Home to one of the nation’s top water parks and newest theme parks, Waterloo is a bustling community that offers never-ending adventures. Add it to your summer bucket list to experience some of the best thrills in the state and other hidden gems along the way for an exciting extended weekend getaway.
Day One - Splash Zone Thrills
Breakfast: Rockets Bakery
First, fuel up for the day at Rockets Bakery in downtown Waterloo. This locally owned café boasts delicious homemade donuts, pastries and caffeinated beverages. Then, let the adventure begin.
Morning/Afternoon: Lost Island Water Park
Kick off your Waterloo adventure with a bang! For water park enthusiasts, the Lost Island Water Park is a must-visit. Ranked the third best water park in the country by USA Today, the tropical oasis boasts 11 thrilling water slides, including a rare hydromagnetic water coaster (only a handful of these exist throughout the world!). Brave the wave pool, interact with magical mermaids, float down the lazy river or relax in one of the lagoons with a tasty tropical drink.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, the park’s various food huts serve everything from pizza, walking tacos and sandwiches to ice cream, fruits and snacks to satisfy any craving.
Evening: Adventure Golf and Monaleo's Speedway
Stay: Isle Casino & Hotel
When the sun goes down and the park closes for the day, retreat to a room at the Isle Casino & Hotel, located just down the road from Lost Island. Spend the rest of your evening relaxing in the resort-style pool, grab dinner at one of the onsite restaurants, test your luck with the vast collection of casino games or test your gaming skills at the Edge arcade.
Or extend the tropical fun even more by booking a camping spot or cabin at Lost Island’s KOA campground. Choose between a deluxe cabin, RV or tent site and enjoy amenities like an onsite disc golf course, dog park, playground, bike rentals and a swimming beach with paddle boat, kayak and canoe rentals.
Another great lodging option lies within the Courtyard by Mariott, located next to the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum. Housed inside the former John Deere factory, this sleek hotel offers airy, industrial-like rooms paired with modern amenities a contemporary lounge with a café, an indoor pool and gym and a picnic and BBQ area.
Day Two - Fast-Paced Thrills
Breakfast: Cabin Coffee
Kickstart the morning with a signature coffee and delicious breakfast at Cabin Coffee. Their menu includes everything from espresso drinks, chai and tea to baked goods, sausage biscuits and breakfast bowls and sandwiches.
Morning/Afternoon: Lost Island Theme Park
Continue the exciting island adventure at the Lost Island Theme Park. Step inside and discover five enchanting realms, each with its own characters, inventive storytelling and appropriately themed rides.
The first realm, Tamariki, is a colorful, child-centric realm boasting pint-sized roller coasters, gentle spinner and gliders. The adventure intensifies in the next realm, Udara, which boasts air-centric thrills including the Nopuko Air Coaster. Next, dive into the Awa realm and cool off with its interactive water cannon and maze or admire the views from the Ferris wheel. Then traverse into the lush jungle of the Yuta realm, home of the Matugani launch coaster, bumper cars and a traditional log ride. Finally, test your bravery in the Mura realm, whose heart-stopping, fire-themed rides round out the park’s thrills. This realm is home to the park’s most famous ride – the 4D interactive Quest for the Golden Idol.
When you’re hungry, discover everything from elevated dining and classic American fare to famous pork nachos, cold brew coffee and colorful cupcake flights.
Evening: The Brown Bottle
Once the day’s adventures come to a close, make a reservation at The Brown Bottle for an elegant dining experience. This Italian eatery has been a community staple since the 70s, and customers especially love the seafood lasagna, prime rib and refined atmosphere.
Day Three - Relaxed Exploration
Breakfast: Morg's Diner
A can’t-miss breakfast destination, Morg’s Diner has been cooking up homemade meals for over 60 years. It’s especially known for the massive plate-sized buttermilk pancakes, though you can also enjoy simpler dishes like omelets, cinnamon rolls and eggs prepared however you like them.
Spend the morning taking a relaxing stroll through the expansive Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens. This 40-acre oasis showcases a variety of plants, flowers and trees throughout its collection of gardens. Admire the ancient symbolism of The Labryinth, the sculpture collection scattered throughout, a charming succulent garden and more.
Lunch: Basal Pizza
Head back downtown and stop by Basal Pizza for a relaxing lunch. Start with an appetizer like bruschetta, wood fired shrimp or a charcuterie board, then indulge in one of their Neapolitan-style pizzas.
