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Unique Iowa Attractions: Explore America’s Heartland
Between the Mississippi River in the east and the dramatic Loess Hills in the west, Iowa’s rolling prairies are dotted with one-of-a-kind attractions. Bring your camera for offbeat roadside stops, historical landmarks, and idyllic farms. See the famous Bridges of Madison County and walk on a Field of Dreams.
Only-In-Iowa Attractions: Brucemore Mansion, Covered Bridges, and Blue Bunny Ice Cream
Malt or shake? Sundae or cone? Two scoops or one? Decisions are difficult in Le Mars, the Ice Cream Capital of the World. Grab a seat on the patio at the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor and dig in. Linger as you cross the six covered bridges of Madison County, which inspired the legendary love story behind the best-selling book and Clint Eastwood movie. In Dyersville, you’ll find another unique baseball movie site: the real Field of Dreams, located on a family heritage farm. Tour an elegant 19th-century mansion at Brucemore, an idyllic estate with 26 acres of gardens, orchards, and woodlands.
Iowa’s Farms: Pick Berries, Feed Buffalo, and Nibble Cheese
Iowa is farm country. Here in the Breadbasket of the World, you can visit several types of working farms. Pick apples for a pie at Appleberry Farm in Marshalltown, and buy homemade jams, honey, and cider in the country store. Sample artisan cheeses at Maytag Dairy Farms and WW Homestead. Walk through 300 years of agricultural history at Living History Farms in Urbandale: watch oxen plow fields, ride a tractor cart, and see candle making demonstrations. Feed furry beasts at Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch. Milk a cow and see kangaroos at Hansen’s Farm, and wander through purple fields at Loess Hills Lavender Farm. Embrace Iowa’s extraordinary farming heritage.
Nature and the Outdoors: Gardens, Zoos, and Wildlife
Enjoy the beauty and wonder of nature and the outdoors, from colorful native plants to exotic creatures. Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines is Iowa’s premier animal attraction. It’s home to over 800 animals, including tigers and lions. Go birding at the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge and see slinky reptiles at Bailey’s Ford Nature Center. Iowa’s fertile soil is a boon for glorious gardens. Meander through a picturesque riverside setting at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, a downtown oasis in the heart of the city. Mingle with butterflies and tropical flowers at Reiman Gardens in Ames, and feed koi fish in the ponds at Dubuque Arboretum.
Heartland History and American Legends
Imagine what life was like on the Wild West frontier at the Fort Museum and Frontier Village in Fort Dodge. Tour 18 original and replica buildings, including a jail and drugstore, in this 1850 military garrison and frontier town. View historical exhibits in the Old Capitol Building in Iowa City, and be dazzled by the gold dome and Renaissance design of the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. Walk in the footsteps of American icons at the childhood homes of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Buffalo Bill, John Wayne, and Herbert Hoover: they all grew up in Iowa. Travel to Clear Lake to pay your respects to Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper - their airplane crashed here on “the day the music died” in 1959.
Quirky Roadside Stops & Giant Characters
Much of Iowa is wide-open farmland countryside, and wacky roadside attractions are a highlight of any trip across the state. Many are inspired by the agricultural heritage of the region. On the western side of Iowa, snap a selfie with a 23-meter corn stalk in Shelby, the world’s largest bull statue in Audubon, and a smiley face water tower in Adair. Check out spider made out of a VW bug (Avoca) and a coffee pot made out of a water tower (Stanton). In the east, stop for a pic at the world’s largest wooden nickel (Iowa City) and a giant cowboy (Waukon). For Star Trek fans, Captain Kirk’s future birthplace in Riverside is a must.
Popular Attractions in Iowa
Set along Main Street, Appleberry Farm is set in western Marshalltown, located in central Iowa. Open daily from 9 a.m. till 6 p.m. from August through October – with shorter hours during the months in between – Appleberry Farm is a must-do for any agritourist.
Appleberry Farm features onsite apple picking for the entire family, plus a Country Shop full of antiques, seasonal home décor, and other products like pumpkins, squash, and gourds. Be sure to bring home fresh caramel apples, cider, jams, jellies, and homemade honey from Appleberry Farm.
Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor
Just east of Cherokee, Le Mars visitors will find themselves in the “ice cream capital of the world,” home of the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor. The parlor is one of the more popular destinations in Le Mars’ business district due its two-story seating area with an outdoor patio as well – it's a top attraction for Cherokee visitors.
Guests not only enjoy a one-of-a-kind ice cream treat, they will also relish in the history of the building. The George A. Pew building was originally built in 1845 and was one of the first businesses in Iowa. After many renovations and modernizations it’s remained the historic home of Blue Bunny Ice Cream.
Iowa Avenue Literary Walk
Iowa City travelers, when traversing Iowa Avenue, between Gilbert and Clinton, be sure to keep your eyes to the ground – the Iowa Avenue Literary Walk celebrates works by 49 writers with ties to Iowa City and the University. Bronze relief panels stamped into the sidewalk showcase quotes by the authors, as well as illustrations and artwork.
The stretch of road also features bookstores, restaurants, coffee shops, and unique eastern Iowa shopping opportunities. So don’t fret, you’ll find plenty to do on your Iowa Avenue Literary Walk. Enjoy the literary festivities when you drive in from nearby Coralville, another charming eastern Iowa city.
Music Man Square
As one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mason City, the Music Man Square consists of actual set designs from the 1912 motion picture, “The Music Man." Guests can walk the streets and visit the gift shop, ice cream parlor, and soda fountain. Explore central Iowa and drive in from Clear Lake.
The streetscape also houses an interactive museum dedicated to the film’s writer and Mason City native, Meredith Willson. Explore the music-related exhibits and original memorabilia at the Music Man Square.
Prairie School Architectural Tour
Visit Mason City and take a tour of the largest group of Prairie School designed homes in the U.S., one of which was designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The tour traverses 14 blocks of Mason City, giving guests a glimpse of 19th and early 20th century architecture featured in the area.
The tour is self-guided, with the guidebook available at neighboring attractions like the Music Man Square, Charles H. MacNider Museum, Mason City Information Center, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Stockman House. Drive in from nearby Clear Lake as you explore north-central Iowa.