A Tour of Jim Crikket’s Cedar Rapids

Acquiescing to an outpouring of demand, I’ve put together a little bit of information about my hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Of course, I understand that the only reason so many of our readers seem to want that information has nothing at all to do with it being my hometown, but rather because our fair city is now the home of the Minnesota Twins’ Class A minor league affiliate, the Kernels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI guess as long as I’m being honest, the whole “outpouring of demand” thing might have been a slight exaggeration. But one of our Twitter followers, @CSwamptown, did ask for it last week and by God we’re so thrilled to find out we actually have Twitter followers that we’re going to try to be responsive to that kind of request!

Cedar Rapids is the second largest city, by population, in Iowa. Almost 130,000 people call Cedar Rapids home and when you add in the other nearby cities and towns in Linn County, the total pops up above 210,000 people.

Cedar Rapids is home to multiple campuses full of Rockwell Collins and Transamerica Insurance Company workers, as well as significant General Mills and Quaker Oats plants. Coe College (my alma mater), Mount Mercy College and Kirkwood Community College all are located in town and the University of Iowa’s campus in Iowa City is just 20 miles or so south of Cedar Rapids (Go Hawkeyes!).

But you’re coming here for baseball, so you probably don’t care about any of that. That being the case, let’s get started with this little tour of Jim Crikket’s Cedar Rapids.

Getting Around

Cedar Rapids is laid out roughly in quadrants. Every address will include its quadrant (NW, SW, SE, NE). Know this, however… the quadrant boundaries are established by the Cedar River (north/south) and First Avenue (east/west). Both the river and the main street wind more than a little bit as they work their ways through town, so take the whole NW, SW, SE and NE thing more as general guidelines than rules.

Don’t Speed. Seriously. Don’t do it. At least don’t go much more than 5 mph over posted speed limits, especially on I-380 through town. Cedar Rapids uses cameras placed strategically behind many of the overhead signage on the highway to take your picture (specifically a picture of your license plate) as you drive through and at a number of intersections in town. If you speed or run a light, you’ll be getting a “thank you letter” from local law enforcement shortly after you get home with instructions on how to make one more final financial contribution to our local economy.

Sleeping

I’ll start with a confession: If you ask me for hotel recommendations, you’re really asking the wrong guy. I live here. I’ve lived here since 1977 for all but a handful of months in 1979 (and that’s a story you really don’t want to hear, so let’s just pretend it never happened). Since I live here, I’ve had very little cause to stay in a hotel. I have no idea which hotels have soft beds or are pet friendly.

However, as frequent readers here know, I’m not one to let a little thing like lack of knowledge about a topic keep me from expressing thoughts on said topic.

There are two “clusters” of  hotels for the budget conscious in Cedar Rapids. One on the north side of town (between Blairs Ferry Rd and Collins Rd, about half a mile east of I-380) and one on the south side (at the 33rd Ave SW Exit off of I-380). On one end or the other, you’ll find pretty much every hotel chain you can think of represented.

I’m guessing the hotels on the north side might be quieter, since they’re located in more of an office park area (very near the large Rockwell Collins campus). The south grouping is much more clumped together and interspersed with various restaurants (especially of the fast-food variety). There aren’t many restaurants in easy walking distance from the hotels on the north side.  You’re not going to be walking to Kernels games either way, but the hotels on the south side are a bit closer to the ballpark.

If you’re not as concerned with cost, there’s a nice Marriott on Collins Rd on the north side. There’s also a new convention center nearing completion downtown and there’s a high rise (at least high by Cedar Rapids standards) hotel attached to it. The hotel has been in the process of being renovated for the past couple of years and has not yet reopened, but when it is, it will be a DoubleTree Hotel. Last I knew, the plans were for it to open at the end of May.

Eating and Drinking

It’s not hard to find a place to eat in Cedar Rapids. We have all of the same chain restaurants you’ll find everywhere else (no Famous Dave’s, though, Twins Citians… sorry). If you’re like me, though, you might prefer to check out the local “independent” restaurants and bars. So if you want to go to Buffalo Wild Wings, Granite City, Red Lobster, Applebees or any other fine national chain restaurant, they aren’t hard to find here. But if you want to try a place you won’t find back home, consider one of these:

BushwoodLogoBushwood Sports Bar & Grill (350 Edgewood Road NW… a couple of miles west of the ballpark): This is my family’s regular Friday night hangout. The food’s good and there’s a pretty broad menu for a sports bar. There are more TVs than you can possibly watch and the service is excellent. Then again, maybe they just really provide great service to my family because we’ve spent so much money there the past few years that we really should own a share of the business by now. But I’m pretty sure the waitresses will be nice to you, too.

