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Explore Iowa Museums: Art, History, and Culture
Follow your interests to Iowa’s many museums. No matter what you are passionate about, you’ll encounter phenomenal museums where you can learn and explore. Motorcycles, antique cars, Czech culture, natural history, art, frontier life, and firefighting are just a few of the subjects that are showcased in Iowa’s museums.
Follow the story of the 31st President from a boyhood as an orphan to the Oval Office at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. Discover the remarkable ecosystem of America’s largest river at the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, which is affiliated with the Smithsonian. Gain insight into Iowa’s culture at the National Czech and Slovak Museum, Vesterheim Norwegian Museum, and Living History Farms. For art lovers, head to the Figge Art Museum in Davenport and the Des Moines Art Center.
Prefer offbeat attractions? Visit the Hobo Museum, the Squirrel Cage Jail Museum, or the Sergeant Floyd Riverboat Museum. And no trip to eastern Iowa is complete without visiting the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum in Walcott at the World’s Largest Truck Stop.
Cedar Rapids Museum of Art
Visit the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in downtown Cedar Rapids for a stroll through their expansive collection of art. This Cedar Rapids museum has over 7,200 works of art, along with changing exhibitions throughout the year.
The museum houses the largest collection Iowa artist Grant Wood, a large collection of 15th-century prints, and Roman portrait busts. Tour the museum to view the Contemporary Art section, Works on Paper, and art by James Swann, Bertha Jaques, and Mauricio Lasansky.
Clear Lake Fire Museum
Free to the public, the Clear Lake Fire Museum is located in northern Iowa along Interstate 35 in the city of Clear Lake. Great for a family vacation, the fire museum features the 1924 Ahrens-Fox pumper truck, antique firefighting tools, and even firefighting toys.
The Clear Lake Fire Museum is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Check out the Clear Lake volunteer fire fighter memorial on the southern end of the museum.
Family Museum of Arts & Science
The Family Museum of Arts & Science strives to engage children in a fun and learning atmosphere. Located in Bettendorf, near Davenport, Iowa, the 44,000-square-foot museum gears its hands-on, interactive displays for children eight years old and younger.
The outside "Kingdom for Kids" science discovery park is a hit with the kids, along with the exhibit hall, science studio, and theater. Kids enjoy learning from the variety of exhibits and performances. The museum has hosted presentations from Cirque du Soleil and The Tap Dogs along with adult-geared programs.
Fort Museum & Frontier Village
Set at South Kenyon and Museum Road, the Fort Museum & Frontier Village is a historic site and cultural center in Fort Dodge – located in northwestern Iowa. Home of the country’s first dragoons – mounted soldiers – the fort hosts events like Frontier Days, and the Ghost Garrison.
The vast Fort Dodge Museum features the Donahoe General Store, Schwartz & Schwartz Drug Store, Sentinel Newspaper Office, Colby Bros. Livery, and more. Kids love the Colby Bros. Livery, Shold Blacksmith Shop, and the Cardiff Giant exhibit, while history buffs enjoy the World War military display room.
Grinnell Historical Museum
Originally incorporated in 1958, Grinnell Historical Museum did not arrive at its current home until the purchase of the McMurray House in 1965. The museum was founded to promote the study of the history of the state of Iowa and the city of Grinnell, the purchase and conversion of the McMurray house enhanced these goals by providing a backdrop for visitors to view a genuine, historic, late-Victorian style home.
Among other exhibits within the home, the refrigerator stands out, as it is an electric refrigerator made by the Grinnell Washing Machine Company. Other exhibits include machinery and uniforms created in Grinnell for the war effort as well as the local carriage company.
Hemken Collection Vintage Car Museum
Williams travelers and car buffs alike will thoroughly enjoy a visit to the Hemken Collection Vintage Car Museum. The museum features a collection of classic and vintage vehicles from manufacturers like Chevy, Lincoln, Packard, and Hudson.
The museum gets its namesake from collector and avid enthusiast Daryl Hemken. Visit the museum from May through October, open Wednesday and Friday afternoons to the public. Your trip through central Iowa and the city of Williams is sure to be high octane.
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum
Visit the birthplace of Herbert Hoover, the son of a blacksmith who became a successful mining engineer, humanitarian, and then 31st President of the United States. The Herbert Hoover National Historic Site includes his birthplace cottage, the Quaker meetinghouse where he and his family worshipped, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum, and a monument under which Herbert Hoover and his wife are buried.
Visitors can also traverse the 81-acre tallgrass prairie adjacent to the monument used a walking trail. The historic site can be found in eastern Iowa in the suburb of West Branch. Make the short drive in from Coralville to experience the life of Herbert Hoover.
