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6 Wonderful Iowa Winter Vacations

6 Wonderful Iowa Winter Vacations

While winter brings cold temperatures and snow, there’s no reason to keep us from enjoying a weekend getaway. Whether you’re an indoor person or outdoor enthusiast, planning an Iowa winter vacation is as easy as opening Google maps. Actually, we’ve done the homework for you and suggest any of these locations for a fun family, couple, or friends’ getaway.

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When Things Get Moving is a popular permanent exhibit at the Science Center of Iowa in downtown Des Moines.

Des Moines

About a two-hour drive from Omaha, Des Moines is perfect for a winter getaway.

From exploring science, including playing meteorologists on television and building their own paper rocket, children will have a blast at the Science Center of Iowa. Everyone will enjoy visiting SCI’s planetarium, where you can explore the galaxy and beyond.

With more than 5,000 pieces of art, the Des Moines Art Center is a great spot to enjoy contemporary art. Plus, a walk through the 27-piece Pappajohn Sculpture Park – with its giant pumpkin and wooden horses – offers a fun experience for everyone. With the state capitol in the backdrop, the Brenton Skating Plaza offers a great outdoor experience.

Fun places to eat include Jethro’s BBQ, a local favorite. Home to The World Famous Adam Emmenecker, perhaps you can talk someone into taking on the challenger of consuming the sandwich featuring a giant pork tenderloin, Angus steak burger, Texas brisket, bacon, fried cheese, buffalo chicken tenders, and cheese sauce.

Or, you can enjoy a themed burger at Zombie Burger. Fong’s Pizza offers you an opportunity to create your own pizza or enjoy one of their creations, such as the crab rangoon.

Related post: 10 Must-Try Des Moines restaurants

There are plenty of hotel options in Des Moines, including the top rated Hotel Fort Des Moines and the Surety Hotel located near the Science Center of Iowa.

Interior of Bluedorn Science Imaginarium in Waterloo, Iowa.
Photo courtesy Iowa Tourism Office


With impressive museums, Waterloo is an excellent city to spend a winter weekend.

A four-hour drive from Omaha, the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum looks at the role Iowans have played in military conflicts dating back to the Civil War. Interactive exhibits offer an accurate look into Iowans’ military action.

A special exhibit at the museum looks at the loves of the four Sullivan brothers, who served on the same ship during World War II. It was attacked, and the brothers perished, along with their shipmates. From a replica of the family’s living room to personal items, the exhibit offers an emotional look at the family.

The military museum is part of the Grout Museum District, which also includes the Grout Museum of History and Science. From a look at pioneer life in Iowa to the area’s economic development, the museum includes an up-close look at farm life and the onset of the industrial age in Waterloo.

Children will enjoy checking out the interactive exhibits at the Bluedorn Science Imaginarium. They can also pet a 12-foot-long python.

A trip to the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum lets you follow the journey from a new plow to impressive tractors and combines, that you can even sit in. Follow the history of tractor production at an actual working plant.

Newton’s Paradise Café is an excellent choice for any meal. With album-sized pancakes and biscuits and gravy that cover a plate, portions are huge and affordable. Morg’s Diner has been around since the 1960s and continues to produce quality meals, such as pork tenderloin sandwiches and hamburger
steak dinners.

Stay overnight at Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo.

Learning about mummies and Egyptian hieroglyphs  at the Putnam Museum in the Quad Cities.

Quad Cities

While Quad Cities includes cities both in Illinois and Iowa, this region still counts as a great destination in the winter. The Quad Cities are about a four-hour drive from Omaha.

With an interactive science center, Putnam Museum in Davenport is an interesting spot for people of all ages. The museum also offers a look at the history of the Quad Cities, from prehistoric times through the
20th century.

The Figge Art Museum includes a look at art, from classic paintings and sculptures to the works of regional artist Grant Woods, best-known for his American Gothic painting.

Antique enthusiast will enjoy a drive along the Mississippi River to LeClaire, home of the original American Pickers’ Antique Archaeology store. Browse for collectibles and maybe a few souvenirs.

The John Deere Pavilion in Moline features a look at some of the company’s unique developments, including a logging machine found only in Europe.

Related post: FREE Things To Do In The Quad Cities With Kids

Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy hiking trails at some of the area’s parks, including Black Hawk State Historic Site, Scott County Park, and Loud Thunder Forest Preserve. Snowstar is the place to go for skiing, tubing, and snowboarding.

Head to Lagomarcino’s in Moline for lunch, followed by their homemade ice cream, because ice cream is perfect during winter. Don’t forget to take home some of their homemade chocolates and sweets.

Plan an overnight stay at Isle Casino Hotel Bettendorf.

Inside the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa, a fun winter destination for families.
Photo courtesy Iowa Tourism Office


Explore life along the Mississippi River at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, where you’ll find a floor-to-ceiling aquarium with fish native to the river. From Minnesota to the Louisiana bayou, you’ll see a variety of animals that call the Mississippi River home, from sturgeon and ducks to snapping turtles and even an alligator. Interactive exhibits range from ones for children to historical displays.

