Iowa offers so many things to see and do for residents and visitors alike—you know it and we know it. We’re so much more than political caucuses, corn fields, and being the nation’s top pork producer. That’s why when out-of-state friends come into town, we try to go the extra mile and help them see a side of Iowa they may not have realized exists.
If you’ve got a friend coming to visit soon, check out our list of suggestions of things to do in different parts of the state. Some of these are pretty obvious to everyday Iowans—yes, of course we included the site of that famous movie—but others may surprise you.
Hike the High Trestle Trail
The High Trestle Trail remains a favorite Iowa trail for locals and visitors alike. The trail’s famous High Trestle Bridge that crosses the Des Moines River Valley is 130 feet tall and it’s gorgeous when its blue LED lights come alive at night. Additionally, the bridge is home to From Here to There, one of the most popular rail-trail art installations in the country.
If your friend loves the outdoors, you can explore 25 miles of trails that run through five towns in four counties by bike or on foot. The trail’s northern endpoint in Woodward has a historic rail house that showcases the local history of the trail, but if you only want to check out the bridge, it’s best to head to the entrance point just outside Madrid.
Go Antiquing in Walnut
Walnut is a small town in western Iowa with only 750 people. However, if your friend is a shopper and loves antiques, heading to Walnut is the perfect thing to do on their first visit. Known as Iowa’s Antique City, Walnut is among the best antiquing cities in the US.
The Barn Mall, a restored farm building from 1984, has more than 30 vendors with various items. One of the largest antique stores in Walnut, with more than 100 vendors from over seven states, is the Granary Mall. These are only two of more than a dozen antique malls and quirky stores in Walnut, giving you and your visiting friend an abundance of fascinating items to explore and maybe even buy.
Visit the Field of Dreams Movie Site, Dyersville
Certain landmarks and cultural features create national recognition. The 1989 movie, Field of Dreams, is to Iowa what Sex in the City is to New York, or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is to Chicago. The movie was adapted from a novel, Shoeless Joe, by Canadian author W.P. Kinsella. It tells the story of an Iowa farmer who hears the voice of a baseball great in his cornfield and sees a vision of a baseball diamond in his field. He builds the diamond to attract the ghosts of baseball legends.
Even if your friend hasn’t seen the movie, they have likely heard of it or its catchphrase, “If you build it, he will come.” The movie has inspired millions over the decades and the Field of Dreams movie site continues to inspire visitors from all over the US.
Visit the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, Dubuque
If you are exploring eastern Iowa with your friend, make sure to head to Dubuque. In addition to exploring the city’s historic downtown, check out the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. This is one of the few Smithsonian Institution museums outside of Washington DC, and a must-visit attraction for Iowa residents and visitors.
The museum features various historical exhibits about the river, pioneers, wetlands, Native Americans, and various marine animal exhibits. Feeding the stingrays is a favorite activity. Also, if you want to pay the extra fee ($125), you can take a behind the scenes museum tour for those who want to see how the museum takes care of their living exhibits. The museum opens every day at 10 a.m. and tickets begin at $20.95 for adults.
Take a Ride on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad
If you want to give your friend a taste of the Iowa prairie and countryside, take a ride on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad. The railroad offers various rides for lunch, dinner, holidays, and other special events. During the holidays, they do not offer many excursions, except the Santa Express on weekends from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
In the summer, consider taking The Fraser Train, a 120-minute excursion that takes you 11 miles from Boone to Fraser, an old coal mining town. Don’t forget to stop in at the James H. Andrew Railroad Museum before or after your trip to learn about railroading during all eras of Iowa’s history.
by Jessica Lee
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