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Places to Visit on Iowa's I-80

Megan Bannister
Spider beetle yard art in Avoca, Iowa.

While some travel bloggers write about exotic getaways or gourmet food tours, Megan Bannister decided to document Iowa's quirky and often times lesser-known destinations along I-80 and elsewhere. In this interview on Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Bannister about why she decided to write about these roadside attractions and her list of must-see hidden gems.

Stops Worth Getting off I-80

Beatrice Murch

  • World's Largest Truck Stop: A truck stop may not seem like a very eventful stop, but the World's Largest Truck Stop has it all. Aside from your typical amenities, you can also pay a visit to the I-80 Trucking Museum.

Marshall Astor

  • Future Birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk (Riverside): One of pop culture's out-of-this-world Iowans has yet to be born. According to the classic series "Star Trek," Captain James T. Kirk will be born on March 22, 2228 in the small town of Riverside. Visitors can see a stone that marks the place of his birth as well as a plaque under the pool table in a local bar that marks his place of conception.

Sanjay Fays

  • Bridges of Madison County (Winterset): A series of six Iowa icons made famous by the 1992 romance novel and subsequent movie starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, the Bridges of Madison County are just a 15-minute detour off the interstate. 

Wikimedia Commons

  • White Pole Road (Adair to Dexter): This 26-mile historic byway runs parallel to I-80 and is the perfect way to take in a little local history without too much of a detour from your designated route.

Wikimedia Commons

  • Danish Windmill & Restaurants (Elk Horn): Elk Horn is a charming Danish community just north of I-80 with a newly renovated Danish windmill that visitors can tour as well as tempting dining options like the Danish Table.

Megan Bannister

  • Volkswagen Beetle Spider (Avoca): Constructed by Travis and Angela Campbell, this unique piece of public art repurposes a vintage Volkswagen beetle into an eight-legged arachnid. 

  • Squirrel Cage Jail (Council Bluffs): This unique piece of local history is one of only 18 revolving, rotary-style jails ever built. Today, visitors can tour the rotating cells that once held Pottawattamie County prisoners. The jail is reportedly one of the area's most haunted places. 

Quirky Iowa Attractions

  • Matchstick Marvels (Gladbrook): Over the past 40 years, Iowa artist Patrick Acton has transformed more than four million matchsticks into 65 pieces of unique art. From the U.S. Capitol building to the Hogwarts castle from Harry Potter, Matchstick Marvels displays a treasure trove of stunning sculptures.

Ben Franske

  • Grotto of the Redemption (West Bend): No matter your religious affiliation, the Grotto of Redemption is a sight to behold. Construction on the grotto began in 1912 and today the site is thought to be the largest grotto in the world.

  • World's Largest Ball of Popcorn (Sac City): Completed in 2016, Sac City's giant popcorn ball weighs 9,370 pounds and stands taller than eight feet. This was the fourth time in the past 20 years the community has come together to create a popcorn ball that could hold on to the title of "world's largest."

Jana Taylor

  • World's Largest Strawberry (Strawberry Point): Dedicated in the 1960s, the World's Largest Strawberry was an offbeat way to put Strawberry Point on the map. The giant strawberry is made of fiberglass and stands at 15 feet tall.

  • Crystal Lake Cave (Dubuque): Beat the summer heat by going spelunking in Iowa. Take a guided tour of the cave and discover its unique crystal formations throughout nearly 3,000 feet of subterranean passageways.

Wikimedia Commons

  • Albert the Bull (Audubon): Albert the Bull weighs in at 45 tons and has a horn-span of 15 feet, towering 30 feet above the rural Iowa landscape. He’s an authentic Hereford replica—apparently right down to his toenails—and it took 65 gallons of paint to cover his hide.

CGP Grey

  • Field of Dreams (Dyersville): The perfect summer stop for any Iowan looking to celebrate the 1989 Kevin Costner movie—baseball lover or not. Experience the field where the magic happened and even catch a game played by the ghost players themselves. 

Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa