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Reasons to Visit Okoboji, Iowa

Kristina is a parent of two, writer, remote worker, and volunteer. In her spare time, she enjoys nature, trying new things, and lots of DIY.

If I asked you to name what you think of when I mention the state of Iowa, chances are the words "beach" and "sand" won't make the list. But surprise! You don't need to travel to the coast in search of water and sand. You can actually plan a warm, sunny beach vacation smack dab in the center of the Midwest.

Okoboji, Iowa, is one of the many great things that the Midwest has to offer. Tucked away in the northwest corner of the state, situated along the Iowa Great Lakes, this delightful city offers water activities, state parks, tasty cuisine, several small beaches, and loads of fun.

It is a great place for anyone to visit—families, couples, individuals, children . . . there is something for everyone. From a cruise on the Queen II on West Lake Okoboji to mini golf at Pirates Cove, a good time will be had by all!

Check out all of my reasons to pack your bags and visit this fantastic location!

top-ten-reasons-to-visit-okoboji-ia

Arnolds Park

Arnolds Park is an amusement park reminiscent of Coney Island in New York. It is lakeside, with gorgeous views, local shops, the Queen II cruise ship, yummy treats, and old-fashioned rides.

According to the Arnolds Park website, the park boasts the 13th-oldest roller coaster in the world, a wooden structure named The Legend. Ride the rails to the top and see the lake over the trees. Or, circle to the top of the Ferris wheel for unbeatable views of the sparkling water. Smell the aroma of hot dogs, sweet cotton candy, and crunchy caramel corn. Or, head next door for some mini golf at Pirates Cove, and aim for a hole in one.

The Nutty Bar Stand

The Nutty Bar Stand

Nutty Bars

While we're on the subject of Arnolds Park, I have to mention the Nutty Bars at the Nutty Bar Stand—an ice cream shop within the amusement park. Trust me, it's a must-visit.

These sweet treats get a category all their own, because they are a fan favorite. So what exactly is a Nutty Bar? It's vanilla ice cream, in the shape of a large block, dipped in milk chocolate and nuts. And it's on a stick! Who doesn't like treats on a stick? On a hot Midwestern summer day? Perfection! If you're not one for nuts, there are many other cold choices that you can try instead (like an icy glass or root beer, or a frozen banana).

University of Okoboji Triathlon

University of Okoboji Triathlon

University of Okoboji Triathlon

You won't find a physical campus for the University of Okoboji. It's a fictional university, created just for fun. According to one of the founders, Herman Richter, the U of O is "an expression of pride, that was born nearly 40 years ago" (Source: Sioux City Journal).

The university hosts a number of events each year, including a triathlon held in July. Swim the waters of West Lake Okoboji, bike, run, then cross the finish line in Arnolds Park. The scenery is fantastic, the supporters cheering along the route are wonderful, and what a great way to burn off that nutty bar (or two!)

Barefoot Bar

Barefoot Bar

Barefoot Bar

No trip to Okoboji is complete without a visit to the Barefoot Bar. You'll feel as though you've stepped into an island paradise. Have a drink at the outdoor tiki bar, grab a burger, dine under the palm trees (yes, you read that right, palm trees in Iowa!), and listen to live music. Visit their gift shop for funny and funky souvenirs, and check out the glistening boats for sale.

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It's all right on the lake, so you could even rent a boat, dock it, then relax on the patio after a sunny day cruising the waters. In no time, you'll be humming tunes from the Zac Brown Band, Bob Marley, and Jimmy Buffet. Relax and leave all your worries behind!

Dining

Okoboji is full of tasty dining options. Care to eat overlooking the lake? Try the Gardens, Maxwell's Beach Cafe, the Dry Dock Lounge, or Bracco. Interested in casual fare? Grab a hot dog at Bob's, or breakfast at the O'Farrell Sisters. Or if you're searching for a refreshing local beverage, check out the brews at Okoboji Brewing Company in nearby Spirit Lake, IA. At some of these locations, like the Okoboji Store, you can dock your boat right out front (way more fun than driving!)

Caribbean, Mexican, American, fine dining, seafood, bakeries, or ice cream shops...you'll find something for everyone's palate! I haven't been to a restaurant I didn't like. Here's a more comprehensive guide to dining in Okoboji.

The Queen II

The Queen II

Boating

Imagine yourself cruising in the sunlight on the sparkling waters of a giant glacial lake while listening to some sweet island tunes. If this sounds like a great day, wander over to the boat rentals at Extreme Water Sports or the Original Okoboji Boat Works.

But don't limit yourself to just boats! Consider trying out the waverunners, water skis, paddle boats, kayaks, tubes, or even just a chill raft. Or, if you want to have a trip above the water, try parasailing or flyboarding.

If you're not in the mood to rent your own boat, you could purchase tickets for a sunset cruise, a booze cruise, or any number of other lake cruises. For my wedding rehearsal dinner, we rented the Barefoot Barge and had food and a leisurely cruise around the lake. The Queen II is a popular large cruise boat that offers daily tours of the lake. Another bonus; the boat is docked right next to Pirate Jacks Bar, so you can even enjoy a cold beverage before your cruise. Sign me up!

Beaches

If you'd rather stay inland, there's plenty of fun to be had in the sand. The Okoboji area has several public beaches available to visit. Many of the local resorts also have private beach areas for resort guests to enjoy. So find yourself a spot in the warm sand, dig in your toes, pop up your umbrella, relax and enjoy!

