July 17, 2019

5 Things To Help You Pick Where To Stay In Okoboji

If you’re planning a trip to Okoboji, Iowa, you’re most likely in need of a hotel or other type of accommodations for your family. Okoboji is not a one-day kind of region to visit. We spent three days exploring the area and still didn’t get to a few places on our list. This guide should help you narrow down where you’ll want to stay during your trip to Okoboji!

Disclosure: We were hosted by Vacation Okoboji, which provided some complimentary experiences and hotel stays. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

With several lakes and towns making up the Lake Okoboji region, it's hard to figure out where to stay in Okoboji. Here's a guide to help you figure out the best hotel, resort or other lodging option for your family. #Iowa. #Guide #LakeOkoboji #FamilyTravel.

Where do you want to stay in Okoboji – near the action or away from it?

When I write about Okoboji, I’m referring to a region of Iowa’s Great Lakes, and not just the town of Okoboji. With several lakes (West Okoboji, East Okoboji, Upper Gar, Lower Gar, Minnewashta and Spirit Lake), you can easily find a location that suits your preference of being near the action or away from it.

A lot of restaurants and attractions my family visited during our weekend in Okoboji were near Arnolds Park and Okoboji. I would recommend looking for lodging near those two cities if you want to be near shops, Arnolds Park Amusement Park, beaches, and a ton of restaurants.

The downside to being in Arnolds Park and Okoboji is that you will encounter significantly more traffic and noise.

If that’s not what you’re looking for, consider staying further from the center of activity on the western side of the lakes, like Wahpeton or West Okoboji.

Where to stay in Okoboji - There are a variety of lakefront hotels throughout the region,  including Crescent Beach Family Resort.

Our resort, Crescent Beach Family Resort, was in Milford (near Wahpeton), which was a quiet region that was still less than 10 miles from all attractions. It’s near Gulf Point State Park.

The downside to Crescent Beach’s location was there weren’t a lot of dining options nearby for a quick bite to eat. The upside (if you’re into doing so while on vacation) was that our suite had its own kitchen to prepare meals.

Is lakeside lodging important to you?

Of course the lakes are a big for vacationers in Okoboji! You’ll find more than 20 hotels, campsites and resorts that are lakeside.

If you are on a budget, look “inland” for accommodations. The perk with these inland hotels will be that you’re more likely to find a pool there, which for traveling families, is almost a required amenity.

Paddlers paddling near lakeside hotels and vacation homes in the Iowa Great Lakes Region of Okoboji.

There are also cabins, bed & breakfasts, and camping options.

What amenities do you want in your Okoboji hotel?

While typically when traveling with two kids, I just need a place with enough beds and a pool. In Okoboji, the pool was not necessary since we had beaches at our disposal.

What are you looking for in a beach vacation hotel? Okoboji accommodations range from bare minimum motels to spacious resorts that include use of watercraft into their price.

The two-floor, lakeside suite at Crescent Beach Family Resort is one style of lodging option found in Okoboji, Iowa.

Crescent Beach Family Resort is a mid-range resort that offered regular rooms and suites. We stayed in a two-floor suite with lake views, a kitchen, and two bathrooms. It’s ideal for families.

Beyond the amenities in the room, the resort offered free use of kayaks, SUP boards, paddle boats and putters for its mini golf course.

Plus, it had a large playground, fire put, on-site bar and restaurant, and a complimentary continental breakfast.

If that type of resort appeals to you, check out the options for the region at Vacation Okoboji. You’ll find there’s everything from a resort with an indoor waterpark, plus lakeside resorts with pools, hot tubs, and some in-suite jacuzzis.

Are you looking for a kid-friendly resort or hotel?

Okoboji is an incredibly kid-friendly destination. Most Okoboji hotels will be suitable for families, and some have suites available.

At the Crescent Beach Family Resort, you’ll notice right away that they cater to families – the big playground gives it away.

Crescent Beach Family Resort in Milford, Iowa has a large playground and faces West Lake Okoboji.

However, it’s the more subtle amenities that reaffirms its family-friendly atmosphere. They provide kid-sized life jackets when guests check out a watercraft.

