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Where to Stay in Iowa: 12 Best Areas & Places

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As a lifelong Midwesterner, I know that there’s a lot of corn in Iowa. But also, as a lifelong Midwesterner, I know that Iowa is more than its golden agricultural export.

As you journey through this picturesque state, prepare to discover unique hotels and cities that combine the comfort of modern amenities with the mesmerizing charm of the great outdoors. From cozy log cabins nestled within serene forests ideal for couples to extravagant riverside lodges perfect for those who want a lavish experience, your stay in Iowa will captivate you.

For travelers searching for a one-of-a-kind accommodation, options abound with historic inns and eclectic boutique properties that provide a memorable experience. Field of Dreams fans adore Iowa because they can live out their cinematic fantasies on the field in Dyersville.

There are dozens of charming microbreweries, museums, hiking trails, and even the world’s oldest ice cream parlor in Iowa to enjoy. Sure, there’s a lot of corn and farmland, but if you look beyond the stalks, you can enjoy the state for all it is – and it sure helps if you know where to stay.

TL;DR – Best Places to Stay in Iowa

Category Hotel Name Address
Best Luxury Hotel Des Lux Hotel 800 Locust St, Des Moines, IA
Best Hotel for History Buffs The Highlander Hotel 2525 Highlander Pl, Iowa City, IA
Most Haunted Hotel Hotel Julien Dubuque 200 Main St, Dubuque, IA
Best Hotel for Families Wildwood Lodge Clive 11431 Forest Ave, Clive, IA
Most Unique Hotel Mason House Inn Bed & Breakfast 21982 Hawk Dr, Keosauqua, IA

Where to Stay in Iowa

1. Des Moines

Des Moines, Iowa Skyline and Bridge at Sunset
f11photo / Adobe Stock

Des Moines effortlessly combines an incredible culinary scene, a community dedicated to art, and comfortable accommodations to create a memorable experience for all visitors. You may be surprised at the size of this city, though it makes sense. Des Moines is a major hub for insurance companies, publishers, and even banks – not just for the region but for the United States at large.

This picturesque capital city in Madison County boasts world-class attractions catering to a variety of interests. The Des Moines Art Center offers a rich collection of contemporary art, while the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden entices visitors with its stunning landscapes and horticultural expertise.

If you’re traveling with a family, the Blank Park Zoo is a must-visit location to indulge your curiosity about animals from around the world. When you’re not busy visiting Des Moines’ popular landmarks, indulge in the exciting culinary scene, from farm-to-table fare to international cuisine.

As you venture out on foot or by cab through Downtown Des Moines, you’ll undoubtedly stumble upon hidden gems and unforgettable experiences that make your trip even more rewarding. Be sure to try the tiki drinks and crab rangoon pies at Fong’s Pizza.

Things to Do:

Where to Stay:

See Related: Best Day Trips from Des Moines

2. Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids, Iowa river and bridge
Davumaya / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Cedar Rapids, located in the heart of Eastern Iowa, offers a lively arts and culture scene, family-friendly sports teams, and an expanding culinary landscape that includes craft breweries. If you stay downtown, you’re within walking distance of many eateries, shops, and other fun things to do.

You may notice upon the first sniff that this city has its own special aroma. That’s because, in addition to being the largest corn processing city in the country, it’s also home to a Quaker Oats cereal mill which unleashes a familiar fragrance. Just don’t forget to pick up some kolaches (yummy Czech breakfast pastries), since it’s also built upon the heritage of many Czech families.

Offering a plethora of budget-friendly Iowa hotels, the city is a place of wonder for adults and children alike – if you know where to look. Immerse yourself in the area’s history by exploring Brucemore, an estate with beautiful gardens, grounds, and a 21-room mansion. Depending on the season, you might also enjoy concerts, theater performances, festivals, or garden walks on Brucemore’s premises.

Things to Do:

  • Visit Brucemore
  • National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library
  • Paramount Theatre
  • African American Museum Of Iowa

Where to Stay:

3. Amana Colonies

Welcome sign entering the Amana Colonies
David Harmantas / Shutterstock

When you’re out of the big city, you get a chance to experience a special Iowa offer. The Amana Colonies are seven villages in Iowa County. These villages are known as Amana, East Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, South Amana, West Amana, and Homestead — they had to throw an extra name in there just to surprise you.

This is a great location for the whole family as it’s unlike anything you’ll see in Iowa or elsewhere. Founded in 1855 by German immigrants, the colonies hold steadfast to their heritage and provide visitors with a more traditional vacation experience. In addition to the fun activities like the annual Oktoberfest and Winterfest celebrations, the colonies are also known for their incredible food.

With locally made wines and beers, along with the villages’ family-style meals, a visit to the Amana Colonies is of great value. If you want to learn more about this unique area, don’t forget to visit the Amana Heritage Museum before you head home.

