New Places to Add to Your Iowa Bucket List
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
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Designed by modernist British architect David Chipperfield, the Figge Art Museum features 4,000 works of art, dating from  the16th century to the present. It’s known for its collection of Haitian, Colonial Mexican and Midwestern art, which includes works from Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton.

A Perfect Weekend in Davenport

With walkable sites, restaurants, hotels and more right along the Mississippi, Davenport makes for a lively weekend away, especially for music fans.

STAY: Designed to “embody the riverfront renaissance,” the Current resides on the site of the 1910 Putnam, the last building designed by Daniel Burnham, a pioneer of the modern skyscraper. The Current is in the heart of walkable downtown Davenport, and each room is uniquely appointed as its own “Midwestern art collection.” From an impressive indoor pool and whirlpool spa to the rooftop Up Skybar, you might never want to leave the premises. But you’ll be rewarded by what you discover.

EAT: The promise of fun yet familiar comfort food drew us in first, but what really sold us on Baked Beer and Bread Co. were their brand values: “Your family is our family. And we love carbs.” If you, too, love all things flour-based after the 2-mile walk from the Current, you can’t do much better than a brunch of a dulce de leche-drizzled churro waffle or the “Miss Cheezious,” a grilled cheese eggs Benedict. Midday, stroll down toward the Mississippi River to land near the Freight House (a year-round indoor farmers market) for lunch at Taste of Ethiopia, an African restaurant run by a team who were all born and raised in Ethiopia. New to the cuisine? Try the Ye’Doro Kay Wot, chicken thighs simmered in a warmly spiced sauce with fresh herbs, a boiled egg, and plenty of injera flatbread. For dinner, make a reservation at the Half Nelson, a classy, Instagrammable lounge that serves solid steak frites, salmon and soba bowls. It’s housed in a 1922 building that once produced heating and plumbing equipment.

DO: Experiencing a show in a historic venue is a must-do activity while in the city of about 100,000. Check out offerings at the art deco Adler Theatre, the River Music Experience in the Redstone Building (home to the original Von Maur department store), or the Quad City Symphony Orchestra (they’ve been playing since 1916 at venues throughout the Quad Cities). And pay homage to Davenport’s most famous musician, Bix Beiderbecke, at the Bix Bistro, a restaurant and lounge with live tunes that’s located in the Hotel Blackhawk, another historic downtown hotel. Art lovers should visit the Figge Art Museum for stunning masterpieces in locally and globally inspired exhibits, which showcase regional, national and international works from the 15th century to today. For happy hour, try a cocktail crawl at these spots within one block: Cavort QC has a lineup of fun, tropical tiki drinks, and Raw is all about fresh produce and flavors (blackberry old fashioneds and grapefruit caipirinhas).
View and purchase work by artists from around Iowa and the Midwest at Art in the Park in Elkader in Clayton County. If you're not in the market for a new piece, sample some wine or watch an artist demo.

Take Home a New Treasure From an Arts Festival

Elkader’s Art in the Park, the city’s annual juried fine arts festival, will be held Aug. 20-21. Visitors can stroll alongside the Turkey River in the historic downtown area while browsing some 47 local and regional artists. Artist categories include painting, ceramics, wood, fiber, jewelry and more. There’s even an artist who uses walnuts and shells as their chosen medium. The full list of participating artists can be found here.

There will also be live music, food, wine tasting and other activities to participate in throughout the weekend. Brand new to this year’s festival are the artist workshops where guests can watch a live demos like painting or wheel throwing. Visit their website for more information and schedules.

The Pacifico bass features tomato curry, spinach, mushroom, preserved lemon and mint gremolata.

Visit Brazen Open Kitchen + Bar in Dubuque

As soon as you walk into Brazen Open Kitchen + Bar, you know you’re in for a fantastic meal. The exposed brick and industrial lighting set the mood, but the reputation sets the standards.

The Dubuque restaurant is a scratch kitchen, so every dish is made in-house using locally sourced ingredients from area farmers. Chef and owner Kevin Scharpf was a James Beard 2022 semifinalist in the Best Chef Midwest category, and is a firm believer in creating food that’s authentic yet approachable. As its name suggests, the kitchen is open to the dining room so guests can watch the magic happen.

