Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Visit Fort Dodge. All opinions and photos are mine.
Fort Dodge, Iowa, is different from your typical Midwest town. It offers plenty of things to do that are out of the ordinary, making for a memorable and fun weekend stay. From a winery and breweries to artwork by world-renowned artists and outdoor recreation, it is worth adding to your travel bucket list.
It was named one of the top 15 America’s Best Communities and earned the designation of an “Iowa Great Place.”
We arrived in anticipation of a weekend itinerary full of one-of-a-kind places to discover and were not disappointed.
WHERE TO STAY
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS
Comfort meets convenience at Holiday Inn Express (300 S. 31st St.). We thought it was an ideal place to unwind after a day of exploring Fort Dodge or in between adventures.
The four-story hotel has a host of amenities guaranteed to stay every kind of traveler, including families with kids searching for a hotel with a pool and sauna. The King Bed Guest Room was quiet, and the black-out shades, self-controlled air unit, and comfortable bedding kept the room oh so comfortable.
PRO TIP: If traveling with a pet, ask the hotel staff to direct you to the pet walking area. Prepare to pay a pet deposit.
The best place to start your first day in Fort Dodge is at The Community Orchard (2237 160th St.). Open August 1-December 23, the orchard grows 5,000 trees and includes 15 varieties of apples. The farm is open for tours and hosts well-attended events like the Sunflower Festival, Apple Fest, and Corn Maze.
Apples are the shining stars of the Community Orchard Cafe’s menu. I had to order their signature Scarecrow Soup with my Chicken Salad Croissant Sandwich, an exceptionally delicious meal. Iowans love their Flat Apple Pie, so I enjoyed it for dessert – crave-worthy!
The maple dip served on harvested apple slices was so good I couldn’t stop talking about it.
I highly recommend giving into your sweet tooth and enjoying a freshly baked apple pastry. The café’s homemade fudge, available in multiple flavors, is worth sampling (ask for Salted Caramel, my favorite).
After lunch, we shopped the retail store downstairs, loading up on Sweet Corn Salsa and Maple Dip jars as well as a six-pack of Doc Otto’s Hard Cider. Customers will find it hard to resist sweet and salty bagged snacks, and the frozen pie case is irresistible. (The orchard dates back to the 1940s!)
Outdoors, the Back 40 Playground is entertaining for kids of all ages. We interacted with friendly goats and snapped photos in the sunflower field and orchard like gleeful children.
They recently added a two-story slide – a sight to see- included with the Back 40 Playground admission.
I appreciate the hard work and dedication that new owners Denny and Emily Stucky and their employees have put into maintaining and improving The Community Orchard, a favorite destination for locals and visitors searching for an immersive farm experience.
PRO TIP: Check for upcoming seasonal events you don’t want to miss, including Donuts with Santa in December. Interested in shopping from the retail store from home? View the website to fill your cart.
SOLDIER CREEK WINERY
The five-minute drive to Soldier Creek Winery (1584 Paragon Ave.) is a must-have experience while in the area. The back story of the winery is incredible.
After a barn fire in 2008, the site became a 10-acre vineyard producing nine cold-hardy grapes. A family-owned and operated winery, it’s all hands on deck to turn out award-winning wine year after year.
Anne, the winemaker, introduced us to wines we never knew we liked but most certainly loved at the Tasting Bar. Our tasting experience included a short list of dry wines, starting with Ghost Pig (Apple Cider and Rosé Wine) and ending with Marquette 2021 Limited Release (Red). She explained how she uses only Iowa grapes to produce each handcrafted wine.
After tasting six different wines, we enthusiastically raved about dry white Petite Amie 2022 (Best of Show at the 2023 Iowa State Fair) and Marquette 2021 (Fruit-forward dry red). We were gleeful when she offered us a bottle of Marquette 2022 to bring back to Kansas.
After the tasting session, Anne gave us a tour of the winery’s newly expanded production facility and further explained the process of making wine from concept to harvest.
Whether you stop by for a formal tasting experience or only want to purchase a glass of wine ($6), you’ll walk away wishing you had signed up for the Paragon Wine Club.
The wine is that good.
Are you interested in a tasting experience? You can walk in during tasting room hours or make an appointment. I recommend reserving a tasting if traveling with a small group. Light snacks and non-boozy drinks are available to purchase, and they welcome DoorDash food deliveries.
PRO TIP: Visit the winery on Fridays from 6 pm -8 pm to enjoy live music year-round, a real draw for locals who are encouraged to bring their chairs and food to enjoy picnic-style. Check out their upcoming events, like Bingo at the Winery here.
