Out of State: Webster City, Iowa Guide

Webster City, Iowa Guide

Here’s something I can honestly say I never pictured myself writing about: a Webster City, Iowa guide! But as I was so kindly invited to see small town Iowa by the Webster City Chamber of Commerce, here it is. My latest foray into what most people consider fly-over states!

As I made the seven-hour trek across Illinois and a lot of Iowa, I quickly realized what I considered “the Midwest” wasn’t necessarily true. Its flatness, for example. (Definitely not true, I concluded, as my rental car struggled up the umpteenth hill in central Iowa.) I guess that would be the theme of my Iowa weekend, if any: preconceived notions – even about places practically next door – are never 100% correct.

Additionally the trip was a perfect reminder of why I travel: to expose myself to different cultures and to cultivate a more open mind about different lifestyles. It’s easier to forget that when you’re not in a far-flung, exotic country, but the point absolutely still stands no matter where you go. (Trust me – I remembered once this vegetarian got an introduction into pork production!)

But anyway, onward and upward to my very own version of a Webster City, Iowa guide which just goes to prove: everywhere can be a little cool if you find the right places!

Downtown Webster City

Made up of one main drag (2nd Street) downtown Webster City is compact but bustling in a way that you don’t always see in small downtowns. Highlights include Webster Theater (saved by donations taken up by locals!), Wilson Brewer Park (home to a railroad depot turned historical museum, some of Webster City’s very first log cabins, and the farmers market on Saturday mornings), gorgeous architecture down Wilson Avenue, and a lot more which I mention further in the post. Onward!

Briggs Woods Park

Briggs Woods ParkI got to Webster City a bit ahead of schedule and had an hour to kill. In typical fashion, I began my [LINK]nearby cool stuff search and found a lovely spot of green space just north of the Super 8 where I was staying. It turned out to be Briggs Woods Park, 550 acres of trails, camping sites, luxury cabins, and (my personal favorite) a sprawling lake.

I showed up around midday but immediately made a pact with myself to wake up early to catch the sunrise the next morning at 5:34AM. I actually did – thanks, different time zone – and the results were amazing.

A photo posted by Travel Iowa (@traveliowa) on

One of my shots off the wobbly dock in Briggs Woods was also featured on the official Travel Iowa account which was exciting! Go give them some love!

Boone River Recreation Trail

Boone River Recreation TrailsAs we drove through Webster City on our tours, I quickly spotted a neat concrete trail that followed the Boone River almost everywhere we went. It turned out to be the Boone River Recreational Trail, a 5.7 mile trails that winds from the north edge of city limits all the way to the aforementioned Briggs Woods Park. There’s also a smaller trail – the Brewer Creek Recreational Trail – which goes in a 2.2 mile loop through the city as well.

Hamilton County Fairgrounds

Hamilton County FairgroudsAs someone who grew up in a small rural town, I have fond memories of the county fair being the highlight of my summers. The Hamilton County Fairgrounds were a reminder of the community spirit that naturally seems to emerge within smaller communities. The first fair was held in the summer of 1907 and has become a staple of Webster City’s summers ever since.

The one aspect that sets the fairgrounds apart from others is the racetrack on the grounds which in 2010 celebrated its 100th year of use! While they now (disappointingly) only race cars each weekend, apparently there used to be ostrich and camel races held. I’m crossing my fingers they bring that back.

The Offbeat: Garden Gnomes, Doodlebugs, & Fish Farming

Gnome HomeGarden Gnomes. I was pretty disappointed when I couldn’t find any murals in downtown Webster City, but never fear – public art does truly exist everywhere! Check out these “gnome homes” created by an enterprising resident after a disease wiped out the trees along his property line. Rather than removing them completely; he added windows, doors, and gnome residents to keep the natural spirit of the trees alive. Love the creativity!

DoodlebugDoodlebugs. I’m 1000% sure you also have no idea what a Doodlebug is because I sure didn’t. Very simply, they’re tiny motorized scooters only produced for a short time after WWII; all in all, just 40,000 were made and even less remain today. (If I could get my hands on one, it might also become my new way of getting to work so watch out Indy!)

The gentleman you see scooting along in the photo – Vern – has a penchant (or a problem, if you ask his wife) for collecting antique farming equipment and the Doodlebug is a fun addition to what is otherwise a solidly useful collection of antiques. PS. there’s a Doodlebug festival every September in Webster City, so if seeing grandpas putter around on vintage scooters warms the cockles of your heart – think about heading up!

VeroBlue Fish FarmFish Farming. As a vegetarian, I hesitated to include this one on my list, but I was frankly so impressed by the super-knowledgeable team at VeroBlue Farms that I just had to talk about my tour at a fish farm. Yup, fish farm. Also known as aquaculture, the setup is basically huge tanks dividing fish by size in a warm, incredibly humid room.

Sure that in and of itself is pretty wild, but what I really enjoyed hearing was about their commitment to sustainability and how raising fish in farms is doing a lot to combat the severe depopulation caused by over-fishing in the ocean. If you eat fish, I’d encourage you to look into how you can get access to locally raised, sustainable fish. If nothing else, think of all the resources saved by not shipping fish thousands of miles across the world!