Things to Do:

  • Amana Heritage Museum
  • Ackerman Winery
  • Millstream Brewing Co.
  • Amana Colonies Golf Club
  • Iowa Baseball Museum of Norway

Where to Stay:

4. Mason City

Mason city Iowa East Park
Aphroditephotography / Adobe Stock

Also known as River City because of its proximity to the Winnebago River, Mason City is a quintessential example of a Midwestern city. It’s also known as the birthplace of Meredith Wilson, who created “The Music Man.”

You can commemorate the visit by stopping by Music Man Square. However, if you want 76 trombones, you’ll have to bring them yourself.

Fittingly, Mason City is known for its musical heritage. When you aren’t traversing down the main street, be sure to find some live music to jam out to.

Entertainment options abound in this musical mini-metropolis. Perhaps you can embrace your inner Harold Hill and stake out a pool table or two at a local billiard hall like Wild Bill’s Billiards.

With just under 30,000 residents, this city has all the amenities of a larger metro area with the laid-back appeal of a small town. Plus, architecture nerds will love checking out the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings here, a true sign of any Midwestern village.

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Where to Stay:

5. Dyersville

Dyersville House of Dreams in Iowa
Bill Chizek / Adobe Stock

When visiting Iowa, a must-see attraction is the iconic Field of Dreams film site located in Dyersville. As a fan of the movie or simply as a baseball enthusiast, you can relive the magic of this film by exploring the actual site where it was filmed.

You can also embark on a 30-minute guided tour of the Kinsella family’s farmhouse. Priced at $20, this immersive experience will transport you back in time.

Besides its cinematic history, Dyersville is also known as the Farm Toy Capital of the World and is home to the National Farm Toy Museum. What does that mean? Well, the museum literally focuses on toys depicting miniaturized farm equipment. This is a wonderful excursion for any kiddos who really love tractors.

Technically part of the Dubuque metro area, Dyersville is about 30 minutes outside of downtown Dubuque. Its small-town appeal is seen best in its fascination with childhood playthings. Dyersville is even home to the Dyer-Botsford Doll Museum, which fits right in with the aforementioned Farm Toy Museum.

Things to Do:

  • Field of Dreams Movie Site
  • National Farm Toy Museum
  • Plaza Antique Mall
  • Dyer-Botsford Doll Museum
  • Textile Brewing Company

Where to Say:

See Related: Best Wineries In Iowa For Tastings and Tours

6. Fort Atkinson

Event at Fort Atkinson Rendezvous Iowa
Fort Atkinson Rendezvous / Facebook

Fort Atkinson is the ideal Iowa destination for outdoorsy folks as it offers an array of unforgettable outdoor adventures. Get ready to explore the great outdoors as you paddle through serene waters with rented kayaks or canoes.

With numerous scenic waterways in the vicinity, Fort Atkinson’s pristine beauty lends itself to a relaxing day of gliding and unwinding on the calm waters. Anglers rejoice! Fort Atkinson has fantastic fishing opportunities for enthusiasts of all skill levels.

Whether you are a seasoned pro or looking to cast out your line for the first time, you’ll find the perfect spot to spend a day fishing and unwinding with nature as your backdrop. Don’t forget to pack a picnic to enjoy at one of the many inviting lakeside locations under the warm sunshine.

If you’re searching for more active pursuits, Fort Atkinson State Preserve is a favorite for hiking and exploring. Absorb the history of the area by visiting the historic site featuring a museum and structures from the old fort while making sure to appreciate the natural beauty of the landscape surrounding the preserve.

Things to Do:

  • Fort Atkinson State Park
  • World’s Smallest Church
  • Lake Meyer Park
  • Effigy Mounds National Monument
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder Park & Museum

Where to Stay:

As a town with a population of just over 300, there aren’t any hotels in Fort Atkinson proper. Still, there are some great options nearby.

7. Dubuque

Aerial view of downtown Dubuque, Iowa
Jayden / Adobe Stock

A city along the Mississippi River once considered the Gateway to the West, Dubuque is a historical gold mine. This city has some of the best hotels in Iowa for history buffs and folks who love fascinating bygone architecture.

Dubuque is also full of modern art, museums, dining options, performing arts, and a plethora of historic sites. As the oldest city in Iowa, it should come as no surprise that there are a lot of historic places to see here that represent the city’s growth.

Pay a visit to the Mines of Spain, gaze upon the clock tower, or explore Dubuque County Courthouse. Plus, because of its location along the river, the city is also home to the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.

You can also head over to The Dubuque Museum of Art, the oldest cultural institution in the state. Founded in 1874 it remains a significant curator of art in the region.

The museum houses over 2500 works but is best known for its Grant Wood collection. For you novices, Wood was the artist behind the iconic “American Gothic” painting.

Things to Do:

  • Mines of Spain
  • National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium
  • Stone Cliff Winery
  • Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens
  • Crystal Lake Cave

Where to Stay:

8. Council Bluffs

Council Bluffs aerial view
Jacob / Adobe Stock

Not far from the Nebraska border, Council Bluffs is one of the largest cities in the area. Dozens of miles of hiking trails await you in this sprawling city.

Nearby attractions include the Loess Hills, Missouri River, and Laka Manawa. An incredible combination of historic city and natural wonder, Council Bluffs is perfect for travelers who can’t quite agree on what they want from the trip.

