What Is Iowa Known For?

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Iowa is a midwestern state often overlooked by visitors but loved by those who know all about its unique attractions, food and traditions. Iowa is famous for a few fascinating things, the biggest one being its exports, which range from corn and apples to ethanol, making it one of the biggest agricultural producers in the United States. All of this food has led the state to be known as the ‘Food Capital of the World’, and some of their local dishes, such as taco pizzas, chilli with cinnamon rolls and sweet scotcheroos might have some people scratching their heads, but rest assured they’re delicious.

The state is home to unusual attractions and quirky things that may surprise visitors, such as the world’s biggest truck stop, along with being the birthplace of the man who literally invented sliced bread. Iowa doesn’t just produce great food but also great people, with famous faces such as President Herbert Hoover and actor Ashton Kutcher both hailing from the state. Its green pastures and plentiful rivers, lakes, and buzzing cities also mean there are plenty of attractions, from watersports and hiking to visiting the restaurants and bars of Des Moines or Cedar Rapids. Here’s what Iowa is known for.

What Is Iowa Known For?

1- Corn

Corn is a crop Iowa is known for.

Iowa is one of the biggest corn-producing states in the USA, producing around two billion bushels of corn annually.

It exports to over 50 different countries around the world and supplies just under 20% of all the corn in the United States earning it the unofficial nickname of the ‘Corn State’ along with its official Hawkeye moniker.

Corn grown in Iowa is both exported and used in the production of other things, such as for feeding animals and making ethanol – another item Iowa leads production for, while in the US particularly, corn is used for making corn syrup used to sweeten a whole range of delicious foods.

There are hundreds of corn farms in Iowa, spread across roughly 10 million acres of land, and some of them are open to visitors if you’re keen to learn more about the process.


2- Food Capital of the World

map of usa states highlighting iowa in yellow
If you’re wondering what Iowa is famous for? Its central location might give you a clue.

Corn is the top crop Iowa is known for producing, but the state farms a range of other products on a huge scale, most notably pork, eggs, red apples and soybeans.

In fact, in Iowa, there are more pigs than people by roughly 6:1, and you can enjoy some of the most delicious pork you’ll ever tasted in the local restaurants.

Look out for breaded pork tenderloins and pork chops if you’re not sure what to go for – they’re Iowa classics!

Their wide-ranging produce has led to the development of some unique local dishes such as Taco Pizza, which we’ll cover later, and other treats like chilli with cinnamon rolls and scotcheroos, which are a kind of sweet, rice-crispy snack.

3- Des Moines

Des Moines, Iowa - State Capitol Building
Des Moines is the city Iowa is most known for.

Des Moines is Iowa’s most famous city and state capital, home to the largest population of any city in the state.

There are some really fun attractions to be found in Des Moines for visitors, such as the State Capitol building, the Science Centre of Iowa and the Pappjohn Sculpture Park, along with gorgeous outdoor sights like Gray’s Lake Park.

The city gets its name from Fort Des Moines, which originally stood at the city’s location and so the city has a rich and fascinating history.

Other cool places to explore include the East Village, which is filled with lots of historic buildings and museums, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens, and the Des Moines Art Center.

Every year, the city also hosts the spectacular Iowa State Fair, which is a famous event in itself, drawing thousands of people to the region.

4- The World’s Biggest Truck Stop

America is full of weird and wonderful ‘world’s biggest’ spots, which you can find dotted around the country, such as giant guitars, thermometers and even a chair!

Iowa holds the unusual title of being home to the world’s biggest truck stop, called the Iowa 80 truckstop, which is located just outside the town of Walcott in the east of the state.

We can guarantee you’ve never been to a truck stop like this one – there’s a gym, cinema, eight different restaurants, a gift shop, a Super Truck showroom and a trucking museum.

In contrast, there’s also a dentist, chiropractor, and barber shop, alongside more expected things such as a fuel centre and truck wash.

This unique place has been open since 1964 and is open 24/7 throughout the entire year.

5- Native American History

It may not spring to mind when you see the modern, bright lights in Iowa’s towns and cities, but the state was home to native Americans long before the current locals settled here.

In fact, the name Iowa is directly derived from one of the Native American tribes here, called the Ioway, although there were many other tribes, such as the Dakota Sioux, the Sauk and the Mesquakie.