Crescent Beach also has a big box of beach toys on the sandy beach. Since I didn’t pack buckets or shovels for the kids for our trip, it was a particularly great find for us.

My daughter spent every chance she had on the beach, digging through the sand and wading into the cool water (it was late May and the water hadn’t warmed much).

If you’re looking for a kid-free getaway, consider staying at a bed & breakfast, which typically cater more to couples and adults looking to stay somewhere quieter.

Do you need an Okoboji rental or hotel large enough for a group?

I think Okoboji would be a great family reunion destination – it’s affordable, it has both indoor and outdoor activities, and it’s in the center of the U.S.

Many resorts are large enough to have rooms or suites for families.

There was a family reunion staying at the Crescent Beach, while we were there. The family had rooms at this resort and met nightly on grassy lawn for a cookout and games.

Crescent Beach Family Resort is an Okoboji resort that can accommodate a large group gathering, including a family reunion.

Crescent Beach does have larger suites and cottages, including one that sleeps 12. You can see in the picture above that the cottage is in the background.

Do your research to find accommodations that suit your group’s needs. If you like the idea of everyone staying in one big home, there are Airbnb options that accommodate 20-30 people.

Start looking for Okoboji hotels

Hopefully, you have an idea of what you’re looking for now and are ready to start planning your trip to Lake Okoboji! Here’s where to find the best lodging for you:

Okoboji Hotels, Motels & Resorts

Lakefront Lodging Options

Cottages & Cabins

Bed & Breakfasts

Campgrounds

Lake Okoboji is a popular destination in Iowa for summer vacation consisting of several lakes and towns. Here's how to find a hotel that's best for you - from determining if you want to be near all the attractions, do you want lake views, and if you need a hotel that's kid-friendly. #Iowa #FamilyTravel #VacationOkoboji

Plan your Lake Okoboji trip

Want to plan an Okoboji trip for your family? Start with this guide to Okoboji in the summer (with kids) and get more inspiration from my Iowa Bucket List.

Once you’re thoroughly inspired, check out these posts that go into more details about things to do in Okoboji:

Best Okoboji Restaurants For Families

Everything You Need To Know About Arnolds Park

The view from Crescent Beach Family Resort facing West Okoboji Lake in north Iowa.

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June 26, 2019

Everything You Need To Know About Arnolds Park

Arnolds Park Amusement Park is a nostalgic gem in the heart of Iowa. This historic attraction has played a lead role in memories for many people in Iowa and Nebraska who’ve vacationed in Okoboji. I’ve never been until I became a parent, but now I can finally check it off my list.

Headed to Okoboji? A visit to the Great Lakes of Iowa isn't complete without a day at Arnolds Park Amusement Park. Here's everything you need to know to plan a visit  - prices, best time to visit, and the best tips. #guide #Okoboji #iowa #thisisiowa

Want to plan a visit with your family? Read on for my tips on the park, plus all the important things you need to know about Arnolds Park should you be planning your first visit.

Disclosure: My visit was hosted by Vacation Okoboji and I received complimentary passes. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

What is Arnolds Park?

First off, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about Arnolds Park. There is the town of Arnolds Park in north central Iowa and then there’s Arnolds Park Amusement Park. The amusement park is commonly referred to as Arnolds Park, though.

Things to know about Arnolds Park Amusement Park in Iowa, USA - It's home to the 7th oldest wooden roller coaster in the U.S.

The amusement park dates back to its first water slide into West Lake Okoboji in 1889. Its most famous ride, the wooden roller coaster called The Legend, opened in 1930. Still in operation, it’s the seventh oldest wooden roller coast in the U.S. and the 13th oldest in the world.

Today, there are about 24 rides and attractions at Arnolds Park Amusement Park. It’s on the small end of amusement parks but I think that’s what adds to the charm. You’re not exhausted by the visit.

Plus, it’s FREE! Well, technically it’s free, but if you want to ride any rides, you’ll need to get a wristband. More on that below.

Hidden gems of Arnold Park

My kids will tell you everything is a gem there. However, there are some hidden gems you should seek out during your visit.

Right outside the amusement park and right in front of a line of souvenir shops, you’ll find Harmony Park. The park has several musical instruments to play.

