By Aryn Henning Nichols
We Midwesterners are a hearty lot, but when you live in a place that has winter for nearly half the year, it’s easy to go a little stir crazy. Somehow those last two months stretch out like warm Laffy Taffy on a hot summer day. Wait. Sorry. I’m wishfully mixing my seasonal similes.
The point is, when it seems like the cold, snow, and ice will never end, people are desperately searching for something fun to do. Many lucky folks head south to an exotic locale with palm trees and temperatures above 30, but we’ve got something a little closer and a little nicer on the pocketbook in mind: Decorah.
It’s no secret that we’re inspire(d) by our hometown; we loooove Decorah. With all our great hotels, cuisine, concerts and productions, museums, recreation and activities, we think you will too. So whether you live an hour away or just two blocks, we wanted to share our ideas on how to “getaway” for some late-winter fun and to fall in love with Decorah for the first time or all over again.
Looking to book a romantic weekend as a Valentine’s Day gift? Do you say “weather be damned” and want to get outside for some active fun? Maybe you’re hoping to shop, relax, and hang out with friends. We’ve put together a list of must-do activities for a variety of travelers – mix and match or do ‘em all, and most importantly, enjoy yourself.
Read on to get the inside scoop on how to fly the late winter coop.
Romancing the (Lime)Stone
Valentine’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries – there are lots of romantic excuses to come to Decorah, but you don’t really even need a holiday to enjoy your time here.
1. Head downtown to Magpie Coffeehouse, 118 Winnebago, and try some local, award-winning Kickapoo Coffee and a delicious toad-in-the-hole or tasty sandwich. Dine in and read the latest Inspire(d) and play a round of Scrabble. Or take it to go and leisurely enjoy your hotel room while you get ready for your day.
2. Hold hands and take a romantic walk up Broadway Street through the Historic District or walk down Water Street, stopping in at the many great shops. On the west end of town, go to the Decorah Hatchery to buy his and hers Quality Chick t-shirts (For him: “I love Quality Chicks.” For her: “I’m a Quality Chick.”). On the east end pop into Agora Arts to check out regional artists’ wares or pick out a print by StoryPeople, the quirky, world-renowned artwork full of poignant and often funny messages. FYI: StoryPeople is headquartered right here in Decorah!
3. Take the short drive north of town to Winneshiek Wildberry Winery, 1966 337th Street, to check out their 140-year-old family farm and try some of their tasty local wines – favorite quirky wine names: “Horny Heifer” and “How Ole Made Lena Blush.” The winery is open Wednesday through Sunday. www.wwwinery.com
Do you like to get a little fresh air while you’re on vacation, even if it is a little cold outside? Get your gear on, ‘cause there’s outdoor fun to be had.
1. Decorah is known for its great mountain bike trails and the paved Trout Run Trail – but perhaps you didn’t know many of those trails are groomed in the winter for cross country skiing. And of course, if there’s snow somewhere, you can snowshoe there.
Groomed trails and difficulty levels:
Dug Road, from the campground end of the trail all the way to the Decorah Trout Hatchery and beyond. (Beginner)
Palisades Park, complete loop (Moderate)
Van Peenan Park (Moderate to Advanced)
City Prairie behind Aase Haugen Home (Beginner)
Luther College cross country course and large lower practice field (Moderate)
Need the equipment and maps? Decorah Bicycles, 101 College Drive, rents skis and snowshoes for just $10/day and they’re full of helpful information.
2. Are trails not your bag? There are few winter activities sweeter or more enjoyable than ice skating. Head across the Upper Iowa River on College Drive to the Carl Selland Wayside Park. Decorah Bicycles rents ice skates for just $5 a day.
3. Disc golf has grown in popularity in Decorah, largely through Decorah resident Dan Bellrichard, founder of discgolfdan.com. The course at Luther College has nine holes that wind over the hills and through the woods (but not to grandmother’s house). The baskets are up year-round and the course is open to the public. At Bob’s Standard Gas Station, 208 College Drive, you can rent up to six discs for just $5/day. You can even play at night with an LED light, also available at Bob’s Standard. Visit www.discgolfdan.com for more information.
