Guide to Road Trip Essentials

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

When I first started taking shorter, day trips I didn’t put a lot of thought into packing essentials for the car. It was never as big of a problem for longer trips, but especially when you’re planning to be back the same day, it’s easy to overlook some helpful essentials.

Typically it wouldn’t be until I’m in the middle of rural Iowa with no cellphone service and zero snacks that I’d realize I’d made a horrible mistake. So to keep you from being the hangry, lost roadside traveller I’ve been a few too many times, I’ve compiled a list of helpful essentials to toss into your back seat every time you hit the road, whether you’re traveling 500 miles or just 50.

The correct atlas or map for your trip

Sure, your friends might tease you when they find your giant, bound atlas tucked into the seat pocket of your driver’s seat. But when you find yourself in rural Iowa without a cellphone signal and no idea how to get back to the main highway, you won’t mind. Plus, I’ve found a paper map can offer some much needed perspective over my phone’s digital navigation.

A water bottle

This one seems like a no-brainer but as someone who’s constantly trying to do a better job staying hydrated it’s become an important one. Plus you don’t want to get stuck paying for an over-priced bottle when you stop for gas. Continue reading

Brooklyn: Community of Flags

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

I’ve seen the sign off of I-80 countless times—Brooklyn: Community of Flags. But, for whatever reason, I’ve never been curious enough to stop. That is, until recently.

With a population of just over 1,400 people, it’s safe to say that you shouldn’t roll into Brooklyn expecting a thriving metropolis. But for a small town, the Community of Flags brings a lot of worldly presence.

In all, more than 55 flags make up the display, including the flags of all 50 U.S. states, the four branches of the Armed Services and a handful of “special interest” flags surrounding a giant American flag. Additionally, Brooklyn’s downtown streets are lined with 35 international flags.

If you’re lucky the Community of Flags Store—part gift shop, part local garage sale—will be open just up the street for all of the tchotchke purchasing needs.

Community of Flags, 114 Jackson Street in Brooklyn, Iowa

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

The Birthplace of Des Moines

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

Unless you spend an inordinately large amount of time along Des Moines’ southern riverfront or happen have the same running route as I do, you’ve probably never noticed the tiny log cabin just off the parking lot of Principal Park. I first happened upon it a few years back while taking advantage of the downtown trail systems training for a half marathon, and since then it’s been one of my favorite hidden gems.

A bit of history

Always a bit of a local history nerd, I turned to the State Historical Society to try to find out more about Fort Des Moines No. 2.  Continue reading

Maasdam Wheel Art

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I found an entry about L.J. Maasdam’s wheel art on Roadside America. Most of the photos were small and showed very little of what the sculpture actually looks like, but on a whim, we got off the highway. And I’m here to let you know: it’s better than you could imagine in person.

Towering 60 feet over Iowa cornfields and constructed using more than 200 steel wagon wheels, this sculpture is truly a sight to behold. Add on the fact that Leonard J. Maasdam constructed it at age 90 and you’ve got the makings of a great attraction. Continue reading

Eats: Ladora Bank Bistro

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

A visit to the Ladora Bank Bistro has been on my bucket list ever since a friend first told me an amazing place like this existed. Housed in a beautifully restored Jewel Box style bank, the small plates restaurant and bar has delighted Iowans and travelers alike for the past few years. So when a sunny Sunday afternoon presented itself, I knew it was finally time to take a trip to the Bistro.

Roughly 12 miles off I-80 and about an hour east of Des Moines, the Ladora Bank Bistro is pretty unassuming from the outside. Frankly, there’s not much else in the tiny town of Ladora—except for the Shop Ladora Stora, which cracked me up. Once inside the restored bank is truly breathtaking (I mean it—I may have been hyperventilating a little bit).  Continue reading

Preston’s Gas Station

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

A few weekends back on an abnormally warm January Sunday, a friend and I hopped in the car in search of some roadside adventure. We headed northeast of Des Moines to the stretch of the Lincoln Highway that runs through Belle Plaine to check off the first item on my 2015 bucket list.