Things to do near Arnolds Park Amusement Park - Play the instruments at Harmony Park. It's a free park right next to the amusement park!

If your child has sensory overload from all the rides, this is a nice place to sit and chill out. It’s rather calming to play the xylophone and bells.

You may have seen pictures of the huge Arnolds Park slide. My husband remembers the slide from his childhood. It’s no longer in the amusement park itself, but you can find it nearby.

Historic Arnolds Park wooden slide - The slide is found inside Arnolds Park Museum located near Arnolds Park Amusement Park.

The slide is located inside the Arnolds Park Museum (which I found by going through the Maritime Museum). Because we had day passes to the amusement park, we could ride the slide as much as we wanted.

Both museums are interesting to wander around, but good luck doing that with young kids. Most will be more interested in the slide or going back to the amusement park.

What’s the best age to go to Arnolds Park Amusement Park?

When I visited, my kids were ages 7 and 9 and that was, in my view, the start of ideal ages to go. They were tall enough to go on all of the rides, including the thrill rides.

The height requirement for a few was 48 inches to ride alone. The Legend being the only one that required a ride be 48 inches to ride with or without an adults. My youngest only needed me to ride with her on the bumper cars since she wasn’t tall enough to drive.

Roll-O-Plane thrill ride at Arnolds Park Amusement Park near West Okoboji Lake in Iowa

And they were small enough to not feel too self-conscious if they wanted to go on kiddie rides. It was perfect!

If your children are younger than grade school age, there are fewer rides for them. But, you don’t want to skip some of the non-ride attractions like the Mirror Maze and the Tipsy House.

Tip: For the best views of the West Okoboji Lake, ride either the Ferris wheel or The Legend.

Arnolds Park hours and prices

Being an amusement park in the Midwest, you can imagine that Arnolds Park operates seasonally. Arnolds Park opens in mid-May through September.

The hours vary, with the peek operating hours being in June and July. Starting the Friday before Memorial Day, the park starts opening daily at 10 a.m. The closing time varies between 7 to 10 p.m. Check the calendar to plan your visit.

If you want a tip about timing the visit, let me tell you, we went on the Sunday before Memorial Day and it was great! The summer crowds hadn’t arrived yet, so we had minimal waits for rides.

In fact, for my kids’ two favorite rides, The Legend and the Rock-O-Plane, they were able to stay seated and ride a few times before having to exit.

Rock-O-Plane at Arnolds Park - One of the popular thrill rides at the Okoboji amusement park in Iowa

Like most summer tourist attractions, weekends are going to busier than weekdays.

Admission is offered by day pass and season memberships. Day passes are $29.95 if purchased online and two-day passes are $49.95.

Tip: The Sunset Pass is only $24.95 and is good for rides during the last two hours of the day.

You can choose to get some add-ons to your day pass, such adding a ride on the Queen II boat or get the Ultimate Pass that includes a $10 food voucher and $20 in game tickets.

Tip: From experience, the Queen II boat ride is tough for young kids to sit through. The excitement dies down after 3 minutes and then you have about 57 minutes to spend trying to entertain them.

Tip: Not totally unrelated to the previous tip…the Queen II does have a bar. For the kids. I mean, you can get soda and popcorn or candy for the kids. And maybe something for yourself.

The only thing not included with the day pass or membership are the Raceway rides on the Family Track and Slick Track. The Family Track requires riders to be age 9 and older. The Slick Track has the height minimum of 54 inches tall.

Also, if you don’t have a season pass or a day pass, the slide at the Arnolds Park Museum is $1 per ride.

Food at Arnolds Park

Expect to find the typical amusement park concessions at Arnolds Park Amusement Park. Food available includes hamburgers, hot dogs, and popcorn.

Food in Arnolds Park - The iconic Nutty Bar Ice Cream shop is within walking distance of Arnolds Park Amusement Park.

Since you can come and go from Arnolds Park Amusement Park whenever you feel like it, there is the option to leave the park. We left twice during our day there to get food.

Tip: I recommend getting ice cream at Nutty Bar, an iconic ice cream stand located across the street from Arnolds Park Amusement Park.