SUNKISSED MEADOWS DISC GOLF COURSE
When it’s a beautiful day in Fort Dodge, you must spend time outdoors playing disc golf at Sunkissed Meadows (326 11th Ave.). The expansive 18-hold course is ideal for beginning or intermediate players who appreciate wide fairways with clear views of most baskets.
Created in 2015, concrete tee pads and easily recognizable holes make the course simple to navigate without using the UDisc app. If you want to play the entire course, plan for 1.5-2 hours and be prepared to walk a course mostly without shade.
PRO TIP: Sunkissed Meadows is one of two disc courses in town. Check out Snell-Crawford Park (Williams Drive & 12 Ave. N.), built in 1976 and one of the country’s first 25 disc golf courses.
FORT DODGE COUNTRY CLUB/LAKESIDE MUNICIPAL GOLF COURSE
Do you prefer ball golf over disc golf? Fort Dodge Country Club (370 Country Club Dr.) and Lakeside Municipal Golf Course (1417 Nelson Ave) are open to the public and require a pre-booked tee time.
Each 18-hole course provides manicured course play using rentable golf carts for golfers of all skill levels. While we didn’t have time to play a round of golf, I could easily see myself returning to Fort Dodge and carving out time to do so. Having played high school golf, the courses looked well-maintained and worth playing.
RIVER HOPS BREWING
River Hops Brewing (1014 Central Ave.) is the perfect place to cool off after time spent outdoors. Opened in 2018 inside a renovated 1951 department store turned office building, the owners put a lot of work into the space, which produces quality craft beer for eager fans.
We sipped on a flight of four beers ranging from a crisp lager to a red ale as the owner, Ron, told us the brewery can produce 15 beers using 5 fermenters. They are the only brewing in town that serves beer on nitrogen.
The size of the brewery is intentionally smaller than most, creating a setting where the community can sit down over a beer and get to know one another. The back patio features a meat smoker and grill available to patrons who want to cook dinner for themselves or friends while they sip on sids.
Check out the brewery’s menu to preview the beers on tap. The taproom is open Wednesday-Friday at 4:30 pm and Saturday at 1:00 pm. Expect live music on the patio often.
PRO TIP: We thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the taproom and asking Ron about various items of curiosity used to decorate the interior. Ask about the model plane hanging from the ceiling near a wooden canoe or the wood beams and windows – each curated item has a story.
GAGA & HOO KOREAN RESTAURANT
Gaga & Hoo (368 Country Club Dr.) is the only Korean restaurant in Iowa, and it’s the only one they need because the food is authentic and delicious. The restaurant’s owner was recruited to open a restaurant in the area when South Korean company CJ Cheiljedang brought nearly 200 jobs to Fort Dodge.
The restaurant’s setting is unique, located inside the Fort Dodge Country Club. Open to the public, its interior displays Korean decor while traditional music plays.
We enjoyed savory Dak-gang-jeong (fried chicken) and Mandu (dumplings) as appetizers.
We were pleasantly surprised a robot server delivered our dinner entrees– an unforgettable, out-of-the-ordinary experience. The steaming hot Bimbimbap and Spicy Stir-Fried Noodles were some of the best we’ve enjoyed, and our server was welcoming and knowledgeable.
PRO TIP: Expect more surprises if you’re one of the last diners of the evening. The chef/owner is known to sit near a musical instrument station where he serenades diners.
If you’re craving dessert after dinner, I recommend driving to The Dariette (17 S. 12st St.) to order a soft-serve treat or ice cream bar via the pick-up window or the drive-thru.
A delightful evening in Fort Dodge isn’t complete without visiting The Dariette for a sweet treat. I opted for a small bowl of nostalgic root beer-flavored soft-serve. Nearby families sat on cozy outdoor furniture, enjoying their dessert while I waited a short time for mine.
BLOOMERS ON CENTRAL COFFEE SHOPPE
Unlike a typical coffee shop, Bloomers on Central (900 Central Ave.) is a one-of-a-kind cafe.
We waited patiently in line with locals to order breakfast sandwiches prepared to order and a cold latté. While looking for two open seats, and spotted the casual spot near a refurbished TV made into an aquarium.
Just like everything else in Fort Dodge, this TV-turned-fishbowl was yet another unique surprise to what could have been a typical stop for coffee experience.
