The "Hawkeye State," with deep roots in national history, boasts many beautiful cities, including the Quad Cities that evolved to their present-day glory. These most beautiful cities in Iowa shine with life in vibrant historic downtowns and scenic nature.
Ames is a beautiful city in west Story County, with the USA Route 35 running through its southern portion. It is only 30 miles north of the state capital, Des Moines, and with easy access to Kansas City and Minneapolis. The city is home to the Mary Greeley Medical Center and Iowa State University, with some 15,000 employees and 36,000 students. The lively Campustown encompasses vibrant blocks of student apartments, shops, restaurants, and nightlife that are greatly enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. The aesthetically-appealing cityscape features many parks, trails, and creative outdoor art, while fresh-air, scenic pursuits include golfing at the Ames Golf and Country Club and bike rides through the city and beyond.
The downtown's countless restaurants cater to all tastes and budgets with highlights like the family-owned Hickory Park for barbeque, the local favorite Alluvial Brewing Company, and Wallaby's Bar & Grille. The Treats on a Leashinvites pets along to its lively Main Street location. One will also find a high concentration of atmospheric cafes and cozy coffee shops for a window-view of the daily life in the "happening city" at the backdrop of skyscrapers. The University boasts a growing tech sector, attracting new students to choose Ames as their near-future home, further evolving the city.
Cedar Falls is home to the University of Northern Iowa, spreading a youthful ring throughout the cityscape. There are many attractions and natural sights, such as forests, wetlands, 41 parks, and 29 miles of recreational trails. The scenically-set championship 18-hole Pheasant Ridge Golf Course comprises a popular pastime. The vibrant main thoroughfare is aligned by various charming shops, while a whole shopping galore awaits one in the College Hill area with numerous bookstores and lovely coffee shops to cozy up.
There are many outdoor movies and concerts in the summertime, while the active can enjoy the Cedar Valley Water Trails and canoe rides down the Cedar River. The smaller scenic city takes physical activity seriously with many well-used paths and trails, as well as various running and biking races throughout the year on weather-permitting days. Families thoroughly enjoy visiting a range of amusement and water parks for an exhilarating and wholesome time spent together, while the Isle of Capri Casino and Hotel attracts appropriate fans and guests for stay.
The state's second-largest city is set some 20 miles (30 km) north of Iowa City, spreading scenically along the picturesque banks of the through-running Cedar River. The former highly-industrious city is now the region's hub for arts and culture, featuring twelve active neighborhood associations, numerous museums, two main theaters, and 74 parks for hikes and recreation. The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library is a must-visit for a deep insight into the city's heritage and settlement patterns. There's also the African-American Historical Museum and the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, with the world's largest Grant Wood paintings collection.
The floods of 2008, 2016, and 2020 devastated the city, which was revitalized through landscaping and new businesses every time. The indoor NewBo City Market is a popular attraction and wholesome time-spent with plenty of fresh local food, various shops, cafes, regular community events, and cultural shows. Cedar Rapids is also renowned as the best place to visit with kids for the extensive list of family-friendly attractions, restaurants, and entertainment, such as the indoor Play Station. The interactive exhibits and puppet shows at the Cedar Rapids Public Library allow parents to relax and mingle, while the thrilling Speedeezz Indoor Karting offers some playful competition.
The state's third-largest city is perched along the Mississippi River at the border with Illinois. It is home to Saint Ambrose University, 50 parks, and 20 miles of recreational trails. There is also immense countryside with four interstates that make it symbolically recognized as part of America's crossroads. One will find a dynamic downtown spread with a wide variety of festivals, including the Quad-City Times Bix 7, Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, Festival of Trees, and one of the nation's largest St. Patrick's Day Parades. The neighboring LeClaire Park is wonderful for fresh-air pursuits like riverfront biking and walking trails, along with hilltop picnics.
