Iowa, a state in the Midwest of the United States of America, was admitted to the Union in 1846 as the 29th state. The people are very friendly, enjoy good food, and enjoy being in the political hotbed every four years when the Caucuses roll through the state. The state is quite rural, with plenty of fields of corn and soybeans and hog farms, although some cities, namely Des Moines, have a strong metropolitan feel.
|Eastern Iowa |
|Central Iowa |
|Western Iowa |
|Southwest Iowa |
|North Central Iowa |
|Northeast Iowa |
|Southeast Iowa |
|South Central Iowa |
- Des Moines - state capital and largest city, considered to be the "insurance capital of the U.S." and offers so much of it, is served alongside your steak de burgo
- Ames - A half hour's drive north of Des Moines, home of Iowa State University
- Cedar Falls - home of University of Northern Iowa and on the western edge of the larger Waterloo
- Cedar Rapids - Iowa's second-largest city
- Council Bluffs - western city along the Missouri River
- Dubuque - a hilly city along the Mississippi River
- Iowa City - home of University of Iowa, just south of Cedar Rapids
- Quad Cities - Davenport and Bettendorf are in Iowa, other half in Illinois (Iowa can't have it all)
- Sioux City - northwest city along Missouri River bank, where Palmer Candies pumps out Twin Bings cherry candy
- Amana Colonies
- Effigy Mounds National Monument
- Iowa Great Lakes "Okoboji" serves as a popular in-state getaway, for boating, beaching, theme parks and more
- Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail - Between May 1804 and September 1806, 32 men, one woman, and a baby traveled from the plains of the Midwest to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. They called themselves the Corps of Discovery
Purchased from France as part of the Louisiana purchase, Iowa officially became a state in 1846. True to form in the Midwest, settlers tended to gravitate toward rivers and established their communities there. Today, many of the State's major cities are based on rivers including Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Davenport, Dubuque, Sioux City and Council Bluffs. For many years, agriculture was the primary industry of the state but recently, the State's population has tended to urbanize resulting in a diverse mixture of industries. Agriculture, though significantly diminished as the economic driver of the state, is still a major economic component.
Though Iowa has long been considered a rural state, it has a surprisingly rich cultural scene. The University of Iowa in Iowa City is home to a number of major programs including the Iowa Writers Workshop, a program that has trained a number of America's great modern writers. Iowa State University in Ames is also a major driver of culture in the central part of the State. A number of prominent liberal arts college also dot the state including Grinnell, Cornell, Coe and Luther.
You should find Midwestern English quite easy to understand.
Most people enter (and leave) Iowa via Interstate 80 if coming from the east or west, I-35 from the north or south. Both interstates are easy to navigate, as are many Midwestern states. The former has done more to perpetuate the stereotype that Iowa is flat and boring than just about anything else. If you want to see the true face of the state, get off the interstate, ignore the fast-food signs, and find one of the small towns that make the Midwest so charming. State maps are available free of charge at state "Welcome Centers" and rest areas. State maps list such points of interest as Cedar Rock, a rare Usonian example of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, and scenic routes, often found on county roads.
- Amtrak (Amtrak code OSC) (I-35 S to US-34 E exit, turn right at S Ridge Rd), toll-free: . Amtrak station, in Osceola at Main and E Clay Sts, is 45 mi (72 km) due south of Des Moines via I-35. In the town there are not many traveler services, unless you count the casino. Greyhound runs through Osceola.
Amtrak's Chicago/Denver/San Francisco route also makes stops at Omaha (just across the Missouri River from Council Bluffs), Creston (southwestern Iowa), and Ottumwa, Mt. Pleasant and Burlington in southeastern Iowa. The Chicago-Los Angeles route stops in Fort Madison as it clips across the southeasternmost corner of the state in route to Kansas City. Chicago-Dubuque service and Chicago-Quad Cities service is in preparation, with extension of the latter to Iowa City and perhaps eventually to Des Moines somewhat farther in the future.
Most people get around Iowa by car. Certain, more rural parts of Iowa - like much of the Midwest - are laid out on a grid pattern. Drive on any of the state's outer highways, and you will quickly come to realize that there is an intersection at every mile. This makes figuring out where you are and getting from there to where you need to be a relatively simple undertaking.
Travellers unaccustomed to ice and snow may have trouble driving in Iowa winters - plan ahead if you need to travel during the colder parts of the year.
Major Routes in the State include the following:
- Interstate 80: The State's major east-west interstate, it services major cities including Davenport, Bettendorf, Iowa City, Des Moines and Council Bluffs. Most other major cities including Cedar Rapids and Ames are within a half hour drive of I-80.
- Interstate 35: The State's major north-south interstate, it services Ames and Des Moines as well as regional cities such as Mason City and Indianola.
- Interstate 380: A branch of Interstate 80, the route connects Iowa City to Waterloo via Cedar Rapids. The route terminates at US 20.
- Interstate 29: Connecting Kansas City to Omaha and Sioux Falls, the route mostly traces the Iowa/Nebraska border and connects Council Bluffs to Sioux City.
- US 30: America's first transcontinental highway, US 30 runs through the center of Iowa connecting Clinton, Cedar Rapids, Marshalltown, Ames, Denison and Missouri Valley.
- US 20: Another major transcontinental highway, US 20 enters Iowa at Dubuque and services Waterloo, Fort Dodge and Sioux City.
- US 151: Originating in the Amana Colonies, this route heads northeast connecting Cedar Rapids and Dubuque.
- 50 Most Significant Iowa Buildings of the 20th Century, Iowa. As published on the Iowa Public Television website. A complete list of the 50 buildings selected by the AIA-Iowa Chapter as the most significant Iowa buildings of the 20th century.
