Long ago, we discovered that the downtown is the center of a community. The very pulse of the city can be felt in this area. The towns that embrace this idea are the ones where you will find a vibrant and thriving society. Our visit to Oskaloosa, Iowa only allowed for one day downtown, but we were determined to make the most of it. It never ceases to amaze us with the variety we find in the places we visit. Oskaloosa was no exception. The citizens have embraced their history and it has propelled them to create an inviting space that offers visitors a relaxed experience with lots of amenities.
We want to thank the Mahaska Chamber and Oskaloosa Main Street for hosting our visit. Rest assured all opinions are our own.
Oskaloosa is roughly a 4-hour drive from our home in Kansas City. Heading off after a day of work meant that we wouldn’t arrive until well after dinnertime. When we rolled into town, we were anxious to explore. Unfortunately, the failing daylight signaled that most of the businesses were closed for the day. Having just spent the evening in our car, we still wanted to stretch our legs, so a walk around the square was in order. Here is where we spotted the statue of Chief Mahaska, which is where this region gets its name. His leadership, during the settlement of Iowa, became a symbol of the possibility for peace between the natives and settlers.
Finding Plenty of Local Love
Being early risers, we were anxious to start our day downtown. The area chamber had arranged for us to stay at a new Airbnb located on the downtown square. This made our exploration all the more convenient. Just a short walk away we found our morning breakfast stop. Julie’s Homestyle Café was already hopping with business when we arrived. We could see immediately that this was a hangout for the locals. What a great way to start our day. After a hearty breakfast, we spent time chatting with some of the locals, including Julie herself. This is one of our favorite parts about exploring downtowns. Getting a chance to learn about the history and culture of the places we visit from the people who live it every day.
Exploring Osky Alley
Now that our bellies were full, it was time for a little more coffee. On our way to our next stop, we happened upon the Osky Alley. Throughout the downtowns we have visited, we have seen a repeating theme. The cities that truly embrace their space are always looking for creative ways to recapture it. In Oskaloosa, they have completed a beautification project that turned an ordinary alley into a destination. To make sure that visitors and locals know the history of the city, they have added plaques that tell the story behind each of the historic structures found around the downtown.
Moving into the Alley, we discovered that they have decorated the space with a mix of local art and historic displays. What an amazing way to engage with those visiting the space. When you visit Oskaloosa, be sure to set aside some time to explore this place. It really helps give a base background on the city. They have also included a good selection of seating, which pairs perfectly with the nearby coffee shop.
Even with our bellies full from breakfast, we were still in the mood for some more java. Smokey Row Coffee was the perfect place to satisfy our urges. The inside of this place has a fun vibe and their drink selection is impressive. After making our choices, we headed out to do some exploring of the park across the street. The sunny day was quickly heating up, so we decided to pop in some of the locally-owned shops.
Shopped ’til we Dropped
Around the downtown square are a collection of boutique-style shops. Whether you are looking for the latest styles, some new shoes, cosmetics, or even home décor, you will find a place that has it. We loved the variety we found and every shopkeeper was so inviting. It is this opportunity to talk with the locals that make this portion of our day downtown extra special.
While each shop had its own special touches, it was Book Vault that caught my attention. First off, I love to peruse bookstores. The only thing that can make it better is when it has an interesting backstory to the building. Well, this place hits it out of the park with uniqueness. The idea of repurposing an old bank into a bookstore was genius. Not only does the grandiose structure make a great backdrop, but they have even incorporated three vaults into their design.
Our Needed Sweets
It will probably come as no surprise that we sniffed out some sweet treats during our day downtown. When we landed in Oskaloosa, our path took us past a local ice cream stop that had drawn quite a crowd. Always on the lookout for a creamy delight, we pulled in and took our place in line. Sure enough, the delectable treats were well worth the wait and we felt they were a fitting reward for our recent drive. The next evening we changed it up a bit and sampled some fresh slices of pie at Tasos’ Steakhouse on the downtown square.
Our lodging kept us right in the thick of our day downtown. This new Airbnb sits right on the north side of the square, so we were literally steps away from loads of eats, shopping, and entertainment. It made our excursions by foot so simple and we found the lodging had all of the necessary conveniences for travelers. The access to free parking was an added bonus.
Visiting the Outskirts
While our day was mostly dedicated to exploring the downtown, there was a stop that had to be seen just north of town. The Nelson Pioneer Farm pays homage to one of the early families to migrate to the Mahaska region. Having an opportunity to tour this complex of historic buildings was made all the more special with a guide in period dress. When you make your visit to Oskaloosa, you will want to bring the whole family to this stop. There is so much to see and learn about that it will provide plenty of road trip conversation material.
A Day Downtown
Exploring Oskaloosa reminded us how many great stories there are to uncover with a day downtown. We were excited to find some fun selfie spots, as well as a nice selection of local murals. While we only had one day to do our discovery, we feel like we were able to get a good feel for the vibe of the town. As we often find during our trips, the thing that made this visit so special was the locals. It never gets old meeting all of the kind souls that make up the fabric of a community. We are sure you will find the same results when you do your own exploring.
Share these ideas for a Day Downtown!
What fun to explore a new town and discover it’s got lots of history and interesting places beyond what a person might expect at first glance. You’re so right about getting to know a place by hanging out with the locals and Julie’s Homestyle Cafe looks like a great place to do that in Oskaloosa.
It goes to show that every town has interesting aspects waiting to be uncovered.
A Day Downtown is always a fun experience. Looks like you had a great place to stay, good eats, and wonderful finds, including a Pioneer Farm!
It was a day filled with surprises.
Looks like a fun and vibrant city that oozes a lot of charm, cool places to visit and hip areas and shops to explore. The type of place I would love to hang out it.
We think that you would enjoy the down-home vibe found in Oskaloosa.
Like you, I love what some of these smaller towns are doing to beautify alleys and old buildings. It shows great community pride. Oskaloosa sounds like a fun weekend getaway!
So glad to hear you like these types of visits. It really allows for cultural exchange.
OK, I’m yearning for a return to Iowa for a small town stop. Our usual week in Okoboji and drives to Council Bluffs are interrupted, so this is good inspiration.
We have a friend who absolutely loves Okoboji. Our single visit to that area was quite entertaining.