12 Places You Must Visit in Iowa But Probably Haven’t Heard About – TravelAwaits | Dauktion

A lot of people think my home state of Iowa is flat. It is not. Rolling hills, prairies, limestone cliffs, and scenic vistas along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers offer spectacular views. There are many places in Iowa that you should discover, and I’m going to share with you 12 must-visit places in Iowa that you’ve probably never heard of.

1. Horsfall’s Lansing Variety Store

Lansing, Iowa

Horsfall’s Lansing Variety Store in Lansing, Iowa will win you over on your first visit. As you drive down charming Main Street in Lansing, you will see the Horsfall storefront. Find a parking spot and let your adventure begin. As the locals say, “If you can’t find it at Horsfall, you won’t find it anywhere.” You’ll find coloring books, cookware, pens, greeting cards, shirts, cards and just about anything else you can think of. Your time wandering the aisles at Horsfall’s will be time well spent. Before leaving town, drive up Mt. Hosmer for amazing views of the Mississippi River.

2. Flower and bark

Keosauqua, Iowa

Bloom and Bark is located in the heart of the Van Buren Villages in Southeast Iowa. Discover the magic of glassblowing in a natural setting. There is also a local craft market on-site featuring fibre, molten glass, leatherwork, woodwork and more art produced by local people. If you are interested in creating some magic in the world of glassblowing, sign up for a class. You will appreciate your time spent here as you will enjoy every moment. This area of ​​Iowa is relatively quiet as you won’t find many traffic lights. It’s the perfect opportunity to slow down and connect with others through art in a natural setting.

3. Yesterday’s Memories and Truck Museum

Sanborn, Iowa

Yesterday’s Memories & Truck Museum is an Iowa treasure that many Iowaans don’t even know exists. Almost 80 years ago, the Vander Haag family started collecting trucks and cars. Today you can view these prized possessions, including children’s toys, fuel pumps, vintage trucks, cars and more. Sanborn, Iowa is fortunate to be home to this incredible museum.

Pro tip: Plan at least 3 hours in the museum.

The world’s largest popcorn ball in Sac City, Iowa

Copyright: Sara Broers

4. The world’s largest popcorn ball

Sack City, Iowa

Sac City, Iowa is home to the world’s largest ball of popcorn. You can view this magnificent masterpiece through a window here. The unofficial weight of this work of art is 9,370 pounds. Several small buildings surround the world’s largest ball of popcorn, depicting life in Sac City in an earlier time.

Vintage truck at the Iowa 80 Truck Stop in Walcott

Vintage truck at the Iowa 80 Truck Stop in Walcott

Image copyright: Maria Elena Willms / Shutterstock.com

5. Iowa 80 truck stop

Walcott, Iowa

The Iowa 80 Truck Stop (I-80) at exit 284 is the world’s largest truck stop. You can see hundreds of trucks in the parking lot and enjoy a meal. With a laundromat, barber and dentist on site, you can make the I-80 Truck Stop your one stop shop. If you are looking for a gift for someone I can speak from experience as I have purchased several Iowa themed gifts at the I-80 Truck Stop over the years.

Pro tip: Arrive hungry as there are several fantastic restaurants to choose from.

Historic Park Inn Hotel;  Mason City, Iowa

Historic Park Inn hotel in Mason City

Copyright: Sara Broers

6. Historic Park Inn Hotel

Mason City, Iowa

Calling all Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts. Mason City, Iowa is home to the last known hotel in the world designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Book a stay at the Historic Park Inn hotel and experience some of this architect’s best work. After a good night’s sleep, visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece at the Stockman House. Both buildings are open year-round, making Mason City your number one destination when it comes to experiencing architecture.

Pro tip: Enjoy a steak at Northwestern Steakhouse, an award-winning steakhouse in Iowa.

John Wayne's birthplace in Winterset, Iowa

Birthplace of John Wayne

Image copyright: Bartosz Wardzinski / Shutterstock.com

7. John Wayne Museum and Birthplace

Winterset, Iowa

The John Wayne Museum & Birthplace can be visited in Winterset, Iowa. You can see the largest diverse display of John Wayne artifacts anywhere including movie posters, movie wardrobe and my personal favourite, one of his last bespoke cars. The little house where he was born is behind the museum and is part of your tour of the John Wayne Museum. The site is handicapped accessible, making it easily accessible for everyone.

Pro Tip: Sit in the cinema to learn more about John Wayne’s film career before entering the museum.