Davenport was originally a manufacturing city with various industries that has been revitalized through landscaped neighborhoods, quality public services, and diversified pursuits for locals and tourists. The regional hub for culture comes with vibrant streets housing dynamic art, music, and entertainment that make it exciting to re-visit. The eclectic downtown is home to numerous craft breweries, fun shops, various museums, and great restaurants, such as the local's favorite Lopiez for pizza and CRU for drinks. There's also the popular BREW pub in the entertainment-laden East Village, home to many boutiques. The cultured will enjoy visiting the Adler Theatre for Broadway and concerts, along with the farmers market for local life. The Gold Coast & Hamburg District houses historic properties from the early days of the Quad Cities.
Des Moines is the state's capital and the most populous city that was originally named after the bounding river. It was established as Fort Des Moines in 1843 with deep roots as a U.S. Army base. Today, Des Moines boasts some of Iowa's top attractions that lure scores of tourists each year. The Capitol Building is a long-renowned architectural marvel, while the Iowa State Fairgrounds is a must-visit with days worth of activities for all groups and tastes. The Downtown Farmers Market offers an atmospheric afternoon of shopping for locally-grown produce and fresh meat.
There's also the Blank Park Zoo, Pappajohn Sculpture Park, and the beautiful Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden for scenic relaxation that pleases all senses. The cultured will love visiting the extensive list of art galleries hosting local and national works, as well as seeing regular Broadway shows. There is also the State of Iowa Historical Museum and the State Fair that gives an intriguing insight into the local culture amongst tons of fun, food, and live music. The active has ample outdoor hiking opportunities, including riverside trails, while whole families can make a day out of visiting child-centric museums and kids-friendly restaurants.
Dubuque was established by Julien Dubuque along the Mississippi River as the first town in Iowa in 1833, even before it became a state. The diverse city offers an ideal blend of urban and rural feel with classic architecture and traditions in symbiosis with new innovations and futuristic goals. It is also home to intricate history, the Loras College, and miles-long limestone bluffs that turn all shades throughout fall. The dramatic sight will transport one into a ruggedness that feels alien to the city. Iowa's longest-running Farmers' Market boasts an atmospheric ambiance to peruse for fresh produce, fall foods, and decorations. There are also countless cafes and pubs, along with local farms with pumpkin patches, wagon rides, and corn mazes.
The iconic 4th Street Elevator is the "world's shortest, steepest railway" that ascends from the base of Bluff Street to the bluff-top for panoramic views over the Dubuque skyline into the Tri-State region. The 164-acre dog-friendly Mines of Spain State Park comes with a monument installed by the city's founder. The meandering Mississippi River below, adorned in fall-colors, will make one feel on top of the world. The renowned Riverwalk is a wonderful strip for walks and jogs along the waters under the beautiful bluffs. It is set right off the Smithsonian-affiliated National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium for a great detour, while the nature fans will also be enthralled by eagle sightings on Lock & Dam #11.
Iowa City is a friendly and inviting collection of communities set central in the southeastern part of the state. It is a UNESCO-designated "City of Literature," which speaks volumes to the fans of reading and various authors. The beautiful city with a creative vibe in the air boasts artsy streets full of flyers advertising the City Book Festival or a local writer's workshop. It is also home to the University of Iowa, with the renowned Iowa Old Capitol Building right in the heart that the state's government once occupied. The University lets out many entrepreneurs and health care workers, along with the Writer's Workshop Pulitzer Prize-winning alumni. There are many excellent art and natural history museums, as well as easy access to the lovely riverside with parks and trails.
The lively and cool Iowa City straddles the banks of the namesake river, where students and visitors mingle for studies, sights, and self-reflection. There are various theaters and music venues with regular shows and performances, along with nightspots and entertainment scenes catered to students. The charming downtown area hosts many cultural events and festivals, including the Iowa Arts Festival, Mission Creek Festival, and the Downtown Block Party. One will also find a conglomeration of craft breweries, wineries, and local restaurants for all tastes, styles, and budgets.
The many university cities feature outdoor pursuits in scenic surroundings for the active young to let out their energy that tourists will enjoy. The synergies within these cities make for a wonderfully-diverse visit with delightful, lifelong memories.