The Top 10 Iowa Oddities: Unique Attractions Across the Hawkeye State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Matchstick Marvels

Matchstick Marvels

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.

Snake Alley

Snake Alley

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

Volkswagon 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

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.

Top 10 IA Oddities Pinterest Graphic

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.

Hidden Gem in Southeastern Ohio: Boch Hollow Nature Preserve

By Abby Hockman of Wanderlost Travels

Nature preserves are never something I used to consider seeking out while traveling. However, all of that has changed after a recent visit to Boch Hollow in Logan, Ohio, only 20 miles south of my hometown. Boch Hollow’s 572 acres is divided into two parts – a part that requires a permit, and a part that does not.

Getting to Boch Hollow is half of the fun of the experience! The permit-required section of the preserve is extremely well-hidden and to get there you must cross a highway and climb over a guardrail to find the signs for the trail.

Road

Once you make it into this part of the Hollow, light pours in through the surrounding trees to reveal sights straight out of a fairy tale. Follow the path back to a series of waterfalls and a world of bright green moss and vibrant wild flowers are exposed.

Waterfall1

 

This part of Boch Hollow was only opened up in recent months and most of the locals don’t even know it exists! Since the number of permits is controlled, you may get the chance to explore the Hollow all by yourself. During my trip, we only encountered one other person in the Hollow during the first ten minutes.

Corkscrew

Pictures of the above Corkscrew Falls cannot do it justice. The space feels sacred and the rushing water cleared my mind from the noise of the everyday until I could do nothing but simply stand in appreciation of the beauty enfolding me. From Corkscrew Falls, it was a short jaunt back to the main road.

The access point to the general admittance portion of Boch Hollow is well-marked a few miles down the road from the falls. The other half of the preserve offers a completely different, but equally worthwhile vibe. Rather than the exciting waterfalls and virtually non-existent paths of the permit section, there is a generous path that leads to a serene lake bedecked with lily pads and cattails swaying in tandem with a calm breeze.

Path2

The lake is the perfect spot for picnicking, reflecting, or teaching children about nature. There were countless beautiful fireflies the day that we went. If only they would have stayed in one place long enough for a picture!

Lake

Boch Hollow is a special place because of the ecosystem. It is home to the largest population of Federally Endangered Running Buffalo Clover in Ohio. The Hollow is often utilized as a way to educate the public, specifically children, about Appalachian Ohio ecology. The cicadas and their song were out in full force this year after waking from their 17-year slumber.

Cicada

My favorite part of the lake was the multitude of mini lily pads.

Lilypads

Boch Hollow is on the outskirts of the well-known Hocking Hills region and is often left out when both locals and the international crowd travel to see Old Man’s Cave. Don’t forget to put this gem on your list of places to visit when you find yourself in Southern Ohio!

To obtain a permit for part of the preserve, you must apply through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Don’t worry if you don’t see Boch Hollow on the list – the permit required section is so new that it is not up on the website yet, but the process is still the same. To learn more about Boch Hollow, visit http://naturepreserves.ohiodnr.gov/bochhollow.

Visit Abby’s blog Wanderlost Travels and connect with her on Twitter @WLTravels or Facebook

The Restaurants We Crave When We Return Home To Minneapolis-St. Paul

Jeni of JeniEats is sharing some of her favorites restaurants in the Minneapolis- St. Paul, Minnesota area. Thanks Jeni for sharing your passion with all of us!

Love it or hate it, your hometown will always be your hometown.

Jake and I love ours. We grew-up in Minneapolis-St. Paul and have since moved around the Midwest several times, in fact, for his job. The Twin Cities will always be our home base. On the surface, Jake and I don’t have a lot in common. He’s a die-hard Vikings fan and I consider Top Chef to be my Superbowl; He prefers talk radio and I like music. What we’ve always had in common is our passion for food.

Now that we live in St. Louis, we don’t visit the Twin Cities as often as we used to. Many restaurants have come and gone since we moved six years ago. When we’re craving a taste of home, we tend to return to our old favorites. Here’s where you might find us on our next trip back:

Broders’ Cucina Italiana
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When I was a new college grad, I used to work at Broders’ Cucina Italiana. Employees were encouraged to try everything and everything tasted good. We even got a meal credit during each shift and sometimes took home leftover pizza at the end of the night. Still, I never got sick of the food and crave it to this day. When we were dating, I took Jake to Broders’ to share some of my favorite dishes. He got hooked and we love treating our family to meals here.

