May 31, 2018

Things To Do In Orange City

Orange City, Iowa landed on my radar after its annual Tulip Festival was mentioned in a conversation earlier this year. The more I looked into the festival — tulip gardens, the Dutch letters, the volksparade — I made up my mind to go see it this spring. So I did (and it was fun). But, there’s more to the town than its tulip festival, so read on for more things to do in Orange City, plus my recommendation on which hotel to stay in.

Disclosure: My stay was hosted by Orange City Chamber of Commerce. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Things to do in Orange City

Landsmeer Golf Course -The 18-hole, prairie-style course sprawls over 160 acres of rolling Iowa hills, and features bent grass greens and bluegrass fairways. It’s a public course and looks beautiful.

Windmill Park – This beautiful little park has a charming garden with a little water feature and, no surprise, a windmill or two. If you’re traveling with young kids, this park has a great playground, too. In the summer, the Orange City Arts Council has free performances in Windmill park every Wednesday, as well as games and a treat.

Windmill City in Orange City has a picturesque walking path, as well as a playground and bandstand.

Shop City Centrum – The local shops around the City Centrum have a lot of good finds. I was too busy scoping out the festival to do much shopping, but I wanted to venture into Craft Central, where they have crafts (obvs) as well as Dutch souvenirs. Additional shops that were recommended to me, and thus, I’m sharing with you: Hands Around The World, handmade items from around the world, and Next Door Boutique.

I spotted wooden clogs (and plush clog slippers) while browsing stores in Orange City.

Walking tour – The free downtown Orange City walking tour is divided into two parts: Windmill Park and the city’s Centrum. Download the walking tour here. The famous tulips you’ll see in Windmill Park, by the way, are replaced by annuals when not in season.

Orange City Municipal Aquatic Facility – Here’s the place to cool off at during the summer. In addition to the pool, there are some water features for kids to play in.

Try Dutch treats – In the Midwest, if a town is known for its Dutch heritage, it’s an almost sure bet that there are some Dutch pastries sold there. Little White Store is the place to find poffertjes, which look like little pancakes. I found Dutch letters at the Dutch Bakery.

Wonder no more why they call these things Dutch letters. I got this one at The Dutch Bakery in Orange City. Photo courtesy Kevin Reiner

Pumpkinland – This seasonal attraction has a pumpkin patch and corn maze.

Windmill visitors center – This is one giant photo opp, as well as serving as a helpful starting point to exploring the city. If you stay at the Hampton Inn, you pass it frequently. If you’re not, it’s good to know that this is not located in the Centrum.

Where to stay in Orange City

I touched upon the Hampton Inn during the Orange City Tulip Festival earlier in May. Here’s why I recommend it:

Comfortable rooms – My family of four slept well during our stay, and my husband and I were able to get some work done in the room. There was a mini fridge in the room, which is helpful for leftovers or if one happens to purchase some local beers to sample.

Hot, complimentary breakfast is served daily in the lobby at the Hampton Inn in Orange City.

Complimentary hot breakfast – I’ve stayed many times at Hampton Inns when traveling, so I’ve come to anticipate the variety of food offered at breakfast. The kids enjoyed the waffle maker, of course, and pastries. I tried an omelet there (not made-to-order), and the healthier, fresh options like fruit. Coffee and tea is available around the clock in the lobby.

Kid-friendly pool – The biggest hit at a hotel for my kids tends to be the pool. At this Orange City hotel, the pool is a rectangle that never gets too deep. I enjoyed the views from the pool – there’s a lake behind the hotel.

Orange City hotel pool

The Hampton Inn & Suites in Orange City pool had a nice view.

Location – Orange City is an easy-to-navigate town, and it took us only minutes to get to the Centrum for the festival. The hotel is also not far from the golf course and is next door to the Prairie Winds Event Center.

Hampton Inn Orange City

Where: 914 Eighth St. SE, Orange City, Iowa

Hotel Website

Distance from Omaha

Orange City is located in Sioux County, Iowa. It’s about 140 miles from Omaha, most of which is via Interstate 29.

Along the way, you’ll pass by LeMars, the Ice Cream Capitol of the World. If you have time to stop, you should visit the Blue Bunny Parlor. It’s on my Iowa Bucket List, but its hours didn’t work into our road trip itinerary.

There’s an easy trail from the nature center to a nature play area at Stone State Park in Sioux City, Iowa. Photo courtesy Kevin Reiner

Coming from Omaha, you also past by Sioux City. I’ve written about things to do in Sioux City for couples, but after our recent pit stop, I think I’m due to write about Stone State Park and its nature center. It’s a kid-friendly learning space and there’s an easy, but lovely hike to a nature playground. If you need to stretch your legs, I recommend here (it’s not right off the interstate, but I promise the detour is worth it).

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May 24, 2018

Orange City Tulip Festival

Orange City Tulip Festival is an annual event occurring on the third weekend in May in Orange City, Iowa. Orange City is a charming small town, I discovered, and it turns out, I’m not the only one who noticed. Orange City has been identified as “where the small town American dream lives on” by The New Yorker and Country Living published a story in 2017 analyzing if Orange City was America’s happiest small town.

Disclosure: Our stay was hosted by the Orange City Visitors Bureau

Orange City Tulip Festival Tips

But let’s talk about the Tulip Festival.The charm of this festival is, obviously, the abundance of tulips, the very “Dutch-ness” of everything, and seeing people dressed in traditional Dutch cost

Held over a few days, there are a number of special events, performances and parades to see. 2018 was the 78th year of this showcase of Dutch traditions. I took the family to it for the first time this year. If you want to plan a trip next year, the next Orange City Tulip Festival will be May 16-18, 2019.

