Family Adventures · Iowa Icons · Museums and History · Roadside Iowa · South Central Iowa

Mistletoe & Tenderloins: A Grant Wood Christmas on the Wapello Trail

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Eldon & Ottumwa, IA: Wapello County

You hear that? The faint sound of bells jingling away while some jolly dude ho, ho, ho’s through the chilly breeze. It could be coming from anywhere, but, if you ask Team Goodvin, we’ll probably tell you that it’s coming from the greater Ottumwa area. Because it’s one of Iowa’s best places for a holiday getaway and perhaps you need to getaway. We did and our first stop was in Eldon, home to the historic American Gothic House!

When it comes to the importance of Iowa’s historic landmarks, the American Gothic House is right up there on a lot of travelers’ bucket lists. Grant Wood’s iconic painting, on this site in Eldon, is considered to be holy ground and it has a very good reason why. American Gothic is one of history’s most respected paintings and the second most parodied behind the Mona Lisa. To stand in the exact spot where the subjects stood in the infamous panting, and to view the home in the exact spot where Grant Wood himself worked on the piece is something that not all art and history enthusiasts can say they’ve done. On this day we did all of that, visited the interpretive center, and participated in their annual gingerbread house activity.

This is a free activity to anyone who wants to make the trip to the American Gothic House and partake in this very fun activity. The historic house still has many of it’s original features with volunteers working hard in the kitchen preparing the ingredients for the dozens of gingerbread houses about to be constructed. Something tells me that Grant Wood would love this annual artistic event centered around this famous site. Confession time….If they ran short on gumdrops its probably my fault. Second confession….Not many of them made it to Charlie’s gingerbread house. Sorry-Not Sorry. Let’s see what else Eldon has for us.

Eldon’s historic McHaffey Opera House has seen hundreds of shows, singers, bands, and performances including its annual Christmas Tree Wonderland. The opera house was stuffed with countless Christmas trees all decorated uniquely and volunteers showing the visitors around and playing carols on the piano. From the original ceilings to the original wood floors, the McHaffey Opera House is bulging with holiday cheer and Iowa history. Our visit here made us want to come back and see what the rest of the building has to offer. Right now, we need to get to Ottumwa and check with some old friends at another historic building…..

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Our home for the night is another stay at the Hotel Ottumwa!

We had such a great stay at the Hotel Ottumwa this summer during our RAGBRAI Scouting, we knew we had to comeback for round two in the winter. The hardworking crew of the Hotel Ottumwa is what we really love about this property and they keep its hotel, two restaurants, and bar going with great service. Our cozy room was calling, but we needed to explore. Not on an empty stomach, though. That’s an Iowa Gallivant no-no. We head to an institution that’s home to one of Iowa’s BEST breaded pork tenderloins!

The Recovery Room prepares a lot of great food, including one of Iowa’s most popular sandwiches. Their breaded pork tenderloin was served deliciously hot and garnished with all the classic sandwich buddies. The batter was fried up into a perfectly flavorful light crusted that surrounded the juicy tenderloin. We tend to order food outside the box, but sometimes you need a huge helping of comfort food. We found a good home for that craving.

After we finished our dinner, we headed to one of Ottumwa’s biggest parks and one of their proudest annual events. A drive through acre after acre of Holiday Nights N’ Lights! The Wapello County firefighters were working through the holiday season to assure Ottumwa’s visitors and locals enjoy one of Iowa’s biggest display of lights during the holiday season. The winding road took us past thousands of lights and capped off an incredible day of Eldon, Ottumwa, and a quick trip to the grave site of Chief Wapello in the nearby town of Agency. Our beds at the Hotel Ottumwa were calling and we crashed into a long nights sleep. We needed to ready ourselves for another another Ottumwa staple in the morning.

The early morning sweet tooth can be a viscous way to wake up. Luckily for anyone in Ottumwa that suffers from such a sensation they have Main Street Donuts to take care of them. The beginnings of a couple inches of snow started on our way there, so we scarfed down some fresh and beautifully prepared donuts so that we could get back on the road to our headquarters in Hills.

Our trips to Ottumwa have produced some fun and very memorable adventures for Team Goodvin this year. Let’s do something a little different this year and go exploring for the holiday season. Wapello county is one of the best launchpads to start a whole new tradition for a December road trip. OK, I need something with cinnamon and a big bow right now. Have a merry one!

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I wasn’t getting out of Ottumwa without one of these! We also gave Ottumwa our award for having 2016’s Best Hometown Taco!

Be sure to read more about our travels to South Central Iowa!

Thanks for reading! -Team Goodvin

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