Iowa is generally viewed as this boring, small square state smack dab in the middle of the Midwest. But Iowa has much more to offer than you think. These are the best things to do in Iowa.
Iowa was founded on January 29th, 1846 before becoming a state on December 28th, 1846. Iowa was originally an Indian word meaning ‘beautiful land’ which still rings true today with its rolling hills and fertile land, perfect for farming.
The first Europeans came here from the British Isles, Germany, the Czech and Slovak regions of Eastern Europe, France, Spain, and Russia who first settled in log cabins that were built near water sources.
These waterways, where they would fish for and hunt deer or bison that stopped to drink, were essential for survival, and would eventually see increasing human settlements surrounding them.
Today, these waterways are known as the Iowa River, the Des Moines River, the Missouri River, and of course, the mighty Mississippi.
Today, Iowa has a much more diverse population, but it still retains its historic roots and natural beauty. It truly is a wonderful place to book a trip.
Here are some of the best & fun things to do in Iowa!
Table of Contents
- 1. Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption
- 2. Field of Dreams Movie Site
- 3. Maquoketa Caves State Park
- 4. Adventureland Park
- 5. Crystal Lake Cave
- 6. National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium
- 7. Iowa State Fair
- 8. Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
- 9. Iowa State Capitol
- 10. Iowa 80 Trucking Museum
- 11. Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan
- 12. Pappajohn Sculpture Park
- 13. World’s Largest Concrete Gnome
- 14. Buddy Holly Crash Site
- 15. Albert the Bull Park: World’s Largest Bull
- 16. The Chewers Club: World’s Largest Toy Museum
- 17. Terry Branstad Presidential Library and Museum: “Iowa’s Most Popular Attraction”
- 18. Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
- 19. Matchstick Marvels
- 20. Blank Park Zoo
- 21. Amana Colonies
- 22. World’s Largest Strawberry
- 23. John Wayne Birthplace Museum
- 24. National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library
1. Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption
The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa is a religious site centered around different scenes from Jesus’ life, which are represented by statues and other features.
The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption is near Dubuque, Iowa, and is made up out of over $4 million worth of rocks and minerals.
Around 100,000 people visit this place each year to take part in its Christian activities, like attending mass or simply to visit the museum with its precious stones from throughout the world, as well as artifacts and photographs regarding its construction.
This attraction is open for visitors all year round to explore on their own.
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2. Field of Dreams Movie Site
The Field of Dreams is a baseball field as well as pop culture attraction. It is in Dubuque County, Iowa, near Dyersville.
As the namesake movie “Field of Dreams” was filmed here, many people will visit this place to see the baseball diamond from the film.
The site was originally built by the Iowa Baseball Association for a 1925 semi-pro game. After the filming of Field of Dreams in 1989, it became a popular tourist destination – with about 2000 visitors per day.
Following the movie’s release, the owners erected a gift shop and restored some features from the movie, such as the cornfield depicted in it. There are also two plaques on site commemorating famous faces that have visited or played at the field.
It’s really nice to explore this site and read the plaques about baseball players. It’s a great place for visitors of all ages, particularly fans of America’s favorite pastime!
The Field of Dreams is open all year round and operates every day.
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3. Maquoketa Caves State Park
The Maquoketa Caves State Park is one of the top sites of things to see and do in Iowa. It’s located in a hilly area, with forests, ravines, waterfalls, springs and caves.
There are several attractions at the park to explore including a scenic river trail that has two bridges and a bird hide. The caves offer easy access for all levels of experience with nothing more difficult than stairs.
The park is home to over 180 different species of wildlife, which includes bats, salamanders and snakes among many others.
Visitors can walk through these habitats at their own pace or take guided tours on the hour every hour. The park also offers campgrounds for those looking to stay overnight.
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4. Adventureland Park
Adventureland Park is an amusement park in Altoona, Iowa. It was opened in 1960 and has a total of 22 rides, featuring a wide variety from roller coasters to water slides.
The park includes the Thriller, which has been named as one of the best wooden coasters in America by Amusement Today. Adventureland also offers an excellent selection for families, with rides for all ages.
The park’s mascot is the Rock-A-Fella bear, who has been a staple of the amusement industry since 1960.
There are also events held throughout the year such as Iowa State Fair and Piglet Palooza!
Visitors can experience Adventureland Park by purchasing a season pass or day admission. The park is open all year, except on Christmas Day.
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5. Crystal Lake Cave
Located in Iowa, Crystal Lake Cave is 433ft (132 meters) wide and 965ft (294 meters deep). It was discovered by European Americans in 1857 and is the fifth deepest cave in Iowa. The entrance to the cave is on private property, but it can be seen from the road.
