Waterfront meeting destinations — from grand riverfront hotels to waterside venues — can give any meeting a more laid-back vibe. And for a landlocked state, Iowa has a surprising number of liquid assets. It’s the only state bordered by two rivers, and many of its cities sprang up along the banks of the Mississippi and Missouri. Combine those river cities with the resorts and resort towns on its many lakes, and Iowa becomes a state rich in waterfront meeting possibilities.
The Quad Cities comprise five cities and numerous small towns and villages in Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, with two major metros on each side of the Mississippi River. Davenport and Bettendorf, on the Iowa side, are about five miles apart, with plenty of accommodations for meetings. In downtown Davenport, there are 431 hotel rooms, including rooms at the historic Hotel Blackhawk, The Current Iowa and DoubleTree by Hilton Davenport. The Hotel Blackhawk is connected by skywalk to the city’s RiverCenter and its 100,000 square feet of meeting space, which includes the 33,400-square-foot Great River Hall and the 2,423-seat art deco-style Adler Theatre.
To the east, Bettendorf’s state-of-the-art meeting facilities include the Quad-Cities Waterfront Convention Center, with over 24,000 square feet of space for groups as large as 1,700. The convention center is connected by skywalk to Iowa’s largest hotel, the 509-room Isle Casino Hotel Bettendorf. In addition to luxurious rooms, a casino and restaurants, the Isle has 15,000 square feet of meeting space and an attached marina.
“In the Quad Cities, each of our downtowns offer completely different experiences and amenities,” said Joan Kranovich, vice president of business growth at Visit Quad Cities. “The uniqueness of our bi-state, multi-city destination adds to the fun vibe of our region.”
Founded by French fur-trader Julien Dubuque in 1833, Dubuque was Iowa’s first community. Once a hotspot for lead mining, this town on Iowa’s eastern border is now known for manufacturing and, of course, hospitality.
“Today people think of Dubuque as a tourist destination in the Midwest, definitely for families and businesses,” said Julie Kronlage, vice president of sales at Travel Dubuque.
Its position on the Mississippi River has much to do with that, and many of its meeting venues take good advantage of the riverside. In fact, the city’s largest meeting and event space, the Grand River Center, is in the Port of Dubuque, a riverside district on the east side of downtown. The center has 86,000 square feet and 13 meeting rooms and many of its spaces have generous views of the river. The Grand River Center is connected to the 193-room Grand Harbor Resort and its 1,200-square-foot meeting room. Four other hotels several blocks away have meeting space, including the 116-room Hilton Garden Inn at Q Casino, the 193-room Holiday Inn Dubuque/Galena, and the Hotel Julien, a richly decorated, restored hotel with 133 rooms and 15,000 square feet of meeting space.
In the Historic Millwork District, a brick-paved, industrial revitalized district in downtown, restaurants and bars offer entertainment after business hours. A roomy ballroom there with on-site catering can be booked for events of up to 450 people. Another downtown option? The Smithsonian-affiliated Dubuque Museum of Art, where receptions can deliver art and hors d’oeuvres for up to 125 people.
Sioux City is in Iowa’s upper west corner, where the Missouri River divides Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa. Its ties to Native American culture and the Lewis and Clark Expedition are apparent at sites throughout the city, but it also offers several new meeting venues. With Interstate 29 passing through the city and a highly walkable, historic downtown, it’s also a decidedly accessible city.
“Being a tri-state city, we draw a lot of regional events, and we have a lot of free attractions,” said Kristen Heimgartner, destination experience coordinator at Explore Sioux City. “There’s lots of culture to experience within this area.”
The Sioux City Convention Center, with 40,000 square feet of event space that includes a 28,634-square-foot gallery, is connected to the 150-room Courtyard Sioux City Downtown. Two streets north, the Warrior Hotel, a chic AAA Four Diamond property with 148 rooms and 2,800 square feet of meeting space, opened in 2020 and is part of the Marriott Autograph Collection.
The west side of downtown is home to Tyson Events Center, with 190,000 square feet of meeting space and a 10,000-seat arena for sporting events, trade shows and concerts. Nearby are two prominent hotels: Stoney Creek Hotel Sioux City, a 161-room lodge-style resort with 16,000 square feet of meeting space, and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Sioux City, the city’s other AAA Four Diamond property, with 54 guest rooms.
There are many other options for events and meetings: the historic Orpheum Theatre; the Sioux City Art Center, an art museum in the heart of downtown; The 101, an event venue in a revitalized building with maple floors and exposed brick that’s also headquarters for Stone Bru Coffee Company; and the Peirce Mansion, a restored Victorian home operated by the Sioux City Public Museum.
Across the Missouri River from Omaha, Nebraska, Council Bluffs is the most populous city in southwestern Iowa. Its accessibility has always been an attractive quality – in its early days, the city linked the country’s east and west as the starting point of the Transcontinental Railroad.
“It’s right at the intersection of Interstate 29 and Interstate 80,” said Emma Schwaller, director of marketing at the Council Bluffs Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s super easy to get to and super affordable. Compared to our counterparts, we have an affordable [room] tax of 7%.”
About 10 minutes southwest of downtown, the Mid-America Center is Council Bluffs’ largest event space. With 64,000 square feet of flexible event space, including a 24,500-square-foot exhibit hall and a 30,000-square-foot arena, it’s known for hosting conventions and sports competitions. On the river, the Holiday Inn and Suites Council Bluffs and the Hampton Inn Council Bluffs are adjacent hotels with a combined 283 guest rooms, 6,294 square feet of meeting space, and a shared, in-house catering company.
Downtown, the Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center is a new performing arts center in a historic building. Its industrial design makes its multiple theaters feel on trend. At the River’s Edge Pavilion, indoor and outdoor event spaces entertain with views of the river and the Omaha skyline.
Okoboji is a resort town in the Iowa Great Lakes that markets Northern Iowa’s seven lakes and the communities that surround them. With boating and other water activities and amusement parks, the destination makes meetings feel like fun getaways.
“It’s a great place to have meetings because our whole community is centered around hospitality and tourism,” said Rebecca Peters, director of tourism at Vacation Okoboji. “Everyone goes out of their way to be friendly.”
For conferences, the 100-room Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center has 30,000 square feet of meeting space, including an 11,000-square-foot event hall, and is adjacent to Brooks Golf Club, the state’s only Audubon-certified golf course. For meetings that require more guest rooms, the 61-room AmericInn by Wyndham Okoboji is next to the Arrowwood and the recently renovated Okoboji Commons Hotel, with 70 guest rooms, is across the street. In addition to roller coasters, the historic Arnold’s Park Amusement Park has several event spaces, including the 5,000-square-foot Majestic Pavilion and the 9,000-square-foot Roof Garden Ballroom.
Popular off-site venues include Okoboji Classic Cars, a sizeable showroom and restoration shop with a collection of 80 classic cars, antiques and a floor-to-ceiling mural of a 1950s Main Street. The 65,000-square-foot building has hosted events as large as 500 attendees. Barefoot Bar, on East Lake Okoboji, has a Key West feel with frosted drinks, live music, palm trees and resident roosters. To get out on the water, the steamboat Queen II offers cruises for up to 200 people.