upscale sports bar, but with ‘local’ pricing.”  

The name Denali’s on the River is a tribute to Knepper’s brother, Mark, who passed away in November 2019. Mark Knepper had a chocolate Labrador retriever named Denali.

If you’d like to learn more about the Cedar Valley area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Cedar Valley, Iowa

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