Art galleries are strewn around the city, and the historic 100 Block is where a lot of the boutique shopping will take you. With so many things to see between this city and nearby Omaha, you may want to make a stop here during a road trip through the states.

Also, a note for all of those casino lovers: there are a LOT of casinos in this city. There’s the Harrah’s Council Bluffs Hotel and Casino, Horseshoe Council Bluffs Casino, and Ameristar Council Bluffs Casino. If you need comfortable beds and a room for the night, consider one of these spots while you’re here.

Things to Do:

  • Union Pacific Railroad Museum
  • Dodge House-Historic General
  • Ditmars Orchard & Vineyard
  • Squirrel Cage Jail
  • Full Fledged Brewing Company

Where to Stay:

See Related: Best Iowa Family Vacations to Take This Year

9. Pella

Buildings and Canal in Pella, Iowa
Bella B Photography / Adobe Stock

Founded by the Dutch, Pella looks like it was dreamt up in the Netherlands. Although this city is squarely in Iowa, pieces of its architecture and attractions found here are undeniably Dutch. Here is where you’ll find the Vermeer Windmill, the tallest working grain windmill in the country, as well as the Pella Historical Society Museum.

Visit in the spring to enjoy Tulip Time, a flower festival that’s one of the best American festivals we’ve experienced. Even if you miss tulip season, stop by Jaarsma Bakery for “Dutch Letters”.

It’s extremely helpful to know that Pella’s nickname is “America’s Dutch Treasure” to give you a better idea of how rooted in the Netherlands this city is. But on the flip side of that, it’s also the childhood hometown of Wild West icon Wyatt Earp. So it’s a fascinating meeting of cultures both deeply American and European.

Things to Do:

  • Pella Historical Village & Vermeer Windmill
  • Pella Opera House
  • Scholte House Museum & Gardens
  • The Klokkenspel
  • Wyatt Earp House

Where to Stay:

10. Decorah

Courthouse in Decorah, Iowa
James Reininger / Adobe Stock

Another city in Iowa representing the power of an immigrant community, Decorah, was founded by Norwegians in the 1850s. This Scandi culture is still widely represented throughout the city, namely during Nordic Fest, which takes place every July.

In addition to its cultural touchpoints, Decorah is surrounded by incredible scenery — making it a favorite of hikers. The Decorah Ice Cave stays cool well into August, and you can pair it with a visit to Dunnings Spring Falls, too.

If you’re up for more of a hike, the one-mile out-and-back to Malanaphy Springs is worth it on a hot summer day. Kids love playing in this waterfall that you can walk right through.

Despite being one of the smaller cities on our list, Decorah is bustling, and you’ll find plenty of room to unwind. There are a few museums to explore, cute shops to peruse, and many great eateries.

Things to Do:

  • Vesterheim The National Norwegian-American Museum & Folk Art School
  • Porter House Museum
  • Trout Run Trail
  • Pulpit Rock Brewing Company
  • Decorah Ice Cave

Where to Stay:

11. Keosauqua

Sunset view in Lacey Keosauqua State Park
RBHawk / TripAdvisor

Located in Van Buren County, Keosauqua is small but mighty. With a name that means “Bend in the River” from the Meskwaki and Sauk nations, this part of the state is not short in significance.

For outdoorsy types, this area is home to both the Lacey Keosauqua State Park and Lake Sugema — a beloved fishing spot. Keosauqua also houses the second oldest courthouse in the country, the Van Buren County Courthouse!

History lovers will enjoy a visit the Pearson House Museum Complex. The Pearson House was a safe house during the days of the Underground Railroad.

Editor’s Note: If you’re on a quest to find the tastiest breaded pork tenderloin in the country, you’ve got to explore the Villages of Van Buren. AJ’s Bar in Mount Sterling has, in my opinion, the best BPT on the planet.

Things to Do:

  • Villages Folk School
  • Lacey Keosauqua State Park
  • American Gothic House Center
  • Lake Sugema
  • Riverview Club

Where to Stay:

Read Also: Places to Stay in Ames

12. Iowa City

Downtown Iowa City old Capitol museum
Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock

Iowa City was the state’s first capitol city. Now that the capital moniker belongs in Des Moines, the city can focus on its identity as one of the best art cities around. From performing arts to traditional, creativity thrives here.

Iowa City was also the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature. Visit the Haunted Bookshop and Prairie Lights to get a taste of the city’s literature scene.

You can still see the original state capitol at The Old Capitol building on the University of Iowa campus. The Campus is a nice spot to walk around – pick up some Hawkeyes gear while you’re here.

For a taste of the city’s art scene, stay on campus and stop by The University of Iowa Art Museum before taking in a show at one of the performing arts spaces. If you’re interested in Iowan history, be sure to check out Plum Grove, which was the first governor’s home.

Things to Do:

  • Prairie Lights and The Haunted Bookshop
  • Old Capitol Museum
  • The Englert Theatre
  • Stanley Museum of Art
  • University of Iowa Museum of Natural History

Where to Stay:

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