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    10 Free Things to Do

    Dig fun + free in Waterloo

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    Cedar Valley Arboretum

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Dig Deeper in Waterloo

Explore our vibrant downtown district featuring award-winning museums, locally-owned restaurants, and an impressive riverside amphitheatre. Tour the new John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum, visit the Isle Casino, and enjoy the Cedar Valley Trails via bicycle or kayak. Catch exciting sports teams and immerse yourself in arts and culture. And did we mention we're home to Lost Island Water Park? It's Iowa's largest! Plus, dig a little deeper and check out our family-friendly festivals and events.

Watch episodes below from our travel series - "Travel Waterloo".
Follow the hashtag #IDigWaterloo for photos, videos, and travel inspiration.

Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau Blog

Who doesn’t love a FUN, better yet a FUN + FREE experience? We’ve gathered a list of some of the top FREE things to do in Waterloo. So grab your family or friends and discover something new at "zero, zip, zilch, nada" cost to you.

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1. Cedar Valley Trails: The Cedar Valley is home to miles upon miles of FREE recreational trails. And we’re not just talking about the 106 miles of hard-surfaced trails. You’ll find plenty of soft trails and water trails to enjoy as well. Plus, there are some really great group activities available all summer long for cyclists. Check out the Cedar Valley Association for Soft Trails, Cedar Valley Cyclists, and Cedar Trails Partnership for a complete events calendar.

2. Festivals: There’s plenty of fun to be had once festival time rolls around. And, you don’t have to spend anything to experience it all. Admission is FREE at events like the 4th Street Cruise, BBQ’Loo & Blues Too, Black Hawk County 4H Fair, Cedar Valley Jaycees Fireworks Festival and many more. Start your summer planning early and visit our events calendar for more information.

3. John Deere Tours: Go behind-the-scenes to see how John Deere’s biggest machines are brought to life right here in Waterloo. Guests (13 and older) will enjoy a FREE riding tour, while tour guides take you through each stage of the manufacturing process. Tours are offered Monday-Friday (except during shut-down periods), and reservations are required.
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4. Live Music Concerts: If you’re looking for live music, you’ve come to the right place. Waterloo hosts some of the region’s finest musical acts EVERY Thursday, Friday and Saturday night (May-September) throughout the city. And better yet, it’s all FREE! From salsa to rock, to jazz and reggae, you’ll enjoy music genres of all types while taking in some of the best views of the city. Visit our events calendar for a full listing of live music taking place in Waterloo.

5. Mark’s Splash Park: What better way to cool down on a warm summer day than at an outdoor playground that doubles as a splash park. Kids (12 and under) can enjoy countless hours of FREE fun at Mark’s Splash Park. Located next to the RiverLoop Amphitheatre in downtown Waterloo, it’s open every day during the summer months, from 9am to 9pm.

6. Parks: There are literally tons, and we mean tons, of FREE activities to do throughout the extensive park system in Waterloo. Go fishing, pack a picnic, play disc golf, or bring your pooch along. Yes, we even have parks for your furry friends to explore. Make a day of it and enjoy the great outdoors at one of our city, county or state parks.

7. Star Parties: Bring the whole family and take in the view above at the Grout Museum’s Star Parties. Whether you’re a novice or expert when it comes to astronomy, staff will be on hand to help point out current constellations in the sky. Telescopes and binoculars are provided, but feel free to bring your own as well. Star Parties take place every month from now until October at either Hoover Middle School or Prairie Grove Park in Waterloo.

8. Sunrise Petting Zoo: Home to farm animals big and small, kids can get up close and personal with these friendly critters. This FREE zoo includes cows, horses, pigs, llamas, donkeys, chicks, rabbits, goats and more. Sunrise Petting Zoo is located next to the National Cattle Congress grounds in Waterloo and it’s open June-September.10 Free Things to Do Blog Post 3

9. Waterloo Center for the Arts: Discover 11 different art exhibits in just 1 building…and it’s all FREE! The Waterloo Center for the Arts features the largest collection of Haitian Art in the country, works by Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, Folk Art and more. And, this summer they’re celebrating their 50th Anniversary with FREE family entertainment and activities on Sundays, from 1-3pm at the RiverLoop Amphitheatre. The Waterloo Center for the Arts is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-5pm and Sundays 1-5pm.