You can buy pizza by the slice here, but we suggest ordering a whole pie. You’ll want leftovers. Our typical order includes the Eggplant Special Pizza topped with red bell peppers, sweet caramelized onions, goat cheese, herbs, and roasted eggplant, plus some punchy black olive spread (Olivata Nera), and a big green salad. My favorite is the Greek salad loaded with fresh vegetables, feta, and chickpeas and served with a homemade lemon vinaigrette, but the Emilia Salad which includes prociutto, pine nuts, and balsamic vinaigrette is also a favorite.

Before you pay at the counter, choose a dessert. You’ll find Italian cookies and scratch-made pastries like seasonal cheesecake slices, flourless chocolate cake, and fruit tarts. Dine-in, call ahead for carry-out or, if you’re not to far away, request delivery.

Bangkok Thai Deli

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Back when we first visited Bangkok Thai Deli, it was located in the back of a small Asian grocery store. Now, you’ll find the restaurant in its own building along the same stretch of University Avenue near the St. Paul Capitol.

Dine in or take-out, it’s your choice. Some foods are best enjoyed on the spot. For example, you’ll want to dig into whole deep-fried tilapia doused in a sweet and spicy tri-flavor sauce while the skin’s still crisp. Our typical order usually includes something new and our favorite chicken pad thai, grilled beef salad, and red or green curry. Another favorite dish is the Chinese eggplant with shrimp and ground pork.

Taqueria Los Ocampos
There are several locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul but we usually go the one in Seeger Square on Arcade because it’s near my in-laws’. Our standard order includes a variety of tacos including al pastor, tongue, cecina beef and spicy ground beef. In Mexican street-style tacos style, they’re served in double tortillas and garnished with cilantro, lime, shaved radish, and onion. Los Ocampos makes these delicious, spicy salsas that are almost creamy. Jake prefers the red and I prefer the green. If you like heat, you’ll want to ask for extra.

Also notable and delicious are homemade corn tortilla dishes like gorditas, huaraches, and sopes. If you order a quesadilla, you’ll see how they press the dough onto the griddle before adding your choice of fillings. Taqueria Los Ocampos is open late, making it the perfect place to go when you need a late night snack. It’s one of the best, affordable feasts and some of our favorite tacos we’ve enjoyed anywhere.

There’s a restaurant in the Twin Cities for every mood and food preference. For the best way to find your new favorite, don’t hesitate to ask a local. Twin Cities residents love to share their favorite spots. 

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A Typical Day in Clear Lake? Never!

 

Clear Lake sunset

By Jenny Doughty

As the water slowly laps around my feet, I feel the warmth of the sun above and hear the welcoming cries of the sea gulls. Overhead, wispy cotton candy clouds drift lazily in a brilliant blue sky.  I reflect on the day ahead and wonder what excitement awaits. Gazing down Main Street an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and boutiques await my exploration each offering something unique – delectable tastes, fabulous gifts, clothing, collectibles and more. The park beside me in the heart of town will soon awaken with the laughter of children as they climb to the top of the slide and swoosh down its length while a family sits nearby sharing a picnic lunch. A couple sits in quiet conversation on a nearby bench sharing smiles and meaningful looks. Tonight, as the sun goes down offering a brilliant back-drop to the band shell, music will fill the air while people gather to enjoy.

You Knew Me When

Behind me Clear Lake reminds me of all it has to offer with its great expanse and shimmering beauty. Folks begin gathering on the docks, fishing lines cast in hopes of catching “the big one”. Others launch their boats for deeper waters or the fun and excitement of tubing, skiing or sailing. Nearby, the Lady of the Lake excursion boat begins to hum, the spray of water glistening like diamonds as her paddlewheel turns while music and laughter fill the air. Someone walks their dog on the brick path winding along the waterfront while folks begin laying out their towels for the day’s swim and basking on the beach. Fun, food and relaxation seem to be the order of the day.

Paddlewheel

Strolling past downtown I wander towards the Central Gardens its beauty revealed in a rainbow of color, scents and textures beckoning I stroll along its path. Stopping by the local brewery I share a flavorful flight of hand-picked brews and my stomach reminds me it’s been ignored far too long. What will I enjoy today – steak, deli sandwiches, Italian fare, fish, BBQ, Mexican, broasted chicken, pizza, farm-to-fork creations or??? The options seem endless!