Kinney Pioneer Museum
Travel back in time to Iowa’s frontier days at the Kinney Pioneer Museum. The museum, located in Mason City, provides a vintage display of exhibits designed to help visitors truly experience life in the 19th century. Kinney Pioneer Museum is a short drive from nearby Clear Lake.
Explore the pioneer village, schoolhouse, log cabin, vintage jail, and working blacksmith shop. Live, interactive events are held often as well, so don’t miss out on any of the action. The Kinney Pioneer Museum is a great way to spend the day with the kids in central Iowa.
Living History Farms
The Living History Farms are located near Clive and are truly a one-of-kind museum experience that the whole family will enjoy. Spread across 500 acres, the interactive, outdoor display depicts Iowa farm life from 1700s to the 1900s with life-sized replicas and exhibits.
The outdoor museum features five outdoor exhibits – the Pioneer Farm, Horse-Powered Farm, Town of Walnut Hill, Ioway Farm, and the Henry A. Wallace Exhibit Center. Each presentation represents a different time frame from Iowa’s vast farming history.
MacNider Art Museum
Located in Mason City, the MacNider Art Museum proudly displays a permanent and temporary exhibits since its inception in 1965. Permanent art includes the likes of original paintings, photographs, ceramics, and other fine works. Drive in from nearby Clear Lake and enjoy the MacNider Art Museum.
Visiting and rotating exhibits include equally as grand displays and even films. Admission is free for self-guided tours with guidebooks available for Mason City’s Prairie School Architectural Tour, also given at the museum – it's a premier way to experience central Iowa art.
Marshall County Historical Museum
Run by the Historical Society of Marshall County, the Marshall County Historical Museum is located in the city of Marshalltown in central Iowa. The museum also features the Susie Sower Home, Taylor Country School No. 4, and the Edel Blacksmith Shop.
The Marshall County Historical Museum is also affiliated with the Central Iowa Genealogical Society – established in 1965. The society’s collection is featured within the museum, along with the Genealogical Society library – open to the public each week.
National Mississippi River Museum
Operated by the Dubuque County Historical Society, the National Mississippi River Museum, is also known as the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. Open daily, the facility is available for rent, and offers tours and educational experiences. The Mississippi River Museum features a 3D and 4D theater – allowing for a complete immersive experience into the world of the river.
Hungry families needn’t worry about missing lunch, as the Museum houses the River’s Edge Café. Visit the newly opened National River Center, and the William Woodward Discovery Center aquariums to round out the fun and education found in Dubuque, Iowa.
Museum of Natural History
The Museum of Natural History has been “Iowa’s gateway to the global environment for over 150 years.” With 500 million years of our natural and cultural heritage on display, as well as exhibits on the adaptation and diversity of birds and mammals around the planet, there is plenty to see at this museum.
The museum was founded in 1858, remaining on the University of Iowa campus in the MacBride hall ever since. Any visit to Iowa City is incomplete without taking in some its natural history as well. Make the Museum of Natural History a part of any trek through eastern Iowa; drive in from nearby Coralville.
National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library
Visitors to Cedar Rapids will find a wonderful variety of cultural attractions in Iowa. The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library is one not-to-miss. The roots of this Cedar Rapids museum date back to 1974, with the founding of the Czech Fine Arts Foundation by a group of Czech immigrants. They continued to collect artifacts and eventually outgrew the three-room house. In 1981, the current museum location became the new museum home.
By 1992, the museum collections outgrew its location, so plans were drawn up to construct a new building. Former United States President Bill Clinton, along with President Vaclav Havel, Czech Republic and President Michal Kovac, Slovak Republic, dedicated the new building in 1995.
National Motorcycle Museum
The National Motorcycle Museum houses a wonderful collection of more than 300 motorcycles in its Anamosa location. Visit this eastern Iowa museum near Cedar Rapids to view the 10 display areas filled with a variety of motorcycles, including competition motorcycles, photographs, trophies and memorabilia.
Take your time viewing the collections throughout the museum, including the 400 rare toys, rare art and the Captain America chopper. Stroll through the museum to learn about the American motorcycle culture and don't forget to view the Daimler Einspur, the World's First Motorcycle. Be sure to browse the wonderful selection of gift items in the Museum Gift Store before leaving.
Rensselaer Russell House Museum
Located in the city of Waterloo, the Rensselaer Russell House Museum is a proud piece of the city’s history as one of the oldest original homes in Black Hawk County. The brick structure was in the Russell family for three generations and now features guided tours and exhibits.
