The Hawkeye State
Iowa is a largely rural state in the Midwest of the United States. The capital of Iowa, and its most populous city, is Des Moines. It is one of the few metropolitan areas of the state and home to historical sites and attractions like the Capitol Building, Des Moines Art Center, the Iowa State Fair (one of the largest state fairs in the U.S.) and the Des Moines Arts Festival. Outdoor activities are popular throughout the state and include fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, golfing and biking, and activities along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Iowa’s cultural heritage can also be seen at the many museums dedicated to ethnic groups, including the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, the Danish Immigrant Museum, the African American Museum of Iowa and Vesterheim, a Norwegian-American museum. To find more cultural learning opportunities in Iowa, browse the cultural sections below or visit www.traveliowa.com.
Jump to: Historical Sites & Tourist Attractions | Arts & Culture | Sports & Recreation | Outdoor Activities | Food | Local Festivals | Housing Resources | Transportation | Health & Safety | Help Your Community
Historical Sites & Tourist Attractions
Buffalo Bill Cody. Photo via Sarony.
Add some local history to your cultural exchange experience by visiting a nearby historical site or tourist attraction when living and working in the U.S.
Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines is home to almost 1,500 animals and over 100 species of animals, including lions, leopards, sea lions, alligators, prairie dogs, penguins, giraffes and more. Some exhibits and areas are closed during winter months, so check the website before visiting.
The Buffalo Bill Museum in Le Claire contains exhibits, photographs, documents and other artifacts related to the history of the area, including Native Americans, pioneers, the Civil War and “Buffalo Bill”, a frontiersman and showman who once ran a famous Wild West show throughout the world.
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum commemorates a controversial figure in American political history, President Herbert Hoover. As the 35th President of the United States, Hoover is often associated with the Great Depression; however, Hoover accomplished many important achievements in his life. Visitors can learn about his childhood, life and presidency at the library and museum in West Branch, IA.
Living History Farms teaches visitors about Iowa’s agricultural history over the past 300 years, such as information about pioneers, the Ioway Indians and life during the Industrial Revolution. The outdoor museum features self-guided tours, working farm sites and special events like historic baseball games from the 1870s.
The State Historical Museum of Iowa in Des Moines focuses on the history and growth of Iowa through exhibits, documents, artifacts and other objects about Iowan heritage.
Arts & Culture
The United States offers a wide variety of cultural learning opportunities through the arts. Dance, music, theater, opera, art museums and festivals are just some of the options available to international visitors who wish to experience the U.S. and its culture.
Art & Cultural Museums
- Blanden Memorial Art Museum, Fort Dodge
- Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Cedar Rapids
- Des Moines Arts Center, Des Moines
- Dubuque Museum of Art, Dubuque
- Figge Art Museum, Davenport
- Muscatine Art Center, Muscatine
- National Czech and Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Rapids
- Octagon Center for the Arts, Ames
- Pearson Lakes Art Center, Okoboji
- Sioux City Art Center, Sioux City
- The Arts Center, Council Bluffs
- Ballet Quad Cities, Davenport
- Des Moines Performing Arts, Des Moines
- Des Moines Metro Opera, Des Moines
- Des Moines Playhouse, Des Moines
- Quad City Symphony Orchestra, Davenport
Sports & Recreation
Photo by Phil Roeder.
Many Americans are passionate about sports – and not just baseball and football! Get a glimpse into this part of American culture by watching or participating in a favorite U.S. sport or recreational activity in your local area.
- Drake Bulldogs, Drake University
- Iowa Hawkeyes, University of Iowa
- Iowa State Cyclones, Iowa State University
- Northern Iowa Panthers, University of Northern Iowa
- Burlington Bees (baseball)
- Cedar Rapids Kernels (baseball)
- Clinton LumberKings (baseball)
- Des Moines Buccaneers (hockey)
- Iowa Barnstormers (football)
- Iowa Cubs (baseball)
- Iowa Energy (basketball)
- Quad City River Bandits (baseball)
- Sioux City Explorers (baseball)
Iowa Speedway in Newton hosts NASCAR, IRL IndyCar Series and other races throughout the year.
The United States is home to a variety of landscapes and climates to suit all types of outdoor activities. The courageous traveler can find extreme sports and outdoor adventure tours, while others may want to keep both feet on the ground in a national park or forest. Whatever your interests, take advantage of the many outdoor activities available during your time in the United States.
Adventureland in Altoona is an amusement park with roller coasters, rides, games, a water park and a seasonal campground. The park is open from April to September.
The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Des Moines features 21 pieces of art in a 4.4-acre park. Audio and guided tours are available and visitors can also picnic in the park.
Pikes Peak State Park in McGregor offers hiking, camping, mountain biking, cycling, picnics and cross-country skiing. Visitors can find information on recreation and other Iowa state parks at the Iowa parks website.
Seven Oaks Recreation in Boone has many outdoor activities during all seasons. In winter, enjoy skiing, snowboarding, tubing and skiing and snowboarding lessons for beginners. In warmer months, visitors can kayak, canoe, float on the Des Moines River or go camping.
