In Travel & Visitors Guide

Downtown De Moines' Farmers Market buzzes.

In Travel & Visitors Guide

The beautiful Hotel Renovo, just outside Des Moines.

Dubuque and Des Moines are easy Iowa trips well worth doing

Greetings from Family Travel Week, sponsored by The Family Backpack, a new online guide that connects you to the best family travel blog posts. Enjoy seven days of family travel stories that will help you plan your next adventure, reduce pre-vacation stress and provide useful tips for once you arrive at your destination. Wheels up!

We wanted to show our kids Iowa. My wife lived there as a kid, and my dad grew up in a small town in Iowa. But we didn't want to make the long drive all the way to Nora Springs, my Dad's hometown in northwestern Iowa, so we locked in on Dubuque.

That's right, a quick weekend trip to Dubuque. From Milwaukee, it's an easy one – only about 175 miles, so it's an under three-hour drive. And before you stop reading thinking, "Iowa, what kind of vacation is that?", think again. There's some cool stuff happening in the Midwest, and Iowa's innovating and growing many of its larger cities, like Dubuque and Des Moines, another Iowa city that the Sherman family recently visited.

Need an easy Milwaukee connection to get your Iowa travel plans primed? The general manager at Downtown Dubuque's wonderful Hotel Julien is a Milwaukee graduate, if you will. Dwight Hopfauf's his name, and he's the former assistant general manger at Milwaukee's Hilton City Center in Downtown.

So, with this Milwaukee connection to begin, allow me to highlight 10 total reasons why you should drive to Dubuque and Des Moines some weekend. Of course, there are way more than just these reasons but let's start here. On Iowa!


Hotel Julien

Hotel Julien Dubuque is a classic river city destination. It's a modern, yet classic boutique hotel that marries modern amenities with classic, historic charm right in the heart of the Old Main District. Driving up to it, its exterior may not overly impress but inside, it's really nice. And, since I haven't mentioned Dubuque is Iowa's oldest city, this place has housed its share of famous guests including Abraham Lincoln, "Buffalo Bill" Cody and Mark Twain. Al Capone used it as watch place too as, from its upper floors, you're able to see three states. We know as we were lucky enough to stay in the suite with Capone's name on it.


Betty Jane Candies

Since 1938, Betty Jane Candies has been providing Iowans with the finest in homemade chocolates and candies. The Gremlin is the attraction here. A signature piece of candy at Betty Jane Candies, it's topper pecans and homemade caramel covered in a special blend of chocolate. Very, very good.

National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

If you're on a family vacation, you gotta stop at a museum. This one is great. And get this, another Milwaukee connection: Its CEO, Dr. Bert Davis, spent 10 years as president and CEO of the Zoological Society of Milwaukee. Exhibits, a 4D theater and a good outdoor area too make for a fun stop.

Brazen Open Kitchen and Bar

This place rocked. Brazen Open Kitchen and Bar is a comfortably stylish New American cuisine place showcasing locally sourced and world inspired cuisine and cocktails. On the corner of 10th & Washington in the heart of the Millwork District, a neighborhood with a Third Ward feel, Brazen was a great choice for dinner. Iowa knows how to farm and cook.

Fenelon Place elevator

Another "perfect for the kids" item is the Fenelon Place elevator, a ride the city calls "the world's shortest, steepest scenic railway." 296 feet in length, elevating passengers 189 feet from Fourth Street to Fenelon Place, it offers amazing views of the historic Dubuque business district, the Mississippi River and all three surrounding states.


When you leave Dubuque, stop in Galena, Illinois. Tourist trap? Maybe, but a lot of fun to walk the strip of shops, bars and restaurants.

What else?

We didn't have time nor was the weather good enough to stop at Field of Dreams, so on our next trip, we'll get to nearby Dyersville to see the site of the classic 1989 movie.

If you go, stop at the Welcome Center is located at 280 Main Street. Super nice people and bonus, they sell Potosi that's brewed in Wisconsin and not too far away in Potosi. It's warmly embraced and served in many places in Iowa. But Iowa has many great craft beers too, so don't miss them when you're in town. Jubeck New World Brewing is one to try, for sure. Speaking of beer, Dubuque has several great bars stops including the wonderful Lift on Main St.

Des Moines

While Dubuque drips history, Des Moines says Iowa's new, fresh and now. In fact, the Des Moines Civic Center, as part of its 2017-18 Broadway Series, is getting one of the first touring productions of "Hamilton." As a Marcus Center for the Performing Arts board member, I'm a bit jealous.

A nearly six hour drive from Milwaukee – I did it in five and a half hours, but you may not want to tempt the patrols as I did – it's a longer trip for sure, but worth it. Here are the highlights.

Downtown Farmer's Market

The weather was perfect, and it was football Saturday, so the Des Moines Downtown Farmer's Market was buzzing. It's always sprawling, amazing and easily one of the best I've ever been to. Tout the Madison market all you want, but Des Moines is better.

Hotel Renovo

Just outside Des Moines, Hotel Renovo was great. Fancy but not full of itself, it's a renovated Comfort Suites that's now funky farm – if that's a style. 102 rooms feature glass barn doors on the showers and modern farm artwork. The lobby is full of reclaimed barn wood huge windows and cool little bar. Modern decor is spread throughout but tied to farming and agriculture as it's next to Living History Farms and a Machine Shed Restaurant. Truth: I love Machine Shed, so it was awesome having it next door.


Zombie Burger

Sure, it's a bit of tourist trap, but this place is legit. Everyone will tell you to go there, and the only thing that may keep you away – no, not the zombies – are the long lines. Great burgers, friendly people and cool vibe.

Terrace Hill

Terrace Hill – Hubbell Mansion, Benjamin F. Allen House and Iowa Governor's Mansion – is the official residence of the Governor of Iowa. It's amazing and makes for an easy way to take in a National Historic Landmark with the family.


Burnsj63 | May 9, 2017 at 2:51 p.m. (report)

Recently visited Perry, IA home of David's Milwaukee Diner, located within Hotel Pattee. "Named for David Jackson Pattee, the man in whose honor the hotel was built, and for the Milwaukee Railroad, for more than 100 years the main employer in Perry, the Diner aims to take you back to the era when the train was king."

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