IOWA CITY, IOWA
This storied city is a literary haven.
There’s no need to read between the lines in Iowa City. Its literary history is writ large, and it’s a pretty good reason to pay a visit to this charming town. Less than a two hour drive from Des Moines, (you can catch a bus between the two cities), it’s the only city in the United States to be designated a UNESCO City of Literature. (Reykjavik, Prague, Barcelona, Bagdad, and Edinburgh are just a few of the other distinguished destinations to hold that title.) The prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop, which has been operating for more than 80 years, is a big reason for the nod from UNESCO. Its graduates amount to a who’s who in American literature, from Flannery O’Connor to John Irving to Raymond Carver. Any literary pilgrimage here must include a stop at the Prairie Lights Bookstore. Arguably one of the country’s best, it’s a common stop on popular author tours and their regular readings, Live from Prairie Lights, is streamed around the world. You can’t leave without buying a book, and the Pedestrian Mall is a prime place to perch yourself and dive into your new purchase. A strip of restaurants, bars, shops, hotels and, of course, a library, it’s a stone’s throw from the University of Iowa campus where they have free events like the Iowa City Jazz Festival and Iowa Arts Festival each June. And this being a college town, you better believe there are creative places to eat and drink. Backpocket (just outside the city) and Big Grove are among the breweries to visit. Go to each for the beer, stay for a meal in their taprooms. River Power Restaurant, a low-key steakhouse overlooking the Iowa River, and, at the other end of the dining spectrum, Trumpet Blossom Café, a homey vegan eatery, are among the spots popular among locals. The Hotel Vetro, has sprawling rooms starting at $160.