An underrated Midwest travel destination

A love for books is luring me to visit Iowa City, along with the desire to explore a region of this country I had never seen.

Coming from a small town, the written word in both books and music were my two escapes. Since my parents did not bless me with the voice of Marvin Gaye, I write. Don’t get me wrong I’m no Baldwin, Shakespeare, or Rowling, but I do put pen to paper. I am old fashioned; literally writing with a pen and paper before transferring words to a computer. A throwback to days almost forgotten is giving me the desire to explore caves, a renowned bookstore, various eateries, and maybe even a Presidential library, all in Iowa City, IA.

Driving into Hawkeye territory there was an immediate sense of arts and culture, be it from the cobbled roads, street-side eateries, or the smell of books in the air. Iowa City is a UNESCO City of Literature, and like a cartoon character drawn to a windowsill at the aromas of grandma’s freshly baked pie, I could smell the essence of new and used books in the air.

Downtown treats

I was determined to do most of my exploring on foot. So I booked a two-night stay at Graduate. The lobby being primarily composed of bookshelves and writings on the walls, put a huge smile on my face. Right then and there, I knew where my first stop had to be: a bookstore, of course! I’d already learned about Prairie Lights Bookstore & Cafe, so I threw my bags in my room, quickly washed up and took a short walk to check out some books. My friends and I have fun searching for personal notes written in used books to loved ones. And in the past, I have found everything from love letters to passive aggressive messages.

This trip to legendary Prairie Lights didn’t disappoint. In a copy of Mark Z. Danielewski’s “House of Leaves”, I found a purple post-it note with someone’s goals from 2017. It read:

2017 more self-care

H2O

Reading

Running

Focus on school

Speak less, Listen More

Be better to my people

The note alone made the purchasing of the book worth it. I initially picked up the book because I had lost a copy years ago to a friend who borrowed it.

Following my big score at the bookstore, it was on to a coffee shop for a snack, caffeine, and some haunting literature. High Ground Cafe offers reasonably priced tasty dishes. I chose the Avocado Slam Sandwich with an accompanying Americano.

Back at the hotel, I set up a game plan to make the most of my second day. I decided to take a drive to visit a distinct library and maybe go for a hike.

A little exploration

Unlike when at home, there is something special about waking up early on vacation and knowing a whole day of excitement awaits.



After grabbing a cup a coffee I wound up starting with a little hike (to make sure I didn’t get too lazy later) at Waterworks Prairie Park. The park is known as a popular birding destination, but I liked listening to Spotify, and jogging the trail, while also looking for wildlife out of the corners of my eyes. Rumor has it, both fox and deer are in the park, but my eyes must have been too slow to see any.

After the refreshing and scenic jog, I was ready for my next stop—the Presidential library.

The presidential treatment

Sure we all know the first, sixteenth, and current president of the U.S., but do you remember the 31st? Why it’s Herbert Hoover of course. From 1929–1933, Hoover was the most powerful man in the world, as elected president of the United States, and his library and museum was an 18-minute drive from where I stayed. Having never been to a presidential library, this is hands down a must-do.



The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum elegantly takes you through the life and times of the Iowa-born legend. I was a fan of learning about his college days in Oregon, as well as his mining career in California. Not being the biggest U.S. history buff, I found this stop to be highly entertaining and educational.

Now that I had exercised my body and mind, it was time to head back to the downtown area and let loose.

Last night of the visit

If you ask me, when you’re on vacation, it’s never too early to imbibe. Later that afternoon, I grabbed “House of Leaves,” headed back to the coffee shop I had been to the day before, and enjoyed a couple pints of beer. This made me hungry and it was time to see what the city had to offer for dinner and maybe more to drink.

Having overheard a portion of a conversation at the coffee shop, where a guy was passionately describing the food he had at Pullman Bar and Diner, it was easy to pick my next stop.

The restaurant’s jerked cauliflower tacos were the perfect balance of “I think I’m eating healthy,” and “downright messy goodness.” It’s on the share portion of the menu, but this starter was what I needed before ordering the Bee’s Knees.



As I’m a big gin fan, this libation hit the spot. The Bee’s Knees consists of Uncle Val’s gin, Bombay Sapphire, lemon, honey simple, and rhubarb bitters. Chatting with the bartender and a couple of the people next to me made me feel like I belonged in this fantastic, underrated destination. I’m so glad I dared to think outside my comfort zone to visit Iowa City.

Next time I come back—and there will be a next time—I’m checking out the city’s caves.

Get to know the culture of Asbury Park.

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