Cedar Rapids is the second largest city in Iowa and is home to the second largest commercial airport. It’s also one of the cultural hubs of the state, featuring several theaters and museums and a number of excellent restaurants. If you happen to be spending a few hours in a layover at the airport or have a couple days to explore the City of Five Seasons, following are a few well-known — and not-so-well-known — places to check out.
We all remember the iconic American Gothic painting, but how many other works have you seen by Regionalist artist Grant Wood? Born in 1891, Wood lived in Cedar Rapids from 1924 to 1935, and a number of his works can be found on display at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. Visitors are also welcome to visit his home studio, located at 5 Turner Alley, where American Gothic was painted. The studio is free to visit and is open from Noon to 4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays, and is closed during the winter season and major holidays. For more information, visit the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art’s website.
The National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library
Cedar Rapids (and, in fact, a good portion of Iowa) has a strong Czech heritage. To honor their common history, a number of second and third generation Czech Americans started the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids in 1974. The building features artifacts, works of art and collections dedicated to the Czech culture, and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Cedar Rapids. The Museum hosts regular events on the weekends and is open seven days a week. Admission is $5 for adults and students and children are free.
Mississippi Harvest Statue in Muscatine
About an hour and a half outside of Cedar Rapids is the town of Muscatine. Muscatine used to be known as the Pearl Button Capital of the World to honor the town’s history of clamming and the importance of its freshwater pearl industry, the town erected a 23-foot tall bronze statue of a clammer with his gear along its Mississippi waterfront. While visiting, check out the Mark Twain Scenic Overlook (Twain worked for the Muscatine Journal during the summer of 1855. In his book Life on the Mississippi, he said, “I remember Muscatine for its serene sunsets. I have never seen any on either side of the ocean which equaled them. It is the true sunset land. The sunrises are also exceedingly fine.”).
Pearl Button Museum in Muscatine
The Pearl Button Museum recognizes nearly a century of industry generated by clamming along the Mississippi and other Midwest rivers. At the museum, visitors can view a recreation of a clammer’s campsite and see clam shell carving machines, pearl button sorters, and various photos and illustrations portraying the history of clamming and pearl button creation. A children’s section lets kids try their hands at sorting and counting buttons as well as “clamming” with Velcro-covered faux clams and clamming poles.
Started in the early 1900s, the Grotto of the Redemption is located about three hours outside of Cedar Rapids in West Bend, making it a lengthy but worthwhile daytrip. The sprawling, Gaudi-esque structure is massive — almost the size of a city block — and reaches 40 feet high in some areas. It was built over the course of 42 years by Father Paul Dobberstein, a German Catholic who almost died from pneumonia while in seminary and promised to build a shrine of precious stones to the Virgin Mary if he survived. Shortly after his confirmation, Father Dobberstein was relocated to Iowa, where the lack of precious stones drove him to use what rocks and semi-precious minerals he could find. The grotto is now one of the largest in the world and is comprised of rocks hauled from Iowan fields, petrified wood and even rock formations carved from the walls of caverns. For more information, visit www.westbendgrotto.com/.
The Burgeoning Beer Industry of Iowa
Until recently, breweries were not that common a sight in Iowa, but the past few years have seen a burst in the industry and craft and microbreweries can be found in all corners of the state. In Cedar Rapids, check out Third Base Brewery. Opened in Cedar Rapids in 1996, Third Base is the first brewery in the city since the days of Prohibition. Along with a full lunch and dinner menu, the Brewery serves a tasty selection of their own house-crafted brews including Golden Hawk Wheat, Helles Honey Bock, Red Rocket Amber, Flying Aces Pale Ale and Black Cobra Oatmeal Stout.
Antique Archaeology in Le Claire
If you’re a fan of American Pickers, the History Channel show that follows junk pickers Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz as they travel America looking for “rusty gold,” then this is your chance to drop by their storefront A little over an hour outside of Cedar Rapids, the shop is open seven days a week and sells picks as well as new merchandise. For more information, visit antiquearcheology.com.
What are some unique places you’ve found around Iowa?
Anton Pomakov, Silverleaf Resorts