The menu consists of local harvests, so it changes depending on what’s in season. Right now, look for a wild mushroom pizza with arugula, chilled corn soup (hello, Iowa sweet corn), handmade pasta with crisp peas and prosciutto, or the Pacifico bass with veggies. Find the full menu, plus more about Scharpf’s fresh-food philosophy on their website.
Grammy-winning rock singer Melissa Etheridge will perform a free concert at the Okoboji Blue Water Festival this Saturday at 9 p.m.

Learn About Conservation While Rocking Out

For a day of fun and environmental education, head to Arnolds Park for the Okoboji Blue Water Festival this Saturday (Aug. 13). The free festival raises public awareness of water quality issues in the Iowa Great Lakes through activities, exhibits and speakers. Plus, there’s live music.

Walk through Exhibitor’s Row to meet more than 30 conservation groups promoting water quality initiatives and wetland and prairie restoration projects like bank stabilization, natural shoreline techniques, aquatic invasive species information and more. Presentations throughout the day include a fishing seminar and other educational activities throughout the park for kids and adults.

As the evening wraps up, head to the festival’s new stage for the free concert. This year, catch the Firm, the Nadas and Melissa Etheridge. Find the schedule of activities, festival updates and other information on the festival’s Facebook page.

Bike alone, with a friend or with your whole crew. Then reward yourself for conquering those hills with homemade ice cream once you've looped back to Keosauqua. Photo: courtesy of the Keosauqua Chamber of Commerce.

Pedal a Lap Around Van Buren County

By Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

If you missed RAGBRAI—or just want to try something a bit more laid-back—head to the rolling hills of Van Buren County in the southeast corner of the state.

The 36th annual Bike Van Buren covers about 110 miles over Aug. 20-21. The route is a secret until organizers hand out maps Saturday morning in Keosauqua, but you can expect to pedal a loose lap around the county, with leisurely stops in Bentonsport, Bonaparte, Cantril, Milton, Douds, Birmingham and Stockport.

You can rent bikes from Bickel’s Cycling and Fitness in Keosauqua, where longtime rider Chris Bonar can recommend a few highlights, including the Milton Creamery, the sprawling Dutchman’s Store in Cantril, the blacksmith and pottery shops in Bentonsport, and homemade ice cream at the old Lebanon United Methodist Church in Keosauqua. He also recommends several places to stay, including the beautifully preserved Hotel Manning and campsites at Lake Sugema and Lacey Keosauqua State Park.

The ride is organized by the Villages of Van Buren County, a designated Iowa Great Place, and usually attracts 150-some cyclists from across the Midwest. Be prepared for some hills!
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The Draftsman bar in the basement of the Historic Park Inn Hotel in Mason City features $5 burgers on Wednesdays. Other menu items are available from Markley & Blythe, the restaurant in the hotel's main level. Photo: Follow the Piper.

New Basement Bar Under Architectural Landmark

The Historic Park Inn Hotel in Mason City, famously designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, just got another modern upgrade. Earlier this year, new restaurant Markley & Blythe opened in the hotel’s main level, specializing in upscale American tavern food. Now, the restaurant’s basement bar and lounge has officially reopened as the Draftsman to serve locals and travelers alike.

The name is a nod to its legendary architect. The space serves cocktails, local brews, wine and a curated food menu from its upstairs neighbors. You’ll find fun takes on classic drinks with the Markley Mule 10 and Mason City Manhattan. It also houses billiards tables and the occasional live music performance.

The Draftsman is open every night from 4 to 10 p.m. Stop in on Wednesdays for the $5 burgers all night. Read the full list of offerings on their menu here.
Go window shopping in downtown McGregor, or stop in to the tiki bar for a cocktail. The riverfront town of some 740 people has plenty of entertainment that awaits. Photo: courtesy of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

3 More Places to Explore

“Are we there yet?” There’s no doubt about it when you pull into Winterset, McGregor and downtown Iowa City.

Each of these communities was recently designated as an Iowa Cultural and Entertainment District by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, bringing the statewide total to 16. Each unique district has its own cluster of museums, theaters, live music venues, shops, restaurants and more.  

Along the McGregor riverfront, you can find more than 50 businesses, from a tiki bar to an antique bookstore to the gallery that features work from 76 local artists. Winterset boasts an art center, a quilt museum, a historic movie theater and lots of public art, all within an 11-block area around the courthouse. And it’s not for nothing that Iowa City has been called “the greatest small city for the arts,” annually attracting 9 million visitors to its shops, restaurants, concerts and cultural events.

Find the complete list of Iowa Cultural and Entertainment Districts, with application details, at
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