Is Iowa on your radar? Here are nine places to visit in Iowa. In my home state of Iowa, you can experience art, agriculture, music, parks, along with numerous other experiences. Many people often ask me what they should see and do when they come to Iowa. So, I have put together a list of places that you should place at the top of your radar when you come to visit. When you visit, I’ll be sure to introduce you to some of my favorite Iowa farmers, as well. Depending on the type of experience you want will determine what time of year you come to experience these nine places to visit in Iowa.
Explore Elk Horn
Elk Horn, Iowa, is home to one of the largest rural Danish settlements in the United States. It’s home to the Danish Windmill, and I’d highly suggest that you visit during the day and take a tour of the windmill. Danish history is strong in this Southwest Iowa community. If you are searching for Danish ancestors, the genealogy center is a fantastic resource for you.
Indulge in an award-winning tenderloin at Larsen’s Pub before you leave town, as your taste buds will thank you. This makes a great stop while traveling I-80 in Iowa. Once you visit, you will be planning your return trip asap!
Visit Clear Lake
Clear Lake, Iowa, is home to the legendary Surf Ballroom & Museum. Buddy Holly played his last concert here on February 2, 1959. Musicians from all around the world come to this legendary venue to play music and relive the day the music died. There is no fee to visit the museums. Donations are accepted at the door. Several photos, guitars, and history are on display for all visitors to see. Step into the “green room” to see the signatures of those that have played in this historic music venue. Camping and fishing are outstanding in Clear Lake. With two state parks and a lake, families of all ages can easily spend a full week in Clear Lake.
A Kite Festival comes to town in the winter over the frozen lake (note: returns in Feb. 2022). Before you leave town, you need to grab a picnic lunch from Starboard Market and a cookie from Cookie’s Etc.
Discover Allamakee County
Discover Allamakee County, Iowa. This county is in the Northeastern part of Iowa and lies next to the Mississippi River. The Great River Road and Driftless Area Scenic Byways are two scenic routes that cross over in Lansing. A visit to Horsfall’s Variety Store is a must when you are in Lansing. The river bluffs and the Mississippi River are home to numerous outdoor activities in the area. Effigy Mounds National Monument is home to outstanding hiking trails and an opportunity to connect with history. The Yellow River State Forest offers some of the most remote hiking that you will find anywhere in the heart of America.
Wintertime brings snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and snowmobiling. The scenery in and around Lansing will win you over in a heartbeat. You can easily spend a full week in this county in Iowa.
Aviation enthusiasts will enjoy the Air Power Museum that is near Ottumwa, Iowa. If you like airplanes, you will find this museum to be fascinating. There is no fee to visit, but donations are accepted at the door to help keep the lights on. A visit to Ottumwa would not be complete without a visit to the world-famous Canteen. Belly up to the bar and indulge in a canteen and a slice of pie.
Lace-up your hiking shoes and hike the trails that are in the numerous parks around Ottumwa. You will have no excuse for not exercising when visiting Ottumwa, as it’s a trail-friendly community. With 9 places to visit in Iowa, Ottumwa ranks right up there as a favorite of mine.
Discover Mason City
Mason City, Iowa, is home to architecture that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. It’s home to the Park Inn Hotel, the last know hotel in the world designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Guest come from all around the globe to spend a night in this historic hotel. There are also several other Wright properties in this town. Conveniently located Mason City sits 30 miles south of the Minnesota border and a few miles east of I-35. The River City Sculptures on Parade is a 1.7-mile sculpture walk that you can embark upon.
It’s an easy way to discover art around the parks and scenic areas of Mason City. Grab a “Michigan” sandwich from State Street Deli before you hit the pavement.
Pella, Iowa, is known as America’s Dutch Treasure. The Dutch history flows abundantly in this warm, welcoming, bedroom community that sits 40 minutes southeast of Des Moines. The museums are rich in Dutch heritage, and the pastries are a treat for all who visit. Dutch Letters from Jaarsma always find their way into my car when I visit Pella. A visit to Pella without a Dutch Letter for the road would not make your stay complete.
I’m also a huge fan of the sea salt caramels that Van Veen Chocolates offers. The most popular time of year to visit Pella is in May when the annual Tulip Festival is taking place. Thousands of people, as well as tulips, commence into Pella to experience this popular Iowa festival.
Estherville sits in the shadows of the Iowa Lakes. It’s a small town that will roll out the carpet when you set foot on Main Street. Need a girlfriend’s day out? Estherville is the perfect place. Start your day off with a hot breakfast and a cup of coffee from Central Perk Coffee House. Shop till you drop in the downtown area and end your day with a hike out in Fort Defiance State Park. Kayak enthusiasts will also enjoy the water trails that run through this area of Iowa. If you do not have a kayak, they are available for rent at the Emmet County Nature Center for an affordable price. Round out your day with a slice of pizza from Woody’s Pizza.
Are you a history buff?
Explore Fort Dodge
Fort Dodge, Iowa, is home to one of the most magnificent art projects in the state of Iowa. Guido Van Helten painted an incredible mural on a grain silo in Fort Dodge, Iowa. The mural showcases his outstanding talent as an artist, but it also showcases the people and the history of Fort Dodge.
After you visit the grain silo, swing into Tea Thyme/Thyme To Shop for a tasty meal. This tea room offers the best chicken salad croissant sandwich that I have indulged in, in quite some time. The menu changes, which means you can enjoy something new on each visit. If you want a home-cooked meal in a fun setting, this is your go-to place. The shopping is also fun, so budget to spend a little on your visit.
Discover Charles City
Charles City, Iowa, is a river town that sits approximately 25 miles east of Mason City. It is home to the Charles City Whitewater Park, Iowa’s first whitewater park in 2011. Kayakers, stand-up paddleboarders, tubers, fishermen, and anyone with a love of water will enjoy discovering all that Charles City has to offer. Stroll Main Street and explore the fun shops. A favorite shop of mine is The Rustic Corner, an award-winning business, the Best Business In Iowa by Main Street Iowa in 2015. Red Cedar Lodge offers lodging in a luxury cabin with nature experiences that you can only find in this setting.
When you stay and play in Charles City, you will be grateful that you made the time to visit.
These 9 places to visit in Iowa are a good place to start exploring my home state. This is a glimpse of what Iowa has to offer. The numerous state parks, lakes, festivals, and beautiful Main Streets are sure to win you over. Most of all, the people of Iowa will welcome you, including me. Come and visit.
Happy Traveling~ Sara