A - Aviation (Iowa Aviation Museum, Greenfield)
Home of the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame, this Greenfield museum’s historic displays will wow any flight enthusiast. Inside, you’ll find pre-WWII aircrafts and rare models from all over the world alongside military and aerobatic memorabilia that showcases Iowa’s history in the skies. Then head to the Hall of Fame to learn more about the Iowans who’ve contributed to what aviation is today.
B – Big Band (Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum, Clarinda)
Immerse yourself in the life of Glenn Miller, the famous 1900s American big band trombonist, arranger, composer and bandleader. The museum is divided into several sections that tell the fascinating story of his life in Clarinda and rise to stardom, his service in WWII and the impact his music has had through the decades. One-of-a-kind artifacts and rotating special exhibits make each trip a unique experience.
C – Clocks (Bily Clocks Museum, Spillville)
The Bily Clocks Museum showcases the handiwork of brothers Frank and Joseph Bily. Their intricately hand-carved clocks of all shapes and sizes depict history, art, religion and culture and are covered with hundreds of expertly carved figures. On the second floor of the museum, you’ll find an exhibit in memory of famous Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, who occupied the Spillville space during the summer of 1893 with his family.
D – Dala Horse (Swedish American Museum, Swedesburg)
Home to Iowa’s largest Dala horse, a symbol of strength and courage in Swedish culture, the Swedish American Museum tells the story of Swedish immigrants coming to southeast Iowa and Swedesburg in the mid-1800s. Throughout three buildings, you can view house artifacts from the voyage to early prairie life and the original tinsmith shop that boasts a reconstructed Huckster wagon and an upstairs apartment.
E – European (Museum of Danish America, Elk Horn)
With a mission of celebrating the area’s Danish roots and the American dream, the Museum of Danish America houses an artifact collection of over 35,000 pieces. From family heirlooms brought to Elk Horn from Denmark and remarkable examples of handicrafts and tools to memorabilia from Danish-American clubs and organizations, these treasures have been passed down through generations of Danish families.
F – Funeral (Iowa Funeral Museum, Marshalltown)
Though it sounds odd, the Funeral Museum provides an interesting look into the history behind how humanity handles death and mourning. With displays that range from caskets and coffins from as far back as the 1800s to embalming techniques, this Marshalltown museum invites you to ask questions about the celebration of life.
G – German (Amana Heritage Museum, Amana)
A National Historic Landmark, the Amana Colonies offer an opportunity to dive into the rich historical experience of an 1850s German communal settlement in the Iowa River Valley. The Heritage Museum shares the stories of Amana’s residents and their religion, The Community of True Inspiration, both in Germany and America through exhibits that include artifacts and WWI memorabilia.
H – Heritage (Vesterheim, the National Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah)
With strong ties to the community, the Vesterheim is a hub for Norwegian-American heritage in Decorah, featuring four floors packed with stories of identity, beauty and faith. Through exhibits displaying elaborate clothing, intricately carved tools, colorful paintings, woven tapestries and even a cabin constructed from a single tree and a boat that sailed the Atlantic Ocean, visitors can appreciate the area’s roots and the culture and journey of Iowa’s Norwegian settlers.
I – Innovation (Heartland Acres Agribition Center, Independence)
Take a journey through the history and innovation of farming in Iowa. From the moldboard plows of Iowa’s first settlers to the modern equipment and biotechnology of today, the entire Independence museum acts as a learning center to engage you in Iowa’s agricultural history.
J – John Wayne (John Wayne Birthplace Museum, Winterset)
The life story of John Wayne began in small-town Iowa, where he was born in Winterset before taking his talents to the big screen. Today, you can tour his childhood home and explore the largest existing diversified exhibit of John Wayne artifacts in the adjacent museum. Admire original movie posters, film wardrobes, scripts, contracts, letters and customized automobiles that help tell the story of an Iowa star.
K – Keepsakes (Anne Frank Connection @ Danville Station, Danville)
The story of the Anne Frank Connection goes back to the fall of 1939 when Danville student Juanita Wagner selected a pen pal who lived in Amsterdam. The girl’s name was Anne Frank. This museum is one of two places in the world to view the pen pal letters alongside a step through the bookcase into Anne’s time in hiding and area history from WWII, starting in the 1920s.
L – Library (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, West Branch)
Every year, tens of thousands of visitors flock to West Branch to visit Herbert Hoover’s Presidential Library and childhood home. A self-guided tour takes you on the adventure that was Hoover’s life, from his short time in Iowa and his early career successes to his public service, presidency and post presidency speeches and writings. After walking through the visitor center, grab a map and guide, head outside and check out other historical structures such as the birthplace cottage, blacksmith shop and schoolhouse.
M – Marionettes (MacNider Art Musuem, Mason City)
Surrounded by history, the MacNider Art Museum is located inside a historic Mason City home and contains a variety of art displays including Bil Baird’s famous puppets. Known as the man behind the “Goat Herd” marionette performance in the film The Sound of Music, Bil Baird was a multi-talented puppeteer who performed around the world. His creations range from delicate, sensitive carved wooden figures to huge, larger-than-life puppets that have appeared in New York theater, commercials, a variety of films, on television and at two World’s fairs.
