From its rural roots and beautiful natural surroundings to its European cultural influences, small-town Iowa has plenty to offer meeting planners trying to escape the state’s larger, more bustling cities. These charming small towns offer full-service hotels, distinctive meeting venues, historic downtowns with boutique shops, tasty cuisine, historical sites and gorgeous state parks to explore.
A Dutch town in the middle of Iowa, Pella is considered the closest thing to Holland in the U.S., with its Klokkenspel clock, canal, working drawbridge and large windmill surrounded by Dutch architecture. The town is also only four miles from Lake Red Rock, Iowa’s largest lake, and the area attracts visitors from all over the world. For a rural destination, Pella has an amazingly vibrant downtown with diverse restaurants and shopping.
Meeting planners wanting to get a taste of the Netherlands can choose from a variety of meeting locations, many that tap into that Dutch heritage.
Pella’s canal area, Molengracht Plaza, is great for private parties and outdoor conference events, and the Pella Historic Village campus, a replica of what would have been found in the Netherlands in the late 1800s, can also host events. There are 23 buildings on the property, including a large grain windmill.
The largest event space in town is on the campus of Central College, a four-year liberal arts school. The banquet facility on campus can seat 300 people comfortably at round tables. The campus also has tons of breakout spaces for larger conferences.
The historic Pella Opera House is available for group meetings. The Great Hall can host up to 250 guests banquet style, and the historic theater can hold 324 attendees. The second- and third-floor lobbies are suitable for smaller banquets or events for up to 30 guests.
The Amsterdam, a 40-room boutique hotel close to Molengracht Plaza, is a favorite place to stay with its full-service restaurant and bar and proximity to downtown. Pella also has a number of brand-name hotels like the 69-room Country Inn and Suites and the 87-room GrandStay Hotel and Suites Pella, which has conference facilities that can accommodate 80 guests.
The consummate college town, Ames derives much of its identity from its relationship to Iowa State University (ISU), a land-grant institution that brings 36,000 students to town every year and is the city’s largest employer.
Most of the conferences that come to Ames are held at the Scheman Building at the Iowa State Center. The center has three floors of meeting and event space that include a 400-seat auditorium, several breakout spaces and a dining area on the second floor.
The Gateway Hotel and Conference Center at ISU has 187 guest rooms and a conference center that can host meetings for up to 400 people easily with its two large ballrooms and additional breakout spaces. It also has an attached restaurant and bar.
The Radisson Hotel Ames Conference Center at ISU can fit up to 200 people in its ballroom and has a smaller space that can be used for breakout sessions. The hotel has 75 guest rooms. The Best Western nearby has 86 guest rooms.
Ames is distinctive in that it has two business and entertainment districts. Downtown Ames has the city’s dining, bars and entertainment, and Campustown, with its own restaurants and shops that appeal to a younger demographic, is within walking distance of the university. Reiman Gardens has event space, as well as a butterfly garden and floral gardens, that meeting groups can enjoy. For a taste of ISU campus life, groups can host receptions overlooking the football field at Jack Trice Stadium, home of the Cyclones. The Hansen Agricultural Center can host banquets of up to 1,000 people on its arena floor, and the James H. Hilton Coliseum at ISU can host events of up to 15,000 people, including large trade shows.
The small town of Decorah sits on Iowa’s Driftless Scenic Byway, a 144-mile byway that takes visitors past chiseled limestone bluffs, rivers, waterfalls and forested valleys that were carved by glaciers during the last ice age. The town is an outdoor lover’s paradise, with 600 acres of parks, state parks, a state fish hatchery and the largest seed bank in the world.
Meeting groups have plenty of opportunities to enjoy Decorah’s scenic beauty and Norwegian heritage. The historic Hotel Winneshiek and Opera House downtown can host up to 300 people for a conference. The Opera House, the hotel’s grandest space, features original tin walls and ceiling, a stage and a mezzanine that can host groups of up to 250 people for a meal or breakout sessions.
The hotel also has a meeting room for up to 125 guests, a private dining room for 25 people and a beautiful lobby that can be used as prefunction space.
The Pulpit Rock Brewing Company has a small event space that can accommodate 50 people and a patio on the east side of the building that can seat about 30 people. Pivo Brewery, about nine miles south of Decorah, offers 40 beers and ciders on tap and has a 4,500-square-foot event space that can seat up to 400 people. It has a large hardwood dance floor and a private bar.
Luther College has numerous event spaces that can host groups of up to 300 people, among them the Dahl Centennial Union, the Center for Faith and Life, a performance hall that seats 1,400 people and numerous lecture halls. Many groups host their main meeting events at Luther College and then schedule breakouts throughout Decorah, taking advantage of its breweries, winery, restaurants and the Seed Savers Exchange.
Sioux City is in the tristate area of Iowa, within minutes of South Sioux City, Nebraska, and North Sioux City, South Dakota. Sioux City is known for its Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, which showcases the Corps of Discovery’s time in the area from July to September 1804 and commemorates the life of the only person that died on that expedition, Sgt. Charles Floyd.
The city has several free museums, including the Sioux City Art Center; the Sioux City Public Museum, which is an interactive museum that talks about the history and culture of the area; and the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center. The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino also is a big attraction in the area.
For groups, there are several large meeting spaces. The Tyson Event Center is the biggest venue in the area: It seats 10,000 people. The Siouxland Expo Center is a brand-new event venue that can host very large groups in its arena and up to 260 guests for a banquet in its banquet room.
The Sioux City Convention Center has 56,000 square feet of meeting and event space and is connected to the Courtyard Sioux City Downtown/Convention Center hotel. For something a little more intimate, the Orpheum Theatre, built in 1927, was recently remodeled to preserve its hand-painted ceiling, gilded accents and hand-carved details. The six-story theater can hold 2,690 people in the auditorium and is home to the city’s symphony orchestra and Broadway shows. There are 15 hotels in the area, but not all of them have meeting spaces. The Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center and the Warrior Hotel are full-service hotels that offer meeting spaces. The city also offers a trolley service for bigger events so that attendees can stay at multiple hotels and travel easily between conference locations.
Denison and Crawford County are known for beautiful hills, scenic farms and Denison’s historic downtown. Oscar-winning actress Donna Reed is Denison’s hometown sweetheart, and there are plenty of ways to learn more about her and her history in town. Reed is best known for her roles in “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart and “From Here to Eternity,” a movie that earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She also starred in a hit TV series, “The Donna Reed Show,” for eight years.
The Donna Reed Performing Arts Center contains the Donna Reed Theatre and the Donna Reed Museum. Visitors can take tours of the building upon request.
Meeting planners love Boulders Conference Center, which is located on the Majestic Hills Golf Course. The facility can host groups of up to 420 people for a banquet or as few as 10 people in the boardroom. The Stables at Copper Ridge is an old barn that sits on 43 acres of rolling pastureland. The building used to house famous stud horses but is now an event venue for up to 560 guests. The facility has a commercial kitchen, a full bar and an outdoor space that can seat more than 300 people.
Visitors can stay at the Cobblestone Inn and Suites-Majestic Hills — a 32-room hotel next to the golf course — or Cobblestone Inn and Suites-Oak Ridge, a 30-room lodge. The Denison Inn and Suites and the Historic Park Motel are additional lodging options in Denison.
In their downtime, meeting attendees can take a self-guided walking tour of 36 historic homes in town; cool off at the Denison Aquatic Fun Center with its two 150-foot waterslides, huge pool, sand volleyball pit and 18-hole putt-putt golf course; or spend time at Yellow Smoke Park, a 358-acre recreation area with hiking, camping, swimming, fishing and boating.