Skiing and snowboarding are also available at Mt. Crescent in Honey Creek and Sundown Mountain Resort in Dubuque.
One of the best ways to experience cultural exchange is through food and cooking. Visitors will enjoy exploring the regional specialties and local cuisine during their time in the United States.
Iowa cuisine has been influenced by its cultural heritage, including German, England, Irish and Latino immigrants, and its agricultural history, so visitors will find many ethnic restaurants and food festivals along with plenty of corn, soybeans, tomatoes, berries and other fresh produce. Traditional Midwestern cooking is also popular in Iowa.
Farmers’ markets in Iowa and Des Moines offer fresh produce and goods from local farmers and artisans.
- Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival, Des Moines, February
- Strawberry Days, Strawberry Point, June
- Sauerkraut Days, Lisbon, August
- Des Moines Restaurant Week, Des Moines, August
- World Food Festival, Des Moines, September
Photo via Pixabay.
For a unique and local perspective on American culture, be sure to check out festivals and events near your cultural exchange program location. These events are a fun and interesting way to interact with locals and to learn more about American culture by experiencing it firsthand.
The Pella Tulip Festival in May celebrates Dutch heritage for three days in Pella, IA. Ethnic food, dancing, music, architecture, arts, crafts and other activities are included at the festival.
The Des Moines Arts Festival is a multi-day arts festival featuring performing arts, visual arts, live music and interactive art over three days in June. The Interrobang Film Festival is also part of the event.
In July, the 80/35 music festival attracts over 40 famous bands and local acts over two days, including many free performances. The street festival also includes arts activities, food, children’s area and more.
Over one million people visit the Iowa State Fair each August in Des Moines. The 10-day fair features agricultural shows, live music, entertainment, carnival rides, competitions, arts and crafts, a parade and much more.
Latino Heritage Festival in September is one of the largest cultural events in the state and includes music, performances, dancing, art, food and cultural booths to celebrate Latino culture.
Employers may be able to assist with housing during your time in the United States, but this is not always possible for all participants. When looking for housing during your cultural exchange program, consider the cost of the accommodation, the distance to your work place and the amount of time you will be in the United States.
It's also important to avoid fraudulent housing. It is highly recommended that you secure short-term housing upon arrival (e.g. in a hostel) and conduct your housing search once you are in the U.S. Never give your financial information to a stranger over the Internet. Browse the Housing Information guides for InterExchange participants below for more tips and advice.
General Housing Information
- Housing information for Work and Travel USA participants
- Housing information for Career Training USA interns and trainees
Iowa Housing Resources
Some examples of housing and accommodation resources for Iowa participants include:
- Craigslist - Iowa
- American Homestay Agency
- Hostelling International
Public transportation options can be hit or miss, depending on your location in the United States. Buses are a common transportation option for short and long-term travel in the U.S., while some areas will also have trains, subways and other options.
Public Transit Systems
- Des Moines Area Rapid Transit (DART) buses travel in the greater Des Moines region.
- Cedar Rapids Transit provides bus services in the Cedar Rapid area.
- Heart of Iowa Regional Transit Agency (HIRTA) operates buses in 7 counties: Boone, Dallas, Jasper, Madison, Marion, Story and Warren.
- River Bend Transit operates in the Davenport area.
Visit the American Public Transportation Association website for a complete list of public transportation options in Iowa communities.
The following bus companies operate routes in Iowa and surrounding states:
Amtrak runs through Osceola, located 40 miles south of Des Moines, and several other stops in Iowa on the California Zephyr line.
Health & Safety
Participants in Iowa can use the following resources in case of an emergency or extreme weather event in their area:
Emergency Management Agencies
- Iowa Emergency Management
- Emergency updates on Twitter: @IowaHSEMD
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): www.fema.gov and www.ready.gov
- Iowa FEMA updates on Twitter: @femaregion7
Help Your Community
Interact with others and expand your skill set by volunteering in your local community. Volunteer organizations are often looking for short-term volunteers or for individuals to help with a single event, making it a great option for InterExchange participants who wish to add to their cultural exchange experience during their time in the United States.
Volunteermatch.org, Idealist.org and Serve.gov are three general volunteer websites that match local organizations with volunteers in their communities.
The Food Bank of Iowa offers many volunteer opportunities to individuals or groups that range from a few hours to an entire day of work. Volunteer hours must be scheduled one to two months ahead of time.
Volunteer Iowa has many resources for volunteers and organizations in Iowa. Visit the website to find a volunteer opportunity based on your location and interests.
Habitat for Humanity of Iowa helps build low-cost housing for families in need and has many locations around the state. Both group and individual volunteers are needed to build homes and no experience is required.
Help out at the Des Moines Arts Festival to experience the festival from behind the scenes. Volunteers can assist artists, help set up and put away exhibits, sell merchandise and perform many other tasks.