Where to Eat

Mornin’ Glory Coffee. I have very few requirements for a town (seriously, I grew up in a town of 3,000 – my expectations are low) but one absolute must-have is a decent coffee shop. Luckily, Webster City far surpasses itself with Mornin’ Glory, a hip coffee spot with a gloriously green outdoor space and – most importantly – really good coffee. (Smoothies also recommended!) 719 Des Moines Street.

Leon’s Pizza. I’m a sucker for a family-run business and pizza so I was sold pretty much immediately on Leon’s. Although there’s nothing particularly fancy about the place, when we came the restaurant was busy with a Sunday lunch crowd – always promising! Leon’s has been offering solid pizza choices and chicken dinners since 1972. 643 2nd Street.

2nd Street Emporium Webster City2nd Street Emporium. OK, maybe this is just me but I really love the idea of a supper club: the dark wood, low-lighting, and meat + potatoes + an Old Fashioned somehow sates a nostalgia I have for a time that definitely isn’t my own. 2nd Street Emporium in downtown Webster City definitely fit the bill. While decidedly vintage in appearance and menu, the food and service were top notch – perfect for a blast to the past.

A big thanks to United Coop for sponsoring this meal and doing great research into creating farms with high yields and less environmental impact. 615 2nd Street.

Where to Shop

SOS Vintage Webster CitySOS Vintage. SOS Vintage (AKA “Salvage and Old Stuff”) is one of the mainstays of the city’s main street, which the Chamber of Commerce is trying hard to fill up – the eternal struggle of a small town, amirite? Owned by Denise Smith, this shop is actually a huge inspiration to anyone who’d love to be a business owner. She started off selling in booths until the Chamber invited her to move into some of the open storefront in Webster City. She did – and she’s a success!

Best of all? SOS Vintage’s prices are rock-bottom, particularly compared to the over-inflated prices I’m used to on the East Coast. There’s some truly amazing stuff there. 707 2nd Street.

Produce Station Studio. Housed in an old icehouse (cum produce station cum pottery studio), the Produce Station Studio was probably my favorite part of Webster City. I’m kicking myself for not buying one of everything. The space specializes in clay vessels and sculptures and we were lucky enough to see owner Maureen Seamonds fire some bowls. (NB: the shop doesn’t seem to be online now, but in theory you can purchase from the Produce Station Studio online.) 723 Seneca Street.

Hy-vee Webster City
Hy-vee. I’d never heard of it, but Hy-vee is a grocery store scattered across the Midwest. Why, exactly, am I encouraging you to shop at a grocery store? Because Hy-vee does a pretty amazing job of sourcing hyper-local produce from small farmers (swoon!) and featuring the goods at the very front of the store.

Oh, and the very best bit? Hy-vee has local liquor and wine sections too! Iowa has a ton of great wine (who knew?!) I tried over the course of my stay. I highly recommend picking up Crapp Wine (if for the name alone), Train Wreck Winery (Orphan Train), and Backcountry Winery‘s Scenic Route Red. 823 2nd Street.

Where to Stay

Super 8. We were lucky enough to be housed by the Super 8 just south of downtown Webster City. After spending the night in a truly abysmal Motel 6 (never again, and I’ve stayed in some truly gruesome hostels!), I was amazed to see just how nice the Super 8 was. Recently renovated, the hotel room was lovely and decorated tastefully and thoughtfully – love that all hotels are finally getting the memo to put outlets everywhere! Would definitely recommend a stay here!

I loved my visit to Webster City and hope you can someday find my Webster City, Iowa guide useful! I couldn’t believe so much fun was hiding in such an out-of-the-way city. What’s one location that’s really surprised you (in a good way!)?

  • It was such a pleasure to have you in our community! Thank you so much for coming – for your fresh outlook – for making me figure out how to feed a vegetarian in a pork community – and for making me laugh. You rock.

  • Steve & Mary Struchen

    The Gnomes and I didn’t know you were going to stop by or I would have had them all take baths and spruce up the place for you. I am afraid the wind had blown a few of them off their lofty perches and onto the ground. Either that or they sampled too much of the local wines and weren’t awake yet. (I think I’ll go with the first reason.) We were pleased that Deb brought you by to visit the Gnomes and that you liked the idea we came up with for the stumps. “If you build it they will come” applies here too not just at the “Field of Dreams” as our Gnome population continues to grow as more residents come to stay.

  • This is brilliant! I would love to have you come to New Brunswick, Canada, in particular to our Village of Gagetown.

    If you want to come and stay a couple of days, you would be treated to the warmest of hospitality.

  • Ray

    This actually makes me want to read up on Iowa a bit more as it probably has more to offer for tourism than the average person realizes. As for a location that really surprised me in a good way, hands down it has to be Indianapolis! I was really impressed on my first visit by the architecture, the relative affordability of accommodations, food & drink for tourists, and the genuine hospitality and friendliness displayed by the locals. I will definitely be back in the future! And can never speak highly enough of this “off the beaten path” American city.
    Ray recently posted…NCAA Hall of Champions – A Look into American Collegiate AthleticsMy Profile

  • You are definitely making me a little bit homesick. I miss the midwest and all the coffee and thrift stores America has to offer! You also make me want to go back and explore the small towns near me.
    Jasilyn recently posted…Innopolis: The Silicon Valley of RussiaMy Profile

  • Coming from a small town in Maine originally, I loved so many things about this! I always went to state fairs growing up as well, and I love that communal atmosphere that small-town life has (and I think of Maine generally as one big small town, plus Portland). Really enjoyed this!