Get to Know: Grinnell
A college town and home to private liberal arts college, Grinnell College, this mid-size town is known for art, history and architecture. Local murals and galleries are scattered throughout town, while walking tours of historic neighborhoods and Grinnell College campus delight history enthusiasts. The college was recently named one of the 2023 best colleges in America by WalletHub. Architect Louis Sullivan designed Grinnell’s Merchants National Bank, now a National Historic Landmark, designated by the U.S. Department of Interior. Favorite restaurants in Grinnell include Grin City Bakery, Grinnell Craft Brewhouse and Grinnell Pub. Recreation in Grinnell can be found at the Grinnell Community Ice Rink, the Grinnell Mutual Family Aquatic Center and even through a Virtual Recreation Center that features free virtual fitness classes and movement opportunities for children.
Grinnell at a Glance
- Population: 9,513 (2021, U.S. Census Bureau)
- Location within Greater Des Moines: East
- Distance from Des Moines: 54.6 miles
- Type of Community: Town
- School District: Grinnell-Newburg Community School District (Serves the communities of Grinnell, Oakland Acres in Newburg and surrounding rural areas)
- County: Poweshiek County
Grinnell in one sentence: A college town of nearly 10,000 that brims with cosmopolitan flair, Grinnel rightly comes by its "Jewel of the Prairie" nickname.
The top five best things about Grinnell: Grinnell grabs headlines every year as its jewel of higher education, Grinnell College, lands on lists of the best liberal arts colleges in the country. The college community fuels a thriving arts scene that includes after-school and maker programs in addition to the venerable Grinnell College Museum of Art. Plus, few towns of this size boast such a wealth of independent restaurants and shops. Many are housed in the downtown historic district, rich with notable architecture. Finally, recreational activities are brimming in the area with 11 public parks, a disc golf course and a bike trail that leads residents and visitors to Rock Creek State Park.
Hidden gems and unexpected finds in Grinnell: Even if you don’t plan to spend the night, pop into the Hotel Grinnell, a chic boutique hotel inside a reimaged junior high school building. You’ll find a charming personality is evident through all the little details, including a chalkboard in every guest room, a gymnasium-style ballroom complete with hardwood floors and the original basketball court markings, the Periodic Table lounge and the old school gym scoreboard serving as décor in the restaurant.
Community traditions and annual events: Each September, scores of colorful kites fill the sky above Ahrens Park, site of Kites Over Grinnell. The event draws kite enthusiasts and professional kite fliers from across the country for a day of high-flying fun. And don’t miss a slice of small-town Americana each summer at the downtown Fourth of July parade.
Best ways to get connected: Sign up for youth and adult sports leagues offered by the city recreation department; check the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce Facebook page to get the scoop on happenings around town; connect with the Grinnell Area Arts Council to participate in art classes and community theater shows; join the Grinnell Lions or Rotary Club to connect with service opportunities.
Big things on the horizon for Grinnell: Opening in the fall of 2024, the new Civic Engagement Quad building at the intersection of campus and downtown will offer an apartment-style living option for Grinnell College students and a pavilion to encourage gatherings of college and community members. Also connecting campus and community is Emera, the first new market-rate housing on Main Street. Open to students and the general public, the building will feature four stories containing a mix of apartments, retail spots and a large restaurant space.
If you’re coming to check out Grinnell, be sure to spend your day ... Start the morning getting caffeinated at Saints Rest Coffee House downtown, then delve into a self-guided architecture tour. The downtown area, listed on the National Register of Historical Places, draws architecture buffs from around the world to admire structures designed by significant architects, including the legendary Louis Sullivan, mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright and designer of Grinnell’s 1914 Merchants National Bank building and seven other “jewel box”-style banks. Grab lunch at the Prairie Canary, a restaurant specializing in comfort food with local flair. Spend the afternoon at the Grinnell College Museum of Art, where you’ll find more than 6,000 items on display, including works by Pablo Picasso and Rembrandt van Rijn. Kick off happy hour at the Grinnell Craft Brewhouse, then dive into a progressive dinner that samples offerings throughout downtown: a cup of soup at Relish Grinnell, ‘za built from fresh-made dough at Pagliai’s pizza and finally a decadent dessert at Solera.
Some of the ways Grinnell advances diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI): Diversity is central to Grinnell College, where students come from every state and more than 60 countries. The college hosts an annual Juneteenth celebration and has established a Racial Equity Fund that provides grants to community organizations actively advancing racial equity.