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Dubuque, Iowa: Revitalized river townDubuque, Iowa: Revitalized river town

Where Illinois and Wisconsin meet eastern Iowa you’ll find Dubuque, perched on the western bank of the Mississippi River. Through the decades, the river brought commerce and success. Eventually, however, the city turned away from its river, until the 1990s, when a multi-phase effort called the America’s River project began to redevelop the riverfront. Public art, museums, a winery, historic landmarks, entertainment venues, recreation, shopping, and restaurants all connect people to the river area in Dubuque. There’s plenty to entertain pilots and their families, and Dubuque makes a convenient side trip on your way to or from EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in July.

  • The revitalized Port of Dubuque snuggles right up to the Mississippi River. To date, over $400 million has been spent on attractions throughout the Port of Dubuque, including a new convention center. Main Street and the Millwork District have also been revitalized, and historic warehouse buildings have been repurposed to attract both tourists and locals. Photo by Mark Hirsch, courtesy Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • Take the quick ride up the 296-foot, 106-degree Fenelon Place elevator railway, built in 1882 to get residents from the top of the bluff to downtown and back. Spend time at the observation decks where you can take in landmarks like the Julien Dubuque Bridge and Dubuque County Courthouse, see into neighboring states, and get a feel for the size of the Mississippi River. Photo courtesy Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • Historic homes line the bluffs above downtown Dubuque, Iowa. Photo courtesy Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • Let the horse do the walking as your guide fills you in on some of Dubuque’s history. Photo courtesy Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • Both the city and this bridge are named for the area’s first European settler, Julien Dubuque, a French Canadian who arrived from the north via the river. Dubuque partnered with the local Meskwaki tribe to mine lead and thus began the area’s first successful industry. Through the decades, the Mississippi River brought more riches to the area, from timber shipped via barge to mussel shells that were made into buttons. Photo by Mark Hirsch, courtesy Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • Eleven public art installations, changed each June, line the half-mile Art on the River, part of the Mississippi Riverwalk in the Port of Dubuque. Photo courtesy Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • Along the Mississippi Riverwalk, pedestrians can stop and read interpretive signs that explain how people have interacted with the river over hundreds of years. Photo courtesy Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • The Dubuque Museum of Art hosts a permanent collection that exceeds 2,000 works, plus additional temporary exhibits, that are all mainly focused on 20th century American artists with area connections. Photo courtesy Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • Share some fresh air with the locals on the Heritage Trail, a 26-mile rail trail that connects Dubuque to Dyersville, Iowa and is often considered the Upper Midwest’s most scenic all-season trail. Photo courtesy Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • A Skytours zip line tour is a fun way to spend a summer day in Dubuque. Photo courtesy Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • The Lacoma Golf Course is just five minutes from downtown Dubuque, across the Illinois border. Photo courtesy Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • Outside Dubuque, the views quickly turn to rural farms and big red barns. Photo courtesy Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • Baseball fans both big and small will find their dreams come true at the original Field of Dreams, just 26 miles west of Dubuque. Bring your gear and play; there’s no charge! Photo courtesy Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • The Hotel Julien Dubuque reopened in 2009 after a $33 million renovation. 133 rooms range from interior rooms to suites that feature full kitchens. The Capone Suite is named for the notorious gangster rumored to have owned the hotel at one time. Photo courtesy Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • Growlers line the wall at Jubeck New World Brewing, in the upper Main Street district. You’ll find seasonal selections along with mainstays like lavender honey wheat and apricot IPA. Photo courtesy Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Dubuque Regional Airport has rental cars, although several area hotels offer free shuttles. Once downtown, attractions (most are open April through October) are walkable or accessed via the city’s Jule mini-bus service. Pick up a downtown map from one of the kiosks around town or hop on a horse-drawn carriage for a 20- to 60-minute narrated history tour. You can grab a quick ride up the Fenelon Place elevator, the world’s shortest, steepest scenic railway, built in the late 19th century. From the top of the bluffs you can get a better perspective on the Mighty Mississippi and see into several states. Cable Car Square, one of eight downtown districts, sits right below the railway. Browse an art gallery, unique market, or check out the Dubuque Museum of Art, with a permanent collection of 2,000-plus works, including major paintings by Iowa’s most famous artist, Grant Wood, known for “American Gothic” and the complete collection of Edward S. Curtis’ “The North American Indian” photogravure prints. Learn about the river and its giant fish at the Smithsonian-affiliated National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. From here, if you follow the Mississippi Riverwalk for a half-mile you can see Art on the River, a set of 11 public art installations.

The Mines of Spain State Recreation Area has more than 20 miles of hiking trails that range from easy walks to challenging climbs along the bluffs. In the Union Park valley, you can ride nine zip lines. Eight miles west of downtown, the Meadows Golf Club has an 18-hole course voted the best golf course in the area in 2015. Or skip across the Illinois border to Lacoma Golf Course, which boasts a total of 45 holes with three regulation courses, a par-3 course, and practice facilities.

Visit the original “Field of Dreams” where ghost players in vintage uniforms emerge from the corn rows beyond the outfield to play. Photo courtesy Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.Did you love the classic film, Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner and Ray Liotta, as much as I did? Then hop in the car to make the 26-mile drive west along Highway 20 to the Field of Dreams Movie Site. Bring your own equipment and play ball on the very diamond created here in 1989 by Universal Studios. And, every other summer Sunday you can see ghost players in vintage uniforms emerge from the corn rows beyond the outfield to play—a dream come true.Kids gaze in wonder and trepidation at some of the giant fish displayed at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. Exhibits range from early waterway development to how rivers connect with oceans, as well as animal displays, 12 large aquariums, kids’ interactive areas, a 3D/4D theater, outdoor shipbuilding exhibits, and a boardwalk trail through a restored wetland. Photo courtesy Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. From upscale hotels to family friendly properties and B&Bs, Dubuque has plenty of accommodations right downtown.

The Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark is a 193-room full-service hotel with a fitness center, arcade, and onsite restaurant, but kids love the waterpark, especially on hot summer days. The Hotel Julien Dubuque offers a luxury boutique experience in a building that dates to 1839. Amenities include an indoor swimming pool, fitness center, full-service spa, bar, and Caroline’s, one of Dubuque’s most popular fine-dining restaurants. Pilots will appreciate the free shuttle between the airport and Port of Dubuque area. For a B&B, choose the Victorian Redstone Inn, adorned with stained glass and a Romanesque tower, which offers 15 guest rooms and suites, all with private baths and a full breakfast.

Dining options run the gamut from the aforementioned Caroline’s fine dining to L. May Eatery’s gourmet comfort food to the 1st & Main sports bar. Fans of pizza and pasta hurry to Crust Italian Kitchen + Bar, while thirsty pilots make their way to the aviation-themed taproom (note the propeller-shaped tap handles) at Jubeck New World Brewing in the upper Main Street district. It’s a good place to talk about all the sights you’ve seen in Dubuque, the new-again city on the Mighty Mississippi River.

Near the Riverwalk, check out the 120-foot Shot Tower Historic Landmark (on right in photo), constructed in 1856 for molding lead shot. Inside the historic Star Brewery Complex you’ll find the Stone Cliff Winery, where you can taste, tour, dine indoors or out, and shop. Photo courtesy Stone Cliff Winery.
Crista Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as both the managing editor of Pilot Getaways magazine and editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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