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 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. Iowa has a much more diverse population but still retains its historic roots and natural beauty.
Here are some of the best and most fun things to do in Iowa!
What We Cover
- Things to Do in Iowa & Top Places to Visit
- 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. Drive the Great River Road National Scenic Byway
- 17. Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
- 18. Matchstick Marvels
- 19. Blank Park Zoo
- 20. Amana Colonies
- 21. World’s Largest Strawberry
- 22. John Wayne Birthplace Museum
- 23. National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library
- Tours in Iowa
Things to Do in Iowa & Top Places to Visit
1. Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption
Address: 208 1st Ave NW, West Bend, IA 50597, United States
The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa, is a religious site centered around different scenes from Jesus’s life, represented by statues and other features. The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption is near Dubuque, Iowa, and comprises over $4 million worth of rocks and minerals.
Around 100,000 people visit this place each year to participate in its Christian activities, like attending mass or simply visiting the museum with its precious stones from worldwide, as well as artifacts and photographs regarding its construction. This attraction is open for visitors all year round to explore independently.
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2. Field of Dreams Movie Site
Address: 28995 Lansing Rd, Dyersville, IA 52040, United States
The Field of Dreams is a baseball field and a 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 Iowa Baseball Association originally built the site for a 1925 semi-pro game. After filming Field of Dreams in 1989, it became a popular tourist destination – with about 2,000 visitors daily.
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. Two plaques are on site commemorating famous faces that have visited or played at the field.
It’s nice to explore this site and read the plaques about the baseball players referenced in the movie. It’s an excellent 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. Book your tickets in advance to secure your home tour and tour of the field.
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3. Maquoketa Caves State Park
Address: 9688 Caves Rd, Maquoketa, IA 52060, United States
Iowa is home to over 100 state parks, providing outdoor recreation opportunities for all, and The Maquoketa Caves State Park is one of the best state parks here. It’s in a hilly area with forests, ravines, waterfalls, springs, and caves.
The park has several attractions, including a scenic river trail with two bridges and a bird hide. The caves offer easy access for all experience levels with nothing more difficult than stairs.
The park has over 180 wildlife species, including bats, salamanders, and snakes. Visitors can walk through these habitats at their own pace or take guided tours at the hour every hour. The park also offers campgrounds for those looking to stay overnight.
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4. Adventureland Park
Address: 305 34th Ave NW, Altoona, IA 50009, United States
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, named 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, a staple of the amusement industry since 1960. Events are also held throughout the year, such as the 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
Address: 6684 Crystal Lake Cave Rd, Dubuque, IA 52003, United States
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 underlying rock formations determined the route of these two waterways, and the cave was formed due to dissolved limestone seeping through cracks in these rocks.
The Crystal Lake Cave is home to many subterranean animals, such as salamanders, crayfish, spiders, and bats. Over 370 plant species have been discovered in this area, including 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
Address: 350 E 3rd St, Dubuque, IA 52001, United States
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 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays and from 10 am to 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 and 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. It is held from late August through September.
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8. Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
Address: 110 Parkside Dr, West Branch, IA 52358, United States
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. How’s that for a fact about Iowa?
Hoover’s birthplace was later bought and turned into a tourist destination by the Hoover family in 1928. They worked to turn the cottage decoration as close to his childhood experience as possible.
Among the buildings 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 and the adjacent Iowa Great Lakes Nature Preserve showcase not only Hoover’s presidential papers and memorabilia but also document his accomplishments. The library is open 365 days per year from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST if you want to visit.
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9. Iowa State Capitol
Address: 1007 E Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50319, United States
The Iowa State Capitol is the seat of the government for Iowa and an important historical landmark. It houses all of the state’s major state offices and collects historic documents and other artifacts from past legislative sessions.
The Iowa State Capitol Building is an important historic site in Des Moines and houses the State Supreme Court of Iowa.
The Capitol is one of Iowa’s most iconic landmarks and destinations, and it 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. It offers the best panoramic view of the city from its hilltop location at East 9th Street and Grand Avenue and interesting exhibits to check out.
- 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
Address: 505 Sterling Dr, Walcott, IA 52773, United States
The Iowa 80 Trucking Museum is a trucking museum in Walcott, Iowa. It was established in 1999 and opened to the public in 2008.
The museum has over 120 trucks on display from 1903 to today. The collection includes a variety of antique trucks, vintage gas pumps, “petroliana” items, and more. Visitors can also watch short films on trucking in the museum’s REO Theatre.
The museum is open from 9 am to 5:00 pm, Wednesday – Saturday, and from Noon to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. Summer hours are 9:00 a.m.– 5:00 pm, Monday – Saturday, and Noon – 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. They are also open on Memorial Day and Labor Day. Group tours and school field trips can be arranged.
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11. Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan
Address: 802 Main St, Brandon, IA 52210, United States
Iowa’s largest frying pan is one of Iowa’s most popular attractions. 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 in 1869. Iowa’s largest frying pan is open year-round.
12. Pappajohn Sculpture Park
Address: 1330 Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50309, United States
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 just outside the park’s entrance. The park has set hours, but visitors can explore it day or night during those times as it’s well-illuminated.
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13. World’s Largest Concrete Gnome
Address: 1407 S University Blvd, Ames, IA 50011, United States
In giant-size Iowa, there is the world’s largest concrete gnome. It is located at Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa, and is 15 feet tall. This amazing concrete gnome’s name is Elwood, and the gardens are conveniently located near the Iowa State University football stadium, Jack Trice Stadium.
