Last Updated on August 10, 2023
Grinnell is located just off the I-80 in Iowa, an hour away from Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City! It’s a little college town and I spent a couple of days exploring, just before school was ‘back in season’! Here are my top 10 things to do in Grinnell Iowa!
Disclosure: My stay was hosted by the Hotel Grinnell but as always opinions are 100% my own! Please check direct with businesses mentioned for up to date opening hours and prices. This post contains affiliate links. For more information visit my Privacy & Disclosure Policy.
Updated: April 2021
Things To Do In Grinnell Iowa
1. Stay in a school themed hotel in an old converted school!
🗺925 Park St, Grinnell, IA 50112, United States
My whole reason for visiting Grinnell was to stay at the Hotel Grinnell. The building used to be an old high school that dates back to the 1920’s. It has since been converted into a hotel and events venue, which still celebrates the former life of the building!
I love all the little touches, from the chalkboards in every room, to the comfy beds and large windows. The old school auditorium is now a theatre and the school gymnasium is a ballroom. A light breakfast is included in the room rate, as well as use of complimentary bikes, a small on-site gym and several other in room amenities such as yoga mats and board games!
You can read my full review of the hotel here: Hotel Grinnell Iowa Review: A Cool Stay In A Converted High School!
2. Experiment with cocktail flavours at the Periodic Table!
Periodic Table Bar and Eatery
The Periodic Table Bar and Eatery is attached to the Hotel Grinnell. However non guests are still able to dine there in the evenings! There is a large outdoor seating area with fire pits. And inside you’ll find the old school sports scoreboard hanging on the wall (and yes, it still works!).
They have a small food menu, mainly ‘bowls’ and flat bread pizzas. But the cocktail menu is what makes it pretty cool! The majority of cocktails on the menu are listed as ‘mocktails’, so they have no alcohol in and are suitable for everyone. However you then have the option to upgrade and ‘boozify’ the drink! Several different alcohols are listed that work well with the flavours and you can pick the one you want and experiment!
I had the ‘Bee Garden’ cocktail that was one of the few ‘ready made’ alcoholic cocktails…check out the ingredients: creme de violette, genepy, luxardo, ginger honey, egg white and rosemary. I had it minus the egg white and it was yummy!
3. Cycle around town
As mentioned above, guests of the Hotel Grinnell can enjoy complimentary use of bicycles. However the bikes were provided by Bikes To You, a company just around the corner from the hotel! If you don’t have your own bike, or are travelling, you can rent a bike from Bikes To You, they have several different rental options from half day to full day, weekend rentals and more! The cruiser bikes are really comfortable and have big seats so you don’t get a sore butt!
There are several cycle routes around town, mainly along the main roads (with a few ‘off road routes’). The roads are fairly empty and wide, so I felt perfectly safe. My biggest concern was that 8th Avenue, an actual bike route, had quite big sloping drains along the side of the road. So don’t ride too close to the curb along that route, unless you want the bike to be swallowed up by giant holes!
4. Go for a swim!
Grinnell Mutual Family Aquatic Center
🗺120 8th Ave W, Grinnell, IA 50112, United States
Unfortunately the Grinnell Mutual Family Aquatic Center is a seasonal pool. Well for good reason I guess as it is outdoors! However, like the bikes, guests of the Hotel Grinnell receive complimentary entrance to the pool while it’s in operation! It’s a great pool and was a very popular thing to do in Grinnell during my visit! There are lots of sun loungers and a small concession stand. You could easily spend a large portion of the day just chilling out here!
My biggest number 1 PLUS and must have for a pool, especially an outdoor one, is that the water was warm! During main opening hours, there is:
- a main pool with 2 adult lap lanes constantly roped off (which is great and where I spent most of my time)
- 2 diving boards
- a shallow kids pool with small slides and water features
- a large drop slide (awesome, but you can feel every joint on the slide with your back!)
- a 2nd slide which uses inflatable tubes
- a lazy river
The last 2 were closed during my visit though!
Outside of the main ‘family swim’ hours, the lazy river is open for water walking against the current, which I thought was a great idea. Several locals I met told me that they like to do this!
5. Treat yourself to a massage
Massage By Kelsey S
🗺818 5th Ave, Grinnell, IA 50112, United States
There’s nothing I love more than treating myself to a massage when I travel! Massage by Kelsey S is a great massage service in Grinnell and I was very impressed. The salon is small, very relaxing and Kelsey locks the door during massages so there’s no interruptions from people coming in off the streets.
I had a 40 minute massage which focused on back, neck and shoulders, legs, arms and hands. Like all good massage therapists, she asks if there are any particular areas that need working on and the type of pressure you like (deep tissue or relaxation etc). I love the hot towels too, which are hot but not burning hot…so it’s like a warm hug haha!
6. Donuts donuts DONUTS!
Grin City Bakery
🗺934 Main St, Grinnell, IA 50112, United States
Another cool business is the Grin City Bakery that make donuts and goodies fresh every Friday and Saturday morning. They open at 7am and stay open until they’ve sold out (often before noon)! Everything is very reasonably priced.
I was drawn to of course the biggest thing for sale, and strangely enough I was intrigued because it looked like a cow poo, the Fritters. I wasn’t too sure what they were and the guy said it’s a mash up of all the left over donut dough, mixed with apple, deep fried and glazed. It was amazing.
7. Check out of the architecture of the Merchant National Bank
Louis Sullivan ‘Jewel Box’ Bank
🗺833 4th Ave, Grinnell, IA 50112, United States
It’s a pretty fancy building built in 1914 which was a bank up until 1999. It is currently home to the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce. It was designed by Louis Sullivan, an architecture and designer who Frank Lloyd Wright once upon a time worked for!
8. Go and see the Dinosaur mural!
🗺817 Commercial St, Grinnell, IA 50112, United States
I love street art and the Dino mural is a brightly coloured piece that will put a smile on your face! I did find it a little tricky to find, it’s on the backside of a building in an area with lots of private parking. At the bottom of the mural is a fun ‘Reserved Parking’ sign that says ‘Violators will be towed or eaten’ with a picture of a dinosaur and a car!
9. Stroll around Downtown
The Grinnell downtown area is very walkable, with lots of interesting architecture. The Strand movie theatre is another historic building, opening in the early 1900’s and still in operation today.
Central Park is a nice open space with a splash pad and play equipment for children. A farmers market is held on Thursdays and Saturdays and the band stand has various events including free yoga sessions.
The Drake Community Library sometimes holds free exhibits that are free to go and look at. The Grinnell College Museum of Art is also nearby.
10. Arbor Lake Park
On my way out of Grinnell, heading back towards the I-80, I passed a sign for the Arbor Lake City Park so decided to swing in and check it out! You’ll find:
- a large lake for fishing and canoeing
- a walking/cycling trail
- a shelter with toilet facilities
- 2 car parks
- a playground
- plenty of open spaces
- drinking fountains