N – Native Americans (Meskwaki Cultural Center & Museum, Tama)
Through artifacts and repatriated items, the Meskwaki Museum offers insights into the tradition and culture of the Meskwaki nation, which is comprised of the Sac and Fox tribes. Learn about their lifestyle through Tama's arrowhead, pottery, tools, clothing, jewelry and photograph collections.
O – One of a Kind (Squirrel Cage Jail, Council Bluffs)
Built in 1885 and in operation until 1969, the Squirrel Cage Jail in Council Bluffs is a one-of-a-kind structure appropriately placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Within the group of 18 revolving jails ever built, it was the only one that was three-stories. Now, those floors are home to a museum dedicated to the former inmates of the prison, whose pie-piece-shaped cells still contain the original bunks, wall graffiti and some artifacts alongside informational exhibits.
P – Pearls (National Pearl Button Museum, Muscatine)
Known as the Pearl Button Capital of the World, this museum shares the story of Muscatine’s rise to fame as a leader in the pearl button industry during its peak in the early 1900s. By 1905, the community utilized its proximity to the Mississippi River to produce 1.5 billion pearls annually, making up nearly 37% of the world’s buttons. Learn more about this history through exhibits discussing the importance of pearl buttons, how clamming came to Midwest rivers and how buttons were manufactured.
Q – Quirky (State Historical Museum of Iowa, Des Moines)
Iowa’s rich heritage includes everything from immigration, agriculture, aviation, cinema and more, all of which can be further explored at the State Historical Museum of Iowa. However, one unique exhibit takes visitors back to the career of a Des Moines-based doctor during the mid-20th century. Dr. James Downing was the man to see when people accidentally ingested random objects. After Downing extracted each object, he placed them on display in his office as a warning to discourage people from putting things in their mouths. The result of his warning is today preserved in two cases at the museum.
R – River (National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, Dubuque)
Dive into the history surrounding Dubuque and the Mississippi River. Inside, you’ll find a variety of exhibits covering everything from barges and boats, caves, county artifacts, erosion and flooding and the first river people. Visitors of all ages are also thrilled by the animal exhibits that let you get up close to birds, reptiles, insects, alligators, sharks and stingrays alongside native Mississippi fish and turtle species.
S – Sprint Cars (National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum, Knoxville)
Recognized as the only museum in the world dedicated to the history of sprint car racing, this Knoxville staple has a mission of promoting the future and preserving the past of this unique racing sport. Opened in 1991, the museum showcases up to 35 open-wheel race cars on display alongside a variety of ever-changing exhibits highlighting the sport, the growth of the Knoxville raceway and its top competitors.
T – Trouble (Anamosa State Penitentiary Museum, Anamosa)
The stone building that once housed Iowa’s worst troublemakers now welcomes visitors to explore the historic Anamosa State Penitentiary. After operating for 140 years as the state’s largest correctional facility, the building’s jail cells have been transformed into display rooms that describe infamous inhabitants, prison life, the role of the guards, quarrying and construction techniques and media from the Anamosa prison’s early days.
U – Unusual (McCallum Museum, Sibley)
While exploring Sibley’s history, visitors may be surprised to come across McCallum Museum’s display case containing a two-headed calf. Mixed in among exhibits featuring horse buggies and WWI artifacts, the calf’s intriguing story takes place in 1936 when it was born on the Emil Braun farm north of town but died shortly after birth.
V – Voyage (The Voyage Home @ Riverside History Center, Riverside)
Home to a blend of historical city displays and Star Trek memorabilia, the Voyage Home Museum is sure to provide a memorable experience. In homage to the community’s official designation as the Future Birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk, you can shop a variety of Star Trek items to take home or simply peruse local Riverside history exhibits.
W – War (Camp Algona POW Museum, Algona)
During WWII, Camp Algona provided a “home” to over 10,000 prisoners of war from 1944 to 1946. During their time in the camp, the prisoners lived in and worked at local factories and farms, creating a unique relationship between the citizens and prisoners. Through exhibits exploring these relations, you can learn more about the local men and women who served and how the camp contributed to Algona’s culture of today.
X – Extraordinary flavors (Wells Visitor Center & Ice Cream Parlor, Le Mars)
Though you may be visiting the Ice Cream Capital of the World to taste a wide array of Blue Bunny flavors, you may find yourself also diving into the company’s history and how ice cream is made. Dating back to 1913, the Wells Ice Cream Company’s legacy is displayed upstairs, where you’ll find historic photos and information exhibits as well as an eye-catching, interactive virtual production line.
Y – Yeast (Templeton Rye Distillery Museum, Templeton)
Known as a reboot of an underground, Prohibition-era operation, Templeton Rye Distillery welcomes visitors with a history museum and guided tours of their operation. The small museum features local narratives, historic photos, memorabilia and re-created scenes of Iowa’s Prohibition days that showcase the ingenuity of local farmers in secretively crafting and distributing whiskey in and around Templeton.
Z – Zen (Sioux City Art Center, Sioux City)
There are few places calmer and more relaxing than an art museum, and the Sioux City Art Center is one of the best in the state. The building’s glass atrium is extravagant and the inside is just as impressive. With continually rotating exhibits featuring contemporary pieces from Midwest artists, the museum’s three floors of galleries include all sorts of gems such as the Grant Wood Corn Room Mural.