10 Must See Places Off I-80 in Central Iowa

Sitting in a hotel room waiting for my spouse to finish business is not my thing. Rather, I explore the local area, seeking off-the-beaten-path places. Fellow Iowa Stater, Susanne, agreed to meet me in West Des Moines. Here is where the journey off I-80 led us.

As you travel on I-80 through central Iowa get off the Interstate and share what you found. I’m always looking for the next adventure.

#1: Hickory Park Restaurant. We headed east on I-80 and veered north on I-35 to enjoy an early lunch in Ames. As cash-poor students, we usually limited ourselves to the old-fashioned parlor sundaes, but on this trip we savored the generous portions of hickory smoked meats and Susanne enjoyed a delicious sundae. [Regretfully, I’m now lactose intolerant.] Lunch filled our bellies as much as our need for re-connection and nostalgia. There’s a reason this restaurant founded in 1970 remains a must-eat-at place for those visiting Ames. Try it!

#2:Iowa State University. Proud Cyclones we are! It was a hot, dry, summer day, with few students roaming campus, so we took our time, stopped to recall classes and situations in certain buildings and reminisced about the house we both lived in that’s now the Alumni office. The campus has predictably grown yet remains as picturesque and full of promise as the days we spent there in the 1980s.

#3: Reiman Gardens. Walking through 17 acres of indoor and outdoor gardens and strolling july2011 013through the butterfly wing filled my insatiable desire to commune with nature. Perfect for all ages and open year round, Reiman Gardens is a must-see when in Ames, Iowa.

#4: John Wayne Birthplace Museum. Famous for saying, “I’m the stuff men are made of,” rugged Hollywood film actor, John Wayne (Duke) was born and raised in Winterset, Iowa in #5: Madison County-home to the world-famous “Bridges of Madison County.” Some day I will get to the annual covered bridge festival being held October 10-11 in 2015.

#6: Greenfield, Iowa. The town that boasts it is the center of culture and commerce in the middle of farm country did not disappoint. Harking back to my North Dakota roots, I felt right at home in Greenfield. It’s 55 miles from Des Moines and 80 miles from Omaha. Hit the road and go visit!

#5: Ed and Eva’s. Located inside Greenfield’s historic opera house, Ed and Eva’s features Iowa made products and artwork. It has the feel of a gallery and one is allowed to leisurely browse without being disturbed by employees. As a huge supporter of small local business, I did some early Christmas shopping and encourage you to do the same through their user-friendly website.

#6. Warren Cultural Center. Pride in community is one of the things I appreciate most about small towns. Greenfield citizens are no different. Leaving Ed and Eva’s I was curious about the impressive building the store is in, so I started snooping around. Within moments I was joined by a staffer from the Warren Cultural Center offering to show me the building-a restored 1896 opera house-placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1979.

#7. Greenfield Bowl. Thirsty. We crossed the street and had a cold drink here, chatting with a very friendly bartender, learning about the history of the place while watching locals gather in conversation and longing to feel that sense of community again somewhere, maybe Greenfield.

#8. Hotel Greenfield. If I need a solo respite or desire a romantic get-away with my husband, this is my go-to place. I loved it here. The furnishings are traditional period pieces matched with modern-day traveler necessities. The staff is helpful without smothering and the rubber duck in the tub, well it’s priceless. The patio out back is quiet. The only drawback is the lack of an elevator; however, front desk staff are willing to carry bags for those unable. Breakfast is included.

#9. Olive Branch Family Restaurant. We had excellent service from a waitress in training and our meals were above average as was the service.  We enjoyed the Greek platter and fried chicken. Cocktails and desserts are served.

#10. The Freedom Rock. This 60+ ton boulder, located just off I-80, is repainted with a Greenfield, IA and summer '14 misc 018different theme every year by artist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II as a thank-you tribute to our nation’s veterans. Ken met us at the memorial and we ended our terrific day by pausing in a moment of silence, honoring those who give us the freedom to travel this great country.

Share. Which of these attractions are you most likely to visit on your next trip to Central Iowa? Will you make a special trip to Iowa to visit these sites? Do tell and add other sites to see.

Copyright. August 2015. Linda Leier Thomason

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