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Distinctly Iowa

A trip to Iowa can take groups to Hollywood, the Netherlands and beyond.

From film history and international heritage to thrilling theme parks and the mighty Mississippi River, the Hawkeye State has an abundance of distinctive offerings. Read on to learn more about Iowa’s most interesting must-dos, some new attractions that will create a buzz, unique hotels for memorable stays and restaurants that will make groups hungry for more Iowa experiences.

Popular Demand

The Bridges of Madison County

Span the gap between old and new and between Hollywood and reality  with a visit to the Bridges of Madison County. Travelers make pilgrimage to Winterset, Iowa, to see six 150-year-old covered bridges to bring to life the emotional connection they draw from Robert James Waller’s famous romance novel and the movie and musical it inspired. There are other Hollywood ties in the area, and the local chamber of commerce can help arrange for itineraries that include them as well as knowledgeable step-on guides who will transform the trek to see the bridges into a deep dive into the entire region.

Dutch Treat in Pella

The quickest way to Holland is 40 miles southeast of Des Moines in Pella. An immersive visit (no passport required) to the Pella Historical Museum will ground the trip in history. Just a few paces outside the museum stands the Vermeer Windmill, the tallest working windmill in North America. Ascending the stairs to its deck gives a view across the community. From the windmill, head to the Molengracht Plaza to savor the architecture and authentic Dutch street food, chocolate, pastries, meats and cheeses. Groups that visit the first weekend in May can take in the annual tulip festival, Tulip Time.

National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

What covers 32 states and has shaped American history, geography and commerce? The Mississippi River watershed. In Dubuque, the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium tells the story of this important region. With continuously refreshed exhibits, hands-on activities and life animal displays, this jewel on the waterfront offers fun and education for all ages. Tickets are good for two consecutive days, and the museum’s Harbor View Grill provides an affordable onsite lunch that will make visitors happier than an otter with a clamshell (something groups are sure to spot.)

Up and Coming

Lost Island Theme Park

On the southeastern corner of Waterloo, Iowa, the newly minted Lost Island Theme Park is the state’s largest amusement park. Sister attraction Lost Island Waterpark paved the way for the Polynesian motif with its five different “realms,” complete with characters and storylines. Pick either park or schedule two days to try both. From adrenaline-inducing rides to gentle lazy rivers, Lost Island offers something for everyone, including a mobile app with a park-wide, plot-driven game for TikTok-loving teens. Ticket discounts, pavilion rentals and catering are available.

Alsop Art Gallery

Be on the lookout in fall 2023 for a new Frank Lloyd Wright property to open to the public for the first time. The Osklaoosa, Iowa, Alsop House, designed by the famed architect in 1947 for the Alsop family, was recently purchased and completely renovated, from the flooring to the rare and original furniture. The home will have a new life as the Alsop Art Gallery, where visitors can tour parts of the property, art exhibits and the architectural archives of Frank Lloyd Wright and his contemporary Charles C. Reed Jr.

African American Museum of Iowa

Sobering, gripping and inspiring, the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids was created to preserve African American history and culture from when the West African slave ships arrived to the Civil Rights movement and beyond. In early 2024, on the heels of an extensive $5 million renovation, the museum will celebrate its 30th anniversary and cut the ribbon for its grand reopening. Exhibits have featured sports, culture, housing, the military, work and myriad other aspects of black life and culture in Iowa. More than 30,000 people visit the museum each year.

Overnight Sensations

Hotel Millwright

The simple, faithful life is evident in the Amana Colonies, a seven-village religious collective founded by German Pietists in the mid-1800s. Located in what was once a wool mill and textile complex at the colonies’ commercial center, the Hotel Millwright is a physical link tying the Amana Colonies’ past to its present. The hotel’s name honors the workers who maintained the mill machinery in Amana; its 65 rooms, restaurant and two bars preserve elements of the past in an environment where modern meets comfort. Textiles that are still produced on site are displayed.

Black Hawk Hotel

Stagecoach hotels were once an important stop for travelers, stagecoach drivers and their horses, and as modes of travel changed, so did the lodging landscape. For that reason, few stagecoach hotels remain at all, much less in operation, today. One exemplary exception is the 28-room Black Hawk Hotel in downtown Cedar Falls. This National Register of Historic Places hotel opened in 1853 on Main Street, was rebuilt after a fire in the 1870s and is one of the oldest continuously operating hotels in America.

Memorable Meals

Great Revivalist Brewery

Water into wine? That miracle is not far off in the Great Revivalist Brewery in Clinton, Iowa, a craft brewery in a church rendered vacant by the pandemic. Rather than gut the sanctuary, new owners embraced and honored the church’s history by converting pews into booths, restoring the original wood floors and preserving elements like stained-glass windows, a gold-leaf mural and other elements. Take taste buds heavenward with wood-fired pizzas, burgers and brews in this stunning, uplifting location.

Archie’s Waeside

A trek to Le Mars in far northwestern Iowa is worth the time and effort. For more than 60 years, the town has been home to an exceptional steak restaurant, Archie’s Waeside. Family owned and operated, the restaurant specializes in dry-aged beef, as well as wine and seafood. Their cold curing process moistens and tenderizes steaks and has garnered the restaurant a smorgasbord of honors including the American Classic Award from the James Beard Foundation and one of the best steakhouses in America. Enjoy this family tradition and eat like a local.