Arnolds Park events

My visit was a bit early for all the summer events Arnolds Park Amusement Park has each year, but you can plan your vacation to coincide with some great (and sometimes free) events!

Ferris wheel at Arnolds Park Amusement Park - For a good view of West Okoboji Lake and all the happenings at the amusement park, take a ride on this ride.

Among the events are:

Live at the Lake: A free concert series at Arnolds Park Amusement Park. These are held on select weekend nights all summer long. Concerts start at 7:30 p.m. at Preservation Plaza.

Jazzed Up Big Band: Tuesdays from mid-June to mid-August are nights for swing music at Arnolds Park. Music is performed by a 16-piece band.

Movies at the Park: Every Wednesday night is a different free, family-friendly movie screening. They start at sunset at Preservation Plaza.

Rock The Roof: Thursday nights are set aside for music and dancing, starting at 6 p.m. Cost is $8 or $15 per couple. Season passes are available.

Roof Garden Concert Series: This is a ticketed concert series held inside the iconic Roof Garden concert venue. Concert dates, start times and ticket prices vary.

Guide to planning a family vacation to Arnolds Park, a historic amusement park in Iowa. Get all the details on rides, food, prices and the best time to visit. #Guide #Okoboji #Iowa

Plan your Okoboji trip

Want to plan an Okoboji trip for your family? Start with this guide to Okoboji in the summer (with kids) and get more inspiration from my Iowa Bucket List.

Coming soon! I’ll go into details of some of our favorite things in Okoboji in these posts:

Best Okoboji Restaurants For Families

Where to stay lakeside in Okoboji

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June 17, 2019

Best Okoboji Restaurants For Families

We recently spent a three-day weekend in Okoboji in northern Iowa that draws a lot of vacationing families because of the lakes. There were some hits and some misses. Here are some of my family’s favorite Okoboji restaurants that I’d recommend if you have kids in your group.

Headed to Okoboji for a family vacation? Here are some of the best restaurants in Okoboji for families to visit while you're there! Get tips on where to go in Okoboji for breakfast, lunch, dinner and ice cream treats. #Iowa #Okoboji #Guide #FamilyTravel

Disclosure: We were hosted by Vacation Okoboji. Some meals were complimentary; some we paid for ourselves.

Best Okoboji restaurants for families for breakfast

Arnolds Perk was my favorite, just because the coffee was so good, and the power breakfast sandwich was filling and delicious.

Where to eat in Okoboji - Arnolds Perk is a family-friendly coffee shop. The decor inside is colorful and comfortable.

I rarely go to a restaurant twice on a trip, but we visited Arnolds Perk twice in three days. It’s just a charming place to sit and relax.

We also had breakfast at the well-known diner O’Farrell Sisters. We got there right before the rush (so, 9 a.m. on a Saturday). Parking wasn’t great, so I imagine finding a spot once a lot of people are there is difficult.

The Friends with Benedicts selection were great (and funny), and I tried the Cake Bene (which included the restaurant’s famous pancake).

Popular restaurants in Okoboji - O'Farrell Sisters is a long-time favorite of breakfast in Okoboji. Expect a wait if you arrive after 9 a.m.

The pancakes are pretty good. They also have “famous cinnamon rolls,” so we split one between the four of us. (Yes, I’m a sucker for items on menus listed as “famous”).

By the way, this place apparently delicious pie that I forgot to order to go. People in the know tell me I could’ve eaten said pie at breakfast and not been judged, but I feel like we indulged plenty already with the pancake benedict and cinnamon roll.

Lunch restaurants in Okoboji

Most of the restaurants in this post could easily be the go-to for lunch. But there’s only one restaurant that stands out for lunch not only for food but for the most pleasant service: Tweeter’s.

Okoboji restaurants for families - Tweeter's is a comfortable restaurant with a kid's menu and tasty dessert.

I ordered a salad at Tweeter’s because I knew I’d want dessert (grasshopper pie, please). A lot of people were ordering taco salads, but I just stuck to a simple Caesar salad. The garlic bread served with it was delicious.

FYI: The kid’s meals come with a chocolate or strawberry sundae.

