Iowa may be off your flight path, but when you head out Io-o-way, you’ll find several Iowa family attractions, such as the legacy of Lewis & Clark, Herbert Hoover, Blue Bunny ice cream and that Field of Dreams. Iowa Tourism has a helpful Iowa website to help you figure out even more local attractions and events in different cities around the state. Here are some of the best we’ve found for traveling families.
Great Fun for the Kids
(Toddlers to age 8)
Sergeant Floyd River Museum and Welcome Center
1000 Larsen Park Road/Exit 149 on I-29
Sioux City, IA 51103
Under the umbrella of the Sioux City Public Museum there’s a local history museum, a historic Victorian mansion and the M.V. Sergeant Floyd, one of America’s largest displays of Missouri River steamboat and keelboat models and learn more about the 1804 Lewis & Clark Expedition.
Jefferson Telephone Museum
105 West Harrison
Jefferson, IA 50129
With displays of early telephones and switchboards, this is one of the few American telephone museums. Bet your kids have never seen a rotary dial! The museum is open weekdays only; admission is free.
Lewis & Clark Keelboat Display
613 5th Street
Onawa, IA 51040
Visit and explore the full-size replica of Lewis & Clark Expedition’s keelboat daily between May and October. Activities in the surrounding park include boating, fishing, hiking, swimming and camping, plus there’s a weekend festival each June.
The Family Museum
2900 Learning Campus Drive
Bettendorf, IA 52722
The Family Museum, about 90 minutes by car southeast of Cedar Rapids, has been at the heart of the Bettendorf community for more than 20 years and its hands-on learning facilities were recently designated as autism-friendly by the certifiying organization, IBCCES. Activities designed for ages 8 and under include dance classes, special programs and day workshops in addition to the interactive permanent exhibits. Specialized Sensory Kits and a quiet, low-lit room are available to assist those who may need a break from all the action.
Fun for Older Children
(Up to age 18)
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
900 Larsen Park Road
Sioux City, IA 51103
This center, along with the Betty Strong Encounter Center, showcases art, photographs and artifacts that create a historic context and perspective on the lifestyles and adventures of Lewis and Clark and the native peoples who lived in Iowa when they arrived. Admission is free. While you’re in Sioux City, stop by the Sergeant Floyd Monument, the site of a 100-foot-tall white stone obelisk next to the Missouri River. This monument that marks the burial place of Sergeant Floyd, the only fatality of the 1804 Lewis & Clark Expedition was the nation’s first registered National Historic Landmark.
Field of Dreams Movie Location
28963 Lansing Road
Dyersville, IA 52040
This part of eastern Iowa is where the Academy-Award-nominated 1989 film, “Field of Dreams” was made, and Dyersville is the place that has profited most from the line, “If you build it, he will come.” It may boast about its Gothic Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, but it’s the baseball field cut from a corn patch by Kevin Costner that attracts tourists today. The field is “open” daily from April to November and there are tours of the family farm year round. You’ll have to share the video with the kids before you arrive and bring your own baseball gear, but there are snacks and souvenirs available. You won’t be far from Dubuque, with its picturesque setting along the Mississippi River.
Town of Fairfield
Visitor’s Bureau: 200 North Main Street
Fairfield, IA 52556
The town of Fairfield likes to bill itself as “Silicorn Valley” in efforts to lure new settlers, but in fact it has a small town charm built around historic homes and a large town square hosting a weekly Farmers’ Market and several free cultural events. Check their website for free concerts during summer evenings. The town is also known for the Maharishi University of Management, founded by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which promotes spiritual growth in its curriculum.
Fun for the Whole Family
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library – Museum
210 Parkside Drive
West Branch, IA 52358
Several attractions are a part of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, about 50 miles west of the Quad Cities. Museum visitors pay one fee, which admits them to President Hoover’s Birthplace, his father’s blacksmith shop, a Quaker meetinghouse, a pioneer schoolhouse and the President’s gravesite.
Wells Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor and Museum
115 Central Avenue NW
Le Mars, IA 51031
This corner of Northwestern Iowa is the home of Wells’ Blue Bunny Ice Cream headquarters, and the town was named the Ice Cream Capitol of the World in 1994. Explore the Ice Cream Capitol of the World Visitor Center open year-round. Or, visit the cute town of Le Mars during the annual Ice Cream Days festival each June.
600 block of Washington Street
Burlington, IA 52601
Located in the historic Heritage Hill neighborhood of downtown Burlington, “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” has called this alley the world’s “Crookedest Street.” Snake Alley curves over a distance of 275 feet, rising 58.3 feet (21% grade), from Washington Street to Columbia Street. It truly is a historic and quaint winding road that competes with San Francisco’s Lombard Street for the same title.
Visitor’s Bureau: 709 9th Street
Ft. Madison, IA 52627
800/210-TOUR or 319/372-5472
Established in 1808 as a government “factory” or trading post, historic Fort Madison boasts a reproduction of the first military fort on the upper Mississippi River, staffed by costumed interpreters who recreate the lives of the military and families stationed there. Travelers following the Great River Road from its source in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico can see many historic buildings in the town of the same name, including the Iowa State Penitentiary, the oldest still in continuous use in the USA. There’s restored Victorian architecture, easily seen in the large homes, public buildings and train lines. The Old Santa Fe Depot Historic Center honors the legacy of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, which opened their first line in 1869. After the Sante Fe Railroad arrived in 1887, the town’s future in trade was assured. Today, visitors can bicycle across the 525-foot swingspan rail bridge and watch the 60-70 trains that pass through town daily, on what is now known as the Mainline of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.
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