Crystal Lake Cave is on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a State Preserve in 1967.
The Crystal Lake Cave has one entrance that leads to an underground stream that flows through it, this watercourse became known as “Crystal Creek” after flowing from the sinkholes atop Crystal Lake. The route of these two waterways were determined by the underlying rock formations, and the cave was formed as a result of dissolved limestone seeping through cracks in these rocks.
The Crystal Lake Cave is home to many different types of subterranean animals such as salamanders, crayfish, spiders and bats. Over 370 plant species have been discovered in this area which includes some rare, even unique species, such as the Iowa Pleistocene snail which as the name suggests is only found in Iowa.
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6. National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium
The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium is a museum and aquarium located in Dubuque, Iowa. The museum has two centers on the riverfront campus: the Mississippi River Center and the National River Center.
The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium is one of the top attractions in Iowa. The museum is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on weekdays, and 10 am-5 pm on weekends.
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7. Iowa State Fair
One of the most iconic events that takes place annually in Iowa is the Iowa State Fair.
The fair features a carnival midway with rides and games, nightly concerts from well-known musicians such as Sugarland, Journey, and Bob Seger, and livestock shows that include cattle, horses, sheep, swine, poultry, and dairy goats.
The fair also features a wide variety of foods from around the state, an art exhibition with regional artists showcasing their work in various mediums including paintings, sculptures, pottery and more.
The Iowa State Fair is a very popular event and draws well over one million people every year and is held from late August through September.
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8. Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
The Herbert Hoover National Historic Site is a unit of the National Park System in West Branch, Iowa. It commemorates Herbert Hoover’s life as the 31st President.
The controversial President Herbert Hoover was born in 1874 and spent the first 11 years of his life in West Branch.
Hoover’s birthplace was later bought and turned into a tourist destination by the Hoover family in 1928. They worked to turn the decoration of the cottage as close to his childhood experience as possible.
Among the buildings that now stand in the park are a blacksmith shop similar to the one owned by his father, the first West Branch schoolhouse, and the Quaker meeting house where Hoover’s family worshiped.
The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, as well as the adjacent Iowa Great Lakes Nature Preserve, showcase not only Hoover’s presidential papers and memorabilia but also documents his personal accomplishments.
The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, as well as the adjacent Iowa Great Lakes Nature Preserve, showcase not only Hoover’s presidential papers and memorabilia but also his personal accomplishments.
The library is open 365 days per year from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm CST if you are interested in visiting.
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9. Iowa State Capitol
The Iowa State Capitol is the seat of the government for Iowa. It houses all of the state’s major state offices and holds a collection of historic documents and other artifacts from past legislative sessions.
The Iowa State Capitol Building is an important historic site in Des Moines, and also houses the State Supreme Court of Iowa.
The Capitol is one of Iowa’s most iconic landmark and destinations that offers the best panoramic view of the city from its hilltop location at East 9th Street and Grand Avenue.
I would suggest visiting the Iowa State Capitol Building for a couple of reasons;
- The Iowa State Capitol is an iconic building and offers the best panoramic view of the city from its hilltop location at East 9th Street and Grand Avenue as well as offering interesting exhibits to check out.
2. The Iowa State Capitol Building is open to the public during normal business hours, from 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday.
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10. Iowa 80 Trucking Museum
The Iowa 80 Trucking Museum is a trucking museum in Walcott, Iowa. It was established in 1999 and opened to the public in 2003.
The museum has thirty trucks on display from the 1920s to the present day. The collection includes buses, tractors, military vehicles, and more.
The museum also has a truck simulator, where visitors can experience what it’s like to drive a semi truck on a variety of road surfaces.
The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m CST seven days a week, year-round, with the exception of Christmas Day.
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11. Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan
One of the most popular attractions in Iowa is Iowa’s largest frying pan. It is located near Spirit Lake.
The giant, made-in-Iowa frying pan measures around 43.5 feet and weighs over 6000 pounds. Built-in 1991, the frypan was constructed to honor the men and women who designed and built Iowa’s first electric railroad back in 1869.
Iowa’s largest frying pan is open year-round.
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12. Pappajohn Sculpture Park
The Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a beautiful destination in downtown Des Moines. It features over 140 pieces of artwork from both regional and international sculptors. Some of the pieces are actually interactive!
The park’s collection includes larger-than-life sculptures that both children and adults will enjoy admiring. There is also a lot of shade to escape the heat during those sweltering Iowa summers.