10. Waterloo Public Library: Check out a book, take a class, or simply learn something new at the Waterloo Public Library. They offer activities for every member of the family and you guessed it…they’re all FREE! Plus, be sure to visit their newest DIY-space “The Hive”, an area stocked with equipment and tools to inspire creativity. The Waterloo Public Library is open Monday-Thursday 9am-9pm; Friday 9am-6pm; Saturday 9am-5pm, Sunday 1-5pm.

Do you know of other FREE activities to do in Waterloo? Let us know by sending an email to info@travelwaterloo.com. We’d love to add them to our list!


- Beth Keeney, Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau
Photo Credit: Cedar Valley Trails Partnership, Waterloo Center for the Arts/RiverLoop Amphitheatre.

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It was a real honor…and a blast…to spend some time with Mayor Quentin Hart as we filmed this week’s episode of Travel Waterloo. A lot has been written about Mayor Hart after his election in December, but we wanted to get a different perspective and maybe show a side of him that the public doesn’t see when they open their newspaper or turn on their television and see him in an official capacity.

Mayor at SportsPlexMayor Hart is a Waterloo guy through and through. He loves this community and said several times that he “gets” to go to work representing Waterloo. Something we didn’t get to show in the episode is his desire to make Waterloo an even greater place for the next generation. He loves going to schools to talk to students. He shot baskets with some young men at the Cedar Valley SportsPlex. He wants to be accessible to everyone and makes it a point to let kids know they’re important citizens.

Mayor Hart loves pizza. I tried to put him on the spot and ask him where his favorite pizza place in Waterloo is, but as I would have done myself, he gave a very PC answer and named several great places, including Mama Nick’s, The OP and Damon’s. Each has its own specialty and his favorite depends a great deal on how he feels. 

Mayor at Golf CourseMayor Hart also loves to golf. We saw that in the episode to an extent, but our conversation at Gates Park and while using the golf simulator at the SportsPlex was extensive. He even gave me some pointers as we were hitting. You may see him in a future episode of Travel Waterloo as we talk about the great golf options in our community.

Mayor at HyVeeI’ve known Mayor Hart for a number of years and I know he loves Waterloo. What was fun for me to hear was his excitement about everything related to Waterloo. Yes, there are a number of very exciting developments happening, and he’s looking forward to bigger and more. But he’s also very excited to talk to people about their concerns. His conversations at HyVee were a perfect example. He wants to hear from citizens and work together for the betterment of Waterloo.

Oh, and you won’t spend time with me or Mayor Hart and go hungry. Between popcorn, cookies and Twizzlers we were snacked out. 

Follow the hashtag #IDigWaterloo for photos, videos, and travel inspiration.


- Aaron Buzza, Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau

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Zay & StacySo you may be asking yourself, what’s this World’s Greatest Spring Break for Kids thing? Why should we participate?

The World’s Greatest Spring Break for Kids was created by the R.J. McElroy Trust seven years ago to celebrate the wonderful attractions and activities for kids within a one-mile radius in downtown Waterloo. It was also created to provide fun, educational and affordable activities for area kids during Spring Break. Thousands of kids and families participate each year and many visitors have returned to celebrate every year. 

Here are six GREAT reasons to participate:

  1. $1 admission! For just a buck, a kid and their accompanying adult can experience great activities and attractions. 
  2. It's educational. From hands-on science activities to a history lesson to world cultures to live theatre performances, participants get a well-rounded cultural experience that keeps their brains engaged.
  3. This is a great kick-off to the 50th Anniversary of the Waterloo Center for the Arts. As a celebration of that historic anniversary, admission is just $0.50 at the Phelps Youth Pavilion!
  4. It keeps kids active. Swimming and ice skating sessions are available at the Cedar Valley SportsPlex and Young Arena.
  5. Free books! The Waterloo Public Library, with support from the R.J. McElroy Trust will be giving away 1,000 books. Books are available for different reading levels and in both English and Spanish. 
  6. The rest of downtown! Why not spend the entire day (or multiple days) in downtown Waterloo? Grab breakfast before you go, or lunch during your visit. Do some shopping.  Take some pictures. Ride your bike on the trails. Be a tourist in your own back yard.

