With a distinct Czech and Slovak heritage, the second-largest city in Iowa is the largest corn-processing city on the planet, at the heart of one of the largest manufacturing centers in the nation.
It’s hard to mention Cedar Rapids without talking about the painter, Grant Wood (1891-1942), who lived and worked here. You can visit the studio where he painted his masterpiece, American Gothic in 1930.
That building is owned by the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, which has the largest collection of Wood’s works in the world.
In 2008 the Cedar River burst its banks, devastating the city. But this event has given rise to exciting new development, in particular the cross-river Czech Village/New Bohemia area, known as The District.
1. Cedar Rapids Museum of Art
In a building by Postmodern architect Charles Moore (1925-1993), the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art is an essential first stop, housing the largest collection of works by Grant Wood in the world.
This includes important paintings like Woman with Plants (1929) and Young Corn (1931), while you can also visit the studio where he painted American Gothic (1930) at a separate site.
Although mainly dealing with other early 20th-century Midwestern artists like Marvin Cone, the museum’s collection is diverse and features a remarkable lineup of 21 Ancient Roman busts, and modern art by Japanese ceramic artist Jun Kaneko whose giant heads greet you at the museum’s 3rd Avenue side.
2. Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street
Southeast of downtown is a captivating area made up of two distinct neighborhoods, Czech Village and New Bohemia.
Combined, the pair is known as The District. Straddling the river, this part of town was devastated by the Iowa flood of 2008, but the transformation since then has been astonishing.
This is down to a not-for-profit organization, which has helped entice visitors to discover a multitude of exciting small businesses, from boutiques to home design stores, stylish bars and contemporary restaurants.
There are two great museums, more than 40 stores, almost as many restaurants, an arts center, and the paved Cedar River Trail, connecting with downtown.
3. NewBo City Market
Central to NewBo’s revival is this flourishing indoor market at a former warehouse site. The showpiece for the NewBo City Market is the Rotary Hall, with its many independent food and craft vendors, commercial kitchen and a space for special events.
The market serves an entrepreneurial incubator, helping small businesses develop their products and skills as they scale up.
This is great news for visitors who can browse all kinds of little specialty stores, and choose from a dazzling array of cuisines, whether you’re in the mood for artisan pizza, Caribbean food, shawarma, quality Mexican street food, Mediterranean, rice bowls, fresh roasted coffee or sweet treats.
4. National Czech and Slovak Museum
On the Cedar River’s south bank in Czech Village is a superb museum celebrating Czech & Slovak culture and immigration to Cedar Rapids from this region.
The museum building was inundated in 2008, but within three years the main building had been moved 480 feet to a new spot with an elevated, flood-proof foundation.
The multi-sensory permanent exhibit, Faces of Freedom, examines the journey made by Czech and Slovak immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries.
You’ll see traditional puppets, porcelain and glass, visit the replica of a ship’s steerage section, check out a Tatra car used by the secret police, and feel what it was like to be in Prague’s Wenceslas Square during the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
There are multiple temporary exhibits to peruse, usually rich with art and traditional workmanship, from metalwork to folk dress.
This magnificent Queen Anne-style mansion was built in the mid-1880s for Caroline Sinclair, the widow of the trailblazing industrialist T. M. Sinclair.
On 26 acres of parkland, Brucemore, has been home to three important local families and was donated to the National Trust for preservation in 1981.
You can admire the opulent residence, packed with interesting stories, on a guided tour, and if you want to go into even more detail there’s a “Nooks and Crannies” tour.
The grounds are an attraction in their own right, with an idyllic wooded trail, pond, swimming pool, garden house, carriage house, servants’ village and greenhouse. Brucemore has a lively calendar of events, staging theatre performances and concerts all year round.
6. Paramount Theatre
This sumptuous movie palace continues to be a performing arts hub for Cedar Rapids and Eastern Iowa, close to a century after it was built. Early Art Deco on the outside, the Paramount Theatre’s interior was modeled on Baroque palaces like Versailles.
Although much of the decor was stripped in the 1970s, the sense of grandeur lives on. With supreme acoustics and a capacity of more than 1,900, the venue hosts opera, symphony, touring recording artists, dance, live comedy, children’s entertainment and much more.
The Iowa Flood of 2008 badly damaged the theatre’s historic Wurlitzer organ, but this was fully restored and had its first concert in 2014.
7. Grant Wood Studio and Visitor Center
A perfect complement to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art is the studio personally modified by Grant Wood in the early 1920s.
This served as his studio from 1924 to 1935, and it was in the light-filled loft that the artist painted some of his most famous works, including American Gothic in 1930, but also Woman with Plants (1929) and Daughters of Revolution (1932).
You can visit the studio for free on weekends April through December, admiring Wood’s unique interior design and learning about some of his quirks.