The state has a fascinating history surrounding the native Americans and some people might already know that Chief Black Hawk, one of the most famous warriors, launched an attack from here into Illinois, leading to him being buried here and giving his name to Black Hawk helicopters.

Although sadly in the mid-1800s, almost all of these tribes were forced to resettle out of Iowa, the state is working on promoting this heritage and encouraging exhibitions and events to educate visitors.

6- Iowa Speedway

Although other states may be far more well-known for their racing, Iowans are proud of their very own racetrack, the Iowa Speedway, which any race fans will love when visiting.

There are loads of races you can watch throughout the year and occasional events where visitors can test drive race cars.

The race track is located east of Des Moines near Newtown.

It’s a 7/8-mile track with over 25,000 seats, and just a few of the events hosted here include the Outdoor Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series, although the most famous event is the Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend which is held every year in July.

7- The Hawkeye State

Iowa Map Brand
The label of the “Hawkeye State” is what Iowa is known for.

Every state has a nickname and Iowa’s is the ‘Hawkeye State’, although there are a few different versions of where this name originated.

The most official version states that the name is a tribute to the famous indigenous Sauk warrior Black Hawk, along with the character Hawkeye from the James Fenimore Cooper novel The Last of the Mohicans.

Black Hawk is celebrated for leading the Black Hawk War in 1832 in which he fought against the U.S. to push American settlers away from Sauk lands.

A hawkeye doesn’t exist as a real bird, but Iowa does also have a state bird, the goldfinch, which is another of the region’s emblems, alongside other icons such as the oak tree, which is their state tree and the wild rose, which is the official flower.

8- John Wayne

Although you may have seen him in old Western movies set in the American South, famous actor John Wayne was actually born in Iowa in the small city of Winterset.

However, his film career may never have taken off had his family not moved up to California when he was 10, leading to him getting into the film industry.

Having spent his childhood in Iowa, the locals are still very proud to call him one of their own – so much so that Winterset now has the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum.

If you’re interested in the actor or his filmography, the museum is a fun place to visit, where they celebrate his birthday with music and festivities every year, and you can tour the museum to see a huge collection of memorabilia belonging to Wayne and from his films.

They also have a gift shop selling everything John Wayne-related, from clothing to posters and homeware.

9- Cedar Rapids

what city is iowa famous for aerial view of Cedar Rapids
Cedar Rapids is another city Iowa is known for.

Cedar Rapids is Iowa’s second-largest city and probably its second most famous.

The city has some of the best shops, restaurants and attractions in the state, along with beautiful architecture, thanks to the Eastern European immigrants who settled here.

If you’re not sure where to start, some of the best places to visit are the Palisades-Kepler State Park, which has stunning scenery and outdoor activities.

There’s also the Brucemore Estate, a 26-acre estate listed on the National Historic Register, and the neighbourhoods of Czech Village and New Bohemia, which have delicious eastern European-style food, architecture and events.

The city also has lots of nature-based activities for those keen to get outdoors, such as hiking and cycling on the Cedar River Trail, fishing at Prairie Park Fishery and walking along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, which is 52 miles long and is even open in winter for sledging and snowshoeing.

10- American Gothic House

Almost everyone has seen the famous American Gothic painting, which features a farmer holding a pitchfork standing next to his daughter in front of an old, white wooden house.

It was painted by Grant Wood in 1930 and is now displayed in the Art Institute of Chicago, but for those visiting the town of Eldon, Iowa, you might notice something familiar.

The actual house from the painting is located here, and you can see it from the outside anytime, but it’s also open to the public on the second Saturday of every month.

Nearby is the American Gothic House Center, which is open most days and has an exhibition gallery with information and history about the painting, a gift shop and most enjoyably, a costume room where you can rent costumes from the painting to take your very own American Gothic photos!

11- Taco Pizza and Iowan Foods

Returning to Iowa’s long list of unique foods, the most famous creation is probably their taco pizza.

This may sound like a strange mix of cultures, but it is surprisingly delicious and consists of a pizza topped with ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese.

The pizza is said to have been invented in the town of Bettendorf, although Davenport also claims to have invented this unique fusion, which has become so popular it can be found across America.

As mentioned, this is not the only food unique to Iowa.