The Pappajohn Sculpture Park is easily accessible on foot from Des Moines’ central business district or via public transportation with bus stops located just outside the park’s entrance.
The park has set hours but visitors can explore the park day or night during those times as it’s well illuminated.
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13. World’s Largest Concrete Gnome
In giant-size Iowa, there is the world’s largest concrete gnome, located in Guthrie Center.
The 3.5-foot high and 4-foot wide monument stands at the corner of Main and East Streets. In 2013, to celebrate the town’s 50th anniversary, mayor Hans Larsen turned it into an official landmark.
The gnome was relocated during recent construction and was placed back on its original spot on November 13, 2017.
The following day the Guthrie Center Lions Club leadership replaced the gnome’s broken arm that had been smashed off at some point in time when it was temporarily moved.
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14. Buddy Holly Crash Site
The Buddy Holly plane crash site in Clear Lake is easily the most poignant site that honors his legacy.
Buddy Holly, a pioneer of American rock and roll and musical legend, died in a plane crash in Iowa on February 3rd in 1959. The site where he died is now marked on the map with a sign.
Visitors to this site come from all over the world to honor the memory of this celebrated icon of music.
This place is also great for shutterbugs!
- Bring your own camera or use one of the many available at the visitor’s center for free!
- Photographers will also enjoy capturing shots in front of several monuments and landmarks that are onsite just a short walk away.
- This site is a must-see and includes many trails for nature lovers.
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15. Albert the Bull Park: World’s Largest Bull
Albert the Bull Park is located in Albert City, Iowa. This park features a statue of a white-faced Hereford Bull and was dubbed by Franklyn Branley in his book Roadside America, as the world’s largest bull.
This park is also known for being the birthplace of the famous Holiday Inn hotel chain.
The hours are from dawn to sunset, 365 days out of the year! Albert the Bull Park is open all year round!
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16. The Chewers Club: World’s Largest Toy Museum
Located in Spencer, Iowa is the world’s largest toy museum. This museum features a collection of over 80,000 toys from across the globe and was created by Peter Crouch on his family farm.
Not only does this museum offer an awesome view to see all of the toys at once, but also a great place to visit with children.
The Chewers Club is open year-round and admission is $6.00 for adults, $3.00 for children under 12, and free for children under 3.
It’s also worth noting that the Chewers Club offers a great pumpkin patch with three varieties of pumpkins to choose from as well as hayrides and a corn maze in October!
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17. Terry Branstad Presidential Library and Museum: “Iowa’s Most Popular Attraction”
The Terry Branstad Presidential Library and Museum is located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This library features one of America’s most significant presidential libraries for visitors interested in exploring the legacy of Iowa’s longest-serving governor.
Fun fact; Iowa is the only state to have two US presidents and five governors in office at one time (1979).
The Terry Branstad Presidential Library and Museum is open to the public from January 1st-December 31st, operating weekdays 10 am-5 pm, Saturdays 11 am – 4 pm, and closed on Sundays.
The Terry Branstad Presidential Library and Museum is a great place to visit for tourists interested in Iowa’s history. If you are coming from out of state, be sure to stop by the library with your whole family!
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18. Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden is an absolute must on your itinerary if you’re visiting Iowa. The gardens maintain the perfect balance between natural and cultivated space, and are constantly evolving as they grow.
The garden’s two-mile trail offers many opportunities to stop and explore all types of flora – from prairies to woodlands, to wetlands.
The garden is divided into four sections: Front, Back, West and East. The West section contains a Japanese Garden with an authentic tea house that has been relocated brick by brick from Kyoto in Japan.
There are also beautiful cherry trees planted throughout the gardens that are a huge part of the festival of blossom every spring!
Take your time walking through all the different sections of the gardens, and make sure to stop by for a relaxing afternoon tea in the Japanese Garden.
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19. Matchstick Marvels
The Matchstick Marvels is a company based in Iowa that creates intricate structures out of recycled wood. These creations can be found at many festivals and events around the Fox Valley area, but the company also offers custom orders for those who would like their own!
You can visit Matchstick Marvels’ website to order your own unique masterpiece, or stop by one of their locations to see what they have available on display.
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20. Blank Park Zoo
Blank Park Zoo is located in Des Moines. The zoo opened in 1926 and has grown to be one of the most popular attractions in Iowa. The zoo has more than 300 animals on display including species from all over the world.
The zoo has a new and improved “African Journey”, touted as an immersive experience. The exhibit includes six different environments that are filled with African animals, including elephants, rhinos, giraffes, zebras and more!