If time permits, drive one of Iowa’s most scenic byways, the Covered Bridges Scenic Byway. Madison County’s world famous bridges are just a short drive in and around Winterset. You can easily spend an entire day or weekend exploring John Wayne’s home territory.

Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque, Iowa

Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque, Iowa

Copyright: Sara Broers

8. Fenelon Place Elevator

Dubuque, Iowa

The Fenelon Place Elevator is the shortest and steepest railway in the world. It has also been described as “the steepest and shortest panoramic railway in the world”. You board the car at 4th Street and exit at the top of Fenelon Place. Once the railroad car makes the climb, you can disembark and enjoy the beautiful views of Dubuque, Iowa. Fall is an incredible time of year to make the climb as the fall colors are vibrant. This historic Dubuque landmark is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Pro Tip: Bring cash to pay for the ride.

World's Largest Gnome - Ames, Iowa

World’s Largest Gnome – Ames, Iowa

Copyright: Sara Broers

9. The biggest concrete dwarf in the world

Ames, Iowa

The largest concrete dwarf in the world can be found in Ames, Iowa. As you stroll through the beautiful Reiman Gardens, you will come across the largest concrete dwarf in the world. There is a small fee to visit the gardens and see the gnome, but it’s money well spent. With multiple gardens to see, you’ll see something colorful around every turn. Wheelchairs and scooters are available free of charge for guests with limited mobility. You can consult them at the reception.

Trailhead to the Buddy Holly Crash Site

Trailhead to the Buddy Holly Crash Site

Copyright: Sara Broers

10. Buddy Holly crash site

Clear Lake, Iowa

Spend time in Clear Lake, Iowa and visit the Buddy Holly crash site. Drive approximately five miles north of Clear Lake to visit the historic crash site. It was 1959 when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper died in a plane crash. They had wrapped up an entertaining evening of music at the legendary Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake. Today, more than 60 years later, visitors make the quarter-mile walk to the crash site. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the iconic black goggles at the trailhead.

Pro tip: Be prepared for the weather, bring a coat, boots, and an umbrella to hike to the crash site.

If you’re visiting in the warmer months, take a cruise on the Lady of the Lake. A 1.5-hour public tour around the lake introduces you to the area. You can see Clear Lake State Park and have an amazing view of one of Iowa’s premier outdoor recreation lakes.

The National Pearl Button Museum in Muscatine, Iowa

The National Pearl Button Museum in Muscatine

Copyright: Sara Broers

11. National Pearl Button Museum

Muscatine, Iowa

The National Pearl Button Museum showcases the early 1900s when Muscatine was known as the “Pearl Button Capital of the World.” During this period, the city of Muscatine produced more than 1.5 mother-of-pearl buttons each year. This museum is easy to navigate and the exhibits are great. Immigrants, entrepreneurs, workers and the buttons are all on display in this beautifully designed museum.

Visitors can expect to spend at least two hours exploring one of Iowa’s best-kept secrets. The museum and gift shop are wheelchair accessible and there is seating throughout the museum. Visit Maxwell’s On The River for one of my favorite desserts, the delicious bread pudding. This restaurant is located in the Merrill Hotel, the Pearl of the Mississippi, two blocks from the National Pearl Button Museum.

Danish windmill by Elk Horn

Danish windmill by Elk Horn

Copyright: Sara Broers

12. The Danish Windmill

Elkhorn, Iowa

Visit Elk Horn, Iowa and become Danish for a day or two. Elk Horn is home to the largest rural Danish settlement in the United States. Visit the Danish Windmill from 1848, which is now the only authentic and working Danish windmill in America. Danish heritage runs deep in Elk Horn. Tivoli Fest and Julefest are two popular festivals that attract thousands of people annually. An easy way to experience the Danish way of life is to visit the Museum of Danish America. Drive a few miles from Elk Horn to Danish Countryside Vines & Wines and enjoy a glass of wine overlooking the beautiful vineyards that are native to Iowa.

Pro tip: Visit the vineyards in early fall and there is a good chance the vines are ready for harvest.

Iowa will surprise you because there is something beautiful around every corner. I’ve lived in Iowa all my life and there’s something to be said: “Iowa nice”. You will enjoy the people and places you will find as you explore the heart of America. These 12 places should be at the top of your Iowa must-see list. You won’t regret the time you took to explore Iowa.

For more information on traveling to Iowa, see these articles:

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