Chilli and cinnamon rolls are exactly what they sound like – a warming bowl of chilli paired with a sweet roll, while scotcheroos are crispy rice cakes made with peanut butter, chocolate, and butterscotch.

Two more to try are Iowa ham balls, which are like meatballs but in a sweet, sticky sauce, and another dessert, sour cream & raisin pie, which is a sweet, flaky pie made with spiced custard, raisins and meringue.

12- Sliced Bread

Sliced Wheat Flour Bread On A Wooden Board
Sliced bread is another invention Iowa is known for.

Iowa has a couple of things it’s famous for inventing, but the most famous has to be sliced bread.

Although they didn’t quite invent bread itself, everyone says that sliced bread is the best ever thing to be invented in the world, and an Iowan man called Otto Rohwedder achieved this feat by inventing the bread-slicing machine.

He first invented the machine in Iowa; however, it wasn’t first put to use here but in Missouri – Iowans still count the invention as their own though!

This invention revolutionised the bread industry, saving customers time slicing bread by hand and leading to virtually all bread in American supermarkets now coming pre-sliced.

If you’re curious about what else has been invented here, the next biggest thing was the first digital computer, called the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC), which could solve complicated maths equations.

Without this, we wouldn’t have the modern laptops of today!

13- Iowa State Fair

The Iowa State Flag Waving
What is Iowa known for?

Any agricultural state worth their salt hosts a state fair and Iowa’s is one of the biggest and best in America – it’s a super fun event to attend if you have the chance.

The State Fair is a big event that happens every year in August at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.

It’s like one giant funfair, with rides, music, events and competitions – common ones include arm wrestling and pie-eating.

Around one million visitors attend the Iowa State Fair each year over an 11-day period, although when it began in 1864, it was far smaller and focused mainly on animals and agriculture.

There are some very unique attractions at the fair found nowhere else, such as sculptures carved from butter, a cute cable car ride, a baby animal centre and a museum.

Famously, the fair’s many food stalls serve any food you can think of on a stick, such as cookie dough, bacon cheese, loaded tacos and chicken waffles – you name it, it’ll be on a stick!

14- Herbert Hoover

Postage Stamp
Herbert Hoover is one of the famous people from Iowa.

Iowa doesn’t have dozens of famous people, but the few it does have are very well known, namely the 31st President of the United States, Herbert Hoover.

Hoover was raised as a Quaker and grew up in West Branch before he was sadly orphaned at age nine and left Iowa.

He eventually attended Stanford and became President between 1929 – 1933 and later in his life returned to his birthplace.

Although this time in office was short, it’s particularly well known for being right in the middle of the Great Depression, meaning he faced huge challenges during his presidency.

Nowadays in West Branch, you can visit the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, which includes his sweet childhood cottage, along with a museum, Presidential Library and the graves of both Hoover and his wife.

You can learn fascinating information about his life, family and presidency at local sites like the Blacksmith Shop owned by Hoover’s father, his schoolhouse and the statue of Isis, which was donated by Belgium to thank Hoover for his help during World War I.

15- Ashton Kutcher

A final and perhaps surprising famous face from Iowa is Ashton Kutcher, now a big Hollywood name but born in Cedar Rapids.

His real name is actually Christopher Ashton Kutcher and most people know him from his major breakthrough role in That 70’s Show, although he’s since been in a whole host of movies such as What Happens in Vegas and No Strings Attached.

He spent his entire childhood in Iowa, first in Cedar Rapids and then in Homestead, before attending Iowa University, where he never completed his degree thanks to being scouted for a competition that led him into modelling.

The rest is history, as he then moved to LA to start acting but he’ll always be one of the most famous Iowans, along with a few other unexpected names, including Elijah Wood, Buffalo Bill and singer Andy Williams.

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India-Jayne Trainor
India-Jayne Trainor is a British/Australian freelance writer, photographer and contributor to various online blogs and travel websites. She has travelled to almost 30 countries, most recently Cuba and Sri Lanka. Her work focuses on solo female travel, having spent two months backpacking alone through South East Asia as well as living in Germany for a year. Her favourite country to date has been Hong Kong, but she is happy in any country by the ocean. Her next destinations are Uzbekistan and a road trip through the American Mid-West. India is currently based in London, UK.