Points of Interest
- Field of Dreams, Dyersville. Various Websites. Considered one of baseball's most-treasured landmarks. The field is the same used in the film, "Field of Dreams," nominated by the Academy Awards for Best Film of the Year of 1989. The film, based upon W.P. Kinsella's book "Shoeless Joe," starred Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones. The field is owned by two families amid much controversy. No admission is charged to visit the field. Various events, including baseball and softball games, take place on the field at various times during the year.
- RAGBRAI (the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa). Cycling enthusiasts from across the nation descend on the state for this road bike event. Riders start in a different town each year. They take seven days to cross the state, dipping their wheels in the Missouri River on one side and the Mississippi River on the other.
- State Fair. Des Moines is host to the nation's largest state fair, renown for its music and cuisine. Many call it the best opportunity to get all of what Iowa has to offer.
- Living History Farms, Urbandale (Exit 125 off of I-80), ☏ . An outdoor interactive agricultural museum, Living History Farms gives people of all ages a new way of enjoying history. It is open to the public from May to October and has special events throughout the year. Historical interpreters explain and demonstrate the lifestyles of the 1700s Ioway Indians, the 1850 pioneers, the townspeople of 1875, and 1900 farmers.
- Des Moines Art Festival. The Des Moines Arts Festival® traces its beginnings to 1958, and takes place in the heart of Des Moines surrounding the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Western Gateway Park. Each year, the Festival features visual art, live music, performing arts and activities, along with the Interrobang Film Festival.
Iowans consider themselves the "breadbasket of the world", which is reflected in their cuisine. Get ready for pork chops and pork BBQ, corn-on-the-cob, casseroles, and more just-plain-good Midwestern cooking than you can possibly eat in a lifetime. Most rural towns have a fast-food restaurant or two if you're in a hurry, but the best places are the ones which take a little more time, possibly giving you a chance to chat with friendly locals over a pie or coffee. Early morning in a rural diner might find you in the company of a bunch of farmers!
Towns with strong ethnic identities sometimes have restaurants devoted to a particular country's cuisine. Iowa has a substantial Latino population, and there are many family-run Latino restaurants which generally have quite good food.
Before Prohibition, Iowa had a healthy wine industry, which is growing once again. There are vineyards scattered throughout the state, each producing their own wines.
Des Moines boasts the state's largest number and widest variety of establishments for all age groups, but the bustling college towns of Cedar Falls, Ames and Iowa City provide the most avid nightlife in the state for (mostly) younger crowds (older crowds are more popular on game days, particularly in the fall during football season). Scores of young adults pack local bars and clubs Thursday through Saturday nights.
Alcohol purchases cease at 2AM in both bars and stores. There are no separate outlets for different types of alcohol purchases and all alcohol content in beer is the same no matter where it is purchased. Alcohol is available seven days a week and the state does not have any "dry" counties.
The rural parts of Iowa are quite safe, with many people not bothering to lock their car doors. A traveler should take on more common sense methodology when visiting more populous areas such as Council Bluffs, Davenport, or Des Moines as these areas do have crime rates resembling those of typical mid-sized American cities.
For the most part, a traveler will find that most Iowans are friendly, warm, and happy to help if you have trouble.
Although Iowa does rest in the unofficial "tornado alley", a large portion of the state doesn't rest in the most active zones of the alley save for the far southwest portion of the state. Tornadoes are witnessed in spring and summer months.
With that in mind, pay attention to weather conditions and frequently update yourself via television of radio of any potential severe weather threats while traveling to or through the state during the spring/summer seasons. Conditions can change rapidly, and you do not want to find yourself inadvertently in the path of a dangerous storm.
For more information on this issue, refer to the Tornado safety page.
While perhaps not as cold nor windy as the Dakotas, Iowa winters can still be brutal. Blizzards and heavy snow storms are possible throughout the winter and even occasionally into April. Ice storms and freezing rain can make roads extremely treacherous. Most major highways are well maintained, but driving on country roads in the wake of a winter storm can be nerve-racking to say the least. If you choose to travel in winter, it is recommended to keep yourself informed about local weather and road conditions through television and/or the Iowa DOT website.
The best advice for traveling in blizzard conditions is to avoid it if at all possible. If you do go out and find yourself stranded, stay with your car, bundle up, and wait for help to arrive. Low visibility makes it easy to get turned around and lost if you set out on your own, and dangerous wind chill can cause a person to freeze very quickly.
Iowa has been a historically varied state, known for liberal and conservative politicians alike. It is also an unusually political state, owing in large part to its historical large role in the presidential nomination process (perhaps because Iowans tend to be less apathetic than other states). While Iowans tend to welcome political discussion more than most, their usual friendliness may at times give way to more hostile debate -- especially when the caucuses near their end, as Iowans have been subject to every candidate parading the state, hosting town forums and debates and soliciting their vote, for a much longer time than the rest of the states are forced to withstand. Feel free to ask Iowans about the caucuses, and don't hesitate to offer your own opinion about political matters, but be respectful and don't take it personally if they don't want to discuss due to "caucus weariness".
Iowa is surrounded by 6 states.
- Minnesota - Known for cold winters and its ten thousand lakes, Iowa's northern neighbor is an ideal destination for wilderness enthusiasts and shoppers destined for the Twin Cities and Mall of America.
- Nebraska - Iowa's western neighbor has a rich agricultural heritage, offering visitors a glimpse into America's heartland. Omaha, one of the largest cities in the Midwest, is a 2-hr drive from Des Moines.
- South Dakota - Home to such natural and cultural wonders as Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park and Mount Rushmore, Iowa's neighbor to the northwest offers a surprising amount for travelers to see and do.
- Wisconsin - The Cheese State borders Iowa to the northeast, and offers several lakes and Milwaukee for fun. Nearly the entire eastern border is surrounded by two of the Great Lakes.