We were pleased with the friendly customer service (the owner does it all!) and impressed by the breakfast menu featuring Eggels (bagel sandwiches) and an Acai Energy Bowl for health-conscious eaters.
PRO TIP: Buy a to-go lunch sandwich or salad for the road. Each one is served with sliced apples and caramel, with the option to add chips or seasonal soup.
PUBLIC ART TOUR
The Freedom Rock® Tour is available to view across Iowa. Started in 1999, each artist-painted 60-pound boulder is meant to honor veterans for their service to the county.
The Webster County Freedom Rock in Fort Dodge (Southwest Corner of A Street and the Karl King Bridge at 2nd Avenue S.). As the story goes, Iowa native Ray Michael Sorenson, now a state representative, began drawing as a kid and painted the first large rock because he was inspired by the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”
The Freedom Rock pictured above is dedicated to veterans suffering from the after-effects of service, like PTSD and mental illness. The front side of the mural rock honors two local aviators and medal recipients who both graduated from Fort Dodge High School
A public art tour of Fort Dodge wouldn’t be complete without getting out of the car to see the 110-foot Grain Silo Mural (727 Hawkeye Avenue) painted by Australian artist Guido van Helten.
The state’s largest mural, it depicts Fort Dodge residents who contributed to the community. Do you see the man holding the ornate bowl? The town’s pottery industry is represented by this scene.
Like me, take time to walk the entire circumference of the silo, pausing to admire the artist’s handiwork completed during the winter years ago.
While admiring another downtown mural, I accidentally discovered The Starry Night (Central Ave. and South 9th St.) painted by Iowa Central Community College students.
The bus stop mural is made to look like the famous Vincent Van Gogh painting but also includes symbols of Fort Dodge’s skyline. The 2015 creation is a must-see.
No matter where you are in town, you’re bound to see a mural in the distance, whether it’s under a bridge like the one pictured below or in town visible to passersby.
STATUES & SCULPTURES
You’ll see many statues and sculptures on display for your viewing enjoyment. A full-scale statue of Iowa Senator John F. Duncombe by artist Leonard Crunelle stands at Karl King Park (424 Central Ave.). He holds law books to represent his time in Fort Dodge as an attorney from 1855-1902.
Chronicle (9th St. and 1st Avenue S.) is a 15-foot sculpture by artist Dan Perry to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Fort Dodge. Not to be missed, the eye-catching art is approachable on foot if you use free on-street parking.
Click this link to view all of the public art pieces on display in Fort Dodge in one place.
Lunch at ShinyTop Brewing (520 Central Ave.) is a solid choice. They specialize in craft beer and delicious homemade pizza, but they also have a surprise menu item you only sometimes see at a brewery: mojitos.
We chose to drink No Stopping’ the Hoppin’ IPA and Hop Peach of Ash IPA with the Italian Stallion specialty pizza. Not all breweries that serve food do both well, but ShinyTop hits the mark.
The pizza was the perfect ratio of crust, sauce, and fresh ingredients, so it’s listed on the menu as “a crowd favorite.”
If pizza isn’t your go-to at lunchtime, the brewery also serves specialty and build-you-own sandwiches with chips. Seven macaroni and cheese bowls appear on the menu.
Expect a relaxed lunchtime setting to enjoy a meal from a comfy booth beneath a wall covered in paintings by local artists.
If you go, flights of four 5-ounce beer samples are $12. Not a beer drinker? Opt to view the cocktails, wine, and Moscow mules menu instead.
PRO TIP: Dining with four people? Ask about the Big A$$ Mule, a 192-ounce Moscow Mule served in a monstrous mug.
Studio Fusion (21 S. 12th St.) is the place for the creative at heart to hone their glassmaking skills or learn a new craft. The DIY art studio specializes in fused glass, paint-your-own pottery, and canvas painting. The retail area showcases items for sale designed by local residents.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time in our itinerary to sit down and create a piece, but I did chat with the owner and several women who were busy creating new glass projects.
They told me how they meet there once a week to chat about their lives and bond while creating art. Soon, they grabbed their phones to show me photos of past projects completed for friends and family. What started as something fun to do became a love affair producing fused glass.
You don’t need an appointment to work at the studio, but if you’re traveling with several people, you should call to reserve seating.
Studio Fusion does not charge studio or glazing fees. Decide what glass design or pottery piece you’d like to work with and get started with guidance from the owner.
Your finished pottery piece or fused glass can be shipped to you once fired in the kiln.
PRO TIP: If you want to take a structured class to create a holiday project. check the Facebook events page for upcoming sessions.
