If you’re in Cedar Rapids, get ready for cultural immersion! From Czech Village to the outlying Amana Colonies—with plenty of food, drink and market stops along the way—the second-largest city in Iowa is an eye-opening, mouth-watering destination.
1. Cedar Ridge Vineyards Pick your potable at Cedar Ridge, aka the first licensed distillery in Iowa since Prohibition. If you’re feeling the spirit, try a variety of bourbons and whiskeys (made from Iowa corn), rum and fruit brandies. Or belly up to the tasting bar or grab a chair amid the rolling hills and estate-grown grapes and sample Iowa-made wines. (I’m usually a red drinker, but here the whites, such as Edelweiss, with their pineapplelike finish, are standouts.) If you’re interested in the winemaking and distilling process, free tours take place Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. (crwine.com).
2. Popoli In 2012, the 100-year-old Louis Henry Sullivan-designed building that once housed The People’s Savings Bank made Preservation Iowa’s Most Endangered Properties list. Soon after, it was purchased and transformed into Popoli Restaurant, and today, the stunning design and elegant murals of Iowa farm life complement the upscale steaks and Italian fare (don’t miss the lemon and thyme roasted chicken). The coolest part? One of the private dining rooms, which seats up to eight, is in the former bank’s vault (Popoli on Facebook).
3. Czech Village Cedar Rapids is home to a sizeable Czech community, and their business hub is Czech Village. Here, you can shop for Czech antiques and jewelry at Czech Cottage, learn about Czech history at the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, and savor Czech goulash and schnitzel at Village Meat Market and Cafe. Don’t leave without a visit to Sykora Bakery for the famous kolaches (Czech pastries with different types of fruit or cream cheese). You may have to wait in line (people order them by the dozen), but it’s worth it. And take my advice: Don’t just buy one. I practiced restraint, and I’ve been beating myself up ever since (czechvillagecedarrapids.com).
4. NewBo City Market All roads seem to lead to NewBo City Market. Ask any local where to go to get a taste of Cedar Rapids, and they’ll send you to this square block of mini shops. Housed in a formerly abandoned industrial site, the idea of bringing together local artisans to sell their wares for NewBo was born after the flood of 2008. You’ll find dozens of fabulous vendors, such as Rare Bird Soap Shop, Big Boy Meats, That One Cupcake Place, NewBo Cheese Company and Maggie Farm Pizza (newbocitymarket.com).
5. The Hotel at Kirkwood Center This sleek, modern, art-filled hotel isn’t just an exceedingly comfortable place to slumber, it’s also a teaching facility, located on the campus of Kirkwood Community College. Hotel managers are all instructors at the school, and many of the staff are students enrolled in the school's hospitality arts program. With a 1:1 staff-to-guest ratio, expect the service to be top-notch (thehotelatkirkwood.com).
6. Amana Colonies On your way into or out of town, pop by the Amana Colonies, about 25 miles southwest of Cedar Rapids. This National Historic Landmark is a Germanic community dating back to 1855. Stroll through time on the old brick streets and marvel at the clapboard home, visit the Amana Heritage Museum, peruse the gifts and knickknacks at the High Amana General Store and peer into the working Homestead Blacksmith Shop. Often confused with the Amish, the Amana have modernized and do use electricity and other comforts. But that doesn’t take away from the historical charm (amanacolonies.com).
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