The Reiman Gardens cost $8 for adults to enter. The beautiful gardens are worth a visit alone, but seeing a 15-foot-tall gnome in addition to the sprawling park is a win in my book.
Elwood the gnome is the only concrete gnome in Iowa and is a national roadside attraction to visit on your next road trip through the Midwest.
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14. Buddy Holly Crash Site
Address: Clear Lake, IA 50428, United States
The Buddy Holly plane crash site in Clear Lake is 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, 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. It’s one of the most popular spots in Clear Lake, so plan ahead.
15. Albert the Bull Park: World’s Largest Bull
Address: 1108 E Division St, Audubon, IA 50025, United States
Albert the Bull Park is located in Albert City, Iowa. This park features a statue of a white-faced Hereford Bull, which Franklyn Branley dubbed 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. Drive the Great River Road National Scenic Byway
One of my favorite road trips in America is the Great River Road National Scenic Byway. It’s easily one of the must-do things in the Midwest since it spans Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, and more.
The Iowa stretch of the Great River Road is particularly noteworthy. It is distinguished by its picturesque river bluffs, abundant wildlife, and the opportunity to visit quaint river towns steeped in the lore of the heartland.
These towns, each with its character and attractions, offer a glimpse into the region’s past, from Native American history to the era of steamboats and the legacy of Mark Twain.
Designated as both a National Scenic Byway and an All-American Road, the Great River Road in Iowa is recognized for its exceptional recreational opportunities, such as hiking, bird watching, and fishing. Visitors can also explore local museums, art galleries, and historic sites, including Effigy Mounds National Monument.
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17. Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
Address: 909 Robert D. Ray Dr, Des Moines, IA 50309, United States
The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden must be on your itinerary if you visit Iowa. The gardens perfectly balance natural and cultivated space and constantly evolve 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.
Beautiful cherry trees are planted throughout the gardens, which are a huge part of the festival of blossom every spring! Take your time walking through all the different sections of the gardens, and stop by for a relaxing afternoon tea in the Japanese Garden.
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18. Matchstick Marvels
Address: 329 2nd St, Gladbrook, IA 50635, United States
Matchstick Marvels is a company based in Iowa that creates intricate structures from recycled wood. These creations can be found at 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 Marvel’s website to order your unique masterpiece or stop by one of their locations to see what they have available on display.
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19. Blank Park Zoo
Address: 7401 SW 9th St, Des Moines, IA 50315, United States
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 environments filled with African animals: 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 kids for an afternoon of fun and entertainment.
The Blank Park Zoo offers annual membership packages starting at $50, or you can purchase admission tickets in advance for 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 worldwide.
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20. Amana Colonies
Address: 622 46th Ave, Amana, IA 52203, United States
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 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. Over 100 restored or preserved historical buildings and sites exist 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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21. World’s Largest Strawberry
Address: 111 Commercial St, Strawberry Point, IA 52076, United States
On July 31, 2010, a new record was set in Iowa. The All-American Strawberry Growers made the world’s largest strawberry, with a length of 8.2ft (2.5 meters) and a height of 4.6ft (1.4 meters).
This strawberry is the world’s largest and was grown after harvesting more than 16 million strawberries from different farms nationwide.
The Iowa Strawberry Festival has been celebrated since 1936. It is held annually on the first full week of June in Davenport, which 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!
22. John Wayne Birthplace Museum
Address: 205 S John Wayne Dr, Winterset, IA 50273, United States
One of American cinema’s most iconic actors and stars 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, 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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23. National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library
Address: 1400 Inspiration Pl SW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52404, United States
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library was founded by a civic-minded Iowans committed to preserving and celebrating 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 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. Larry Speck Associates of Omaha designed the new space.
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 has over 14,000 square feet of exhibition space on three floors.
The Museum is open Monday – Thursday, 9 am – 4 pm, Friday, 9 am -2 pm, and Saturdays 10:30 a.m.- 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 every afternoon and evening until closing time at 6:00 pm.
Admission is free for children 17 and under, all Iowa State University students with ID, military members with ID or active duty personnel in uniform (with photo), law enforcement officers, and veterans who have served during wartime periods.
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Tours in Iowa
Visit the home of Ray and Annie Kinsella, brought to life in the classic movie Field of Dreams. Go behind-the-scenes and learn about the movie’s filming while experiencing authentic Iowa farmhouse that has been preserved in time. Then step back into the familiar scenes from the film, as you check out this vintage country home with barn, corn crib and windmill.
Original Iowa Guided Brewery Tour with Lunch or Dinner - Beer fans—this one’s for you. Discover the craft beer scene of Des Moines without having to do any of the planning, as a full itinerary and transport between breweries are organized for you. Along the way, hear stories about how the craft beer scene has flourished over the years, learn about local innovation, and get VIP access to four local craft breweries with tastings included. Get behind-the-scenes access to four craft breweries.
Take a private tour in Madison County, IA. You’ll get to visit several of the 25 covered bridges (which are on the National Register of Historic Places), will drop by former film sets, and more. Visit the bridges of Madison County, and learn all about their history See film sets and follow in Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood's footsteps A private tour lets you customize the itinerary to suit your interests Get up close and personal with some of Iowa’s most distinctive landmarks..