Preston’s Gas Station embodies everything I love about road trips and that irresistibly kitschy sense of Americana. For any traveler—Lincoln Highway lover or not—this is a great detour for a photo opp and roadside time warp. Continue reading

Des Moines Essentials: Breakfast & Brunch

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As the wise Ron Swanson says “There has never been a sadness that can’t be cured by breakfast food.” Or really any other emotion for that matter. Whether it’s diner style breakfast or fancier brunch, it’s hard for me to find something to dislike about pancakes, eggs and everything in between.

Last week I shared some of my favorite Des Moines coffee shops and cafes, now I’m moving on to the city’s best breakfast and brunch spots.

Americana (1312 Locust Street)
If a buffet-style brunch is what you’re looking for, Americana is the place to go. For $25 you’ll get all you can eat and all you can drink from the restaurant’s mimosa and Bloody Mary bar.

Eatery A (2932 Ingersoll Avenue)
Ever since it opened earlier this summer, Eatery A has been one of my go-to spots for out-of-town visitors and brunch with the girls. I love everything about this place, from the decor to the ever-changing menu.
My favorites: Eatery omelet or the asparagus & proscuitto Continue reading

The Week: January 16, 2015

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

The temperature finally inched above freezing this week and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Don’t get me wrong, winter has it’s appeal. I just prefer to be able to venture outside without a full face mask.

While it lasts, I’ll be enjoying the warmer weather with outdoor runs and maybe even a weekend adventure or two. In the meantime, here are my favorite bits of Internet from this week:

In case you need a little chuckle, this company will mail anyone you’re annoyed with a whole mess of glitter.

I’ve been on a bit of a cleaning kick lately and could relate to almost every one of these 10 things to throw away right now.

In high school I worked at the public library and loved hearing about the things people came to ask the reference librarians about. This NPR piece tugs on those same heartstrings. Continue reading

Des Moines Essentials: Coffeeshops & Cafés

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In December I published my list of Des Moines Essentials—all of my favorite places to eat, drink, shop and explore in Iowa’s capital city. As promised, I’m expanding upon that collection with a little more detail and some recommendations from the places I love.

Since it’s typically -10 degrees here these days, what better to start with than my favorite Des Moines coffee shops and cafés. These cozy haunts are the perfect place to grab breakfast with a friend or settle in with a latte and a good book:

La Mie (Shops At Roosevelt, 841 42nd Street)
For the most delicious French pastries you’ve ever seen this side of the Mississippi, you’ll want to stop by La Mie. Fair warning: if you’re planning on visiting for Saturday brunch, they get busy quick. Get there early.
My favorites: Fromage omelet, ham & cheese croissant or grilled brie sandwich

Mars Cafe (2318 University Avenue)
Mars was my first coffee shop love in Des Moines and it’s yet to be dethroned. While I no longer live in the Drake neighborhood, I still try to make it back to Mars for some quality time in my favorite window booth every once and awhile.
My favorites: the Sputnik, Mar’s signature latte Continue reading

The Week: January 9, 2015

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

I’ve spent a lot of time this week getting organized (with the help of my shiny new Simplified Planner) and making plans for the coming year. And while I’m not even close to having it all figured out, I’ve got a lot of ideas bouncing around my overcrowded brain. In the meantime, here are my favorite bits of Internet from this week:

Travel Iowa: This week I shared some of Iowa’s largest attractions with readers at the Travel Iowa blog. If you’re looking for a “big” 2015 adventure you can check it out here.

Well-timed Seth Godin truth bombs. “If you demand that everything that happens be something you are adequately prepared for, I wonder if you’ve chosen never to leap in ways that we need you to leap.”

I absolutely love these photos of Cedar Falls during the snowstorm we had earlier this week.

I’ve been needing a little extra determination lately and this little talisman might be the perfect solution.

These vintage photos and postcards of historic Des Moines are incredible.  Continue reading