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Looking at the week ahead I marvel at all this community has to offer for no day is typical in this idyllic town! With all that it offers, my family and I can create an experience that’s as varied as each family member. We can explore, create, play, celebrate, laugh and enjoy; captured by the beauty and rhythm that is Clear Lake.

Connect with Jenny
Blog: My Thought’s Imaginings
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LootByLouise/
Twitter: @LootByLouise

Food, Family, Friends & Good Times – Great Food Places in Clear Lake, Iowa

By Featured Blogger Mary Lovstad of Farm Girl Cookn’

One of my favorite Irish proverbs is “Laughter is brightest in the place where the food is.” We bond around food, whether it is around the family dinner table, a campfire, a potluck, an elegant restaurant or the local truck stop. Food brings us together; it not only nourishes the body, but the soul.

Part of planning a trip for me is finding those local spots that not only have great food, but give me the essence of the place that I am visiting. Clear Lake, Iowa is a charming, lake town that has just those kinds of places that can create warm memories and lots of laughs.

Lunch’n with the Ladies
Taking time to connect with your girlfriends or maybe a nice lunch with your daughter home from college is a special treat. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Starboard Market – A darling, little deli with scrumptious selections – really wonderful soups, sandwiches that you can build as you like or try their signature combinations, pasta and fruit salads and decedent desserts. This is the perfect place to sit with your bestie, laugh and savor the flavors. Come early or after the rush if you want a seat and time to chat!
  • Cabin Coffee – A local coffee shop, turned local chain, that not only has excellent coffee, but a nice assortment of breakfast and lunch options. I really appreciate the warm cabin appeal and sipping a light raspberry latte by the fire with my posse.
  • The Lady Bug Cafe – A grand place to gather, giggle and eat the daily special. Not only is it a café, but a greenhouse, bakery, wellness center and spa. The fork to table experience and sitting outside in the screened in rooms on a sunny day really is hard to beat.
  • Sevens by Rookies – On a cold winter day, a pub lunch experience, maybe fish and chips, or a sweet chili chicken wrap is just the ticket. Its inviting atmosphere fosters great conversation.
Fish and chips 7s (1)
Fish & chips at Rookie’s

Family Night Out
Finding something that everyone in the family agrees on can be a challenge and maybe even more so when you are away from home. Camping food is fun, but sometimes you just need someone else to do the work! Unlike my mom, who used to go into a restaurant and ask them to say they only had orange pop and hamburgers before she took our crew in – today’s families are used to choices. Here are a few that I’m sure will please:

Date Night
I don’t think there is anything more romantic than dinner with my handsome husband by the lake. My two favorite places in the summer are The Landing – On the Lake and The Tiki Bar. Both have great food and an enchanted summer setting. Sunset on the lake, a glass of wine with someone you love – magic! Winter visitors will find these nice choices for an evening out:

Favorites of the Locals

  • For dinner, I like the Anchor Inn.  They have a great menu and I do like the atmosphere.
  • The Landing in the summer, mostly because of the outdoor, lakeside deck atmosphere, as well as PM Park.
  • For lunch right now, I do like Seven’s many different types of sandwiches & Back yard Deli.
  • One of my favorites is Starboard Market.  Fun names for their signature sandwiches, great variety of salads, and scrumptious desserts (with zero calories, I’m sure).
  • My daughter and her friends like Shao Ting Guo.  She loves the egg-drop soup.
  • Cabin Coffee because it serves yummy coffee, great sandwiches, and soup.  I really love the atmosphere at Cabin Coffee.  Especially the area back by the fireplace.
  • I like Cancun for my Mexican fix. It’s not too expense and I always get full.  Free chips and salsa is always a bonus.
  • Azzolina’s Hole in Wall – Grinder on Garlic Bread….YUM!!

So whatever reason you find yourself in Clear Lake, I hope you find that the “Laughter is brightest in the place where the food is.” For links to the restaurants and their menus, visit the Clear Lake Convention & Visitor’s Bureau here.
Visit Mary’s blog: http://farmgirlcookn.com. Connect with her on Twitter: @farmgirlcookn