Afternoon: Grout Museum District
Embrace even more area history with a visit to the Grout Museum District’s various locations. Hit them all or add them to your next Waterloo itinerary.
- Museum of History & Science – Learn everything there is to know about the area’s past and visit the only public planetarium in northeast Iowa.
- Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum – Dive into the stories of the Civil and World Wars and follow the journey of the five Sullivan brothers aboard the USS Juneau during WWII.
- Bluedorn Science Imaginarium – The kids will be truly thrilled by this interactive, hands-on museum. Fire an air cannon, create your own laser show or satisfy your curiosity about physical science.
- Russell House Museum – Envision living in Victorian elegance, sophistication and grace with a tour of this stunning mansion.
Evening: SingleSpeed Brewing
Enjoy an evening of fine dining and savory sipping at SingleSpeed Brewing. Formed by local bike enthusiasts, the historic Waterloo location is inside a renovated WonderBread factory and features a traditional dining room, beer hall and beer garden. Take a tour of the historic building and brewing process, then try everything from extra-spicy breaded cauliflower and an Amish pretzel to signature burgers, tacos, wings, flatbreads and sandwiches.
Day Four - Agricultural Adventures
Breakfast: Newton's Paradise Café
Experience another piece of paradise with lunch at Newton’s Paradise Café. Located in the historic former Newton’s Jewelry building in downtown Waterloo, this hidden gem boasts elevated dishes prepared with fresh produce. Choose a table or booth, sit at the diner-style counter or head out to the three-season patio and enjoy their great selection of eggs, pancakes, omelets and breakfast burritos and pizzas.
Morning: John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum
Step inside the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum and prepare to be amazed by the company that grew to become a global leader in agricultural equipment. Explore the evolution of tractors, engines and technology via hands-on displays, rare artifacts and antique tractors.
Lunch: Jameson's Public House
A downtown staple since 2006, Jameson’s Public House is the only place in Waterloo that serves authentic Irish food, beers and whiskeys. Step inside the Gaelic atmosphere to enjoy live music, daily specials and a menu that consistently serves Irish dishes like shepherd’s pie and fish and chips alongside classic meals like soups, salads, burgers and more.
Afternoon: Hansen's Farm Fresh Dairy
A can’t-miss area attraction, Hansen’s Farm Fresh Dairy is one of the most exciting places in the state to learn about agriculture. The farm welcomes visitors to tour their dairy operations and enjoy hands-on experiences along the way. Try your hand at milking a cow, churning butter or bottle-feeding a calf. A tour also offers the opportunity to pet and feed the farm’s kangaroos! Before you go, shop the dairy’s variety of ice cream flavors, from chocolate and cake batter to apple pie.
Evening: Screaming Eagle Bar and Grill
Self-touted as Waterloo’s hotspot for great food, drinks and live music, the Screaming Eagle Bar & Grill is a downtown staple. Their menu includes everything from perfectly sauced wings and handmade pizzas to fresh wraps and Angus burgers. During the spring and summer, the eatery also hosts weekly bike and classic car nights every Thursday.
Bonus Day - Live Like a Local
Breakfast: Jassie's Bar & Grill
Locals claim that Jassie’s Bar & Grill is secretly one of the best breakfast spots in the area. This diner-style eatery boasts comfortable booths and a charming counter paired with massive portions for a small price. The menu includes everything from savory sausage links and chicken fried steak and eggs to grits and any other classic breakfast dish you can imagine, all served hot, fresh and fast.
Morning: Cedar Valley Trails
Spend the rest of your morning exploring the community by bike on the Cedar Valley Trails system. Visitors can grab rental bikes from Waterloo Bicycle Works, then pedal over 100 miles of paved trails. Use the trail’s detailed wayfinding signs to discover even more area attractions between Waterloo and Cedar Falls.
Lunch: Restoran Bosna
Try something new at Restoran Bosna. Started by the Okanovic family in 2013, it serves authentic, homemade Bosnian cuisine. Make sure to bring cash so you can enjoy their generous portions of Bosnian classics like masanca and chicken, kabobs and filo dough. The menu is also very detailed, making it an excellent spot to expand your palate.
Afternoon/Evening: Waterloo Bucks Baseball
Before you head home, take part in America’s favorite pastime with a Waterloo Bucks Baseball game. The team is a member of the Northwoods League, the finest developmental league for elite college players. Head to Riverfront Stadium and grab a seat, beer and pretzel to cheer on the Bucks.