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Ottumwa Stories: 23 Things To Do In 2023

Published December 26, 2022

There's so much happening in Ottumwa and Wapello County this year! Whether you're visiting for the first time or the 50th time, you'll find new things to see, do, eat and explore in 2023. Here are 23 ideas to get you started:

  1. Take the self-guided Eagle Watching Tour. Ottumwa is a stopover location for Bald Eagles, and they can be seen all along the Des Moines River from December through March. Stop by the Meet Ottumwa office in Bridge View Center’s main lobby for a guide, map and suggestions for the best viewing spots.

  2. Support Indian Hills Community College Athletics. Come cheer on the Warrior basketball, cross country, soccer, softball and volleyball teams as they take on opponents from across Iowa and around the country.

  3. Attend Bridge View Center’s spring shows and events. Southern Iowa’s premier performing art venue, Bridge View has a full schedule of events, including FamilyFest, Southeast Iowa Symphony concerts, Troupe Vertigo Circus Dance Theatre, Skid Row and Buckcherry performances. Visit meetottumwa.org/events for all the details.

  4. Try your skills at our nine disc golf courses. In Ottumwa, you’ll find courses at Indian Hills Community College, Memorial Park, Franklin Park, Wildwood Park and Christ's Church. Courses around Wapello County can also be found at Sandy Dunes in Eddyville, Chippewa Creek in Eldon, The Burg in Bladensburg and just south of Ottumwa at the Pioneer Ridge Nature Area.

  5. BYOC (Bring Your Own Costume) at the American Gothic House. What could be more fun than having your own parody picture taken in front of the house that inspired Grant Wood’s famous painting? Pitchforks are always available at the Center, so bring your favorite costume - Star Wars, LEGO people, dinosaurs, whatever your heart desires - and get your Christmas card picture for next year!

  6. Join the fun of Ladies Night Out in Downtown Ottumwa. Main Street Ottumwa offers an April evening out that includes passports for prizes, giveaways, trolley rides, food, drinks and live musical performances.

  7. Take on the 100-foot speed slide at the Beach Ottumwa. Open from Memorial Day weekend through the week before Labor Day, the Beach also features curly slides, wave pool, sand volleyball and a large children’s play area. During the rest of the year, enjoy the indoor slides, competitive-sized pool and obstacle course.

  8. Discover our Civil War connections. Wapello County is the final resting place of three Civil War Medal of Honor recipients, a carved Civil War soldier overlooks the graves in Ottumwa Cemetery and there are several stops on the Freedom Trail dedicated to those who served in the Civil War. 

  9. Check out the cacti at the Eddyville Sand Dunes. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find another place in Iowa where you can see as many different kinds of plants and animals as you can at the Eddyville Sand Prairie area. It’s a great place to explore with field guides, a camera and binoculars. 

  10. Go ghost hunting at Mars Hill. This historic church and cemetery, a favorite spot for ghost and UFO hunters, is located just south of Ottumwa. The church was built in the 1850s, was almost completely rebuilt after a fire in 2006 and is said to be the largest log building in Iowa.

  11. Explore the arboretum in Ottumwa Cemetery. A final resting place for many citizens from Ottumwa’s past, Ottumwa Cemetery is also home to an arboretum, housing trees and shrubs planted through the city’s history, a receiving vault built in the 1800s, a civil war section and an interesting dog statue. Click HERE to use the interactive map for a self-guided tour.

  12. Attend the Wapello County Fair this June. The week’s activities include harness races, midway rides, chainsaw artist, Bill Riley Talent Show, hot laps and car races at the Eldon Raceway, livestock shows, a headlining grandstand performance and so much more.

  13. Attend an Ottumwa Municipal Band concert in Central Park. The longest continuously performing municipal band in Iowa, the all–volunteer band performs every Thursday evening in June and July at 7:30 p.m. in Central Park. Bring your lawn chairs and enjoy Music for a Summer Night.

  14. Set a new high score at Old School Pinball and Arcade. Ottumwa is the Video Game Capital of the World so let us personally introduce you to our video game history! Try your hand at some vintage games at Ottumwa’s Old School Pinball and Arcade in the Quincy Place Mall. Defender, Donkey Kong, Ms. Pac-Main, Mario Bros., Guitar Hero and dozens of other games - where would you start?

  15. Participate in one of the year-round programs at Pioneer Ridge Nature Area and Center. This two-story nature center has displays and educational programs, a full-time naturalist and four stocked ponds open for public fishing. There are also 15 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails, and a half-mile, paved, handicap-accessible trail.

  16. Walk, run, bike or walk your dog on the 16-mile Wapello County Trail System. Choose from a 5K John Deere Loop, a 1-mile loop between Market Street and the Wabash Bridge, two loops through Greater Ottumwa Park and a 1-mile section by Gray Eagle Wildlife Preserve. 

  17. Join the Antique Airplane Association and attend the Invitational Fly-In. You don’t have to be a pilot or own a plane to join - the yearly membership fee includes exclusive access to the members-only Fly-In over Labor Day weekend and a year subscription to The Antique Airfield Runway magazine.

  18. Dine at one of our many international restaurants. Ottumwa residents represent more than 40 nationalities, and our diversity is apparent in our local restaurants and shops. Enjoy Guatemalan, Salvadorian, Filipino, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, many kinds of Latin and a variety of American menus.

  19. Eat at the world-famous Canteen. Opened in 1927, Canteen Lunch in the Alley has been serving loose-meat sandwiches, milkshakes and homemade pie for almost 100 years. Place your pin in the map while you're there, joining our community's history along with visitors from all over the world.

  20. Take our self-guided street art tour. The alley located between Main Street and Second Street serves as the cornerstone for a large and unique array of street art throughout Downtown Ottumwa. The collection is constantly expanding and includes sculptures, murals and interactive digital art. Along Main Street, you'll find new sculptures in several different media, including some with lights, created by local, state and nationally known artists. Across the river at Bridge View Center, explore the art collection both inside and around the outside of the venue. You can even get interactive with the musical instrument art in Harmony Park, located behind Bridge View Center.

  21. Visit the Iowa Heartland History Connection. The museum is filled with exhibits that illustrate life in Wapello County during the 19th and 20th centuries. Their new building on Farm Credit Drive also has dedicated areas for local research and meeting spaces for public use and expansive collection storage areas that are secure and climate controlled to make the collections last for generations to come.

  22. Get an old-fashioned milkshake at the Southside Drug Soda Fountain. Perfectly preserved from days gone by, the soda fountain is the place to get handmade malts and shakes, ice cream sundaes and many other sweet treats. Make it your new family tradition!

  23. Check out the Christmas displays at O’Hara True Value Hardware. A holiday tradition for decades, the locally owned store offers moving displays in the entryway, a large gift shop with Ottumwa merchandise, live trees and wreaths for sale and a chance to meet live reindeer before they go join Santa.

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