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
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.
Boone River Recreation TrailAs 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 FairgroundsAs 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 FarmingGarden 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!
Doodlebugs. 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!
Fish 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
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. 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 ShopSOS 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.
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
Tractor riding in Iowa. (No, I did not drive this very expensive piece of machinery, even if they assured me “it only goes, like, 26 MPH”.) #webcityrocks #smalltowncool #thisisiowa #themidwestival #midwestiscooltoo #midwestliving #igersmidwest #midwestexplorers #midwestisbest #midwestbloggers #discoverUSA #discoveramerica #whereitravel #mytinyatlas #theamericancollective #darlingescapes #postcardsfromtheworld #livethelittlethings #flashesofdelight #liveauthentic #vscogram
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!)?