8. African American Museum of Iowa
This statewide institution, preserving Iowa’s African American history, is based right here in NewBo, with an extensive artifact collection and archives.
The permanent exhibition, Endless Possibilities, touches on a variety of themes including slavery, the Underground Railroad, segregation and the Civil Rights Movement.
You’ll discover the unique story of Iowa’s African American communities, find out about the diversity of Western Africa and the dismal conditions aboard a slave ship.
At the time of writing there was an important exhibition for redlining, a process in which people from specific neighborhoods are excluded from services by government agencies and private companies.
9. Bever Park
This sizable park in the east of Cedar Rapids has been on the map since 1893 and has a long history of keeping animals, going back to a zoo that opened in 1901.
That tradition survives today at Old MacDonald’s Farm, open May through mid-August and home to lovable farm animals like goats, lambs, chickens, ducks, cattle and more.
Also open during the school summer break is the Bever Pool with zero-depth entry, six 25-yard lap lanes and a water slide.
Elsewhere you’ll find shelters and a large pavilion that can be rented for big picnics and family reunions, as well as a trail through the woods, flower gardens and playgrounds.
10. Cedar Rapids Kernels
Southwest of downtown Cedar Rapids, Veterans Memorial Stadium is home field for the city’s own minor league baseball team, affiliated with MLB’s Minnesota Twins.
In various guises, the Kernels have been around since 1890. When we wrote this article the franchise was playing in the 12-team High-A Central, made up of teams from the Midwest. The current stadium opened in 2002 and can seat 5,300.
You get large, comfortable seats, a wide choice of beer and food vendors, regular post-game fireworks and the crazy antics of the mascot Mr. Shucks.
11. The History Center
Since 2018 this museum covering the history of Linn County has been housed in the historic Douglas Mansion, a Colonial Revival residence dating back to 1897.
Within walking distance of several landmarks relating to the county’s past, The History Center gives you a chronology of Linn County from perspectives such as education, immigration and transportation. To keep things fun for smaller visitors there are regular “Did You Know?” stations.
This permanent exhibit is combined with changing exhibitions dealing with specific themes or important events. Upstairs you’ll come to the elegant Round Room, recounting the story of the mansion and the prominent Douglas and Sinclair families who lived here.
12. Indian Creek Nature Center
On reclaimed farmland along the banks of Indian Creek is more than 500 acres of woodlands, wetlands and prairies waiting to be discovered on five miles of trails. Indian Creek Nature Center is the first and only private, nonprofit nature center in the state.
At the very heart of all this is a spectacular Amazing Space building, part of a campus that opened in 2016 and officially one of the most sustainable buildings on the planet.
Here you can check out exhibits, take part in a wealth of programs including yoga classes, catch a concert, learn about our winged friends at the Bird Room and visit the excellent Creekside Shop for cute gifts, maple syrup and raw honey.
13. Ushers Ferry Historic Village
This outdoor museum in the west of Cedar Rapids, offers a glimpse of village life in Eastern Iowa at the turn of the 20th century. June through October there are ten historic, ADA accessible buildings to tour.
A mix of civic buildings and residences, these structures are authentic and have been relocated to this spot by the Cedar River, known to have been a key campsite for Native Americans.
Ushers Ferry harks back to the days of township governments, when farmers laid out their own roads, and communities were anchored by school, a handful of businesses and a church.
This attraction can be rented for private events, and hosts seasonal festivals, including family-friendly fun at Halloween.
14. Palisades-Kepler State Park
A few miles down the Cedar River is a state park preserving spectacular riverfront bluffs and branching ravines, couched in deep hardwood forest.
The exposed limestone lining the river at Palisades-Kepler State Park is rich with fossils, and offers some of the only outdoor rock climbing to be found in Iowa.
You can fish the Cedar River and hike the rugged terrain along more than five miles of trails. There are also four cabins, 44 campsites (26 with electrical hookups) and a rustic stone lodge that can be rented.
The latter was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCP) in the 1930s, one of a number of Depression-era projects in the park.
15. Bloomsbury Farm
Homesteaded as long ago as 1856, Bloomsbury Farm is now in its fifth generation and lies in the open countryside just past Cedar Rapids’ western outskirts.
This is a functioning farm with a wonderful farm market that showcases a host of local growers and vendors.
The big date in the calendar is the Harvest Festival every fall, with an 18-acre “pick’em” pumpkin patch, corn mazes up to ten acres in size and more than 20 extra attractions, from a petting zoo to hayrack rides.
A little earlier in the year is the Sunflower Festival, for U-Pick sunflowers or a stunning photo opportunity. In October, Scream Acres, is the farm’s haunted attraction, with three immersive indoor haunts and a sinister haunted cornfield.