We also had lunch outside Arnolds Park Amusement Park at the popular Bob’s in Arnolds Park. The view was perfect.

I wish I could say that it was a great lunch, we ordered Bob Dogs and chips thinking that’d be quick. They’re hot dogs.

For whatever reason, the wait was about 45 minutes. The kids were able to play at the beach, at least.

Bob's in Arnolds Park overlooks a beach in Okoboji, making the wait for lunch more manageable.

Tip: They’re known for their Bob Dog, which is just a hot dog. But, if you get one with “everything,” it’s topped with loose meat, onions, ketchup and mustard.

While we didn’t eat at Barefoot Bar, I’d say it’s pretty kid-friendly. This famous spot on the lake is the famously “no shoes, no shirt, no problem” kind of place.

It’s a little confusing ordering at Barefoot Bar, as you can get your drink order taken at the table, but for food, you’ll need to go to the counter. There are a couple counters.

Lakefront Restaurant in Okoboji - Barefoot Bar is a popular restaurant on the lake. Kids enjoy the slide that dumps kids into the lake.

I loved the atmosphere, with the tiki huts, live music and palm trees, but was a little peeved that they’d charge for water. I can only imagine how hot it gets in the middle of summer.

This is the place that has the slide into the lake. Kids were drawn to it like moths to a light, even though the water temperature was cold.

Best restaurants in Okoboji for dinner

The best pizza we had was the BBQ Chicken at Pub 19 Bar & Grill, a restaurant situated on a golf course. We went on a particularly busy Friday night, so the wait was long. We waited on the patio and enjoyed the view, at least.

Restaurants in Okoboji - Pub 19 Bar & Grill is located on a golf course. They're pizza is great, making it a nice place to go with kids.

One night, we had dinner at Snappers Turtle Bay Café, which was a short walk from Barefoot Bar. This fairly new restaurant was pretty casual with yard games to keep the kids busy while waiting.

We had to stalk tables to get one in the sun by the water. For whatever reason, we got a table quickly but the wait for food was long.

Okoboji Store is one restaurant we really want to go to, but didn’t carve out time. It’s another one of those waterfront popular spots, with live music. I guess we’re saving it for next time.  

Finding ice cream in Okoboji

There are surprisingly few places to get ice cream or treats in Okoboji, at least in the areas we visited. Nutty Bar is pretty iconic for the area, so we had some Nutty Bars during a break from Arnolds Park Amusement Park. It’s right outside the front of the park. Service was quick.

Where to get ice cream in Okoboji - Nutty Bar is a long-running ice cream shop near Arnolds Park Amusement Park in Okoboji.

A Nutty Bar is pretty much a cube of vanilla ice cream, dipped in chocolate and rolled in peanuts. You can get cones there, as well.

Family-friendly places in Okoboji to enjoy local beer

I love trying local beers and wine while on vacation (responsibly). Throughout the weekend, I enjoyed trying various West O Beers. You can visit the brewery, which is located in Milford near West Okoboji Lake.

We almost made it to the brewery, actually. The plan was to get dinner to go and bring it to West O. We heard there were games to occupy kids while adults enjoy beverages.

We’ll have to go next time, because I liked all the beers I tried throughout the weekend.

All the waterfront restaurants and bars in Okoboji

With five interconnected lakes, you can imagine Okoboji has some restaurants with epic lake views.

Waterfront restaurants in Okoboji - Bob's in Arnolds Park has patio seating with a view of the sandy beach and lake in northern Iowa.

Here’s a list of all the restaurants where you can dine with a view:

  • -Barefoot Bar
  • -Bob’s In Arnold Park
  • -Dry Dock Lounge
  • -Godfather’s Pizza (the Arnold’s Park location) 
  • -Hi-Point Sky Lounge
  • -Kazarellis
  • -Main Event Bar & Eatery
  • -Maxwell’s
  • -Okoboji Store Bar & Kitchen
  • -Pirate Jack’s
  • -Snappers Turtle Bay Café
  • -The Gardens
  • -The Ritz
  • -Water Edge Grille
  • -Woude’s Bay Bar

Plan your Okoboji trip

Want to plan an Okoboji trip for your family? Start with this guide to Okoboji in the summer (with kids) and get more inspiration from my Iowa Bucket List.

