State of the Week Highlight: Iowa

On the Road with Travel Parent Eat #usabytpe A highlight of family friendly activities in every state

Today’s road trip takes us up the Mississippi River and to the top of Missouri’s border.  We’re visiting the great state of Iowa.

We have a tour guide for this week’s highlight: Chelsea Johnson from Life With My Littles.

Come tour Iowa with the locals in this week's state highlight of the week. Travel Parent Eat

Hi everyone! I am Chelsea from Life With My Littles ( I blog about creations and tips I learn from life with my two littles!

We moved to Iowa a few years ago, and absolutely fell in love with the state. It is such an incredible place to live with so many nice people and fun things to do. It is a great place to raise children, and I wish we could stay here forever! Today I am helping continue the State of the Week Highlight series and tell you all about fun things to do in Iowa!

First of all, Iowa is in the Midwest. Please don’t confuse it with Idaho or Ohio.

It borders Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota. It is the only state in the United States whose East and West borders are both formed by rivers! There are a lot of rolling hills in Iowa, and yes, a lot of farming!

The capital of Iowa is Des Moines, and that is the largest city in the state. Iowa is very humid, which makes the winters extra cold and the summers extra hot.

It is SUCH a beautiful state though! Very green and I actually think the corn fields are pretty to look at when you are driving through! Iowa became a state in 1846, and today the population of Iowa is barely over 3,000,000. Most people associate Iowa with corn and caucuses, which I guess is fairly accurate.

But there is so much more to Iowa than that! When we first moved to Iowa, we were a little skeptical and thought it might be a little boring. We were so wrong. There are tons of fun things to do here, especially with your family, and tons of delicious places to eat! Now I am going to share my top three things to do with your family, along with some honorable mentions (because it was really, really hard to pick just three!).


  1. Downtown Des Moines Farmers’ Market

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The Downtown Des Moines Farmers’ Market is a giant farmers’ market spread over 9 city blocks with tons of vendors. It supports over 300 family farms, and you can find anything from fresh produce to baked goods to arts and crafts to beautiful flowers. It was recently listed as the “Best in the Midwest” in Country Living Magazine, and in 2012 it was recognized nationally as one of the best farmers’ markets by Midwest Living Magazine. We have never left empty-handed, and we love going and trying all the different foods there!

Price: Free! There is no cost to go to the farmers’ market, but make sure you bring some money because you are going to want to buy lots of food and unique crafty items!

Ages it is appropriate for: Everyone! We have seen people of all ages at the farmers’ market. We love going with our kids in the stroller and we have taken our parents when they have come to visit.

Best time of the year to visit: The farmers’ market runs every Saturday from May-October. So obviously, visit during that time! And depending on when you go, there are different fruits and veggies to buy. Corn, cantaloupe, peaches, berries, tomatoes, zucchini, and pumpkins all can be found during the season.

Tips and suggestions: The market runs from 7am-noon every Saturday, and we love going right in the middle. Bring cash and prepare to take a good chunk of time to wander around and see everything. And bring a big bag to carry all your produce in! We love getting lots of small things from different vendors and trying different foods and drinks. One of our favorite places is the Farm Boys Hearty Food Company. They make the best breakfast burritos!! If you go towards the end of the season, make sure you bring a jacket because it can get pretty cold! Also, if you have a dog, they are welcome on leashes at the market. We always see tons of cute puppies and dogs!

Deals: I can’t think of anything specific, but there are always deals on things. I would recommend walking around once first before you buy anything so you can compare prices and see everything. That way you can get the best deals!

2. Iowa State Fair

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We haven’t missed this since we have moved to Iowa. The fair attracts more than a million people every year over ten days, and it is an internationally-acclaimed fair. There are over 200 different food stands and almost 70 different foods on-a-stick. There’s the butter cow sculpture, the biggest hog and biggest bull competition, over 45 contests (including a beard-growing contest, outhouse races, mutton-busting, a wood-chopping contest, and a hog-calling contest), concerts, theme-park rides, and a petting zoo. There is also a new giant slide that cost $512,000! It is so much fun so if you are in town during the fair, you pretty much have to go!

Price: $11 for adults, $5 kids 5-12, and under 5 years are free.  But there are multiple ways to get discounted tickets. Just check the website! We haven’t paid full price yet! You also will want to bring a lot of cash for food and fun. The first year we went we were told to bring at least $50, and we spent that easily. Deep fried oreos, Cajun cheese curds, and deep-fried bacon-wrapped corn dogs are just a few of our favorite things there!

Ages it is appropriate for:  Everyone! Again, we bring our stroller with our kids and we have seen people of every age there. There are carnival rides, concerts, food, animals, the butter cow sculpture, and farm equipment. Everyone can find something they love!

Best time of the year to visit: The Iowa State Fair runs for 10 days every August.  So obviously that is when you should go!

Tips and suggestions: Bring lots of cash, look up the foods you want to try before you go so you are prepared, and plan to spend a lot of time there! I would definitely wear comfortable shoes and plan to do a lot of walking. It gets super hot so bring a water bottle. And if you have kids, bring some snacks for them.  And seriously, look up those discounted tickets so you can save some money! There are also daily events so check the website to see what fun things you want to do so you go the right day!

