The charming small town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has an interesting history and distinctive Bohemian culture. You’ll enjoy the architecture and art of the city as you wander the streets, and you can even giggle with a goat who tickles visitors with his beard at the local petting zoo.
Whether you and your family love the outdoors, want to try some local cuisine, or enjoy bargain-hunting at the mall, you’ll find that Cedar Rapids has something for you at any time of year.
Here are some of the best things to do with the family in the Cedar Rapids area.
Bike The Cedar River Trail
The all-weather Cedar River Trail is the best place to bike in Cedar Rapids. The trail is 12.6 miles long and 10 feet wide, the perfect width for easy passage and chatting along the way. You’ll catch glimpses of wildlife near Cedar Lake, McCloud’s Run, and the Cedar River. Wildflowers and beautiful native grasses adorn certain sections of the trail. During the autumn months, you’ll also be able to enjoy the best of the fall foliage.
The smooth trail is easy for any biker to traverse, with or without training wheels, and the gentle grade makes it walkable, bikeable, and enjoyable for casual trailgoers looking to enjoy the landscapes of Cedar Rapids.
Explore Palisades-Kepler State Park
For more outdoor adventure, bring the family to Palisades-Kepler State Park for a day. You can picnic and enjoy hiking trails with views of the stunning Cedar River and of the tree-lined bluffs along the water.
At the park, you’ll find picnic shelters, a lodge built in the 1930s, campgrounds, cabins for rent, and more than 6 miles of trails to wander while keeping an eye out for wild turkeys and white-tailed deer. You can also grab a fishing pole or boat and enjoy an afternoon on the Cedar River.
Learn About Woodlands And Prairies At The Indian Creek Nature Center
Exploring the wetlands, prairies, and woodlands at the Indian Creek Nature Center is a fantastic way to spend a morning with the family. The center offers 4 miles of well-groomed hiking trails, and at the Amazing Space welcome center, you can explore an interactive watershed table or relax in the bird room.
The center has solar panels that you can learn about, and, depending on the time of your visit, you can participate in a yoga class or catch a concert at the amphitheater. You can even purchase some locally sourced raw honey and maple syrup.
See The Animals At Old MacDonald’s Farm
You know the old song: “Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O.” Well, on this farm in Cedar Rapids there are calves, ducks, chickens, goats, lambs, piglets, rabbits, and more. Old MacDonald’s is located in Bever Park and run by the Parks and Recreation Department. The animals are well cared for and enjoy a comfortable life filled with happy families observing and petting them during the warmer months.
The farm is open from late April or early May through mid-October each year.
Visit The John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum
It’s a fact. Most kids -- and plenty of grown-ups, too -- love tractors. So one area museum that family members of all ages will enjoy visiting is the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum in Waterloo, about a 50-minute drive from Cedar Rapids. At the museum, you’ll get to explore a wide range of tractor- and engine-focused exhibits, artifacts, and more. You’ll discover the history of the famous tractor company from the first steel plow to the modern machines you see painted green and plowing the fields today.
The exhibits are interactive, with levers and handles to pull and push. You and the family can climb up into tractors for a photo op or test your strength against real horsepower.
The best part? There is no charge for admission.
Eating In Cedar Rapids
In Cedar Rapids, you’ll find a range of down-home comfort foods and artisanal desserts that folks of all ages will enjoy.
Try some popcorn, old-fashioned sodas, hand-made sausages, pulled pork, and more at these delightful local eateries.
Village Meat Market And Café
Before Katrina devastated New Orleans, Lou Thompson worked in the restaurant and casino business in the Southern town. But after the tragic storm hit, she returned to Iowa and founded the Village Meat Market and Café. Thompson’s homemade sausages were a hit with locals and visitors alike.
The Village Meat Market and Café, located in Cedar Rapids’s Czech Village, has a delicious menu featuring many Czech recipes, including goulash and schnitzel, smoked salmon, and, of course, those incredible sausages. You’ll find other delicious meals and goodies here as well, including a range of options kids will enjoy.
QDogs BBQ Company
QDogs BBQ Company is a casual joint that’s locally owned and features choice-graded, hand-selected Iowa pork and beef. Every bite of meaty deliciousness is hand-rubbed with a unique dry rub and then smoked over cherry wood.
The restaurant has been around since 2011, when the owner, Jeff “QDog” Coil, completed his barbecue circuit tour. After he semiretired, he ventured into the barbecue food-truck business, and his delicious food racked up so many accolades that he ended up opening a permanent QDogs location.
The atmosphere at QDogs is probably what you’d expect from a joint founded by a barbecue expert -- cozy, casual, and friendly, so you’ll enjoy bringing the kids here for a low-key but tasty meal.
Parlor City Ice Cream
Parlor City Ice Cream is a local favorite after-dinner spot. The small family-owned business has been serving Cedar Rapids scoops of tasty frozen goodness for more than 50 years now, and it has consistently been ranked one of the best places to grab dessert in town.
The ice cream shop offers a range of delicious, sweet, and creamy flavors, along with more than 50 different shake and malt options, soft-serve reduced-fat ice cream, and low-fat frozen yogurt.
Beyond the ice cream, though, there’s a full lunch and dinner menu. The food is reasonably priced and appeals to both the less-developed palates of children -- think hot dogs and hamburgers -- and more sophisticated taste buds -- think tenderloin steak and pulled pork.
Shopping In Cedar Rapids
There are numerous shopping opportunities in Cedar Rapids, and many of the best are located in malls and marketplaces the whole family can enjoy.
NewBo City Market
According to practically everyone, NewBo City Market is the top place in the Cedar Rapids area to shop as a family. The dynamic public space in the New Bohemia District near downtown is all about promoting health, well-being, and happiness.
The nonprofit organization that runs the market offers a combination event center, shopping center, gathering place, and business incubator. There are loads of unique food and retail shops, farmers markets, artisan markets, and community arts and entertainment venues, along with a range of educational activities. The market focuses on sustainability and is heavily involved in the farm-to-table movement.
While at the market, be sure to check out Lori Ann’s Candies, The Artisan’s Emporium, Rare Bird Soap Shop, and Wallace Farms. These are just a few of the shops you can visit to find great gifts and souvenirs.
Most of us have fond memories of going to the mall with parents, grandparents, or friends. When you visit Cedar Rapids, you can give the little ones in your life their own wonderful memories of this longtime family tradition.
The Lindale Mall is known as one of the best shopping stops in the city, thanks to the many unique stores there. You’ll find locally owned shops like CR Guitar Girl as well as national chains like GameStop. There are a few children’s play areas, lots of tasty snacks, and several interesting kiosks to stop by.
Almost Famous Popcorn Company
A unique shopping opportunity that everyone will love -- including the folks back home, if you bring them something -- is a visit to Almost Famous Popcorn Company. The company is a family-owned business that was started by Bill and Robyn Rieckhoff; they wanted their kids to learn the ins and outs of running a business so that they'd be prepared for their future careers.
The delicious popcorn is made with premium ingredients in small batches to ensure the highest quality. Nut-free and gluten-free options are produced in another facility to avoid cross-contamination, and the shop offers a wide range of flavors -- 36, to be exact -- including Lemon Cookie, Birthday Cake, Fire-Breathing Dragon, Root Beer Barrel, Snickerdoodle, White Chocolate Nutella, and Bacon Cheddar. Bring the little ones in for a bag or two, try some flavors, get some ice cream, or drink some vintage sodas. You can also buy popcorn to bring home as a gift or as a delicious reminder of your trip to Iowa.