Unique Things to do in Iowa

Activities, Iowa Tour Guide

Four cultural-themed itineraries developed by the Iowa Group Travel Association perfect for groups of all sizes

The Prairie as his Palette: Grant Wood

American Gothic House Center Visitors

American Gothic House Center Visitors

Eastern and Central Iowa — 2 days
Cedar Rapids, Jones County, Amana Colonies, Fairfield, Eldon

In Cedar Rapids, tour the museum that houses the world’s largest collection of Grant Wood’s works and visit the studio where the Iowa native lived and painted American Gothic. As a side trip, travel to Jones County to visit the site of Wood’s Stone City art colony. Learn about Czech and Slovak culture in the Cedar Rapids museum and library that hosts noteworthy exhibits; enjoy fresh-baked kolaches and coffee or have a traditional Czech meal.

In the Amana Colonies, one of America’s longest-lived communal societies, tour the seven villages visiting historical sites and meeting artists and artisans. Have lunch at the Ox Yoke Inn, a German-American restaurant. Recently named by Smithsonian Magazine as one of America’s best small towns, Fairfield is big on culture and thrives on an eclectic scene of entertainment, shops and eateries. Finally, tour Eldon’s American Gothic House, which served as the inspiration and backdrop for Grant Wood’s most famous painting. Costumes and pitchforks are available to create your own memorable portrait.

The Art of Prairie School Architecture

Central and Eastern Iowa — 2 days
Algona, Mason City, Charles City, Decorah

In Algona see the “jewel box” bank building designed by renowned architect Louis Sullivan, whose most famous pupil was Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s one of only eight such masterpieces in the Midwest. Browse the architectural interpretive center at Mason City’s Stockman House, the first and only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Prairie School house in Iowa.

Next we’ll tour an art museum, formerly a gracious 1920s Tudor Revival home, which houses a collection of American art, including works by Regionalists Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. Take a guided tour and enjoy dinner at the Historic Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank building, the last remaining hotel designed by Wright and a classic example of Prairie School architecture. Explore a gallery in Charles City that contains 77 prints from masters like Dali, Rembrandt, Picasso, Durer and Grant Wood. Towering limestone bluffs and cascading springs offer a picturesque backdrop in Decorah and Winneshiek County. Visit the nation’s most comprehensive museum dedicated to a single immigrant group – the Norwegians.

Iowa’s Heritage: Footsteps of Time

Central and Eastern Iowa — 2 days
Des Moines, Pella, Kalona

Marvel at 27 sculptures from celebrated artists at Des Moines’ downtown sculpture park. Then take a “Nooks and Crannies” tour of a house that an early 1900s family turned from dream to reality. At Des Moines Performing Arts take a backstage tour and, if available, do a meet-and-greet with the cast; enjoy a show after dinner.

Start the next day with delicious Dutch letter pastries in Pella. Visit the Pella Historical Village and tour the Scholte House and Gardens, the home of Pella’s founder. A Pella Opera House tour includes a short organ concert. At Kalona Historical Village have a cup of coffee or tea and fresh doughnut holes from Kalona Bakery as you learn about the Amish and Mennonite people. Travel the scenic backroads to get a sense of their way of life. View the magnificent Amish quilts at the Kalona Quilt & Textile Museum and watch a noodle-making demonstration at Kalona Bakery. Have a hearty lunch at a conservative Mennonite home, savoring treats like home-baked bread and Amish tapioca pudding.

An Ethnic Tour of Western Iowa

Western Iowa — 2 days
Council Bluffs, Adams County, Elk Horn, Manning, Orange City, Sioux City

In Council Bluffs, tour the beautifully restored home of Civil War veteran and railroad builder, General Grenville M. Dodge. Then travel to Adams County where we’ll learn about the French immigrants’ egalitarian community and have lunch in the 1878 communal dining hall.

Tour the Danish Windmill in Elk Horn and learn about the area’s Danish heritage.

In 17th century Germany, it was common practice for a house to be shared by families and their livestock. Go inside an authentic hausbarn built in 1660 that was moved to Manning and today is a museum dedicated to the community’s German heritage.

Next is Orange City, founded by Dutch settlers and famous for its annual Tulip Festival. In Sioux City, we’ll see the Corn Room mural and some of Grant Wood’s other work. Enjoy a Broadway show at the beautifully restored Orpheum Theatre or live entertainment at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City.

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