Smack-dab in the middle of the country lies Iowa. Unless you live there, you probably don’t think very much about the Hawkeye state. In fact, you probably view it as more of an area to pass through or over while traveling to a destination. Iowa offers a whole lot more than just cornfields and tractors, though. It was crowned No.1 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 Best State Rankings today.
Based on 77 measures across eight categories, Iowa was top in the nation for its stellar infrastructure, health care, opportunity and education. This is the second year of the report, and last year Iowa came in sixth overall. The rankings were created using McKinsey & Company’s Leading State Index, which is comprised of two years of data from an annual survey involving more than 30,000 people per state.
Here are Iowa’s rankings in the eight categories:
- Infrastructure: first
- Health care: third
- Opportunity: fourth
- Education: fifth
- Quality of life: ninth
- Crime: 15th
- Economy: 17th
- Fiscal stability: 21st
Now that you know the rankings, it’s time to get familiar with the state’s character. Here are a few highlights about this under-publicized gem.
Literary Geeks Welcomed
Iowa has a surprising amount of resources for writers and book lovers. The Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa is hugely famous. It’s why Iowa City is designated as a UNESCO City of Literature. The bookstore scene is also off the charts. Prairie Lights bookstore is always full of brand new releases, along with lesser-known treasures. Many events and author readings from the works of legendary figures such as Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes and ee cummings happen here.
Iowa City is home to the famous Literary Walk on Iowa Avenue. The attraction features several blocks of bronze panels inscribed with the words and works of 49 Iowa-associated authors. Iowa City also hosts its annual Book Festival each fall. This year it will be held on October 1–7.
The Natural Beauty is Calling
When you envision Iowa, endless cornfields probably come to mind. Sure, that’s beautiful, and a reality in the state, but it also houses a rich diversity of natural terrain. Also, contrary to what many believe, there are rolling hills, rivers and lakes—providing plenty of outdoor activity options. In Iowa City alone, there are 41 stunning public parks. Whether it’s the cities, prairies or woods, you’ll reach something new and striking within a short drive.
The Magnificent Iowa State Fair
Largely regarded as the best fair in the county, and recognized as the largest event in Iowa, the Iowa State Fair is a very special occasion. More than 1 million people travel from places near and far to reach Des Moines, where they celebrate agriculture, entertainment and Midwest culture in general. The decadent foods, classic rides, iconic farm activities and remarkable vendors make it a must. Oh, and did we mention the butter statues? They’re an Iowa State Fair tradition.
Indulge in Local Eats
Although you might not be familiar with the franchise, ask anyone in Iowa about Maid-Rite and you’ll get an ear-full. The chain started in Iowa and is known for its “loose hamburger,” which, to be clear, is not a sloppy joe. If that’s not indulgent enough, there’s also bacon galore—enough to annually host The Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival. The demand for the crispy meat is why Iowa is the No. 1 hog-producing state in the county, with pigs outnumbering people, 3-1.
Iowa isn’t only for the meat-eaters. There is also an abundance of farmer’s markets. The Des Moines Farmers Market is particularly well-known for its farm-to-table eats and healthy ingredients. Sticking to a local diet is easy with the freshest apples, strawberries, corn, herbs, watermelon, and other fruits and vegetables. Farmers sell their corn on the side of the road throughout the state. Not only is this a viable way to get your kernels—it’s encouraged.