Each year, Blank Park Zoo also has a celebration that involves switching on the zoo’s holiday lights during Thanksgiving week, the lights staying on through Christmas.
The zoo is a great place to bring the family for an afternoon of fun and entertainment. With animals from all over the world, visitors are sure to have a memorable time!
The Blank Park Zoo offers annual membership packages starting at $50 or you can purchase admission tickets in advance as low as $11 per person. Plan your next visit by visiting the Blank Park Zoo website or calling (515) 287-3399.
Visitors to Iowa will enjoy seeing this beautiful zoo with over 300 animals on display including species from all around the world.
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21. Amana Colonies
The Amana Colonies is a settlement of German-speaking families who emigrated from turmoil-ridden Germany to the Iowa territory in 1855.
During the 19th century, the population of the Amana Colonies grew to over 5,000 people, reaching 10,000 at its peak. The colony had its own schools, farms, restaurants and hotels. The Amana Colonies are now an Iowa state park.
The Amana Colonies are a great place to visit with family and friends in Iowa’s 19th-century German heritage. There are over 100 restored or preserved historical buildings and sites in the Amana Colonies State Park.
Visitors can tour these sites, including an 1866 schoolhouse, a 1900 general store, and an 1850s restaurant kitchen.
In addition to the historical buildings, there are picturesque views of the countryside from the park’s overlooks and many recreational opportunities for people of all ages.
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22. World’s Largest Strawberry
On July 31, 2010, a new record was set in Iowa. The world’s largest strawberry was made by the All-American Strawberry Growers with a length of 8.2ft (2.5 meters) and height of 4.6ft (1.4 meters).
This strawberry is not only the world’s largest but it was also grown after harvesting more than 16 million strawberries from different farms nationwide.
The Iowa Strawberry Festival has been celebrated since 1936 and is held annually on the first full week of June in Davenport, that brings in more than 100,000 people each year to celebrate Iowa’s favorite fruit. This festival includes a parade, carnival rides, and a fireworks show. The best part? Admission is free!
23. John Wayne Birthplace Museum
One of American cinema’s most iconic actors star of countless westerns, John Wayne was born in 1907 in Winterset, Iowa. The John Wayne Birthplace Museum commemorates his life and career.
The museum is on the grounds of the John Wayne Pioneer Memorial Museum which was established in 1966 by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), a patriotic and non-political organization.
John Wayne’s birthplace has been restored to its original condition as it looked when he was born there on May 26, 1907. A bronze statue of him stands outside next to a bronze sculpture of a cowgirl with a rope around her waist. Inside are photographs from his many films.
The museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is $3 for adults, $1 for children and military personnel, and free to children under age six.
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24. National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library was founded by a group of civic-minded Iowans who were committed to the preservation and celebration of Czech and Slovak heritage.
They named their organization the National Czechoslovak Museum Association, meaning “to promote understanding and appreciation of Czechoslovak culture.”
On March 12, 1990, the National Czechoslovak Museum first opened its doors in Cedar Rapids.
Over time, it became clear that the museum needed more space. In 2003, work began on a new building that would allow for expansion while retaining the existing six-story building as headquarters. The new space was designed by Larry Speck Associates of Omaha.
The new building opened on June 20, 2006, and includes a theater and classrooms to enhance the museum experience for visitors of all ages. The Museum now has more than 14,000 square feet of exhibition space on three floors.
We recommend this attraction if you love art or history, as the museum features tons of Czech and Slovak art!
The Museum is open Monday – Thursday 9 am – 4 pm, Friday 9 am -2 pm and Saturdays 10:30 am – 3 pm. Admission to the Museum is $7 for adults 18+ or $8 for those 19+ from opening to noon on Fridays; rates rise to $10 afternoon every day and evening until closing time at 6:00 pm.
Admission is free for children 17 and under, all Iowa State University students with ID, members of the military with ID or active duty personnel in uniform (with photo), law enforcement officers as well as veterans who have served during wartime periods.
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Iowa is a wonderful place to visit. There are so many things to see and do that it can be hard to choose the best ones for you. Hopefully, this list of great attractions in Iowa gives you some inspiration.
With any luck, there will be something on here that tickles your fancy!
Iowa is such a diverse state full of amazing people and places waiting for visitors from all over the world. We hope these tips have helped make your decision about where you want to go while visiting this lovely state easier!
From big cities like Des Moines or Cedar Rapids to small towns like Council Bluffs or Dubuque, beautiful lakeside spots like Clear Lake or Okoboji – Iowa has plenty of sights worth seeing. So get out there and explore!