Insider’s Family Guide: Cedar Rapids

Here are three things you should know about Cedar Rapids…

1. Cedar Rapids just happens to be Iowa’s second largest city.

2. Cedar Rapids is just about a four-hour drive from Omaha.

3. Cedar Rapids also happens to hold big fun for families visiting the area!

Editor’s note: This is an occasional series presenting an insider’s guide to their hometowns – what to see, where to eat and where to stay.

UPDATE: This post was updated in June 2020 to reflect closures..

If you are looking for a great family weekend trip this summer, head east on Interstate 80 for Cedar Rapids. You won’t have to fight the traffic and crowds of bigger Midwestern cities, but you can still soak up all the fun and culture of a more metropolitan area. Plus, as you’ll see, there are lots of tasty places to eat!

I can’t wait for you to visit my hometown! Here’s what my family recommends while you are in Cedar Rapids.

Cedar Rapids Amphitheatre. Photo courtesy Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
Cedar Rapids Amphitheatre. Photo courtesy Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Things to do in Cedar Rapids

A trip to Cedar Rapids wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Brucemore —a National Historic Trust Site in the middle of the city. It has been described as Downton Abbey meets Woodstock! They offer tours of the historic mansion (that your kids will truly find interesting) and the grounds play host to a wide variety of programs—everything from hot air balloon glows to children’s theatre productions — especially in warm weather months.

Be sure to take some time to explore the 26 acres and check for turtles in the pond. Open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday 12 to 3 p.m., mansion tours are $7 for adults and $3 for kids.

The Cedar Rapids Science Center is a great place for your budding scientist or engineer to explore. The gallery is filled with lots of hands-on activity centers (and a huge bin of LEGOs), plus they often offer fascinating educational programs. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and 12 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, $4.

You wouldn’t necessarily think of a library as a stop on a family vacation (or if you do I’d love to travel with you!) but here in Cedar Rapids we’ve got a brand new library that is truly one-of-a-kind.

The Cedar Rapids Public Library downtown opened about a year ago. The children’s section is not only stocked with books and movies, but there’s also a puppet theater, interactive computer games and lots of hands-on fun. Plus there’s a “living learning” green roof to explore.

For a big dose of outdoor fun, stop at Wickiup Hill Learning Center located just north of town. You can explore the marsh or hike through the prairie and woodlands. Be sure to stop inside the lodge building to check out Oliver & Ava’s River Raft Adventure Exhibit. Open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Free

Additional family adventure spots include the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art (home to the world’s largest collection of works by American Gothic artist Grant Wood), the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library (where you can not only get a dose of culture, but also wander around the shops in the Czech Village), and Cedar Rapids Kernels Baseball (where there’s always a “party at the park”).

The Brucemore Mansion is a National Historic Trust Site in the middle of the city. They offer tours of the historic mansion - be sure to take some time to explore the 26 acres and check for turtles in the pond. Photo courtesy Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
The Brucemore Mansion is a National Historic Trust Site in the middle of the city. They offer tours of the historic mansion – be sure to take some time to explore the 26 acres and check for turtles in the pond. Photo courtesy Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Where to eat in Cedar Rapids

If you are looking to fuel up the family before the day’s adventures, pop in to American Skillet located on the city’s northwest side. They do a great traditional breakfast (the omelets and skillet creations are great) and their “fruit and fiber pancakes” are pretty hard to pass up. If you are looking to grab something light and a cup of coffee stop by The Blue Strawberry in downtown.

The Flying Wienie makes for a great lunch stop. Just look for the big yellow airplane perched on top of a building. They serve great hot dogs, of course!

The NewBo City Market is a can’t miss destination, especially when you are hungry! There’s everything from wood fired pizza and authentic Mexican to saucy focaccia sandwiches and delectable cupcakes. Do yourself a favor and don’t miss out on the sea salt caramel ice cream in a pretzel cone at Nelson’s Ice Cream.

When looking for a spot for dinner with the kids there are tons of tasty options. The Irish Democrat is a locally notable neighborhood bar and grill with a great menu — including some of the best chicken fingers and wontons this side of Iowa.

The Flying Wienie makes for a great lunch stop in Cedar Rapids. Photo courtesy Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
The Flying Wienie makes for a great lunch stop in Cedar Rapids. Photo courtesy Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Where to stay in Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids is more spread out then you would guess. If you are looking to stay downtown close to a lot of attractions, check into the DoubleTree by Hilton Cedar Rapids.

It’s a renovated hotel with great accommodations—and cool artwork throughout the building. The kids will also love the panoramic views from 350 First — the hotel restaurant — on the top floor. Plus they give out delicious chocolate chip cookies when you check-in!

If you don’t mind driving around town to your destinations, a stay at the Cedar Rapids Marriott would be ideal. It has a lovely atrium and an indoor pool to keep your little fish happy. Plus it’s right across the street from Noelridge Park and one of the prettiest flower gardens in the city.

– Katie Mills Giorgio is a freelance writer and aspiring children’s book author living, writing and raising kids in her hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. You can find her online at http://katiemillsgiorgio.wordpress.com/.

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