Though Summer doesn't actually start for a few more weeks, many consider Memorial Day weekend to be when it "unofficially" starts. That is especially true at the Iowa Great Lakes where every day between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend seems like a vacation.
On the Sunday before Memorial Day, my brother and cousin spent most of the day out and about hitting up a few of the region's hot spots. There's so many adventures to enjoy and we really only scratched the surface.
You can easily make a day or a weekend out of it...but if you wanted to do a whole week...I have no doubt you'd make that work too.
The Three Sons in Milford
The Three Sons in Milford is a family owned apparel, accessories, and shoe store. I consider it to be an Iowa Great Lakes institution and seemingly a great place to find the latest fashions from notable brands or get yourself some University of Okoboji merchandise.
The store's decor is unique inside. It's no frills but in a good way. It's also a walk through history when it comes to Okoboji high school athletics and activities.
As I mentioned, you can buy shoes. They have a great selection of Birkenstock and Sperry, among many others.
They have a huge selection, on a couple of different floors, of all kinds of clothing and apparel. It's really impressive. Usually, there are some sales upstairs.
It's a good place to find some Okoboji or "University of Okoboji" merchandise.
Or...maybe you need some adventure apparel? Of course, you can always shop the just launched (with more products to come) Iowa Adventurer Store.
West O Beer
Iowa has witnessed an explosion of new craft breweries during the past 5+ years.
Literally, dozens of micro-breweries have popped up in big and small cities across Iowa, including West O Beer in West Okoboji. It's a popular spot year-a-round and their distribution network continues to grow. You can certainly find their beverages in Des Moines, for example.
It was quite warm on the day we visited and there were a few folks outside on their patio, but most were interested in staying in the air conditioning.
They have an ample selection of beer choices behind their bar. The bar, of course, has a fair amount of seating.
However, there is other table seating options elsewhere as well.
Larger-than-normal Jenga games are always popular bar games. You can also see that they have quite a few events scheduled.
If you wanted to buy some merchandise to take with you, there's a corner of the tap room with a good selection.
What pairs well with beer? Peanuts of course.
It's important to preserve the condition of the Iowa Great Lakes for the future and West O is trying to do their part to help with that.
There are plenty of "watering holes" to choose from at the Iowa Great Lakes but maybe give West O a try next time you are in the area.
The Central Emporium, Sugar Shack, and The Garden
The Central Emporium is always a great place to stop when you are at the Lakes. It's filled with lots of fun shops - both inside - and outside.
There are multiple floors of stores and boutiques.
I'm always partial to the Sugar Shack, which is owned by family friends. My aunt Marge worked here continuously for over 40+ summers. You can find all kinds of wrapped or bulk candy. The bulk candy is sold by the pound. It's always a treat to stop in and it's usually pretty busy!
On the lower level of the Emporium is The Gardens, which is a restaurant and bar with impeccable views of the water. There are docks that allow boaters to be able to tie their boat up and come in for refreshments. Seemingly every time I'm there, I see people I recognize. There's quite a bit of seating both inside and outside.
A short walk from the Central Emporium is Arnold's Park.
From rides and miniature golf to stores, food stands, and even a psychic - you can spend a lot of time with friends and family. Every time I go to Arnold's Park Amusement Park and the surrounding lakeside attractions, I'm usually hit by a wave of nostalgia.
If you are into miniature golf, I think Pirate's Cove Adventure Golf is pretty popular.
According to the amusement park's website, The Legend is the 13th oldest wooden roller coaster in the world!
As I mentioned, there are lots of different stores and places to find food. I'm usually partial to getting a nutty bar. However, I skipped that tasty ice cream treat on this visit. (Too much candy from the Sugar Shack!)
I skipped out on visiting the psychic but I would have asked - will a lot of my loyal readers share this post on social media and buy some stickers? Hopefully the answer would have been yes!
There's a nice area near the water with benches, binoculars, and other information about the history of the area and the formation of the lakes.
I do not ever remember going for a spin on the Queen II boat and so that is on my bucket list for a future visit!
Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum and Iowa Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
If museums are more of your thing, there are a couple of good options.
The Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum is chock full of terrific artifacts and old boats. You could spend a lot of time here if you are into those kinds of things.
Of course, no museum seems to be complete without a gift shop.
The Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is being relocated to make room for some updates and reconstruction. When I visited several weeks ago, they had some visuals to show how it would look once it was all set up again. There were a few things on display, but not many. I am sure it will look spectacular once it is all settled again.
Between the Park and the Emporium
There is a lot of green space as well as beach and volleyball courts in the space between the main Arnold's Park attractions and the Central Emporium. I know that sometimes the green space hosts concerts.
If you are searching for a local eatery near the action, Smokin' Jakes is a good choice. It's a frequent spot that I seem to hit when I am at the Lakes. They have an expansive menu and it's good food at reasonable prices.
There is a lot of interesting decor - including a lot of local antiques and some vintage beer advertising, including the famous Hamm's Beer bear in a canoe.
The light fixtures are quite unique!
There are a few tables and fair amount of booth and bar seating for hungry and thirsty patrons.
I don't know if the building was once a soda fountain, but a mirror that would be behind a counter is along one of the walls.
Here are a few shots of the menu - it is extensive.
I ordered one of the sandwiches with potato salad. It was quite delicious.
Antiques at the Dickinson County Fairgrounds
If you are in Okoboji over Memorial Day weekend or Labor Day weekend (and I believe around July 4, too), it's never a bad idea to check out one of several locations where antique shows and flea markets are happening. Some years I will hit up Vick's Corner and elsewhere too. There's usually some great treasures to be discovered. We made a quick trek through the Expo Center at the county fairgrounds.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg for the fun that you can find at the Iowa Great Lakes. What did I miss? What are your favorite stops?