With cabin fever reaching its nasty little peak, the opportunity to do a weekend getaway at a luxurious lodge in North Iowa was the perfect remedy. Luxurious lodge? In Iowa? In the winter? Yes, Red Cedar Lodge offers upscale cabins just outside Charles City.
Red Cedar Lodge consists of only three cabins, a few hundred feet off the main street into town and a short walk to the Cedar River. Sunrise Ridge and Moonlight Bend can each sleep up to 10 people. Eagle’s Nest sleeps up to eight people. Lisa and I stayed in Sunrise Ridge, which, in fact, does offer a beautiful view of the sun rising above the trees hugging the river. Nearby, I could swear geese were sending us good morning calls.
In addition to the geese, we took in impressive views of eagles and hawks gliding overhead in search of breakfast. A great way to start each day, viewing nature highlights enjoying a morning beverage on the front porch.
We could have spent the entire weekend never leaving the cabin, but since we’re The Walking Tourists, there were things to see, people to meet and food and drink to try. And, were we impressed!
We started the day with a cup of java at Aromas downtown. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, the coffee house offered Irish-themed drinks. Lisa went with a frappe featuring mint, while I chose a caramel latte. We both chose well.
Opened since 2005, Aromas roasts free trade coffee beans. Free trade verifies that coffee beans come from plantations that pay workers, instead of using slave labor. Free trade coffee usually costs more, but it supports a valid economic system. Aromas gets its coffee beans from African, Latin American and Indonesian countries. Each region provides its own flavor, from African diversity to Latin American sweetness to Indonesia’s savory.
Once we had our caffeine, it was time explore the city of about 7,600 people. We headed to Central Park, across the street from the coffeehouse. Charles City supports its green spaces, with 13 primary parks. Central Park features a few sculptures as part of the city’s public art scene.
Exploring Charles City
Built in the Art Moderne style, the Charles Theatre opened in 1935. Today, seating more than 400 people, it’s operated by volunteers and offers first-run movies for limited runs. The theater can also be used for stage plays and other performances.
Next door, we fell in love with The Rustic Corner, a home décor store. The Rustic Corner consists of three stores inside the former car dealership – Rustic Corner, Bree’s Boutique and Uncorked. We met Tami and Amy, two of the nicest people, who could be on the poster for Midwest nice. They were each kind enough to show us around the store or answer any questions we had. Tami actually made a nice sale, as we had her screen print five travel mugs for our new book “100 Things to Do in Omaha Before You Die,” which will be available mid-April. Her artwork on the mugs was outstanding. It came about as she explained how they can print anything on mugs, wood and other items.
Bree’s Boutique specializes in women’s clothing and accessories. The displays appealed to shoppers. Tami assisted customers for Bree’s and made recommendations based on the person the customers were choosing an outfit for.
On the second floor, Uncorked takes up about half the space with tables and paintings. Robin Macomber, Uncorked’s artist, has more than 20 years of experience and works with customers to create beautiful pieces of art. The studio differs from other art houses in that customers trace their picture before painting. It provides a well-done art outing rather than relying on freehand work. As someone who has done the freehand art, I can appreciate Robin’s approach.
After we finished spending almost two hours at The Rustic Corner, we continued our trek about town. Our next stop was the Art Center, housed in the historic Carnegie Library building. This month, the art center features clocks of all sorts, including cuckoo clocks. A clock – no longer with working hands – featured a painting of President Lincoln with son Tad. You should also check out the stained-glass window featuring Little Red Riding Hood.
The Charles City pedestrian bridge opened in 2010, replacing a former suspension bridge destroyed in a flood two years earlier. We are fans of pedestrian bridges and enjoy walking across them whenever we can. We were told the old bridge – built in 1906 – swayed with the wind, but the new one was sturdy as we crossed it with a southerly wind gusting at times.
Nearby, an art piece was built using part of the original bridge as its base. The art piece includes a poem about life on the water.
Lunch and history
Having worked up an appetite we headed to Plaza Mexico for lunch. The combination meals were great deals, with each of us having two main items coupled with beans and rice. The staff kept moving about checking on diners and keeping glasses full.
