Altoona, Iowa is a community of about 17,300 people located five miles northeast of Des Moines. Big city amenities paired with a small-town feel and abundant activities make Altoona a desirable suburb for young professionals and families. Here, we’ll dive deeper into life in Altoona, covering schools, entertainment, crime, affordability and more.
Overview of the City & Neighborhoods
The land that would one day become Altoona was first settled in 1854. In 1868, it was recorded by a surveyor who gave the town its name, reportedly after the Latin word ‘altus,’ meaning ‘high,’ as it was the most elevated point on its section of the Des Moines Valley Railroad.
Today, Altoona is a bustling suburb, with ample city parks, outdoor recreation spaces, and plenty of community amenities.
Cyclists will enjoy the many bike trails that run through and around town, including the Prairie Heritage Trail, Greenway Park, and the Gay Lea Wilson Trail, which runs from Altoona to Pleasant Hill. It’s also a stop on the Chichaqua Valley Trail, which runs for more than 20 miles from Bondurant to Baxter.
Altoona is home to Adventureland Resort and Amusement Park, a popular family destination that opens from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The park features rides, games, shows and on-site lodging, and offers special rates for small and large groups.
When mom and dad are ready to blow off some steam, there’s Prairie Meadows Casino and Hotel, a great place to unwind for a weekend staycation or bring visiting guests. Visitors can enjoy table games, slot machines, racing, and four on-site restaurants.
At the Greater Altoona Community Service Campus, known to locals simply as ‘The Campus,’ Altoona residents of all ages can take classes, work out, go for a swim or get connected with mental and physical health resources. The Campus is a public-private partnership that was founded with the mission to build a healthier community and enrich the quality of life through diverse, multi-generational programming. It serves as a community hub and gathering point for many events.
Finally, one of Altoona’s biggest claims to fame in the business community is its connection with Facebook. The city houses a data center for the social media giant, which helps to power and sustain Facebook’s massive infrastructure. There are plans in the works to bring a possible second data center to town.
Altoona is served by the Southeast Polk Community School District, which is made up of eight elementary schools, a sixth-grade center called Spring Creek, a junior high serving grades 7 and 8, and a high school serving grades 9 through 12.
Southeast Polk High School has graduated 22 presidential scholars. The Presidential Scholar Program is run by the U.S. Department of Education and recognizes students who demonstrate an exceptional level of talent and promise in arts and academics.
As a whole, the district boasts a four-year graduation rate of over 98 percent. Its students excel in math and reading, with proficiency levels five percent above the state average for math and six percent above the state average for reading.
Altoona has many nearby options for those wishing to pursue higher education; there are 15 colleges and universities within a 50-mile radius of the town. 31 percent of residents here have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Shopping & Eating
When it comes to shopping, Altoona has something for everyone. It’s home to many popular big-box stores, including Lowe’s, Menard’s and Target, as well as a selection of local specialty retailers.
In 2017, the much-anticipated Outlets of Des Moines opened in Altoona. The open-air retail center offers shoppers discount deals on apparel, shoes, and accessories, with well-known brand names like Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ann Taylor Loft and more. The outlets are directly adjacent to a large Bass Pro Shops sporting goods store, the first to set up shop in Central Iowa.
The restaurant scene in Altoona is equally abundant, with a wide range of American and international fare to choose from.
Steak lovers have their pick of several highly rated steakhouses, including The Big Steer Restaurant and Lounge, AJ’s and Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse. For a fun throwback, visit the Sugar Shack, a 50’s themed diner serving up American classics like burgers and milkshakes.
If you’re in the mood for a little more spice, head to Monterrey Mexican Restaurant, known for delicious tacos and a long list of flavored margaritas. There are also several nationwide chain restaurants, like Applebee’s and Perkins, in Altoona.
Altoona has a slightly higher crime rate than its suburban neighbors. For property crimes like burglary and theft, there are 29 incidents per 1,000 people in Altoona, compared with an average property crime rate of about 21 incidents per 1,000 people statewide. However, it’s safer than the state average for violent crimes like murder and assault.
Located just off Interstate 80 and state roads 6 and 65, Altoona is a convenient option for professionals. The average commute time of residents is 21 minutes, with the majority of people driving their own car to get to work. From Altoona to nearby cities via car, commute times are as follows: 23 minutes to Des Moines, 25 minutes to Urbandale, and about half an hour to West Des Moines and Waukee.
Altoona commuters are also served by express route 99 and local route 17 of the Des Moines Area Regional Transit System.
Altoona residents currently enjoy a strong housing market. The median home price is $214,400, which represents an appreciation rate of about six percent over the last decade.
The average rent for a two-bedroom unit is around $840.
Altoona’s cost of living as a whole is right on par with the national average. While housing is a bit more expensive than the rest of the nation, it’s balanced out by other items like groceries, transportation, and utilities, which are cheaper here than elsewhere in the country.
The city also displays a strong job market, with an average household income of $77,800 (compared to the U.S. average of $57,600), and a low unemployment rate of 2.5 percent.