Orange City Tulip Festival Traditions

Having seven decades to establish things, there are many great traditions to see while you’re attending the festival.

The Dutch Dozen performed during the Straatfeest, bringing spectators out onto the street to join in. Photo courtesy Kevin Reiner

The Straatfeest and Street Scrubbing were my favorites. These occur, parade-like, one after another along Central Street. They are twice a day during the festival.

Tip: The paid, reserved bleacher seats are worth it. We sat in the shade and didn’t have to stake out a spot along the route long before it all started.

The Straatfeest is a chance to see and learn about the different traditional costumes from various Dutch villages, as well as a few performances. They invited kids to join in one of the dances. My daughter looked very serious learning the dances, but I suspect she loved it.

Dancers and spectators line Central Street in Orange City, Iowa during the Tulip Festival. Photo courtesy Kevin Reiner

The Street Scrubbing was one-of-a-kind. It was exactly what it sounded like. There were quite a few little boys dumping water on each other, so that was fun to watch. I learned that this tradition comes from Holland when homeowners were required to not only care for their property but for the street in front of their property.

Dozens of families walked along Central Street for the traditional street scrubbing during the Tulip Festival.

The Volksparade follows the Street Scrubbing, and it’s more of a typical Midwest parade, with the added bonus of nifty Dutch-themed floats and beautiful traditional costumes.

If you’re taking young kids, note the festival organizers have added a family comfort station with baby-changing stations, extra diapers, chairs for nursing, and snacks/refreshments.

Since 1948, The Dutch Dozen have been performing during the Tulip Festival. It consists of 12 to 14 girls on stage singing and dancing, while their teenage male counterparts add some humor into the show. My son was a particular fan of the boys’ goofiness.

The Dutch Dozen troupe has performed at the Tulip Festival for 70 years. Photo courtesy Kevin Reiner

What to eat in Orange City

There are typical carnival food vendors at Tulip Festival, but when in Rome–I mean, in Holland?–you eat Dutch treats. I headed to the Dutch Bakery to try Dutch Letters, a flaky pastry.

Dutch letter pastries can be purchased at the Dutch Bakery in Orange City. Photo courtesy Kevin Reiner

And while probably not super traditional, I bought a box of chocolate clogs because, why not? I heard the Little White Store was the place to go for poffertjes, but I didn’t make it to there.

There were plenty of options for fair food at the Tulip Festival, as well as traditional Dutch food options. Photo courtesy Kevin Reiner

I did make it to Nederlander’s Cafe for a little Dutch dinner. The dinner itself wasn’t super special (though, I can now say I had “snert,” or split pea soup). However, the dessert at Nderlander’s was absolutely worth the visit. We tried their famous bread pudding, a huge treat that was enough for four.

Best photo opps at the Tulip Festival

For cute photos of the family with a beautiful backdrop, head to Windmill Park. There are a variety of tulips in the garden, as well as a bridge and windmills for great family photos.

Windmill Park in Orange City is a good spot to snap photos. Photo courtesy Kevin Reiner

There are the silly photo opps, too, like sitting in a huge wooden clog and sticking your head in a cutout.

If you’re interested in photos of people in their traditional costumes, we found people cheerfully gave us permission to snap a photo. Just ask! While we were at Windmill Park, we found several photogenic families.

Photos courtesy Kevin Reiner

The Straatfeest and Street Scrubbing were my favorite events for more action photos that capture the atmosphere of the day. If you’re not bashful, hop out into the street and get a photo of the performers with the carnival rides in the background.

A father and son walk in Orange City during the Tulip Festival. Photo courtesy Kevin Reiner

Can the festival done in a day?

Sure, we did it in a day…and nope, not really.

We spent Saturday afternoon at Tulip Festival and felt like we had as good as an experience as you can with two little kids. In addition to seeing the Straatfeest, Street Scrubbing and part of the Volksparade, petted animals in the petting zoo, tried one of the Dutch games, browsed art vendors, peeked in a store, and watched The Dutch Dozen performance.

Tulip Festival vendors

There were a few tents of vendors at Tulip Festival selling everything from paintings and pottery to jewelry and unique wind chimes. Photo courtesy Kevin Reiner

We also fit in a little time to we played at Windmill Park and jump in a bounce house.

My daughter’s favorite part of the Tulip Festival was the petting zoo.

However, we missed a lot. We had value books of coupons that allowed for things like a free Dutch game, attendance to the Dutch Dozen and carriage rides & pedicab rides). I wanted to do it all, but a mix of rain and tired kids cut our evening short.

My kids will be first to tell you some of the “biggies” we didn’t do, that they wanted to do. We did none of the rides at the Midway and did not take a pedicab nor horse-drawn trolley ride.

horse-drawn trolley Orange City

Horse-drawn trolley rides were an additional cost, but tickets were available in the value books.

The things I had on my to-see list that we missed included: Wooden shoe carving demo, tours of the Vogel Old Mill and the Century Home, and the Fietsen Zangers and puppet show performances. (And if you look at the full schedule, you’ll see even MORE that wasn’t on my list and yes, we missed them all.)

You can purchase clogs or watch clog making demonstrations during the Orange City Tulip Festival.

So, yeah, we missed a lot.

If I could do it again, I think we would attend Friday and Saturday (or maybe just Friday night and the full day Saturday). I think it would be fun to attend the fly-in breakfast held really early on the Saturday morning of the festival.

But I don’t regret just going one day this year.

Where to stay during the Tulip Festival

We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Orange City. While it’s not quite within walking distance of the festivities, Orange City is not a huge city, so it was conveniently near it.

The hotel had the required essentials for traveling families: A pool and a complimentary hot breakfast.

Check back for a review of Hampton Inn & Suites soon, plus details on what families can do in Orange City when it’s not the Tulip Festival.

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