Dubuque, a five-hour drive from Omaha, has added several murals that help tell the area’s story. Combined with art pieces along the river, the public art scene is impressive year-round.

For snowboarding and skiing fun, head to Sundown Mountain. Featuring 21 trails, as well as a kids park, the winter resort also offers impressive scenery of the Mississippi River region.

From alligator nuggets to a catfish club sandwich, Catfish Charlie’s offers a unique menu that will provide a memorable dining experience in Dubuque. Don’t worry, non-fish eaters will enjoy options including a variety of burgers and sandwiches. Enjoy fast casual dining at Magoo’s Pizza, where you
create your own pie.

Overnight accommodations include options like the historic Hotel Julien and Grand Harbor Resort, which has an indoor waterpark.

Car at Sioux City Public Museum

Sioux City

A mere 90 minutes north of Omaha, Sioux City makes an excellent winter getaway spot.

The Public Museum offers a fun and interesting look into Sioux City history. From a plesiosaur hanging on a wall from the area’s time as a prehistoric sea to the city’s stockyard days, the museum infuses interesting displays to showcase the history.

You can also find old building signs, such as a bank, that help tell the area’s history beyond the usual information boards.

With pop culture exhibits and unique displays, the Sioux City Art Center offers a fun experience. You can also take a stroll along Fourth Street, taking in sculptures, such as a cigar-chomping dragon.

A walk along the Missouri Riverfront leads to sculptures of animals that were found along the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Inside the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, you’ll find interactive exhibits that showcase the team’s exploration along the Missouri River.

As the site of the only death on the expedition, the center features a special exhibit on Sgt. Charles Floyd. A couple miles south of the interpretive center is the Floyd Monument, which resembles the Washington Monument in Washington, DC.

Head to Palmer’s Olde Tyme Candy Shoppe to check out its supply of goodies, including the Bing, which is produced at the Palmer plant. Next, stop in at the Jolly Time Popcorn Museum at the Koated Kernel Shoppe for a look at the history of one of the nation’s most-popular popcorn producers. You’ll leave with a bag full of popcorn treats.

With plenty of restaurants to choose from in Sioux City, you’ll want to visit Taqueria La Juanita for authentic Mexican food. Bring cash, as they don’t accept cards. From buffalo wings to handmade pizza, Bob Roe’s Point After has been a local favorite for nearly three decades.

One of my favorite places to stay in Sioux City is the Chocolate Mansion, but if you prefer to stay at a full-service hotel, you can’t go wrong with the reliable Courtyard by Marriott.

Girl on the stage at Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Clear Lake & Mason City

The two cities, about four hours northeast of Omaha, combine for an excellent winter getaway. Mason City’s MacNider Museum is home to a collection of puppets that were used in the movie “The Sound of Music.” Architect fans will want to reserve a tour of the Historic Park Inn, the lone remaining hotel in the
world designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Take in the history of rock-n-roll at the Surf Ballroom. Known for being the last place that young musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper performed before their plane crash, the ballroom serves as a shrine to the trio, as well as featuring instruments and other memorabilia from performers.

Downtown Clear Lake is home to several boutiques and shops. Larson’s Mercantile is a great spot to pick up souvenirs and a few treats. The Red Geranium is the spot to pick up home décor accessories. Emerson’s by the Lake features women’s clothing and accessories.

Grab a hot drink at Cabin Coffee and take a stroll along Clear Lake. Afterward, stop by Cookies, etc. for outstanding baked goodies.

Each February, Surf Ballroom hosts the three-day Winter Dance Party. Concerts and other activities take place, featuring classic musicians.

A display at MacNider Museum
Photo courtesy Travel Iowa

In mid-February, giant cats, whales, horses, and more take over the frozen water of Clear Lake, as the city celebrates the Color the Wind Festival. Featuring hundreds of kite pilots from around the world, the event should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Both cities have outstanding restaurants. In Mason City, Thai Bistro is an excellent option for Thai and sushi. Pro’s is home to loose meat sandwiches (an Iowa favorite) and more.

For a taste of rock-and-roll, or great burgers, Clear Lake’s Surf District Rock-n-Roll Grill is the place to visit. For pizza, check out The Other Place, where you can create your own pizza or order one of their specialty pies.

For overnight stays, you can book a room at Historic Park Inn or the Holiday Inn Express & Suites, both in Mason City.

Iowa is home to several outstanding attractions to visit year-round. Winter offers an opportunity to explore museums and other indoor attractions, as well as take advantage of the snow and try your hand at skiing, tubing, or snowboarding. As you head out, always check the weather forecast and drive safely.

Cure Midwest cabin fever with a winter getaway in Iowa. Here are six ideas for Iowa winter vacations, with tips on what to do and where to eat. Iowa cities include Des Moines, Waterloo, Dubuque, Quad Cities, Clear Lake and Mason City.

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