We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. This helps support what we do and in no way costs you a thing.
Nestled in the heart of Southwest Iowa, the enchanting town of Corning awaits adventurous souls seeking a blend of rich history, breathtaking natural beauty, and vibrant cultural experiences. With its idyllic landscapes, welcoming community, and tapestry of attractions, Corning beckons travelers to embark on a journey that unveils the hidden gems of this captivating destination.
Corning embodies the essence of the state of Iowa. Whether you’re a history enthusiast eager to explore the town’s heritage, a nature lover seeking outdoor adventures, a foodie yearning for local flavors, or an art and culture aficionado, Corning has something to offer everyone.
As I embarked on a longer-than-planned drive to Corning, Iowa, I couldn’t help but anticipate the adventures that awaited me in this charming small town. Little did I know that my first impression would be a testament to the warmth and vibrancy that enveloped the entire community.
When I say longer than planned – I may or may not have had a GPS oops after I stopped for gas that added an additional three hours to my travels. It was such a beautiful day and a pleasant drive from Wisconsin that I didn’t catch it immediately. (sigh) I know my good friend Tim of The Walking Tourists will never let me forget it, as he instantly sent ten laughing gifs to me when I let the group know I was running late.
I made it, though, and as I pulled into town and stepped out of my car to stretch my legs, a faint melody reached my ears. I followed the enchanting music and discovered it emanated from speakers along a few street poles. The presence of such thoughtful gestures instantly made me feel welcome and assured me that Corning was a place where hospitality and community spirit thrived.
Now, I know I was a community guest and part of a group of travel writers visiting. I was a last-minute substitution for someone ill, and I am tickled to say that it was one of the best “yes” answers I gave this year. Please sit back and let me tell you why…
If you are a Foodie
Let’s start with the food – as I arrived just in time for the group dinner.
My exploration of Corning began with an encounter at Los Catrines Mexican Kitchen, where vibrant colors and a lively interior perfectly complemented the delicious Mexican cuisine. The cheerful ambiance matched the flavors that danced on my palate with every bite. From traditional favorites to innovative twists, Los Catrines showcased the richness and authenticity of Mexican culinary traditions, making it a must-visit for any food lover.
I love small towns! There was a birthday celebration in the corner, and I -being the shy person I am – jumped up and started singing along with the staff. The birthday gal thanked me on her way out.
Another culinary gem in Corning was Primrose, an incredible farm-to-fork restaurant run by a talented husband and wife team. The aromatic scents of fresh ingredients and the inviting ambiance set the stage for a culinary experience like no other.
Every bite of the thoughtfully prepared dishes was a testament to the couple’s passion for creating exceptional farm-to-table fare, leaving a lasting impression on my taste buds. We had group appetizers, and then I went with the meatloaf special.
Have you ever had meatloaf that transcends beyond the ordinary? Joel nails it perfectly with his technique of bacon wrapping and slow-cooking to create a perfect marriage of flavors. It was freaking gourmet meatloaf, and I will have to try to recreate that masterpiece at home.
FYI – those that didn’t get the meatloaf were only mildly upset with the moaning and groaning that those of us on our end of the table who indulged in it were working our way through – delectable bite by delectable bite.
Pro tip: Try the Ricotta Donuts if they are on the dessert menu – your eyes will roll up into your head.
In perfect timing, my visit coincided with National Donut Day, and I couldn’t resist indulging in a treat from Sweet Desires, a local bakery known for its sugary creations. I may or may not have left with a box of Dutch Letters.
Where to find a Cuppa
All you have to do is walk across the street after you get your donuts – and then through a hair salon! You will find yourself at Background’s Coffee Bar & Boutique. From a variety of handcrafted hot and cold coffee drinks to simple sandwiches, you will find more than a barista here. I love the eclectic wall decor and how they support local merchants with various things for sale. Make sure to check out their featured person of the month.
If it is later in the day – get a cuppa WINE!
You HAVE to check out the Floating Vine when you are visiting – but only if you enjoy A pastoral vista of reclaimed vineyards, A generous poor, and even spaces on the floor where you can look down and see blue gill swimming along. It’s cocktails and a show!
This place floats on the water – hence the name – and makes for a happy hour that will surely put a smile on your face.
Between culinary indulgences, I continued my journey through Corning’s captivating attractions. The historic Corning Opera House, with its grand architecture and storied past, transported me to a bygone era of elegance and cultural appreciation.