I go into details of some of our favorite things in Okoboji in these posts:

Tips for Visiting Historic Arnolds Park

Where to stay lakeside in Okoboji

Going to Okoboji with kids? Here are kid-friendly restaurant suggestions for breakfast, lunch, dinner and ice cream. Read on for the best Okoboji restaurants for families, including which are waterfront. #Iowa #Okoboji #Guide #familyfriendly

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June 4, 2019

Guide To Okoboji In The Summer With Kids

Okoboji is one of Iowa’s biggest tourist magnets each summer, with its glacier-carved lakes being the main attractions. Built around the lakes are summer staples like a historic amusement park, waterside bars and restaurants, and a ton of kid-friendly activities. It’s the perfect Midwestern summer destination.

We had a lot to see and do and only three days to do it. (I’d recommend adding an extra day or two to fit it all in at an enjoyable pace.) Want to visit? Here’s my guide to visiting Okoboji in the summer with kids.

Disclosure: Our trip to Okoboji was hosted by Vacation Okoboji. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own. 

All the fun things families can do in Okoboji, Iowa this summer - There's plenty to do on the lakes, but read up on outdoor adventures, indoor recreation and kid-friendly dining options. #Guide #Midwest #FamilyTravel

Where is Okoboji?

First off, let’s talk about how Okoboji is more than a single city (though there is the city of Okoboji). When I started planning a trip to Okoboji, I was looking at a map of Iowa, trying to figure out where exactly I should be staying to get the “Okoboji” experience. Turns out, it’s not that simple.

Guide to Okoboji in the summer - Fun things to do with kids outdoors include fishing

Okoboji is a region in northern Iowa and consists of several towns on the edge of the Iowa Great Lakes. Pretty much, you’re in “Okoboji” if you stay somewhere along the lakes of West Okoboji, East Okoboji, Upper Gar, Lower Gar, Minnewashta, and the largest natural lake in Iowa, Spirit Lake. Most of the lakes, except Spirit Lake, are interconnected.

For our trip, our lodging (Crescent Beach Family Resort) was in Wahpeton. It was on West Okoboji Lake, which is a pretty blue, spring-fed lake. Depending on your preference, you can stay within walking distance of a lot of attractions or find a place a little outside of the hubbub.

Kid-friendly lake activities in Okoboji

By far, the lakes are the draw for this region, so you’ll likely spend a lot of time out on the water or near it. I paddled the lake with the kids during our stay, since our hotel allowed free use of their equipment. Our hotel also had standup paddleboards and paddleboats.

You’ll find places to rent speed boats and pontoons around the region, plus places that will do parasailing.

Okoboji in the summer means a lot of time on the water - One popular activity for families is canoeing

The Queen II is a famous boat excursion that leaves from Arnolds Park Amusement Park. It’s about an hour long. My kids were impressed with the boat and excited to ride it…for about 5 minutes. I bought some snacks and got another complaint-free 10 minutes out of them. After that, they were not interested in the narration and the remaining 45 minutes were long.

Guide to Okoboji in the summer - Hour-long tours aboard the Queen II are held several times most days

On shore, there are several beaches to play in, including a pretty popular one right by historic Arnolds Park Amusement Park. Our hotel had a private one that my kids enjoyed. Public beaches include:

  • Gull Point Sate Park on the southwest shore of West Lake Okoboji
  • Arnolds Park City Beach off Highway 71 in Smith’s Bay on West Lake Okoboji
  • Arnold’s Park Amusement Park Beach on West Lake Okoboji
  • Orleans Beach on the southwest shore of Spirit Lake
  • City Park on the south shore of Silver Lake at Lake Park
  • Emerson Bay State Park at the Emerson Bay campground on West Lake Okoboji
  • Okoboji Boat Works Beach in Smith’s Bay on West Lake Okoboji
  • Marble Beach on the western shore of Big Spirit Lake
  • Terrace Park Beach in Brown’s Bay on West Lake Okoboji
  • Pikes Point State Park on the northeastern shore of West Lake Okoboji
Playing at the beach in Arnolds Park in Okoboji. This beach is near Arnolds Park Amusement Park and Bob's in Arnolds Park.

