When I first relocated to central Iowa from Chicago, I was worried there wouldn’t be a lot of things to do among the cornfields of America’s heartland. But over the years, Iowa has proven not only to be a great place to live but also a state full of offbeat attractions.
So to honor the weirdest and wackiest the Hawkeye state has to offer, I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 Iowa oddities. Next time you’re planning a trip, be sure to add one of these popular places to your itinerary!
Albert the Bull
Located in Audubon, Iowa, Albert the Bull is a 45-ton Hereford with heart. Built in the 1960s as a way to honor the area’s cattle raising history, Albert the Bull has become an area icon over the years. Towering 30 feet above the cornfields, this Iowa attraction has had his fair share of publicity—not only does he appear in the movie Beethoven’s 3rd but he also was an answer on “Jeopardy” and even got a mention in “The West Wing.”
American Gothic House
Even if you aren’t an art enthusiast, chances you’ve heard of the artist Grant Wood. Next time you visit Iowa, you can do one better and visit the site where he painted one of his most iconic works: American Gothic. While it’s previously served as a home to artists, caretakers, and even a pie baker, today the American Gothic House is tenantless. However, the home is still occasionally open for visitors to explore along with the interactive learning center located adjacent to the site.
Field of Dreams
“Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.” And there’s nothing more Iowan than the Field of Dreams. Kevin Costner may be long gone, but you can still visit the iconic ballfield plopped down in the midst of the eastern Iowa cornfields. Be sure to bring your own ball, bat and gloves since the site is fairly minimal, and be ready to soak up some of the field’s famed magic.
Future Birthplace of Captain Kirk
Calling all Trekkies: Did you know that in the year 2228 Captain James T. Kirk will be born in the small town of Riverside, Iowa? While we wait for his arrival, you can visit his future hometown and even attend their annual Trek Fest in late June. Be sure to pop into the Voyage Home Museum for a look at Captain Kirk memorabilia from over the years.
Grotto of the Redemption
Built using an estimated $4.3 million of stones and precious gems, the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa is a jewel like no other. Construction on the grotto began in 1912 and lasted for more than 40 years in the small northwest Iowa community. Today more than 100,000 people visit the world’s largest man-made grotto annually and marvel at the intricate work done by the priests of West Bend’s St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church.
Maasdam Wheel Art
Towering 60 feet over Iowa cornfields, Leonard J. Maasdam’s wheel art was constructed using more than 200 steel wagon wheels. Located just south of I-80 near Lynnville, Iowa, this piece of art is not only beautiful but also impressive—the artist completed the piece when he was 90 years old.
Home to master craftsman Patrick Acton, Gladbrook, Iowa has a unique claim to fame: it’s the home of Matchstick Marvels, a collection of large-scale models made entirely from matchsticks. Acton has been creating the models since 1977 and has created everything from the U.S. Capitol to the Iowa governor’s mansion Terrace Hill. Still not convinced? This year’s addition is a two-headed dragon that not only lights up and roars but also flaps its wings.
You’ve probably heard of San Francisco’s famed Lombard Street, but did you know that an alley with a more precarious pitch exists in Iowa? Once recognized by Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the Crookedest Street in the World, Snake Alley is a must-see stop if you’re traveling through Burlington, Iowa. Cars are still allowed (weather permitting) on the winding road so thrill-seeking tourists can chance a trip down the steep hill.
Volkswagen Beetle Spider
Sometimes the best type of roadside attraction is one that simply allows you to get out of the car, stretch your legs, and snap a few photos. And southwest Iowa’s Volkswagen Beetle Spider let’s you do just that. Located just south of I-80 near Avoca, Iowa, this vintage Volkswagen Beetle turned eight-legged attraction is a quirky, quick stop if you’re just passing through.
World’s Largest Popcorn Ball
Located in northwest Iowa, Sac City is a town with a passion for popcorn. So much so that the community has built not one, but four World’s Largest Popcorn Balls over the past 20 years. Most recently, Sac City residents completed an almost 10,000-pound behemoth earlier this month that they hope will be sticky enough to hold the record for World’s Largest Popcorn Ball.
What are a few favorite offbeat oddities in your state?
Megan Bannister is a freelance writer and digital media strategist based in Des Moines, Iowa. When she’s not admiring local art or in search of a stellar iced latte, you can find her writing about road trips, adventures, and world’s largest things on Olio in Iowa and Wandering the World’s Largest.