Third Base Brewery (500 Blairs Ferry Rd NE… maybe a mile east of the “north cluster” of hotels): To be honest, I’ve rarely been here, but they brew their own beer on site so it can’t be too bad, right? I have nothing against the place, it simply is located on the east side of town and I live on the west side.

La CantinaLa Cantina (corner of First Ave SE and Second Street SE, Downtown): This has become my family’s “go to” Mexican restaurant. We really like the food, but I’m not so sure that the fact we made our first visit there on a “two-for-one margaritas” night might have influenced us favorably and permanently. If you stop there and they’re really busy, but you really have your heart set on Mexican food, just walk around the corner on First Avenue and go to Gringo’s. It’s good, too.

Leonardo’s Restaurant & Pizza (2228 16th Ave SW): While my family and I really like the pizza at Bushwood, I have to admit that my favorite pizza in town is the sausage pizza at Leonardo’s. That’s been the case pretty much since I moved here because “Leo’s” has been in Cedar Rapids longer than I have. Located maybe a mile west of the ballpark and the adjacent high school football stadium and hockey arena, this is a popular place for locals after sports events.

RedsAleHouseRed’s Ale House (405 N. Dubuque Street, North Liberty IA): Red’s isn’t really in Cedar Rapids, but I felt compelled to include it anyway. If you’re feeling adventurous enough to drive 10-15 minutes south on I-380 to North Liberty and you have a penchant for craft beers, Red’s is a must. Their motto is “no crap on tap,” so if your idea of a great beer is a Bud Light draft, go elsewhere. But if having a choice among a couple hundred craft beers sounds appealing to you, Red’s is your kind of place.

The Breakfast House Café (820 6th Street SW): If you’re like my family, you’re probably staying at a budget hotel with a free continental breakfast. But in the event your idea of breakfast is more than donuts and coffee, check out the Breakfast House Café. It’s your basic little breakfast diner kind of place and it’s been around for over 30 years, so they’re doing something right. In fact, they do a lot of things right.

(Photo: Cindy Hadish)

(Photo: Cindy Hadish)

NewBo City Market (corner of 12th Ave and 3rd Street SE in New Bohemia district): The NewBo City Market isn’t a restaurant, but if you’re in town over a weekend, it’s worth checking out and you can certainly find food there, among many other things. The folks who run the place describe it on their website as, “a dynamic public space where local entrepreneurs create an environment of fresh, wonderful food, products and experiences.” Sound interesting? It is.

Baseball

Lest we forget, the reason you’re coming to town is for baseball, right?

Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium is where the Kernels call home. It’s located about two blocks south of First Avenue SW, on Rockford Rd SW. (Drive west from downtown and look for the lights.) The current Veterans Stadium was built in 2002, replacing the old “Vets Stadium” that had been home to Cedar Rapids minor league teams for over 50 years. The old stadium sat where the parking lot now sits between the new Vets and Kingston Stadium, which is home to the local public high school football, track and soccer teams (not to mention their marching bands).

The ballpark’s concourse faces inward toward the diamond, allowing fans to keep abreast of the action on the field while they visit concession stands. There’s a variety of seating choices for groups of pretty much any size, whether in picnic areas down the left field line, an outdoor mezzanine above the bowl behind the Kernels’ first base dugout, or one of the indoor suites (that also include outdoor seating in front of the suite).

The friendly folks in the Kernels’ front office will be more than happy to find you the perfect spot for you and/or your group. They’re particularly proud (and rightfully so) of the new high-def video scoreboard that looms over right-center field.

The Kernels have more “Special Events” than we can possibly list, along with almost a dozen “giveaway” nights (I’m especially looking forward to Mr Shucks/TC Bear Bobblehead night on June 7). There will also be eight “special jersey” nights this season. The jerseys the Kernels wear on those nights are auctioned off for charity in a silent auction during the game and winning bidders get to go down on the field afterward and quite literally take the jersey off of the back of a player and get him to autograph it for you.

The Kernels organization’s tagline is “Party at the Park!” and they do everything in their power to make sure that’s exactly what you’ll do when you make a trip to Cedar Rapids to see the Twins’ future on display.

I hope you’ll find the time to check out the Kernels in action this summer. If you need information beyond what I’ve covered here, just click the “Contact Us” link on our site’s banner at the top and drop me an email with your question.

-  JC

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