Fishing is another big thing to do in Okoboji, by boat and by land. We didn’t seek out any special fishing holes, and instead, just enjoyed being steps from our hotel room and fishing.

More things to do outdoors in Okoboji in the summer

You can’t write about Okoboji and kids and not talk about Arnolds Park Amusement Park. This historic amusement park was a hit with my kids. We went at the start of the season and enjoyed no lines on some of the biggest attractions, including The Legend, the 13th oldest wooden rollercoaster in the U.S.

Guide to Okoboji in the summer - A visit to the Okoboji region isn't complete without a day at Arnolds Park Amusement Park

Tip: Get the all-day pass for your kids if they’re in grade school or older. My kids loved riding the same favorite rides over and over again, and paying for each ride would’ve racked up a high price otherwise. They particularly loved the Rock-O-Plane, which they stayed on for three rides in a row (the perk of going early in the season!).

Outside Arnolds Park Amusement Park is Harmony Park, a small grass patch in a shopping area with musical instruments to play. It’s a low-key place in the shade, and just right for a break from rides.

Playing the instruments at Harmony Park located near Arnolds Park Amusement Park

If you’ve got bikes, bring them! I found the Okoboji region to be incredibly bike-friendly, with miles of bike path to get you to various attractions. With the kids, we traveled from Dickinson County Nature Center the short distance to Pearson Lakes Art Center, and then onward to Tweeters. That route was really easy for all abilities between the first two stops. Between the art center and Tweeters, though, you’ll cross Highway 71 twice at crosswalk, and end with a brief stint on a sidewalk. Not ideal, but it was fine for our kids to manage.

Things to do Okoboji in the summer with kids (besides being on the lake) - The area is surprisingly bike-friendly with plenty of bike trails.

Our hotel had a large, old playground on property that my kids got to enjoy for a hot minute. If we had an additional day there, I think we’d have carved out more time to play there and probably did a round of putt putt (free at the hotel).

We missed quite a few activities that my kids were hoping to do, actually, including putt putt golf at Treasure Village and the go carts at Arnolds Park Amusement Park.

Kid-friendly indoors activities in Okoboji

The weather isn’t always going to be sunny and blue skies. We found that out on our third day when it was pouring buckets. One of our favorite indoor stops was free: The Dickinson County Nature Center. It has a lot of hands-on activities for kids, including a neat sand table. My kids love animals, so they enjoyed looking at the displays and playing the activities at many of them.

Guide to Okoboji in the summer - If you're traveling with kids (and even if you're not), plan a stop at the free Dickinson County Nature Center for several hands-on exhibits

The nature center had a large honeycomb to climb through. It entertained the kids for a good 30 minutes.

Tip: If isn’t raining, don’t miss the outdoor nature playscape at Dickinson County Nature Center. There are things to climb on, a tunnel to crawl through, and a sandbox.

The Pearson Lakes Art Center is another free option for families. If you’ve got young kids, head downstairs to the ArtSMART room. My kids loved playing with the blocks and putting on a short play with the costumes.

Guide to Okoboji in the summer - The ArtSMART room at the Pearson Lakes Art Center is a fun indoor option, especially on rainy days.

Don’t leave without seeing the art center’s collection of Russian Impressionist art. This was a hidden gem that you’ll be surprised to find. It’s the second largest collection outside of Russia, and it’s impressive (if you love Impressionism).

The large Russian Impressionist collection at The Pearson Lakes Art Center is a good indoor activity and doesn't take too long.

The Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum, located outside Arnolds Park Amusement Park, is also free. While the maritime portion may or may not appeal to the little ones, you’ll want to go in anyway because it’s home to old amusement park items like the giant wooden slide from olden days at Arnolds Park Amusement Park (I believe, technically, it’s in the Arnolds Park Funhouse Museum). If you have a day pass to the amusement park, you can go down it repeatedly, which my kids did. You can also pay a couple dollars to slide down it if you don’t have the day pass.

Take a ride down the indoor slide at the Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum. The wooden slide was once located in Arnolds Park Amusement Park.