Be sure to catch a glimpse of the Classic Victorian interior, original family belongings, and the Victorian gardens as well. Don’t forget to check out the Steinway Piano – one of the first grand pianos in the area and used for piano study by Lillian Russell. Make your next trip through eastern Iowa a pleasant one, especially if you stay in nearby Independence.
Spaulding Center for Transportation
For an illuminating afternoon in Grinnell, head for the Iowa Transportation Museum at the Spaulding Center for Transportation. Grinnell, the charming central Iowa city, is an ideal destination for Iowa travelers who seek the small town wiles and charms of the mid-west. A visit to the Iowa Transportation Museum is a near must.
As you tour the Iowa Transportation Museum, you'll be at the very location of the former Spaulding Manufacturing Company was located. Spaulding once manufactured wagons, buggies, and early automobiles in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s. The Union Pacific Railroad is a partner of the Iowa Transportation Museum, meaning even more insight into Iowa's earliest days of transportation.
State Historical Museum
Plan your next trip to Iowa and be sure to check out the State Historical Museum. Open every day of the week – minus any major holidays – and featuring free admission, the State Historical Museum in Des Moines is housed within the Iowa Historical Building. It's a short drive from nearby Clive.
As you explore central Iowa, make the State Historical Museum part of your travel plans – it's a top local attraction and an ideal way to spend an afternoon with the family. You'll illuminate your mind as you tour the grounds at the State Historical Museum, as it seeks to celebrate famous Iowans, local pioneers, and the early settlers.
Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum
Part of Waterloo’s Grout Museum District, the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum celebrates the lives and sacrifices of American Soldiers from the Civil War to the present. Visit the museum for a variety of exhibits offered along the group tours like the Dog Tag Stations, Communications Stations, Veterans Memorial Area, and more.
Finally, the primary exhibit that gives the museum its namesake, the Sullivan Home, lets visitors walk through the actual living room of the Sullivan family’s home. Take in the moving history of the actual Gold Star flag given to the family as condolences for the brother’s sacrifice. Visit from nearby Independence while traveling through eastern Iowa.
Surf Ballroom & Museum
Originally built to resemble an ocean beach club, Surf Ballroom & Museum still carries on the beach vibe to this day in Clear Lake, Iowa. Surf Ballroom was designated as a historic rock 'n' roll landmark in 2009 by the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame of Cleveland, and was also added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.
Surf Ballroom was established in 1934, and over the decades has hosted Roy Orbison, Conway Twitty, Duke Ellington, The Dorsey’s, REO Speedwagon, ZZ Top, and The Doobie Brothers – just to name a few. To this day, the venue hosts large-scale events to honor these rock 'n' roll marvels of its past. Surf also features a museum open Monday through Friday, with group tours available by appointment.
African American Museum of Iowa
Enjoy an afternoon discovering Iowa's African American heritage during a visit to Cedar Rapids. The African American Museum has provided this knowledge since 2000, when the museum opened at the Westdale Mall. By 2002, a 17,000-square-foot building was completed as the new home for the museum.
Enjoy a guided tour of this must-see Cedar Rapids attraction to learn about the Western Africa cultures. Stroll through the museum to view the permanent exhibits on slavery, segregation, the Underground Railroad, and Civil Rights. Enjoy one of the many workshops hosted at the museum, or sign the kids up for the summer camp.
Ankeny Area Historical Society Museum
Officially opened in 1991, Ankeny Area Historical Society Museum is currently operated by the Ankeny Area Historical Society. The society began meeting in 1988 and received 422 donated historical artifacts in 1990 that prompted the need for a more permanent residence.
The Third Street location in Ankeny, Iowa – just six miles north of Des Moines – holds the history and artifacts that propelled the small town to a thriving city. Ankeny Area Historical Society Museum is open for tours by appointment only, in addition to scheduled events as well as field trips for local schools. The Historical Society also provides walking tours and speakers delivering oral histories of the city.
Antique Car Museum of Iowa
Founded in 2006, the Antique Car Museum of Iowa features a 28,000 square foot showroom with over 90 cars ranging from year 1899 to the mid 1970’s, along with an early 20th century Skelly gas station. The museum can found in Coralville in eastern Iowa.
Many of the antique cars are original, “untouched by modern day techniques” – as they say. The museum also features a banquet room, ideal for those looking to host a event or get together of sorts.
Blanden Art Museum
Fort Dodge visitors are encouraged to visit the Blanden Art Museum for its vast, permanent collections of European and American works of art. Some permanent works include American photography, contemporary, and sculpture collections from artists like Ann R. Smeltzer and Harold D. Peterson.
The Blanden Art Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Don’t forget to visit the museum store where paintings, sculptures, prints, ceramics and other replicas are sold. Make your visit to northwest Iowa and Fort Dodge a memorable one.