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  • Writer's pictureLara Draxler

Trip Report-Dubuque, IA

Updated: Aug 6, 2020

beautiful port and bridge to Dubuque

We just returned from a really fun weekend to Dubuque, Iowa. We ended up there in a very round about manner as I referenced in a previous post. This destination was a little random, but I am really glad we went! It was a great trip and a wonderful destination. We chose Dubuque initially because it was only four hours away and also because we found a hotel on Groupon that was there. We had a hefty amount of Groupon hotel bucks to spend due to another cancelled trip. We chose Hotel Julien (a classic old school hotel located in downtown Dubuque).

Iowa itself originated in Dubuque!

I will further review the hotel later on in the post; however I wanted to share a few tips about planning a trip during a pandemic and also planning a trip to a destination you have never been to before.

When planning a trip to an entirely new location, a little research goes a long way. We wanted to get a rough idea of what was there, but also left room for a little spontaneity. I used the following websites to help us plan. No one wants to waste money on a bad meal or a bad attraction. Usually, if you do a little planning, you can prevent yourself that stress. I also feel it is important to get a rough plan of how to be prepared for COVID protocols by doing a little research.

  • Travel Dubuque website-this is one of the best local travel websites I have ever seen. We got most of our ideas from here. Almost every city or state has a tourism site like this. Use them!

  • Open Table-this is the restaurant booking site we use most often. It is very easy to search and read reviews.

  • Culture Trip-I really like this one. It often features unique attractions and dining options by location.

  • Trip Advisor-I like the "list-icle" format of this site (lots of top tens) and I also really like the reviews.

  • Pinterest- invaluable tool in trip planning. If I am planning a big trip, I always create a board and search my destination. For smaller trips like this one, I enjoy just doing a search and seeing what hidden treasures come up.

  • individual businesses' social media-once we have made a list of places of interest, we then Google and check each place's website, Facebook page, Instagram account etc. That way we aren't wasting time doing that when we arrive. It is also helpful to see if a place has limited hours etc during COVID.

crossing the bridge from WI to IA

Also, just a few general observations about travel during the pandemic. If you aren't sure about traveling, that is understandable; however if you want to get out there and explore, these might be helpful to you...

  • Amenities might be limited where you stay-lots of hotels are understaffed and at limited capacity. You might not get maid service daily (as was the case of our hotel in Dubuque). You might not be able to easily access things like a pool or hot tub due to social distancing. You can still have a great time, but keep expectations in check.

  • Be extra patient-many places are understaffed in restaurants and hotels. You might have longer wait times when you go out to eat due to socially distanced tables and more take out orders. We enjoyed eating at the hotel restaurant for breakfast on one morning of our trip, but they were understaffed and it took an extremely long time to eat and pay our bill as staff was stretched too thin.

  • Try to avoid crowded spaces and major metropolitan areas-we chose Iowa because it is still a socially distant place for the most part. You can easily avoid crowds and bars if you choose. We also chose a place where we could walk and drive--no public transport needed.

  • be prepared that other people will NOT be mask compliant or respectful of social distancing-you can only control yourself. If your personal comfort level is being threatened, perhaps you should remove yourself or not travel at this time.

  • prep before you go-bring extra masks, hand sanitizer, etc. Plan to stop on the road as little as possible, avoiding going into enclosed places. Bring cleaning wipes or spray to wipe down your room again when you arrive.

  • here's the GOOD part-most folks are NOT traveling right now-we REALLY enjoyed low crowds and feeling like we had exclusive access to our hotel and other places we visited.

And now, on to the fun....the actual experience we had in Dubuque!

We left our house around lunch time on the day we left and really enjoyed the beautiful scenic drive down to Iowa. It was very peaceful. We got drive through food for lunch and also stopped once for a potty break with masks etc. We packed snacks and drinks for our journey.

We checked into the hotel around 4. Overall, we loved our experience and the hotel. It is a famous old place where even Abraham Lincoln lodged back when Dubuque was a bustling center of industry for the emerging state of Iowa. We loved that we were able to park our vehicle when we arrived and not move it until we left. This was a very walk-able downtown. We loved the size of our room and the lobby, lounge etc. My only complaint about the place was that the thermostat in our room automatically went back up to 72 degrees every 20 minutes or so. The weather was very hot last weekend and we were all waking up sweating. We would turn it down a few degrees and then it would go right back up. Not a huge deal I guess, but it did make our sleeping experience less restful.

gorgeous hotel lobby

We were on the 7th floor with a street view room. It was really nice.

Aha! Now I know where the hotel got its name...

Our room had plenty of space for us to spread out in and a nice spacious bathroom.

doing a little extra cleaning upon arrival

Our first evening there, we went on a two minute walk to a nearby Italian spot, Vinny Vannuchis. We had great dining experiences during our trip overall, but this was by far my favorite--Italian comfort food at its best. The food was AMAZING and affordable.

After dinner, we went on a walk around the downtown to get a lay of the land and stopped to get ice cream at a place called I Scream You Scream which had a pickup window open. I loved seeing all the beautiful murals on the buildings and the gorgeous clock tower.

ice cream mustache=good times

On our second day, we decided to eat breakfast at the hotel restaurant, Caroline's. We were then able to walk across the river on a pedestrian bridge to the wonderful National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. Located in the lovely port of Dubuque, you can do everything from look at stingrays and otters to immerse yourself in the history of this river town.

This museum is run by the Smithsonian and it is wonderful. We spent a whole day exploring the exhibits, animals, boats that were outside, and their 4D theater.

We really enjoyed our time here, but I would say the highlights were seeing the 4D movie about endangered species and seeing the otters and sting rays.

After we came back to the hotel on Saturday, we put our feet up and enjoyed a happy hour drink at an EMPTY hotel lounge. Afterwards, we went to another restaurant located just down the street, called the Pepper Sprout. This was a cozy dinner spot specializing in Midwestern fare. We really enjoyed the vegetable curry and cherry chocolate tarte!

Following dinner, we headed to a local favorite attraction, the Fenelon Place Elevator, the world's shortest and steepest elevator! Birthed during the Victorian period of ingenuity, the folks of Dubuque became tired of taking a 2 hour horse ride from the bluffs overlooking the town down into the city, and they decided it was time for some new technology. Thus, this elevator. It still works great and is a really fun thing to see. The views from the top overlook 3 states! You should be aware it is $3 to ride the elevator round trip and they only accept cash. We were scrambling to find an ATM to get that cash.

On our last day of the trip, we slept in a little bit and then packed up to eat brunch at Village Inn, a local greasy spoon (which is actually a chain I think) that specialized in full breakfasts. It was delicious! We really enjoyed the crepes, pancakes, and retro vibes. They also claimed to have the "best pie in America." We took them up on their offer and bought a strawberry rhubarb pie. It was indeed delicious!

Our last stop of the trip before heading home was the Field of Dreams Movie site. My husband and I both love 80s movies, and of course this is a classic. We enjoyed seeing the sights and then re-watching the movie when we got home.

All in all, it was a GREAT destination for weekend travel. We actually turned out thankful that our other travel plans had been turned on their head. This was a place we wouldn't have originally thought of to explore, but we really enjoyed it. I would definitely recommend Dubuque for a fun, frugal, weekend getaway.

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