After about a 45-minute lunch break, we headed to the downtown library. It’s home to a special exhibit called the Mooney Collection which features original prints by artists including Picasso, Rembrandt, Gaugin and Grant Wood. They were donated to the city by former resident Arthur Mooney, an early 20th-century photographer who worked for Eastman-Kodak.
Charles City may be the only Midwestern city with whitewater rapids near downtown. Taking up a three-block stretch, the rapids begin at a small dam. Kayakers, surfers and other water fans take their turns on the water. We weren’t the only ones with cabin fever, as four people played with their kayaks in the freezing water.
We learned that the leader of the women’s suffrage movement grew up near Charles City, so we headed out of town for a four-mile trip to the childhood home of Carrie Lane Chapman Catt. Catt played a critical role in working to get the 19th amendment ratified by state legislatures, giving women the right to vote.
Catt became interested in the women’s movement at the age of 13 when her father and a farm worker laughed when she asked why her mom couldn’t vote in an 1872 election. He told her that voting was too important to leave up to women. That fueled her fire to see that women would one day be allowed to vote. After working with Susan B. Anthony, among others, Catt led the move to get the amendment ratified, which Tennessee put over the top in 1926. It took more than 50 years, but she saw it happen.
As a fan of military memorials, I was impressed with the Floyd County veterans memorial in front of the courthouse. Created in 2008, the granite markers represent veterans from each community in Floyd County.
A trip to R.M. Granet and Company antique and art store is a must. Opened for a couple of years, the store features a variety of international art, as well as antiques. Molly Thomson, who opened the store with business partner Rhona Granet, sought to bring art with her when she returned home to Charles City after spending several years away, including seven years in Chicago. She and Granet met in Chicago and quickly developed a friendship based on their love for art.
The art is exquisite and includes international pieces, such as a French statuette. The antiques date back to 1800s and include items such as a portable Murphy bed, built inside a shelf unit, and a bar unit featuring two pieces, including a large mirror as the top half.
Dinner and dessert
We topped our day with dinner at The Pub on Cedar with friends Todd and Sara from Mason City. Sara runs the blog Travels with Sara and is Lisa’s partner with Midwest Travel Network. The four of us enjoyed a great meal in the sports bar. With college basketball games playing on the large TV screens hanging on the walls, The Pub is a sports fan favorite in Charles City.
The restaurant offers a sports décor, including jerseys from NFL players Jared Allen, Aaron Rodgers (though The Pub is a Minnesota Vikings bar) and Major League Baseball star Anthony Rizzo. Other sports memorabilia feature the Iowa Hawkeyes and Northern Iowa Panthers.
Sara and I each ordered the ribeye sandwich, which we agreed were delicious. It’s her favorite sandwich and we told by a source that Sara will try to stare you down to order it. No staring contest required. Todd had a burger and enjoyed it. Lisa went with an Iowa favorite, the pork tenderloin. The Pub’s sandwiches are large enough to split, so Lisa couldn’t finish hers. But, she loved it.
Topping a fantastic and hectic day (it felt awesome to get back into the traveling groove with a packed day of events), we all headed back to the lodge where co-owner Lorraine Winterink met us and the five of us enjoyed a slice of the anniversary cake Lorraine had placed in the refrigerator as a welcome to us when we checked in. While visiting before our stay, Lisa had mentioned that we recently celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary and this trip was sort of a belated celebration.
As our friends headed home for the evening, Sara mentioned I needed to see the moon. Oh, what a view we had (both nights). This night, clouds gave the moon a filtered appearance. Our first night, clear skies gave us a beautiful view of the moon and stars. Nothing beats the country for impressive sky views.
As we wrapped up a must-too quick weekend getaway, we can look back and smile with the fun we had visiting a new area, reuniting with friends and making new ones. We recommend you come to Charles City and create your own story.
Disclaimer: Thank you to Red Cedar Lodge for the complimentary stay. Thank you to The Pub for the complimentary dinner. However, all opinions and views are ours.