It’s pretty common for people to travel the country, and even the world, but miss out on the unique experiences that exist right under their noses. It’s the whole reason “staycations” have become popular: stay at home but actually DO the cool stuff in your area. After 10-15 years of saying we should spend some time exploring northeast Iowa, we finally went to see what Decorah had waiting for us.
What’s a Decorah foodventure without food?
Luna Valley farms
Every Friday night, May through October, Luna Valley Farm is open to the public for homemade, wood-fired pizza. The toppings change from week to week in order to feature fresh, local produce. The pizza pictured above was called “Cherry Pie”: cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella and we added sausage. Several local craft beers and ciders are available as well as wine from small farms in Italy, France and Spain.
The pizza is outstanding. Maren and Tom are as gracious and friendly as can be. A trip to their farm must be considered an experience. Bring your blanket or chairs and be ready to kick back, listen to the cows bellowing in the distance, watch kids play and take it the beauty of the countryside. There are nights where 250 pizzas are made in that oven! On a gorgeous night like we had, you won’t mind waiting one bit.
My ideal foodventure involves a yummy, late breakfast, a unique, relaxing dinner with a mid-afternoon treat … and maybe a bedtime snack. Trying as many different restaurants as possible is always a goal; however, we found Magpie Cafe & Coffeehouse on our first morning and returned for breakfast the second morning just so I could try more of their menu! This French toast was my favorite and, if you look in the background, you can see Marty’s breakfast burrito (also note his crossed arms as he patiently waits for me to get a picture … what a guy!).
The staff is as warm and inviting as the interior and I can’t wait to return and try their lunch menu!
Before we left town on Sunday, I had to check out the new digs for Impact Coffee which had been recommended to us by a couple we chatted with at Luna Valley Farm. If I lived in this area, you would regularly find me in one of their comfy seating areas, sipping on a Miel (a personal favorite that I don’t often find), typing away on my laptop.
Wait … add munching a scone to that description! So Good!
sugar bowl ice cream company
Remember what I said about that mid-afternoon treat? Does it get any better than finding an ice cream shop that offers FLIGHTS???? Seriously! Four or six scoops of your choice of flavors served up on an impressive board by Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Parlor in downtown Decorah. I shouldn’t have to say this but Marty and I DID share this flight. You know me well enough to assume I could polish it off by myself … but I didn’t.
Restraint is a virtue.
Next time I’m all in on their Donut Sundae! So much for “restraint”.
topPling goliath brewery
Speaking of “flights” … here’s a more traditional one. Decorah is home to Toppling Goliath Brewery, named the “Second-Best Brewery in the World” by Beer Advocate! Even though we didn’t try the food, we enjoyed a “bed-time snack” of beer samples as the sun set. Check out that “Mornin’ Latte” … an Imperial Coffee Milk Stout that just might accompany me to the next tailgate!
courtyard and cellar
We drove by this place several times. On the outside, a beautiful, old corner building. Inside? A hidden gem. Built in 1915, this building has been home to an implement store, seed store, car dealership, restaurants, soft drink bottling plant, an Army Reserve Center and even a mini-mall. Currently, while other parts of the building are being renovated, a BBQ restaurant is open as well as The Courtyard and Cellar. With an open-air space between this building and the next, the perfect patio area was made to accommodate live music and plenty of tables! The lower-level of the building is a bar with architectural charm and a “rare, fine whiskey collection”.
— and food-related activities
seed savers exchange
From a collection of rare whiskeys to a collection of rare seeds, Decorah is home to some pretty remarkable businesses. The mission of the Seed Savers Exchange is to preserve heirloom varieties and share them with other gardeners. It all started with a morning glory flower and a tomato variety brought to the US by the founders grandparents in the 1870’s. As they have collected more varieties, they have collected the stories of how the seeds came to be family heirlooms.
Not only can you walk the gardens and visit the gift shop (hello new tomato cages), you are free to wander/hike the trails leading through 890 acres of land or fish in the trout streams.
Periodically the farm will host special events like Tomato Tastings or the Harvest Festival. Go to their website or follow them on Facebook to see more.
He makes it look easy, doesn’t he?
Because we were unfamiliar with the trout streams of the area, we booked a guide to show us where the public access streams are and help us improve our skills. For Marty, that was tips and tricks to make his experiences more successful and enjoyable. For me, it was having someone to show me what to do, show me what to do again, free my fly from the rock bed or tree I had snagged and then show me what to do at least two more times! Kent from Bear Creek Anglers was personable, patient and knowledgeable and celebrates each fish bite. When I was struggling with my backcast, he put it in “mom” terms: get behind me and straighten out! Oh yeah … he’s good.
Marty’s fish looks bigger than mine but I think he’s just holding it closer to the camera … wink wink.
— and exercise!
The scenic beauty of this part of Iowa will take your breath away long before your workout is complete. A simple (or not so simple) walk or hike feels like just another part of the experience. Every close-to-home vacation should include the exploration of the state and local parks.
Phelps Park was recommended to us as a place for a scenic, moderate hike. When we pulled into the park on the southeast edge of Decorah, we could see a very pretty city park (picnic tables, shelters, playgrounds, etc.) but nothing resembling a trail. It was time to ask for help and help came in the form of a woman with a small child in a stroller. She pointed to a small opening on the other side of the street. A few steps onto the trail and the beauty of this bluff country was opened to us.
So many parks, so little time! On our next trip, we will be sure to visit the highly recommended Dunning Springs and we hope to kayak the Upper Iowa River!
— a place to rest
Dry run cabin – decorah
The whole Airbnb concept is right up my alley: a unique stay with the ability to choose your experience and flexibility to prepare your own meals. By the time we decided to take this mini-vaca, a lot of the smaller houses/cabins were already booked. I kept coming back to the listing of this beautiful home.
I think it was this deck that I couldn’t resist! Dry Run Cabin was MUCH too big for the two of us (6 beds) but we were also looking for a place where our family might meet us in the future. Located about a mile from Decorah, we could easily get to all the places we wanted to visit.
With a kitchen like this, can you believe I didn’t cook … at all?!?! There’s always next time!
Full Disclosure: In exchange for sharing this home in my social media
and blog posts, we received a discounted rate from the owner.
save a little time for church
(or save time for a little church)
Country churches have my heart. I love seeing the steeple and cross standing so tall against a bright sky. Not even sure how we came to hear about this one but if you say “World’s Smallest Church” to me, I am going to go see it!
We left Decorah midmorning on Sunday, right about the time we would normally be in church. About 15 miles and just outside the town of Festina, Iowa, down an appropriately named gravel road, we found it: St. Anthony of Padua Chapel.
Seating 8 people, this church is 14’x20′ was built in 1885. The sign out front says the chapel was built to fulfill a vow by Johann Gaertner’s mother “should her son, who was drafted into the French army and served under Napoleon, return safely from the Russian campaign.”
After saying a prayer thanking God for all the people who built churches and started congregations as our state was formed, we returned to the road and to our home.
We’re already planning our next weekend in Decorah. Marty has declared it to be a fishing weekend which means Casey’s doughnuts and breakfast burritos at McDonald’s. And that’s just fine with me …
After all, it’s not like I can’t drive myself!
To read about more of my foodventures, click here!