WGSBFK LogoZay mentioned in the episode that 14,000 people visited last year. Don’t let that scare you away.  With nine sites and an entire week, you’ll be able to get the full experience everywhere you go. Join those 14,000 and have the World’s Greatest Spring Break for Kids. I bet you adults will have a blast, too!

Follow the hashtag #IDigWaterloo for photos, videos, and travel inspiration.


- Aaron Buzza, Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau

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Authentic Irish pub…check.
Live Irish music…check.
Traditional Irish food and drinks…double check.

Sounds like the makings of a fun-filled St. Patty’s Day at Jameson’s in Waterloo.

Jameson’s Public House was established in 2005 and they’ve been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day ever since. From the moment you step inside Jameson’s, you’ll feel like you’re stepping inside an authentic Irish pub in Ireland. Plus, the food, music and Irish décor complete the experience.

This year at Jameson’s, St. Patrick’s Day will be even bigger and better. In fact, they’ve decided to extend the celebration into the weekend. Yes, 3 FULL DAYS of Irish fun! So let’s get down to the important details…

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Thursday, March 17

Jameson’s will be kicking off the St. Patrick’s Day festivities at 11am, and what better way than with some food and drinks. For starters, we’d recommend their Soft and Chewy Pretzel Bites or Irish Bangers. And for drinks, you can’t go wrong with one of their Bloody Molly’s (similar to a Bloody Mary, but with Jameson’s Irish Whiskey) or Irish coffees.

From Noon-5pm, they’ll have a professional photo booth in-house to capture all those special St. Patty’s Day memories. So wear your green, say cheese, and smile for the camera!

At 7pm, they’ll welcome one of their favorite Irish music groups to the stage – Wylde Nept. These guys are no strangers to Waterloo though. They’ve made numerous appearances at Jameson’s as well as the annual Iowa Irish Fest, held every August in Lincoln Park.

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Friday, March 18

The St. Patrick’s Day hoopla continues throughout the weekend at Jameson’s. On Friday, they’ll be offering a modified lunch/dinner menu with some great Irish favorites on it, as well as a full line-up of Irish “Uisce Beatha and Beoir” (that’s whiskeys and beers) to quench your thirst. Entertainment that evening will be provided by another outstanding Irish band and Irish Fest favorite – The Langer’s Ball.

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Saturday, March 19

Rise and shine friends! Get your day started at Jameson’s with a traditional Irish breakfast from 9-11am. While this typically only happens once a year during Iowa Irish Fest, Jameson’s is pulling out all the stops for you this St. Patty’s Day. On top of that, Ryan O’Rien will take the stage at 9:30am and continue playing during lunch, while The Pork Tornadoes will cap off a weekend of festive fun at Jameson’s.

May the luck of the Irish be with you this St. Patrick's Day!


- Beth Keeney, Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau
Photo Credit: Jameson's Public House.

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It’s officially March, which means kids everywhere are dreaming of warmer weather and more importantly – their SPRING BREAK plans! Fear not, money-savvy moms and dads, because we’ve got loads of Spring Break fun lined up for you without breaking the bank.

It’s called the World’s Greatest Spring Break for Kids, and it’s March 14-18 in Waterloo.

Check out these NINE amazing attractions all located within ONE square mile from each other. But wait, it gets better. Thanks to the McElroy Trust, admission is just $1 (or less) for kids and accompanying adults at each attraction. So go ahead and spend your Spring Break a little closer to home this year. It’s a win-win for you and your kids.

In fact, it's so AWESOME that Travel Iowa named it one of their "Top 5 March events in Iowa!"

1. Black Hawk Children’s Theatre
Monday-Friday | Performances at 1pm & 3pm
224 Commercial Street
During Spring Break week, kids and kids at heart will enjoy a live interactive theater performance by the Black Hawk Children’s Theatre. And, by interactive we mean they’ll be looking for audience members to participate in the fun as well. Trust us, you won’t want to miss it!

