Grinnell, Iowa, is an active and artsy college town. It’s also one of the most picturesque places we discovered on our weeklong road trip through the Hawkeye state. Whether you’re returning for a class reunion, enjoying a weekend getaway, or simply passing through, be sure to bring your camera (or smart phone) and check out some of these photo-worthy stops we found on our hosted trip to Grinnell.
1. Hotel Grinnell
Hotel Grinnell takes old school to a whole new level — literally. Once a junior high school, Hotel Grinnell is now a chic and modern luxury hotel in the heart of downtown Grinnell, Iowa. One step into the former school building and you’ll want to take pictures to show your friends. The owners elegantly transformed classrooms into guest rooms and the tall windows provide an abundance of light for fantastic photographs. Book a night in the old principal’s office or explore the ballroom which was once a gym. We promise, these will be the best school pictures you’ve ever taken.
2. Merchants’ National Bank
At the corner of 4th Avenue and Broad Street sits the historic Merchants National Bank. Named a National Historic Landmark by the US Department of the Interior, it is one of legendary architect Louis Sullivan’s “Jewel Box” banks. This incredible, well-preserved building now houses the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce and Grinnell Visitor Center. Visitors are encouraged to step inside to look around and of course, take pictures of the colorful stained glass windows and intricate interior design.
3. Grinnell College Campus
Founded in 1846, this private liberal arts college has been an integral part of the Grinnell, Iowa, community for generations. With 1,600 students, the tradition-rich college is often ranked among the best undergraduate institutions in the nation. Old buildings, vast green spaces, and unique architecture make the entire campus picture worthy. Take a stroll across MacEachron (Mac) Field in the center of campus for a great shot of Rawson Hall featuring the distinctive central tower pictured below.
4. Central Park in Grinnell, Iowa
Covering nearly four acres in downtown Grinnell, Iowa, Central Park is a great place to relax and unwind making it a wonderful place to photograph kids and families. The covered stage hosts live music and special events. The the picnic shelter is a perfect spot for family gatherings and reunions. There’s also a water feature that can be activated between the hours of 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. during the warm weather months. It even lights up at night!
5. Drake Community Library
Friends of the Drake Community Library in Grinnell, Iowa, wanted to provide a photogenic destination sign that would also help visitors identify the library. Designed by local artist Ryan McGuire and manufactured by local signage company ASI Signage, the Friends of the Library installed this gigantic piece in front of the library at 930 Park Street. Definitely a picture-worthy stop, especially when there are blue skies.
6. Public murals
There are several large murals painted on buildings and walls throughout Grinnell, Iowa. We enjoyed finding this Dino mural behind a dentist’s office at 817 Commercial Street, as well as other murals around town. See how many you can find and photograph during your visit. The Grinnell Chamber of Commerce also offers a self-guided walking tour of community art HERE.
7. The Periodic Table in Hotel Grinnell
The Periodic Table is Hotel Grinnell’s on-site bar and patio and we wanted to take pictures of everything in it! An oversized Scrabble board and a shuffleboard table sit in the lounge area, while the old junior high school scoreboard is lighted in the bar. Decorated with pictures of chemical elements, The Periodic Table is an ideal place to unwind with a beverage (with many more choices than white or chocolate milk) and share a small plate. The outdoor patio seating area is perfect for lounging around the fire or listening to live music with friends.
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8. Local architecture
Grinnell, Iowa, is well-known as a destination for fans of architecture. Art lovers and architectural historians alike come to see the town’s historic homes and unique buildings on the college campus. Folks also want to visit the entire downtown which is listed on the National Register of Historic places. The Chamber of Commerce even offers a self-guided Architectural Treasures Walking Tour that you can download HERE. Have your camera ready to capture unique buildings like this one that once served as a dentist’s office. The chair was set in the turret with the windows around providing light for the doctor to work.
Nestled in downtown Grinnell, Iowa, Solera is a wine and beer bar and a favorite of locals. Offering a wide variety of quality craft beers and wines, you’ll find it filled with friendly folks who check their worries at the door. When you go, be sure to bring your camera to capture some of the fun and eclectic decor. There’s even a Ruth Bader-Ginsburg bobblehead doll and this one-of-a-kind toilet paper holder. Peacetree Brewing Co. is another great place to stop for a local craft brew.
10. Flowers in bloom
The streets of Grinnell, Iowa, are filled with plush gardens, planters, and baskets filled with colorful flowers. Take time to walk around and admire the different of varieties of flowers. You can even make use of that macro setting on your camera!
11. Food from Relish
When we visited Grinnell, we had the opportunity to sample dishes created by Chef Kamal of Relish restaurant. Using foods harvested by local farmers and producers, Chef Kamal created a five-course meal that rivaled anything we’ve had in the finest restaurants in the Midwest. Because he uses seasonal ingredients from local farmers like Olson Garden Market and Middle Way Farm, there’s always something new or experimental on the menu.
12. Grinnell’s Giving Gardens
Grinnell established Giving Gardens in 2013 through a community transformation grant as a way to give the community access to fresh foods. Anyone can harvest the produce from several gardens around town and there is no cost to participate in the program.
13. Los Girasoles Mexican Restaurant
Not only does Los Girasoles Mexican Restaurant have delicious food, the restaurant itself is picture worthy. The dining room is covered in hand-painted sunflowers. We couldn’t resist photographing the booths, tables, and chairs that all showcased the beautiful flowers. Take lots of pics and splurge on the queso — it’s worth every calorie.
14. Faulconer Gallery
The Faulconer Gallery on the Grinnell College campus is a great place for any photographer to find inspiration. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, the gallery is free and open to the public. With more than 6,000 objects in its permanent collection, the Faulconer Gallery presents exhibitions from local, regional, national, and international artists. In addition, temporary exhibitions change about every 12 weeks. The gallery also hosts many hands-on special events and offers yoga in the gallery twice a week. (We were able to visit while they were setting up a new exhibition – hence the ladder.)
15. Dari Barn
The Dari Barn is a longtime local favorite for fast food as well as delicious ice cream and frozen yogurt. We would have included a photo of the ice-cream we bought, but it looked so good we dug into it before we remembered to snap a picture! Soft serve chocolate and vanilla ice cream are always available. Local favorites include black raspberry yogurt, the cookie dough cyclone, and pulled-pork sandwiches. Be sure to get a photo of the adorable animal yard art outside the store!
Have you been to Grinnell, Iowa? What are your favorite places to stop for a photo? Disclosure: Our trip to Grinnell was sponsored by Hotel Grinnell, the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce, and Travel Iowa. All opinions are our own. Contact the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce for more information and to plan your visit and tell them you heard about it on Postcard Jar!