Sioux City, Iowa, is a destination that offers plenty for history and culture lovers. It hosted Lewis and Clark as they journeyed along the Missouri River and played a major role in the nation’s meatpacking industry. There’s more to this northwestern Iowa community than meets the eye.
Here are a few spots you shouldn’t miss when you’re in Sioux City.
1. Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center
The explorers Lewis and Clark departed from Saint Charles, Missouri, ultimately making their way to where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean in Oregon. Along the way, they spent time in the Sioux City area, meeting with Native American leaders and encountering the American bison for the first time. It was here that they lost the only member of their 47-member team to illness.
A few miles south of the Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, the Sergeant Floyd Monument honors Sergeant Charles Floyd, the explorer who died, likely from appendicitis. The interpretive center offers a look at the expedition’s time in Sioux City and houses artifacts and other items related to the explorers and the area Native Americans. Once you’ve completed your visit, enjoy a walk among the sculptures of the wildlife the explorers encountered on their journey.
2. Sioux City Public Museum
Sioux City was once a major player in the meatpacking industry. While the packing houses have all but disappeared, the Sioux City Public Museum recognizes that chapter of the city’s history with photos and exhibits. It also showcases the city’s stockyards, where thousands of cattle and hogs would pass through.
Not many people know that the area was once part of an underground ocean, home to creatures such as the Plesiosaurus and other sea life. At the museum, you can see fossils and models.
Before European settlers moved to the area, Native Americans lived in the region. The Public Museum shares their stories with a variety of exhibits, including a tepee. The museum also covers the city’s development through the mid-1900s.
3. Sioux City Art Center
The Sioux City Art Center, which moved into its current downtown location in the early 1990s, features contemporary art, with more than 1,000 pieces on display. From Phillip Chen’s Fiji Mermaid to Jun Kaneko’s Dango, most of the center’s artwork is by artists with ties to the Midwest, including Sioux City. Outside on Fourth Street, the museum features a sculpture walk with more than a dozen unique pieces.
4. Palmer Candy
Inventor of the Twin Bing, a Midwestern favorite for nearly 100 years, Palmer Candy has been making sweet treats for more than 140 years. A visit to the downtown Olde Tyme Candy Shoppe will make your dentist frown -- you’ll be tempted to clean out its shelves of chocolates and sweets, such as chocolate-covered peanut clusters, peanut butter swirl pretzels, and cinnamon candy corn. The store also sells other goodies, such as Jelly Belly candies.
You can learn about the company’s history at the small museum featuring old equipment and shipping containers. Don’t forget to pick up a couple of souvenirs, too.
5. Mid America Museum Of Aviation And Transportation
One of the worst plane crashes in American history is memorialized at the Mid America Museum of Aviation and Transportation. United Flight 232 crashed and somersaulted down the runway at the Sioux City airport in 1989. While 111 people perished, another 186 survived thanks to the crew’s expert handling of the situation. A special exhibit at the museum honors the people involved.
The museum also offers a look at the area’s transportation history, with exhibits highlighting antique vehicles as well as commercial trucks and airplanes. You can also tour a FedEx plane parked on the museum’s grounds.
6. Jolly Time Museum
Located inside the Koated Kernels popcorn shop is the Jolly Time Museum. One of the top 10 brands of popcorn in the United States, Jolly Time has called Sioux City home for more than 100 years. With vintage posters featuring spokespeople Bob Hope and Ozzie and Harriett Nelson on the walls, the founder’s work desk, and memorabilia such as containers and photos, the miniature museum tells the company story.
While at Koated Kernels, owned by the founder’s descendants, check out the flavored popcorn -- including the cheddar jalapeno and the chocolate-drizzled caramel -- and other goodies that you’ll want to take home.
7. Trinity Heights
Trinity Heights is home to more than 24 shrines and memorials, including 30-foot stainless steel statues of Jesus and Mary along with botanical exhibits. Located on the former campus of a college and high school, the attraction offers both a spiritual experience and a beautiful, peaceful stroll. You’ll see sculptures of key religious figures such as Moses, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and Saints Peter and Paul. But the main attraction is the 22-foot-long, life-size wooden sculpture of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. It was carved by a local artist who used family and friends as models.
8. Stone State Park
Home to about 8 miles of rugged trails, Stone State Park is a popular place to spend a day in nature. With snowmobile, horseback, and bicycle trails also available, the state park -- which offers free admission -- is perfect for nature enthusiasts. As you explore the scenery, immerse yourself in the area’s woods not far from the Missouri and Big Sioux Rivers.
While the hiking paths may be too rugged for some, the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center offers paved hiking and walking paths. Named for a former minister, the nature center includes indoor exhibits as well as outdoor butterfly and flower gardens.
9. Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Cross the Missouri River into South Sioux City, Nebraska, to visit a miniature replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Half the size of the national memorial, this memorial includes the names of the men and women who died during the Vietnam War.
The memorial anchors Siouxland Freedom Park, which will eventually be home to memorials to all American wars and a visitor center with a giant flag. Currently, Freedom Park includes banners recognizing the military’s five branches and is the site of community celebrations, including an Independence Day fireworks show.
Where To Eat In Sioux City
For an authentic Mexican dining experience, visit Taqueria La Juanita. As you order at the counter, you’ll hear your order being called out to the kitchen staff in Spanish. After the fresh tacos or burritos are delivered to your table, you’ll swear you’re dining at a restaurant south of the border. Bring cash, since La Juanita doesn’t accept cards.
M’s on 4th features a unique menu, with cheese-stuffed mushrooms and a seafood cocktail of scallops, shrimp, and cod plus classic restaurant fare such as chicken Parmesan and sirloin steak. M’s has been a downtown favorite for several years.
Where To Stay In Sioux City
While the city of about 80,000 is home to a variety of national hotel chains, just across the Missouri River in South Sioux City, Nebraska, you can enjoy a truly local experience by sleeping in a treehouse. Kottage Knechtion Treehouse Bed and Breakfast is an actual treehouse built about 20 feet above the ground in a solid Midwestern tree. The bed and breakfast overlooks 5 acres of pristine land and faces east, so you can take in the sunrise each day. The treehouse is located near the Koffie Knechtion coffeehouse, where breakfast is served.
You can do a little gambling, take in a show, or just browse the classic rock memorabilia on display at the Hard Rock Casino & Hotel. Located in the refurbished Battery Building, the Hard Rock may be a national chain, but the hotel building definitely has a quirky feel. Room numbers are cleverly placed on giant guitar picks. The rooms are immaculately designed for comfort, while still highlighting the building’s exposed brick and wood. The hotel is also home to three restaurants.
For more to see and do in Iowa, see this page.