WGSBFK Blog Post 22. Bluedorn Science Imaginarium
Monday-Saturday* | 9am-5pm
322 Washington Street
Fight off Spring Break boredom with a visit to the Bluedorn Science Imaginarium. With over 80 hands-on exhibits, the kids will have no problem keeping busy at this “playground for the imagination”. Plus, it’s also home to numerous animals like a Burmese python named Athena, bearded dragon, turtle and more.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Science demos daily at 10am, Noon, 2pm and 4pm. Free with admission.
*$1 admission goes thru Saturday, March 19.

3. Cedar Valley SportsPlex
Monday-Thursday | 9-10am or 11am-Noon
300 Jefferson Street
The Spring Break experience wouldn’t be complete without a little swimming…indoors that is. Splash around at the Cedar Valley SportSplex during one of their swimming sessions and be sure to take a ride down their awesome water slide! Capacity is limited.

WGSBFK Blog Post 34. Grout Museum of History & Science / Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum
Monday-Saturday* | 9-5pm
503 South Street
From an army tank to a real Huey helicopter, kids will have a blast exploring the museums and scanning their dog tags at various kiosks along the way. They’ll learn about adventure, discovery and real-life heroes through traditional exhibits, interactive activities and more at this Spring Break stop.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Friday, March 18 | 10am-2pm. “ISU – FoodCorps” – Edible Art Party! Healthy living hands-on activities. Plus, Planetarium shows daily at 10am, Noon, 2pm and 4pm. Free with admission.
*$1 admission goes thru Saturday, March 19.

5. John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum
Tuesday-Friday | 10am-6pm
500 Westfield Avenue
See tractors of all types from the moment you enter the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum. Hands-on demonstrations teach kids what it’s like to use a steel plow or generate horsepower, all while learning about John Deere’s tractor and engine history. Admission is free for children 12 & under, and $1 for ages 13 & over.

6. National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum
Monday-Friday | 9am-5pm
303 Jefferson Street
Take a closer look at the sport of wrestling and one of the greatest wrestlers and coaches of all time at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum. View wrestling memorabilia and more, plus step inside the Dan Gable Teaching Center for hands-on wrestling tips and tricks.

WGSBFK Blog Post 47. Phelps Youth Pavilion
Monday-Friday | 9-5pm
225 Commercial Street
Enter a world of arts, culture and creativity at the Phelps Youth Pavilion. Here, kids will discover creative, hands-on experiences and over 40 interactive exhibits. As an added bonus, Spring Break visitors will enjoy a special $.50 admission in celebration of the Waterloo Center for the Arts’ 50th Anniversary.  And, while you’re there, don’t forget to check out their newest exhibit – “Light Play!”

8. Waterloo Public Library
Monday-Friday | Mon-Thursday 9am-9pm; Friday 9am-6pm
415 Commercial Street
Yes, school’s out, but what better time to let the kids check out a book or two. They’ll even get a book of their own when they stop by the library on Monday, March 14 for “The Greatest Book Giveaway”. With support from the R.J. McElroy Trust, the Library will give away 1,000 new books (until they’re gone) during Spring Break week. One book per child.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Monday, March 14 | 10-11:30am. “To the Library & Beyond” – Let the “FUN” begin with you! Free admission.

WGSBFK Blog Post 59. Young Arena
Monday-Friday | Noon-1pm, 2-3pm, or 4-5pm
125 Commercial Street
Last, but not least, grab your ice skates (or rent them for just $1) and head to Young Arena for an afternoon of ice skating. They will be offering special, one-hour ice skating sessions throughout Spring Break week. Helmets and pads are recommended too. Capacity is limited.

WGSBFK LogoTips for the GREATEST Spring Break:

  • Plan ahead. Check for special dates and times when $1 admission is available.
  • Come early. Attractions will be busy, some with limited capacity.
  • Supervision required. All kids must be accompanied by an adult.
  • Park and walk. Parking is limited in some locations, so we recommend using the public parking downtown and walking if possible.
  • Make it a vacation. Enjoy the rest of the fun downtown, including dining and lodging.

- Beth Keeney, Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau
Photo Credit: Grout Museum District, Waterloo Center for the Arts/Phelps Youth Pavilion.

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