Deals: The discounted tickets are a deal. And I’m sure each individual vendor has their own deals. So be on the lookout!!

3. Pella Tulip Time (and Jaarsma Bakery)

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Pella is a small town about an hour SE of Des Moines. Every May they host a festival called Tulip Time where citizens wear Dutch clothing and celebrate the Dutch heritage of the town. There are tours, parades, food, and of course, thousands of beautiful tulips! There are also different art shows, a 5K run, Dutch demos, and things especially for kids. And of course, the amazing Jaarsma Bakery is in Pella! We have yet to find a dessert we don’t like there! It’s definitely worth driving a bit off the interstate to visit!

Price: Free! This is a city-wide event so it doesn’t cost anything to enter. It does cost to do the different tours and events, though.

Ages it is appropriate for:  Everyone! There is a lot of history for the adults, the exciting parade for kids, and it is easy to push babies around in the stroller. It’s usually warm in Iowa this when the event is held so everyone can enjoy being outside!

Best time of the year to visit: Tulip Time is held every year in May, so you will definitely want to come to Pella then. Of course Pella is also just a beautiful town even without the tulips, so if you just want to visit for the history and bakery, you can do that any time!

Tips and suggestions: Plan to wait a long time for the bakery, but I promise it is so worth it! And don’t be stingy on what you buy. The first time we went we spent about ten dollars, ate everything we bought, and then went back for more! Get a lot of different things and have fun! Also bring your camera because the tulips are gorgeous!! I would also recommend going during the day because a lot of the tours and things close early, and if you want to do them, you better get there in the morning!

Deals: I’m not sure if there are any deals for this, but it’s definitely worth going!


Okay so I love Iowa and there are so many fun things to do in Iowa. I had a really hard time picking just three things to brag about, so here is my long list of honorable mentions!


Honorable Mentions

  • Grand Blue Mile: a fun mile street run through downtown Des Moines held in April each year and perfect for the whole family
  • Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad: ride a train powered by a steam or diesel engine through the Des Moines River Valley and over the 156-foot Bass Point Creek High Bridge
  • Madison County Bridges: visit the six remaining covered bridges of Madison County (yes, like the movie)
  • Winterset Park: a super cute little park in the town of Winterset with playgrounds, a covered bridge, and a hedge maze!
  • YESS Duck Derby: a rubber duck race that sponsors Iowa’s one-of-a-kind emergency shelter and crisis nursery, and features free samples from local restaurants
  • Adel Sweet Corn Festival: as much amazing sweet corn as you want, fresh off the cob, in one of central Iowa’s cutest little towns
  • World Food and Music Festival: food and music from all over the world, with $1.00 sample bites at most booths
  • Iowa Cubs Baseball: Iowa’s minor league baseball team plays in downtown Des Moines at Principal Park
  • Iowa Energy Basketball: Iowa’s NBA D-League basketball team plays in downtown Des Moines at Wells Fargo Arena
  • Science Center of Iowa: a fun place where kids can learn about science through science-focused interactive galleries and learning labs, plus an IMAX
  • Blank Park Zoo: home to more than 800 animals, the zoo is a 25-acre park that is the perfect size to do in a few hours with your kids
  • Living History Farms: a 500-acre open-air museum that tells the story of Iowa’s agricultural history (plus the Iowa Machine Shed Restaurant is amazing!!)
  • Bike trails: if you love biking, there are over 550 miles of trails all around Des Moines
  • Wills Family Orchard and Pumpkin Farm: they have amazing apple cider donuts, a corn maze, and a pick-your-own-pumpkin patch
  • Jethro’s: a delicious barbecue restaurant with several chains spread throughout the Des Moines area (and they have been featured on Man vs. Food!)
  • Zombie Burger + Drink Lab: if weird and crazy burgers are your thing, Zombie Burger has the menu for you


I seriously am in love with Iowa, and I feel like anyone who lives here would love it, too. There are so many fun things to do with your family throughout the whole year, and if I could stay here forever, I would! Iowa is a great place to raise a family, and it is a great place to travel to with your family, too! I hope you get a chance to stay for a day or a week and visit some of these amazing places!

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Man this sounds like a great place to visit!  I lived across the river from Iowa during my mission and really only visited the small towns on the border.  I can’t wait to visit these great places Chelsea talked about.  And don’t forget to share your pictures when you visit these states, use the tag #usabytpe.

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About Anne Banks

Hi, I'm Anne! I am an active learner on this crazy road called life. I love learning about anything, but currently spend most of my study time researching parenting tips and improving health. I get excited about crafting, reading, running, baking, and spending time with my three crazy boys (in no particular order, and sometimes at the same time)! I love sharing what helps me get through the day, and I hope my tips help you!

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2 Responses to State of the Week Highlight: Iowa

  1. Jessica January 20, 2015 at 11:13 pm #

    I have yet to meet anyone from Iowa who says they don’t LOVE it, it sounds like such an awesome family state! I just had a friend move back there from Arizona and the photos she uploads onto Facebook make me so jealous, it’s beautiful!! Photos from Iowa almost look vintage, like everything froze in time there. I love it, thanks for sharing about your state Chelsea!!


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