The ideal month to visit Iowa is August, when the corn is at its height and the Iowa State Fair is held in Des Moines (in 2001, August 9—19). I recommend buying Iowa Off the Beaten Path: A Guide to Unique Places, by Lori Erickson and Tracy Stuhr (Globe Pequot Press).
WHAT TO SEE
Driving around is your best diversion. Highways 150 north from Urbana to Decorah, 151 to and from the Amana Colonies, and 169 south from Perry to Winterset are good roads to follow. Try to visit a working farm; inquire at the chamber of commerce in any town.
Amana Colonies Convention & Visitors Bureau 800/579-2294 or 319/622-7622. The Amana Colonies, seven brick villages that began in 1855 as a religious society formed by German immigrants, are now home to excellent, old-fashioned German restaurants, B&B's, and craft shops.
Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge (formerly Walnut Creek) 9981 Pacific St., Prairie City; 515/994-3400. A great place to see a maintained tall-grass prairie, as well as buffalo and elk.
The bridges of Madison County The beautiful, covered wooden bridges are worth seeing even if you're not a fan of the book or movie. The Madison County Chamber of Commerce (73 E. Jefferson St., Winterset; 515/462-1185) can give you more information. Head to the area around Cedar Bridge for a delightful picnic spot.
Birthplace of John Wayne 216 S. Second St., Winterset; 515/462-1044.
Herbert Hoover National Historic Site 110 Parkside Dr., West Branch; 319/643-2541.
WHERE TO STAY
Die Heimat Country Inn 4430 V St., Homestead, Amana Colonies; 888/613-5463 or 319/622-3937; doubles from $65. A wonderful 18-room B&B.
Hotel Pattee 1112 Willis Ave., Perry; 515/465-3511, fax 515/465-3909; doubles from $110. Take your pick of the themed rooms, and be sure to visit the bowling alley downstairs. The sublime restaurant, David's Milwaukee Diner, serves fish, which is something of a rarity in Iowa.
Hotel Fort Des Moines 10th St. at Walnut St., Des Moines; 515/243-1161, fax 515/243-4317; doubles from $80. A good base for staying over in Des Moines.
WHERE TO EAT
Zuber's Restaurant 2206 44th Ave., Homestead, Amana Colonies; 319/622-3911; dinner for two $20. The windows are hung with white lace curtains, and main courses all come with six side dishes—cottage cheese, vegetables, sauerkraut, applesauce, coleslaw, and fried potatoes with gravy.
Espresso Yourself 122 N. First Ave., Winterset; 515/462-5962; lunch for two $14. Yes, it serves espresso, and delicate sandwiches on focaccia bread. The Prairie Rose Tearoom in Prairie City has closed.