Live Culture is Good for You
Decorah, like yogurt, is full of good culture, but more the museums, classes, artifacts sort of culture. Make it a “better yourself” trip, and learn a little about what makes Decorah tick.
1. Vesterheim, meaning “western home” in Norwegian, is surprisingly larger than it would seem from the outside, and is one of the best Norwegian museums in the country. It houses a small sailboat, an amazing silver collection, and rotating exhibits that make you forget you’re in a town of just 10,000 people. The 16 historic buildings in its main complex occupy most of a square block in downtown, and it has more than 24,000 artifacts! It’s no boring museum…I suggest you check it out. Bonus: admission is free on Thursdays thanks to Decorah Bank and Trust!
And don’t forget to check back in the spring when Seed Savers Heritage Farm and the Porter House and Laura Ingalls Wilder Museums are open.
2. Are you looking for the perfect souvenir from your culture-rich trip? Just down Water Street from Vesterheim, you can stop by Vanberia to pick out a Scandinavian goody or some Uff Da stickers, or head down the street a little farther and pop into Donlon’s to pick out your favorite Nisse – these “household spirits,” usually under four feet tall with a red cap, are said to be responsible for the care and prosperity of a farm. Just stay on his good side, if you know what I mean.
3. Feed your brain and your stomach at the Oneota Community Co-op, where you can watch Co-op employees make fresh mozzarella. Bocconcini and ovalini (small, semi-soft balls of mozzarella) are made nearly every day. The marinated bocconcini is amazing with the sourdough bread made by local Waving Grains Bakery, available fresh Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. Check out www.oneotacoop.com for more information.
Best Friends Forever, for Guys and Gals
No matter what you like to do, there’s no need to feel boxed-in in Decorah. Maybe you and your friends like to do your nails then go shoot skeet. Or perhaps you want to grab a beer after you’ve shopped ‘til you’ve dropped. Whatever your style, we’ve got it covered.
1. Shopping on Water Street…
For her: Looking for fun clothes, purses, accessories, shoes or souvenirs? Try Modish, The Good Foot, Fancy Pants, KD Rae, Margaret’s, Happiness Is, or Elaines. For him: Amundson’s Clothing carries awesome lines of men’s clothing… isn’t it time you invested in a suit? Or perhaps you’re a little more casual – check out your favorite team’s gear at The Sport Shop.
2. Relaxing in Decorah. Get a rejuvenating soak and massage at Day Spring Spa or a manicure and pedicure at Eclips Salon or Riah or Appearances. Or grab a booth and one of the 36 tap beers at Rubaiyat., and while you’re in the beer mood, make sure to head down to the Courtyard and Cellar too!
3. Or playing in Decorah. Chase the Adventure, just south of town 1838 Middle Calmar Road, has skeet and trap shooting year-round! Call ahead, 563-532-9821, or go to www.chasetheadventure.com for details.
The Angry Pickle – The Angry Pickle has a great selection of deli sandwiches designed by Chef Mark. Try the Craisin Chicken Salad on focaccia! www.edesgourmet.com
Family Table – Their motto, “Nothing fancy, just good food,” says it all. Open daily until only 8 pm, they serve yummy breakfast all day and make a mean piece of pie. www.familytabledecorah.com
Java John’s – Life slows down at Java John’s. Grab a coffee (they even make coffee ice cubes for their iced coffees!) and a piece of Mary’s delicious chocolate cake and enjoy the company.
La Rana Bistro – If you’re looking for an intimate lunch or dinner setting, look no further. Watch the chef prepare your meal in the open kitchen. The mojitos are amazing, and so is the chicken salad at lunch and the salmon and risotto at dinner.
Magpie Coffeehouse – We talked about breakfast (mmm… Kickapoo Coffee and Little Maggies), but Magpie does lunch too. Their deli-style and pre-made sandwiches satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.
McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita, out by Twin Springs Park off Highway 52, has great views and beautiful brick oven. Try the Thai Kickin’ Chicken Pizza – it’ll make you want to slather the nutty, sweet and spicy peanut butter sauce on everything you eat. www.mcdolcevita.com
Oaks Steakhouse – The locals rave about the Oak’s half-baked cookie sundae dessert. Order it after you get your own personal bacon-topped meatloaf or the Angry Salad with house-made bleu cheese dressing and blackened sirloin. www.oakssteakhouse.com
Oneota Community Co-op – A big reason the Decorah community is so amazing is our fantastic food cooperative. Bright and cheery, the Co-op has different themes – like Brazilian, Indian, or Mexican – for their daily hot bar specials and offerings. And their caprese panino: delicious. www.oneotacoop.com
Restauration – Situated in the Hotel Winneshiek, right in the middle of town, Restauration provides great people watching out its floor-to-ceiling windows. Check out whatever Chef Tom has on special. www.hotelwinn.com
Rubaiyat – An anchor to downtown, Rubaiyat Restaurant has cozy booths and a fun bar. It’s hard to pick a favorite thing: the capon, brie, red onion and lingonberry pizza is a tasty treat, but so is the Build Your Own Bloody Mary Bar at Sunday brunch. www.rubaiyatrestaurant.com
Pizza is my favorite food. Lucky for me, there are lots of amazing options in Decorah.
Happy Joe’s Pizza, an endearing old-fashioned pizza parlous, hands down has the best Taco Pizza in the state. Maybe the country. www.happyjoes.com
Mabe’s Pizza is famous in Decorah – thin crusted and cut in squares, the regular has been my all-time favorite. A secret: did you know you can order it double-crusted? It’s a whole different animal…
Pizza Ranch is an Iowa chain that does it all – pizza, chicken, salad, ice cream, potato wedges, green beans. But we usually order the thin crust Sweet Swine (Canadian bacon and pineapple). It’s sooooo good. www.decorahpizzaranch.com
We’ve got a lot of great options for lodging in Decorah – from historic B&Bs to a lovingly-restored landmark like the Hotel Winneshiek, we’re sure you’ll be able to find a place to stay that suits your needs.
Decorah B&B/Hotels in Three (or so) Words
Bed and Breakfast-Style Stays
B&B on Broadway, 305 West Broadway, www.bandbonbroadway.com – royal, antique, lavishly-restored
The Loft on Water Street, 106 East Water Street Suite 203, www.agoraarts.com/loft – contemporary, convenient, luxurious
Decorah Guesthouse, 202 St. Lawrence Street, decorahguesthouse.com – comfortable, cozy, cottage-style
Dug Road Inn, 601 West Main Street, www.dugroadinn.com – classic, Zen-like, elegant
Palisades Inn, 2566 Ice Cave Road, just on the outskirts of town near Palisades Park, www.palisadesinn.com – private, relaxing, scenic
More Traditional-Style Hotels
Hotel Winneshiek Downtown, 104 East Water Street, www.hotelwinn.com – turn-of-the-century restored, Decorah landmark, charming
Country Inn and Suites, 1202 Highway 9 West, www.countryinns.com/decorahia – country-style, indoor pool, spacious rooms
Heartland Inn, 705 Commerce Drive, www.heartlandinns.com – indoor pool, casual, clean
Super 8 Motel, 810 Highway 9 East, www.super8.com – affordable, simple, standard rooms
Bluffs Inn, 1101 Highway 9 West, www.bluffs-inn.com – affordable, attached bar/restaurant, retro-style
Maps and information about Decorah are available at the Winneshiek County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, 507 West Water Street, or online at www.decoraharea.com.
Aryn Henning Nichols truly does love Decorah, and doesn’t mind winter all that much when there’s this much fun to be had.
For this Decorah destination guide, we joined forces with the Winneshiek County Convention & Visitors Bureau. The name’s a mouthful (try WCCVB instead!), but we really think you should know about these guys. They’re a local non-profit organization that’s marketing efforts (radio, print, billboards, web, travel shows and more) drive visitors to this gem of a place we call home. All businesses featured here are current CVB members. If you’d like to become a member and be part of their Midwest tourism campaign, contact them to sign up! Contact WCCVB Director, Brenda Balk for membership information:
507 W. Water St., Decorah