Why It's a Great Place to Go to College: Ames is home to Iowa State University, a beautiful 1,900-acre campus that serves more than 36,000 students. In 1862, the university became the nation’s first land-grant institution, a new federal initiative that sought to make higher education easily accessible, practical and open to everyone. You’ll find that same spirit remains at Iowa State University today, where students and faculty lead in science, technology, agriculture and veterinary medicine.
Why It's a Great Place to Live (Even If You're Not a Student): Ames is not only ridiculously charming; it has a little something for everyone. There’s the Octagon Center for the Arts, a downtown community art center that hosts classes, workshops, exhibits and events. There are 55 miles of bike trails, 36 parks and tons of athletic facilities and local sports groups, including tennis, golf, swimming and running. For music-lovers, there’s the Central Iowa Symphony and for plant-lovers, there’s the Iowa Arboretum. Plus, Ames’ downtown is listed on the National Register of Historical Places and has tons of cute, locally owned shops and restaurants, earning it a spot on our 2018 Top 100 Best Places to Live list.
What Sets It Apart From Other College Towns: Located in central Iowa — literally the heart of America — Ames feels like a quintessential Midwestern town with a super high quality of life. Its population of roughly 65,000 people makes it a family-friendly, mid-sized city that’s easy to navigate and has a true sense of community.
Iconic Pizza Place: The Great Plains Sauce & Dough Company
Brunch Spot: The Cafe
Tailgating Must-Have: Apart from the classic Cyclone themed cornhole boards, cardinal and gold bib overalls let fans cheer on the Cyclones in style.
Shopping Street: Main Street
Best Local Hangover Cure: A spicy bloody mary (or three) at Cafe Beaudelaire.
Best Place to Grab a Cheap Beer: Welch Ave Station
Local Dream Job: Butterfly curator at the university’s Reiman Gardens, where more than 800 butterflies flutter around the garden’s dedicated, 2,500-square-foot butterfly wing.