It’s a tall slide and looks pretty intimidating at the top, but it’s not nearly as fast as you think it would be. It was totally manageable for my 7-year-old, at least.

Okoboji Classic Cars is part museum, part art gallery, and 100% designed to appeal to car fanatics. It’s a little pricey, and you have to take the tour, which could be a disaster with an uninterested kid. Still, even I was impressed with the collection and I’m only mildly interested in cars. Kids are given a scavenger hunt to complete during the tour, which was enough to please my kids.

Okoboji Classic Cars is part museum, part art gallery. It's a good rainy day activity in Okoboji since everything is indoors.

Family-friendly restaurants in Okoboji

Okoboji has A LOT of restaurants, but it’s not too easy to figure out which ones you’d want to bring your kids to. I go into details about the restaurants we visited in this post, but until then, here are the restaurants we liked the most during our trip:

Arnolds Perk Coffee House was my favorite place for breakfast, just because the coffee was so good, and the power breakfast sandwich was filling and delicious. I rarely go to a restaurant twice on a trip, but we did visit Arnolds Perk twice. It’s also just a charming place to sit and relax.

Another good option is O’Farrell Sisters, just get there early to avoid a wait.

Everyone's going to tell you to try breakfast at O'Farrell Sisters, and they're going to tell you to get the pancakes and/or the cinnamon rolls. But it's a small place, so get there early.

The most friendly service we had was during the lunch hour at Tweeter’s Bar & Grill. The menu if huge – burgers, salads, Mexican, etc. They have a kid’s menu.

While we didn’t eat at Barefoot Bar, I’d say it’s pretty kid-friendly. This famous spot on the lake is the famously “no shoes, no shirt, no problem” kind of place. I loved the atmosphere, with the grass-thatched huts and palm trees, but was a little peeved that they’d charge $2.50 for water. After that, I decided not to even check the price of pizza.

Looking for a good outdoor restaurant for families in Okoboji - The Barefoot Bar is a popular place for boaters and families visiting the area. It has a slide that goes into the lake.

Bob’s in Arnolds Park is a popular spot for families who are spending the day at Arnolds Park Amusement Park. We went on a Sunday and the wait was very long. Luckily, there’s a beach right in front of the restaurant, so the kids were kept occupied.

For dinner, we found most places had a long wait, so go prepared to keep your littles occupied. The best pizza we had was the BBQ Chicken at Pub 19 Bar & Grill, a restaurant situated on a golf course.

We also had dinner at Snappers Turtle Bay Cafe, which was a short walk from Barefoot Bar. To keep the kids occupied here, there are a few yard games set up on Astroturf. It did the job.

There are surprisingly few places to get ice cream or treats in Okoboji, at least in the areas we visited. Nutty Bar Stand is pretty iconic for the area, so we had some Nutty Bars during a break from Arnolds Park Amusement Park. It’s right outside the front of the park. Service was quick. A Nutty Bar is pretty much a cube of vanilla ice cream, dipped in chocolate and rolled in peanuts. You can get cones there, as well.

Family-friendly restaurants in Okoboji - It's not summer without ice cream. The Nutty Bar Stand is a long-time favorite ice cream stop for families vacationing there. It's near Arnolds Park Amusement Park.

Plan your Okoboji trip

Want to plan an Okoboji trip for your family? I’ll go into details of some of our favorite things in Okoboji in these upcoming posts:

Best restaurants for families in Okoboji

Tips for visiting Arnolds Park Amusement Park

Where to stay lakeside in Okoboji

Okoboji has been on my bucket list for years. Read this Iowa bucket list post to get inspiration to round out planning a trip to the Hawkeye State. Want Iowa travel inspiration that’s less bucket list and more realistic for a family? We spent about a week exploring central Iowa, riding a train, staying in a yurt and playing in lakes during what I call the Great Iowa Road Trip.

Planning a trip to Okoboji in the Iowa Great Lakes region? Use this guide to get ideas on kid-friendly things to do there, both on the lake and indoors. Plus, read up on recommended Okoboji restaurants for families. #Iowa #VacationOkoboji #familytravel

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