From sparkling lakes and lush landscapes to a hotel from a world-famous architect, Northwest Iowa aims to please
Northwest Iowa may not be the first place you think of when it comes to beautiful lakes — but it should. Thanks to the abundance of glaciers some 12,000 years ago and their inevitable retreat, the area is full of them. Okoboji and Clear Lake are some of the more well-known ones each offering water activities year-round, ranging from the traditional (boating, fishing, water sports) to the unconventional (ice golf, anyone?). Add in iconic architecture, historic sites, classic cars and legendary music and Iowa’s Lakes and Land area truly has it all.
No matter if you choose spring-fed West Lake Okoboji or Spirit Lake, Iowa’s largest natural lake, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most beautiful landscapes and water adventures. Stretch your legs with a walk around Iowa’s largest outdoor classroom at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory or take in a show at the Okoboji Summer Theatre or Roof Garden Ballroom. Explore the water with a ride on the group-friendly Fish House. It doubles as the world’s largest ice fish house in the winter. Step back in time with a visit to the ultimate man-cave at Okoboji Classic Cars, filled with floor-to-ceiling murals, antiques, and over 80 classic cars.
Clear Lake Iowa
For some of the best views of the 3,600-acre Clear Lake, hitch a ride on Lady of the Lake, an authentic paddle wheel excursion boat that offers narrated tours. If music is your jam, then a visit to the Surf Ballroom, a legendary live music venue, should be on your must-do list. Include a stop at The Fox House to tour the home of the original owner and builder of the Surf Ballroom. Keep the music theme going and pay your respects at the Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and “The Big Bopper” Crash Site Memorial. Holly’s horn-rimmed glasses, albeit an oversized replica, mark the entrance. The Art Deco-inspired Three Stars Plaza monument features a central spindle stacked with three 45rpm records to remember the Rock ‘n’ Roll icons.
The Old West is alive and well in Fort Dodge at The Fort Museum & Frontier Village. The 1850 military fort and frontier town includes 18 original and replica buildings along with artifacts from Native Americans, pioneers, and the military. Set inside a neo-classical building, the Blanden Art Museum features an eclectic mix of European and American paintings and sculptures and prints, as well as contemporary American art, Iowa artists and Japanese screens and prints. Located in the Historic Downtown area are thirst-quenching breweries, such as Shiny Top Brewing, and one-of-a-kind shops.
Sioux City, Iowa
Not one but two historic districts can be found in Sioux City, which is situated along the banks of the Missouri River. Constructed in 1927, the Orpheum Theatre is a beautifully restored theater that offers live entertainment ranging from Broadway shows and concerts to movies. If the visual arts are more your fancy, head to the Sioux City Art Center, which features a variety of permanent and visiting exhibits. Did you ever think you would find a Hard Rock Casino in Iowa? Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City is an award-winning gaming destination with a AAA Four Diamond-rated hotel, two restaurants and three bars (including a AAA Three Diamond rated restaurant) and two live entertainment venues.
The only remaining Frank Lloyd Wright hotel in the world calls Mason City home — and it’s stunning. The Historic Park Inn features 27 beautifully restored rooms, all of which are different, as well as private event spaces, a restaurant and lounge. Indulge in more architecture awe with a Prairie School Architectural Tour in the Rock Crest and Rock Glen area. At Music Man Square, the iconic film’s streetscape is recreated as a celebration to the life and achievements of native musician and composer Meredith Willson. Delight in the sights and sounds of downtown Mason City while experiencing the unique sculpture works of artists from all over the country with the River City Sculptures on Parade.
The smells of freshly baked waffle cones and ice cream will welcome you as soon as you take a step inside the Ice Cream Capital of the World at Wells Visitor Center & Ice Cream Parlor. Visit the sweetest place on Earth where an ice cream parlor collides with one-of-a-kind experiences. Enjoy a dinner and theater experience with made-from-scratch Iowa cooking meals before one of the shows at the Browns Century Theater. Tour the Le Mars Art Center, located in the Historic Carnegie Library. Try your hand at “Alcohol Ink” or a new favorite “Zentangle”. To see even more art, drive through the alleys of downtown Le Mars to see the Alley Art Project artwork of 38 local artists painted on the walls of 40 buildings.
Explore our selection of Group-friendly Itineraries across the globe.