Top Ten Reasons to Visit Okoboji, Iowa

Updated on April 8, 2019
Kristina Hearn profile image

Kristina enjoys traveling, sharing experiences, and plans to explore new destinations with her family at every possible opportunity!

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 check it out! You don't need to travel to the coast in search of water and sand. You can actually take a warm, sunny beach vacation smack dab in the center of the Midwest. Okoboji, IA is one of the many great things that the Midwest has to offer. Tucked away in the northwest corner of Iowa, situated along the Iowa Great Lakes, Okoboji offers water activities, state parks, tasty cuisine, several small beaches, and loads of fun. Okoboji 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 my top ten reasons to pack your bags and visit this fantastic location!


1. 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!


2. Nutty Bars

While we're on the subject of Arnolds Park, I have to mention the Nutty Bars at the Nutty Bar Stand. The Nutty Bar Stand is an ice cream shop within the amusement park, and it's a must visit. Nutty Bars get a category all their own, because they are just so good. 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, try out one of the other cold treats at The Nutty Bar Stand instead!


3. 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!)


4. 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. 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!

5. 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. Caribbean, Mexican, American, fine dining, seafood, bakeries, or ice cream'll find something for everyone's palate!


6. Margaritas and Mini Golf

Here's a fun combination! Check out Ranch Okoboji for a round of mini golf, followed up by, according to their website, “the best margaritas north of the border.” Or take one with you on the mini golf course! Not only does Ranch Okoboji offer mini golf, this family fun park also has bocce ball, squirt gun battles, volleyball, horseshoes, shopping, and more. It's 10 times the fun, rolled all into one location. What a great way to spend an afternoon!


7. Boating

Imagine yourself cruising in the sunlight, on the sparkling waters of a giant glacial lake, listening to 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 ski's, 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. The Queen II (pictured above) is a large cruise boat that offers 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!

8. 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. According to Vacation Okoboji, the most popular beach is Terrace Park Beach, a public area with 1200 feet of sand. 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!


9. 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 on the 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 everyday during the summer months.

10. Winter Sports

Reason #10 is a bit different from the other nine reasons to visit Okoboji, but it is a good reason just the same! Even though Okoboji has a beachy summer vibe, it is still in Iowa, and has the same cold, snowy winters as the rest of the Midwest! If you're more of a snowbird than a beach goer, check out Okoboji for 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.

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

Special thanks to my friend, Patt, for officially introducing me to the good times in Okoboji.

Questions & Answers

  • Are there campgrounds in Okoboji, Iowa?

    Yes, there are several campgrounds in the Okoboji area and surrounding towns. Here's a link for your reference:

  • Are there antique stores in Lake Okoboji, Iowa?

    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!


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    • profile image


      3 months ago

      Thanks for the great ideas for an Okoboji vacation! This brings back great memories!

    • profile image

      David Smith 

      3 months ago

      I absolutely loved the Lake Okoboji area! And then the next day when we went to Arnold Park my favorite was the go-kart track! There are so many cool things to do there!

    • profile image

      Sandy Erickson 

      3 months ago

      Nicely written article. I'm sure people will want to visit this destination.

    • Kristina Hearn profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristina Hearn 

      23 months ago from Iowa

      Thanks for your comment Dora! It's so much fun there. I hope to go back soon!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      23 months ago from The Caribbean

      So there is something for everyone. Even the walk through seems it could be interesting. Thanks for sharing thefun atmosphere at Okoboji.

    • Kristina Hearn profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristina Hearn 

      23 months ago from Iowa

      I'm ready to go back!

    • profile image


      24 months ago

      Fun, fun, fun! Those Nutty Bars are delicious on a hot summer day. It's a great place for a vacation.


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