Jun 18 2012
When we made our plans to visit Le Mars, Iowa, for Ice Cream Days, we expected to have a nice time and eat some good ice cream. I did not, however, expect to be wowed by the extreme family-friendliness of the Ice Cream Days celebration.
We’ve been to summer festivals before, but often only a small portion of the festival is suitable for kids. Queen coronations, beer gardens, softball tournaments, and street dances are designed more for adults to enjoy than children.
In Le Mars, however, absolutely everything on the schedule of events is designed for family involvement, and that makes it worth the trip for families looking to do something fun and different as they make their summer plans.
- The Kids Ice Cream Cone-ival (like a carnival but ice cream themed–get it?) is a well-organized event in the city’s Cleveland Park.
Each child gets a number of tickets to use in the various carnival games (all Blue Bunny themed, of course, and run by Blue Bunny employees and their children).
Free watermelon, apples, juice, and Blue Bunny Ice Cream treats are given away as well, and there’s a nice big playground for the kids to play on when they’ve run out of carnival tickets.
- Ice Cream Days Parade.
Perhaps the biggest draw of the weekend, the parade lasted nearly an hour with a wide variety of entries, many of them incorporating the Ice Cream Days theme.
I’d advise heading over to Foster Park early to get a good spot to watch the parade, then letting the kids play on the playground while you wait for the parade to start. After the parade, you’ll be right where the action is for Art in the Park.
- Art in the Park. Primarily an arts and crafts fair with booths selling their wares in Foster Park, there are also craft projects for kids and entertainment (this year the Su Fu Du Drumline) after the parade, as well as concessions and ice cream (of course!). We left proudly carrying marshmallow shooters (kids) and handcrafted garden ornaments (me).
We arrived for just the Friday and Saturday portions of the annual festival, but in the future I’d try to get there on Wednesday afternoon to enjoy more festivities. There’s enough on the schedule to keep families busy for four days while allowing a bit of time to explore Le Mars.
Le Mars itself is a town where I felt right at home. Its layout is easy to navigate, its downtown beautiful and vibrant, and its homes and yards well-kept. I liked Le Mars enough that I posted on Facebook that I could easily see myself living there. Apparently that feeling is shared by others, because the population of the town is increasing, and I talked to people who have lived there for several years, only to be joined by extended family members who liked the town well enough to move there themselves.
And then there’s the ice cream. We really can’t forget the ice cream.
Le Mars is home to Blue Bunny Ice Cream, and more ice cream is made in Le Mars than in any other place, earning it the title of “Ice Cream Capital of the World.” The best way to sample the local concoctions is to head downtown to the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor,
where you can explore the company’s history in the upstairs museum exhibits,
or better yet, place an order at the soda fountain.
Bring your appetite, though–a so-called “single” scoop cone at 3 p.m. was enough to make my 9-year-old son decline anything for supper.
Pleasing for our family was the allergy awareness at the Parlor; when we mentioned my son’s peanut allergy, the parlor staff cheerfully opened a new tub of ice cream and got a clean scoop for him so he could enjoy his ice cream without any worries.
While in Le Mars, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, conveniently located near restaurants and Wal-Mart on the edge of town. Our room with two queens and a sofabed was extremely spacious, though sadly is only reservable as a room that sleeps 5, even though it’s larger than most 2-queen/sofabed rooms that are rated for six occupants at competing hotel chains.
At the end of the day when we finally regained our appetites, it was nice to be able to walk a few steps for a bite to eat, and in the morning we all enjoyed the ample complimentary breakfast.
The other treat we enjoyed in Le Mars was its public artwork, represented in a series of large ice cream cone sculptures, each uniquely painted and located in various business and community spots around town.
We took the map of the ice cream cones and made our way around town,
checking off each one and stopping to snap photos with many.
While walking downtown to find our last few cones, we came across an artist painting a mural of a historic Le Mars building and stopped to watch and chat a bit.
The last thing we did before leaving town was to visit the Plymouth County Historical Museum.
Located in the old high school building, the museum is organized by various themes in Plymouth County history and there’s plenty to see. My favorite was the “kitchens through the decades” display (aptly located in the old Home Ec room); my daughter liked “milking” the cow in the agriculture exhibit; and my train-loving son was delighted to see that the model railroad club was operating in an area of the museum. And as if we hadn’t had enough ice cream yet during the weekend, they were offering $1 root beer floats in the recreated Miller’s Lunch diner, which was pleasantly reminiscent of my hometown’s Mildred’s Cafe, down to the style of the booths and counter stools.
My kids are already asking if we can return for Ice Cream Days next year, and I’m strongly considering it. While you can stop and explore Le Mars and the Blue Bunny Parlor at any time, visiting the community during Ice Cream Days provides a lot of family-friendly fun and entertainment.
It probably seems as if I’m gushing over this event, and I’m usually not much of a gusher, but we did really enjoy Ice Cream Days that much. Ice Cream Days is held annually on Father’s Day weekend, so if you’re looking for a family outing in mid-June, Le Mars is definitely somewhere to consider in your plans.
Oh, and I’m not quite sure if this happens to everyone, but . . . after all the Blue Bunny Ice Cream I ate over the weekend, I stepped on the scale when we got home and it hadn’t budged a bit. If that isn’t a good experience, I don’t know what is!
Disclosure: We visited Ice Cream Days as guests of Blue Bunny, which provided compensation for our trip expenses.