Consider adding on these Iowa experiences for your attendees.
Have a (Golf) Ball
Golf outings are easy to add to a meeting itinerary in Iowa, thanks to an abundance of golf courses. Many are top ranked and have inviting clubhouses offering hearty food, ample meeting spaces and views of the golf courses that they anchor.
In Iowa’s middle, just north of Des Moines, the Tournament Club of Iowa is the only Arnold Palmer Signature Course in the state and one of its best-known courses. The challenging 18-hole course uses the region’s bluffs and rolling hills to good advantage, and an elegant clubhouse looks out over the course. To the east, the 18-hole course at Amana Colonies Golf Club winds through the forests of eastern Iowa and is convenient to the new Hotel Millwright in Amana. South of Iowa City, the Blue Top Ridge Golf Course is part of the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort, so it comes with a luxurious hotel, gaming, four restaurants, a 12,000-square-foot event center and other amenities.
Golf isn’t absent in Iowa’s far corners either. Spirit Hollow Golf Course, in the southeast near Burlington, was ranked the No. 1 course in Iowa by Golfweek magazine. After playing the tough 18-hole course that meanders through the Mississippi River Valley, hungry golfers can converge at the course restaurant, Lambo’s, for pub food and pizzas. North of Sioux City in Sioux Center, the Ridge Golf Club stretches across serene plains interrupted by four lakes. An event hall at its clubhouse is adjoined by a roomy, covered patio, a pleasant place to watch golfers in action.
Worth a Gamble
Gaming has a long history in Iowa, and today attendees can try their luck at its 19 casinos. With resort-style amenities and upscale meeting space, these casinos can hit the jackpot for conventions and conferences.
At Prairie Meadows Casino, Racetrack and Hotel in Altoona, north of Des Moines, attendees can enjoy gaming, horse racing and relaxing in a 168-room hotel when they aren’t in meetings at the casino’s event center.
In the Quad Cities, Davenport’s Rhythm City Casino is known for having the area’s best spa and a 32,000-square-foot casino in addition to a 106-room hotel and a 10,455-square-foot event center adjoined by four 1,200-square-foot breakout spaces.
In the Port of Dubuque, the Diamond Jo Casino Dubuque’s 5,000-square-foot meeting facility has views of the Mississippi and is a few blocks from downtown Dubuque’s hotels and attractions.
In western Iowa, the Omaha skyline is the view from Harrah’s Council Bluffs, a Caesars Entertainment property. It has 251 guest rooms and fine meals at its 360 Steakhouse or Guy Fieri’s Kitchen + Bar.
Due north, the chic Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Sioux City near downtown elevates events with a 54-room AAA Four-Diamond hotel, two restaurants, three bars, two live entertainment venues and a 45,000-square-foot casino.
Iowa in the Spotlight
Iowa is a long way from Hollywood, but time after time, the state has found its way to the stage and screen. Many sites where movies and other productions were filmed have become popular tourist attractions and places for meeting groups to have special events.
Best known is Dyersville’s “Field of Dreams” Movie Site, one of the most famous baseball fields in the world, where the ever-popular baseball classic of the same name was filmed.
Mason City is all about “The Music Man,” the Broadway musical and movie whose creator, Meredith Willson, grew up there and used his hometown as the model for the musical’s River City. A favorite venue there is Music Man Square, with its recreated movie set of a 1912 streetscape.
For a movie-themed driving tour, groups can head to Winterset to see the covered bridges made famous by the 1995 film “The Bridges of Madison County” starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. Local guides can lead tours of the bridges and supply tidbits about the movie. Winterset has another significant Hollywood tie: It is home to the John Wayne birthplace and the John Wayne Museum.
Fans of “American Pickers” may recognize Antique Archaeology in LeClaire, the television show’s home base. A stop there is a chance to marvel at antiques and other finds.
In Clear Lake, not far from Mason City, the famous Surf Ballroom was the last place that musical legend Buddy Holly played before a fatal plane crash. It has continued its tradition as a showplace for musical talent, hosting big names in music such as Santana, and Robert Plant. Seeing a performance is a possibility, and the ballroom can also be booked for private events.
A Full Picture of Farm Life
With a robust agricultural economy, Iowa has no shortage of ag-related experiences and off-site venues.
From May to December, groups can head to Harvestville Farm near Donnellson, in the state’s southeast corner, for farm-to-table meals, bonfires and if they want to have an off-site event, a barn to drink, dine and dance in. For more fun, there’s a corn maze.
In northeast Iowa, Hawkeye Buffalo and Cattle Ranch loads up visitors for a wagon ride to see and feed its buffalo, catch glimpses of other wildlife and learn about ranch history.
Nearby in Decorah, the Heritage Farm is headquarters of the Seed Savers Exchange, an initiative that collects, preserves and distributes rare seeds to encourage biodiversity and sustainable farming. Groups can tour the farm, learn about its mission and processes, and buy seeds and gardening gifts at the visitors center.
Many farms in Iowa focus on producing wines, distilled spirits or cider. Some, like Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery outside of Cedar Rapids, also have venue space. The Covered Bridges Winery in Winterset, Prairie Moon Winery and Vineyard in Ames and Jasper Winery in Des Moines are clustered in the state’s middle. Wilson’s Orchard and Farm, north of Iowa City, has a ciderhouse and venue set among its apple trees, a farm market and a smokehouse that serves applewood smoked barbecue.
Iowa likes to play with its foods, and its willingness to experiment in the kitchen has led to some tasty treats.
The most widely known and loved is the Rice Krispie Treat, invented in Iowa in 1903, now a nationwide favorite. Iowans later made the treat even tastier by adding peanut butter to the Rice Krispie mix and topping the bars with chocolate and butterscotch. The resulting treat, the Scotcheroo, makes frequent appearances in Iowa school lunchboxes and at potlucks and could be a fun addition to the dessert table at a banquet or reception.
Another sweet treat, Blue Bunny ice cream, is made in Le Mars and sold across the country. The town of 10,000 churns out more ice cream than any place in the world and stores it in a 12-story freezer that’s one of the tallest anywhere. The new Wells Visitors Center shares the company’s history and offers tours and ice cream treats.
At the Iowa State Fair, new food concepts get tasted and tested by thousands of fairgoers each August. The fair is famous for sticking foods on a stick. There are the expected treats, like corn dogs and cotton candy but always some surprises like pork chops and deep-fried Twinkies on a stick.
Given Iowa’s status as a leading producer of hogs, pork is prolific, so serving a thick Iowa pork chop or breaded pork tenderloin is a way to eat locally. Two other dishes first concocted in Iowa could also be added to meeting meals. Steak de Burgo, a Des Moines staple, is tender beef tenderloin topped with a butter or cream sauce laced with mushrooms, garlic and herbs. The taco pizza first hit the menu at a Happy Joe’s in the Quad Cities in the early 1970s and spread across the state and Midwest. Today, the pizza – basically a pizza crust topped with refried beans, tomato sauce, cheese, lettuce and tomato – is on the menu at lots of pizza places, including Happy Joe’s and Casey’s around the state. And of course, Iowa sweet corn always holds a spot in the hearts of Iowans and visitors too.