REO Speedwagon concert

REO Speedwagon concert

Concerts and Music

If you love music, you'll want to check out all the outdoor concerts and live music in Okoboji. Arnold's Park hosts free outdoor concerts during the summer, with some really awesome bands. The above picture is from a 2009 REO Speedwagon concert in Arnold's Park Preservation Plaza. It was classic rock and so much fun!

Check out this list of live music venues from Vacation Okoboji. The list includes the Barefoot Bar, Boji Bay Legacy Park, and the Captain's Getaway. With so many options, you can find live music nearly every day during the summer months.

Okoboji Summer Theatre at dusk

Okoboji Summer Theatre at dusk

Okoboji Summer Theatre

The acting at the Okoboji Summer Theatre is phenomenal! I was able to experience the musical "Mama Mia!" at the Theatre in 2019. The performance was delightful, and the tech, costuming, choreography, music, and acting was upbeat, colorful, and witty. It was so energetic and the ABBA inspired music made me want to dance right out of the theater after the show (in fact, I think I might have). Another fun fact: the Okoboji Summer Theatre is owned by Stephens College, and provides internships to its theatre students. Check out their upcoming lineup here.

Hiking and Biking

If hiking and biking are more your speed, there's a lot of opportunity in Okoboji. The Iowa Great Lakes Trail offers over 60 miles of trails for walking and biking. You can discover the different trails at Bike Okoboji. There are also beautiful parks that you can walk through and explore, some with hiking trails. Elinor Bedell State Park is a pretty spot with a shelter for a picnic lunch. Gull Point State Park has a playground, and is a great spot for bird watching. Kenue Park has walking trails and a nature center. There are more parks than just this! If you are searching for nature, you will find it in Okoboji.

Winter Sports

The last reason is a bit different from the other reasons to visit Okoboji, but it is a good one just the same! Even though this city has a beachy summer vibe, it is still in Iowa and has the same cold, snowy winters as the rest of the Midwest! So if you're more of a snow-lover than a beachgoer, check out Okoboji as a winter destination.

The University of Okoboji hosts its Winter Games each year, complete with a chili cook-off, fireworks, sports, and games. You can also go cross-country skiing at Gull Point State Park. Or, check out a hockey game at the Boji Bay Ice Arena. Even better, for a romantic winter vacation, find a hotel with a fireplace or hot tub and sip hot cocoa or wine after a day of playing in the snow. If you travel to Okoboji in winter, note that some of the summer attractions and restaurants may be temporarily closed.

Truly, in Okoboji, you can play all day and all night!

Barefoot Barge

Barefoot Barge

Okoboji Store

Okoboji Store

Maxwell's Beach Cafe

Maxwell's Beach Cafe

Mau Marine

Mau Marine

Okoboji Boat Works

Okoboji Boat Works

Note:

I don't live in Okoboji - I'm just a big fan of visiting. This list doesn't encompass all of the fabulous options in the area; but it covers many that I've experienced. That being said, I'll do my best to update the list with new ideas, or attractions that have closed. Please feel free to add your favorite reason to visit Okoboji in the comments!

This content was accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge at the time of publication but may be out of date. The information contained in this article may not reflect current policies, laws, technology, or data.

Questions & Answers

Question: Just wondering why there’s nothing in here about The Okoboji Store?

Answer: I recently made a trip back to Okoboji and one of the new (to me) spots that I visited was The Okoboji Store. It was a fantastic, fun place! I have plans to update the article with additional Okoboji information (which will include The Okoboji Store, and the Okoboji Summer Theatre, among others). I'm excited to add more photos and information from my recent trip (once my two little's allow me the time that is!)

Question: I'm looking to have a bachelorette party in Okoboji, Iowa. Are there any great resorts that would accommodate 20-25 and be close to bars/restaurants?

Answer: There is a section of bars and restaurants in Arnold's Park. West Oaks, Fillenwarth Beach, and The Inn Hotel are within relatively close walking distance. Or you could stay a little further out, perhaps at the Ramada, the Super 8, or Arrowhead Resort and hire transportation to take you to and from your destinations. Some of the waterfront bars/restaurants are not located within walking distance of each other, or are located a little further out (like the Barefoot Bar) so hiring a taxi or a van would be a good option too! I haven't had to opportunity to stay at all of these hotels that I've mentioned, so please check out reviews to make the best choice for your group!

Question: Are there campgrounds in Okoboji, Iowa?

Answer: Yes, there are several campgrounds in the Okoboji area and surrounding towns. Here's a link for your reference: https://vacationokoboji.com/places/lodging/campgro...

Question: I'm planning an overnight trip to Okoboji in the next week or two. Is the lake open for boating? Plan on some diving in cool clear waters.

Answer: I'm currently in a different part of Iowa, so I'm very sorry I can't fully answer your question. Here's a statement from the City of Okoboji on Covid-19, and perhaps you can get in touch with someone who works for the city for more information. According to the statement, they are encouraging people to stay home. Stay safe and healthy!

https://okobojicity.com/2020/03/covid-19/

Question: Are there antique stores in Lake Okoboji, Iowa?

Answer: Yes, there are a few antique stores and antique malls in the Okoboji area (check out nearby Spirit Lake and Milford, IA too!) For example, Antiques of Okoboji, the Okoboji Antique Mall, or the Spirit Lake Antique Mall. Here's a link to more stores on Yelp!

https://m.yelp.com/search?cflt=antiques&find_l...

© 2017 Kristina Bouxsein-Hearn

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