THE APPLE ATTIC SHOP AT THE ORCHARD
If you visit The Community Orchard, you must walk upstairs to shop at The Apple Attic (2237 160th St.). I was told I would love what I saw, and boy, was my host right.
The shoppable home decor section features rustic-chic items, the kind you might see in a farmhouse design magazine.
Beyond the home showroom, women’s apparel racks displayed the latest fashions in the season’s popular colors. Tunics, pants, shorts, and accessories make shopping at The Apple Attic worthwhile.
PRO TIP: You can also shop The Apple Attic online, and they will ship to your home.
THE GREEN DRAGON BOOKSHOP
Fort Dodge residents are lucky to have The Green Dragon Bookshop (9 N. 11 St.), and visitors are guaranteed to love it. I always appreciate an independent bookstore. This one, despite its quaint size, supplies hundreds of new and old titles with a large selection of sci-fi genre books.
The owner creatively used the towering space to incorporate tall bookcases decorated with sun-seeking plants.
Located on the 2023 Midwest Indie Bookstore Roadmap (my favorite resource to support local businesses), The Green Dragon Bookshop also carries whimsical gifts, stickers, and bookmarks.
PRO TIP: If you have a child or young adult reader in your household, they will appreciate The Green Dragon Bookshops’ up-to-date inventory.
DOWNTOWN HISTORIC DISTRICT WALKING TOUR
The entire downtown district of Fort Dodge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, recognizing its establishment in 1854.
Download a brochure before starting your trek to take a self-guided historic walking tour. I was enamored by the architecture along Central Avenue, starting at the City Square, where farmers once sold grain and hay at the market in 1880.
HIKING AND BIKING TRAILS
One of the best ways to get to know a place is to see it via the trail system. Fort Dodge and greater Webster County have paved, unpaved, and soft trails for adventurers, with 16 trails in town.
Download a map to select a nearby trail that meets your needs. Kiosk panels at trailheads near parking lots remind hikers and bikers of best practices.
BLANDEN MEMORIAL ART MUSEUM
A tour of Blanden Memorial Art Museum (920 3rd Avenue South) may leave you speechless. Three galleries house an impressive collection of American and European paintings, photography, Japanese prints, and African sculptures.
Like most unique discoveries in Fort Dodge, its phenomenal collection of artists’ works left me speechless. I was amazed to view works by Chagall, Warhol, Miro, Chihuly, and Stieglitz on display inside one of the oldest art museums in Iowa.
Outdoors, the lawn was adorned with sizable sculptures by artists who pushed the bounds of creativity.
With an ever-changing display of works from their 1,200 permanent collection, you will see something new each time you visit. The museum hosts a visiting artist every three months.
End your self-guided tour of Blanden Art Museum by signing the guest book and shopping the main floor gift store. A percentage of each sale funds programming and supports local artists.
PRO TIP: Carve out at least an hour of your day if you’re the type of museum-goer who likes to read each work’s details or ask questions of the staff. Inquire about the museum’s newly announced education center they plan to build soon.
OLDE BOSTON’S RESTAURANT & PUB
Dinner at Olde Boston’s Restaurant & Pub (809 Central Ave.) is an ideal way to wind down a day while enjoying a stacked made-to-order burger or sandwich.
Our Triple B and Bacon Cheeseburger meals were an incredible value the day of your visit at $8 with a side. To my delight, I opted for a side garden salad instead of fries, which arrived the size of a dinner salad. Des Moines Brewing Confluence IPA paired perfectly with it.
PRO TIP: Admire the black and white photography on the walls highlighting the day Senator John F. Kennedy visited Fort Dodge before speaking at an airport rally in 1960. You’ll appreciate learning the story Olde Dog and a Massachusetts town that inspired the restaurant’s name here.
A summer day in Iowa is only complete with an ice cream stand visit. At Snack Shack (11 S. 16th St.), you can select from soft-serve in a cup or cone, malts and shakes, or sundaes and slashes.
Decidedly stuffed from my dinner meal, I choose a small dish of classic vanilla soft serve with rainbow sprinkles. Couples approached the walk-up window, ready to order, as I watched car after car enter the drive-thru.
A popular stop for locals near downtown, Snack Shack reminds me of a hangout you’d see in a 1950s movie. The community loves to gather at the colorful tables outside to gab about local happenings between bites of ice cream.