De, the Director, was a font of information and led us through time as she shared its transformation from an upscale venue to a community center that caters to more than just the elite in the area today. They were currently indulging in American theater with a joint school production rehearsal underway.
Corning’s dedication to preserving its history was evident in the House of History, a repository of artifacts and tales that painted a vivid picture of the town’s past. Each exhibit served as a testament to the resilience and pride of the community, leaving me with a deep appreciation for Corning’s heritage. I found it funny, and fitting, that they repurposed the old jail building for this – and saved a cell for the basement as part of the display.
I LOVE repurposed older buildings!
A visit to Corning wouldn’t be complete without exploring the birthplace of the legendary Johnny Carson. The humble home where this renowned television host and comedian spent his early years provided a fascinating glimpse into his upbringing and served as a tribute to his lasting legacy.
I didn’t even touch on the Utopian Settlement that founded the area, and was my inspiration to go on this trip to begin with! My research before the trip showed the longest-running Utopian settlement was in the area – and founded by this French lawyer who was part of the resistance that created the French Revolution. The roots of their ideology went back that far, and the two buildings today tell the story of their history. I will check it out for myself on my next visit.
Travis treated us to a pontoon boat ride on Lake Icaria, filling in on its history, what it offers today, and so much more!
One of the main draws of Lake Icaria is its excellent fishing opportunities. The lake is well-stocked with various fish species, including bass, crappie, catfish, and bluegill, making it a haven for anglers seeking a rewarding fishing experience. Whether casting a line from the shore, fishing off a boat, or utilizing the fishing piers, visitors can enjoy the thrill of reeling in a catch.
Lake Icaria offers boating and kayaking opportunities for those seeking a more leisurely experience on the water. Boaters can cruise along the calm waters, soak in the natural surroundings, and enjoy a day of relaxation and exploration. The lake also provides boat ramps for convenient access.
Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the scenic beauty and wildlife that thrives in the lake’s surroundings. The wooded shorelines and serene waters attract a variety of bird species, making it an ideal spot for birdwatching. Hiking and walking miles of trails around the lake offer opportunities to immerse oneself in nature, providing a peaceful retreat for outdoor enthusiasts.
Areas with picnic tables and campgrounds are available for visitors who wish to extend their stay at Lake Icaria. These facilities provide a place to relax, enjoy a meal outdoors, and spend quality time with family and friends.
And let’s not forget the artful side of Corning, as I eagerly participated in an art class that revealed hidden talents and unleashed my creativity. OK – maybe not, LOL – I am far from artistic. It was a class on doodling, and I had no idea so much could go into that! Our instructor welcomed us with open arms and fostered an environment of inspiration and self-expression. The Corning Center for the Fine Arts is a place to add to your list…whether you build your personal art skills or purchase the work of other talented people.
Where to Hang Your Hat
We stayed at The Corning Hotel – a unique and locally-owned establishment that offers a personalized experience to its guests. Co-op hotels often focus on community engagement and sustainability while providing a comfortable and welcoming environment. This certainly fits the bill.
A five-star hotel in ultra-rural America? You betcha! From the decor, to breakfast bar options, to friendly staff – they earn it.
They had me at teal! The hotel’s vibrant and fun décor adds a lively touch to the ambiance. The colorful and playful design elements create a cheerful and uplifting atmosphere for guests to enjoy during their stay. Talk about unique hotel personality and charm! It was better than some luxury hotels I have stayed at – honest!
As I bid farewell to Corning, I couldn’t help but reflect on the incredible experiences that had filled my days in this charming town. From the delightful shops downtown to the warm-hearted people who made me feel like a member of their community, Corning had surpassed my expectations in every way.
This small town’s ability to weave together history, culture, nature, and culinary delights made it a destination brimming with charm and genuine hospitality. Corning, Iowa, should be on your bucket list – for all those reasons and more.
Other fun places in Iowa that I have been:
- Pagliai’s Pizza Iowa City Really Delivers
- Fly Around the Antique Airfield and Airport Museum
- Experience the World-Famous Canteen Restaurant Lunch!
- 10 Steps to Be Like a Local in Estherville Iowa
- The Art Behind the American Gothic House and Center
- Hamburg Inn Iowa City: A Tradition Of Fine Tasting Foods