The Southeast Iowa region offers scenic places to visit with storied histories, festivals and walkable downtowns

By Heather Dale

Beautiful backdrops of rolling farmlands, canyons and cliffs of epic rock formations lend countless agritourism opportunities and inspire iconic artwork while celebrating Iowa heritage. Nestled among the rich fertile landscapes are many diverse cities teeming with intriguing histories and colorful cultural celebrations. Explore the Literary Capital of the World in Iowa City or meander the many historic riverfronts along the Mississippi River. Peruse museums in Cedar Rapids and appreciate the charm of southern Iowa.

Iowa City

Known as the Literary Capital of the World, Iowa City hosts the Iowa City Book Festival and also boasts a vibrant and exciting downtown. Englert Theater was once home to vaudeville acts from around the globe. Today, audiences can enjoy musicals, plays, concerts, dance recitals and two annual art festivals. Have a laugh at Joystick Comedy Bar & Arcade with jokes from local, regional and national comedians. Agritourism blooms at beautiful Koru Berry Farm in Homestead, an Aronia berry farm. Or take a “sanctuary stroll” at the shelter for rescued farm animals at the Iowa Farm Sanctuary. In nearby Kalona, visit the Mennonite Museum or Kalona Historical Village for in-depth heritage exhibits. 

Cedar Rapids Iowa

Cedar Rapids boasts numerous museums, including the African American Museum of Iowa, showcasing permanent and temporary exhibitions of Iowa’s Black history. Free throughout the summer, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art displays over 2,000 years of exhibitions, including art by Grant Wood, the creator of the American Gothic pop culture painting. The District: Czech Village & New Bohemia comprises two thriving and award-winning communities. While there, be sure to check out the indoor NewBo City Market with local businesses offering unique goodies and authentic products. The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library tells the history and culture of central European immigrants in Iowa. Visit nearby Amana Colonies to dive into German heritage, delicious eats, and specialty shopping.

Old Fort Madison

Old Fort Madison

Southern Iowa Charm

The American Gothic House & Center welcomes visitors to Eldon for a photo op in front of a piece of Americana, the inspirational farmhouse for Grant Wood’s painting. Twelve quaint towns comprise the Villages of Van Buren, full of charming inns, two National Historic Districts, Amish and Mennonite communities, shops and history galore. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Oddest Spots Across America campaign named Snake Alley in Burlington “Unbelievably Crooked!” Drive or walk the 275-foot 1894 landmark that includes seven curves and descends 58 feet. Witness the awesome water power flowing through Lock and Dam Number 19 in Keokuk and discover how Keokuk and United States history intertwine with a stop at the 2.75-acre National Cemetery. Fort Madison’s history dates back to the early 1800s and comes alive in the reconstruction of the first military outpost on the upper Mississippi, Old Fort Madison. The Old Santa Fe Depot and Engine 2913 reflect the town’s rich railroad history.

Clinton & Maquoketa, Iowa

Discover the energetic atmosphere of Downtown Clinton with shops, restaurants and live music or visit the north end Lyons District for GabiBird Art Studio, Don’s Jewelry, The Cage by Rivals Sports, and so much more. Enjoy a live performance at the Clinton Showboat Theatre or climb atop Stone Tower for stunning views of Eagle Point Park. Located northwest of Clinton, Maquoketa Caves State Park showcases more caves than any other Iowa state park with a trail system linking to limestone formations and scenic overlooks. Taste delicious Iowa vintages from Wild River Winery or refuel with a cup from 392° Caffe.

Celebration River Cruises

Celebration River Cruises

Quad Cities

A bi-state region along the Mississippi River in Iowa and Illinois, the Quad Cities is a community of riverfront cities and a wealth of attractions. Enjoy a dinner cruise aboard Celebration River Cruises or check out Riverboat Twilight for a voyage on the Mississippi River. Sway to the music at the annual Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in September, featuring two stages hosting local, regional, and national music artists. Get your big swing on in July during the PGA’s John Deere Classic. Join thousands of runners, including some of the most elite, in July for the 10,000-meter “Bix 7” road race that pays tribute to the legendary Jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke. Wildcat Den State Park is one of Iowa’s most photographed parks and offers impressive views along miles of trails. During your hike, see the oldest working grist mill between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.

Fairfield Iowa

The founding of Maharishi International University and the establishment of Fairfield as a center for Transcendental Meditation in the ‘70s had great influence on the city’s art scene. The Carnegie Museum is a popular stop for visitors, telling the fascinating stories of Fairfield and the people who built and shaped it into the city it is today. Situated on 33 acres of gorgeous Iowa scenery, the award winning Fishback & Stephenson taproom offers a wide selection of ciders. You can also catch the Fairfield nightlife vibe at the Depot House, whose robust calendar of events, diverse performers, and great food makes it one of Fairfield’s premier destinations. Have lunch at one of the bistros downtown, visit with local artists during 1st Fridays, and experience the magic of a Broadway inspired show at the Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts.

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