ARDYS MAE COFFEE AND DESSERT
The first thing to do after checking out of your hotel for the weekend is to stop at Ardys Mae Coffee and Dessert (14 S. 14th St.) for an in-house roasted cup of coffee, fruit smoothie, and light breakfast.
We reminisced about our favorite moments in Fort Dodge while enjoying a breakfast panini sandwich made with smoked pork loin, egg, and cheese. The fruit smoothie was one of the best I’ve tasted because it was made with fresh strawberries, not syrupy flavoring.
Known for their scratch-made scones, Andy Mae Coffee and Desserts has a loyal following that often tracks down their food truck when it shows up at community events.
PRO TIP: The café also serves lunch sandwiches with a cup or soup or stand. Ask about charcuterie boards. Preview the menu.
THE FORT MUSEUM AND FRONTIER VILLAGE
A trip to Fort Dodge is complete with a visit to its most famous museum. Founded in 1854, Fort Dodge has a historical military past. The Fort Museum and Frontier Village (1 Museum Rd.) make history come alive, showcasing artifacts, military memorabilia, and Native American art and tools.
You should start at the Trading Post Gift Shop to pay admission before starting your self-guided tour of the grounds.
The Fort Dodge Dragoons, the 1st U.S. Dragoons, marched to scout Iowa in 1835 after the Black Hawk Purchases of 1832 put the area under U.S. control. The march established outposts from present-day Fort Dodge. The Dragoon Trail is about 200 miles long, originating near the museum.
Fort Museum & Frontier Village welcomes visitors to tour original and replica mid-1800s to mid-1900s buildings and houses. As we walked in and out of the buildings, I was awe-struck by the robust collection of authentic artifacts inside each one.
I encourage you to walk inside the original Harcourt City Jail, where town drunks, thieves, and outlaws were once taken. Tour the Border Plains School, one of the oldest school buildings in Webster County, to imagine life as a student from 1857-1959.
Tour the inside of the Carlson-Richey Log Home from 1855 to smell the musty wood planks and admire the handiwork of the log home’s builder.
We appreciated the historic details inside a blacksmith shop, drugstore, carriage repair shop, and wood shop. I recommend spending about an hour exploring all the buildings on a cool weather day.
But what awaits inside one particular building beyond the military post entrance keeps visitors talking.
The Cardiff Giant is a replica 12-foot-long stone figure resting inside a small building. It was allegedly created when a New Yorker, George Hull, wanted to prove to a preacher that giants once walked the earth. He had the giant’s stone quarried at the Cardiff mine near Fort Dodge.
The naked giant rests with a precisely placed fig leaf in a building and continues to draw onlookers as Hull would have wanted.
Other nearby buildings house actual artifacts curated from the area that documents one of Iowa’s most valuable resources, gypsum. Early settlers mined the mineral in and around Fort Dodge. Now, the chalky material is used to make wallboard, and Fort Dodge contributes nearly 75% of the state’s gypsum production.
Other displays house Native American arrowheads, beadwork, and clothing. Nearby, military uniforms and weaponry tell the story of those who fortified Fort Dodge.
A self-guided tour of Fort Museum and Frontier Village helps you better understand who made the town what it is today.
BONUS THINGS TO DO
If you’re visiting during the summer like we did, shop at the Fort Dodge Farmer’s Market (11 N. 25th At.), open on Wednesdays from 2:00 p.m. -6:30 p.m. Hanging out downtown? Mosey over to the Fort Dodge Public Library (424 Central Ave.), where a row of rentable scooters wait to be used to tour the town’s downtown corridor.
Prefer to spend time exploring the outdoors rather than in town? Drive to Kennedy Park and Badger Lake (1415 Nelson Ave.) to walk trails or fish. A paved path leads to Terry Moehnke Veterans Memorial Park. Dolliver Memorial State Park (2757 Dolliver Park Ave.), a 30-minute drive south of town, is known for its breathtaking natural bluffs and view overlooking the Des Moines River Valley.
When visiting Blanden Art Museum, you will be in the Oak Hill Historic District, a four-block neighborhood of post-Civil War period homes. Although most are private residences, tour the area to see Vincent House, built in 1872 by James and Adeline Swain, a women’s rights advocate. The house is rentable for gatherings.
My sense of wanderlust is strong, and I typically have a fun travel experience wherever I travel. Yet something about Fort Dodge, my first Iowa travel experience, stays with me. It’s a feeling of contentment and longing to return.
You’ll feel the same after visiting Fort Dodge, which offers incredible things to do and see around every corner. It truly is a place to #DodgeTheOrdinary.