Exploring Iowa Arts and Music Venues

Affinity Travel, Iowa Tour Guide

When it comes to artistry, there is no shortage of opportunities to unlock your inner creative with these Iowa arts and music venues

Artistry abounds in Iowa, from public murals that are free to admire to the state’s rich contributions to music, painting and handicrafts. Do-it-yourself workshops, live performances and galleries are all excellent additions to a group itinerary, and these attractions showcase the very best of the Iowa arts and music scene.

Not-to-be-missed Iowa arts and music spots:

  • Surf Ballroom
  • Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Association Hall of Fame & Museum
  • Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum
  • Carnegie Art Museum
  • Pella Opera House
  • Browns Century Theater
  • American Gothic House Center
  • Figge Art Museum
  • Studio Fusion
  • Blanden Memorial Art Museum


Step into rock ‘n’ roll history at the Surf Ballroom, the Clear Lake venue where Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens performed before a tragic plane crash marked the event as “The Day the Music Died.” Groups can step into a space that still resembles a 1950s ocean-themed dance club with nautical wall art, bamboo furniture and island décor. The property includes a wall of fame that commemorates all of the famous artists who have performed there, a museum of memorabilia and a souvenir shop. Your group can learn more about this important era in music at the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Association Hall of & Fame & Museum in Arnolds Park. Signed guitars, rare LPs and vintage recording equipment line the exhibit walls in a space dedicated to the state’s contributions to rock history.

Glenn Miller (a big-band trombonist and most popular musician of the swing era) was born in Clarinda, and the city honors his legacy with the annual Glenn Miller Festival. Visitors can learn about the bandleader’s childhood, rise to stardom, service in World War II and musical legacy at the Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum. You can also tour his modest childhood home, which is decorated with authentic 1904 furnishings. While in Clarinda, stop by the Carnegie Art Museum to see an expansive collection of international works housed in a renovated 1908 library.


Visitors enjoying the Dutch heritage of Marion County will want to explore the Pella Opera House, which was built in 1900 and restored to its former glory in the 1980s. Tours can include a demonstration of the 1928 Barton theater organ or group seating for the concerts and touring musicals that perform at this landmark. During Tulip Time, the Opera House offers tours, concerts, a play on the founding of Pella and films with audience participation.

Pella Opera House music venue

Pella Opera House

Groups can enjoy Branson-style entertainment at Browns Century Theater in Le Mars. Housed in a renovated bank building, this venue stages revues of patriotic, country, Celtic and Christmas music staged by the talented Browns family. Buffet meals are served in the Browns’ newly renovated Central Event Center across the street.


Public art tours are an excellent way for groups to absorb the local character and artistic richness of Iowa arts, especially in Charles City. An innovative sculpture collection of “Art you can sit on” comes in whimsical shapes, with installations found along both sides of the Cedar River. Additional pieces including “Wheels of Change” (enormous gears resting on each other), “Almost Neon” (abstract shapes that represent window browsers) and “Archset” (a gate constructed from recycled gears and wheels) are installed in Central Park. More pieces can be found scattered throughout the community and make for an invigorating outdoor activity.

Archset, Charles City Iowa arts

Archset, Charles City

At the American Gothic House Center in Eldon, your group can pose for a photograph in front of the building immortalized by Grant Wood’s 1930 masterpiece. The painting, which depicts a father and daughter modeled after Wood’s sister and dentist, can be replicated by positioning group members against the structure’s signature Gothic-style window. Groups can tour the museum and nearby prairie gardens and can watch educational films on Wood’s legacy.

American Gothic House Center Iowa arts

American Gothic House Center

Further art history awaits at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport. This collection of nearly 3,000 works houses American Regionalist, Mexican Colonial and Haitian art in a stunning Modernist building along the Mississippi River.


Figge Art Museum, Davenport Iowa arts

Figge Art Museum, Davenport

Create Your Own Iowa Arts

Motorcoach groups can also admire the uniquely Midwestern tradition of barn quilts, a staple on the Iowa arts scene. These enormous geometric paintings replicate the patterns of hand-sewn quilts and often adorn barns, commercial buildings and even residential garages. You can spot over 30 of these creations during a drive through Clayton County in the northeastern corner of the state. Group members can even purchase a block design to craft their own quilt modeled after the murals.

Clayton County Barn Quilts Iowa arts

Clayton County Barn Quilts

Make-and-take studios are an excellent way for group members to create their own Iowa arts in a relaxed setting and bring the handiwork back to friends and family. Popular with large parties is Studio Fusion in Fort Dodge. Budding artists can create simple pottery, Christmas ornaments and jewelry with the assistance of a friendly local artist or purchase a gift in the storefront. Groups are also welcome at the Blanden Memorial Art Museum in Fort Dodge’s Oak Hill Historic District. The museum’s permanent collection includes European paintings, African sculptures and Japanese prints in addition to rotating exhibits that showcase contemporary artists.

For more itinerary inspiration across Iowa check out the Iowa tour guide and be sure to subscribe for FREE to Leisure Group Travel.


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