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Is This Heaven? No, It’s Iowa: George Strait and a Weekend to Remember

Syndication: The Ames Tribune

Eight months ago, I was mindlessly scrolling through social media, and I just so happened to come across George Strait announcing his stadium tour for 2024. One of the stops that caught my eye was Ames, Iowa.

Having been to a game at Iowa State previously, I knew that Jack Trice Stadium would be rocking and that people from all over the state would make the trip. With my wife and I both being huge George Strait fans, the idea of buying tickets seemed like a no brainer.

 

Unlike my last visit to Iowa in 2019 for a football game (the famous Texas game), I would not just come here for business, but instead pleasure. With a few days off work for Memorial Day Weekend, we decided to make a vacation out of it to really get to know the area and get to know what Iowa is truly about.

When we told our family and friends about our trip, the first thing everyone asked was “Iowa? Why would you go there?” But before I answer that, I thought it would be better to show and tell people myself.

Trip Begins

After months and months of waiting, the time for our trip had finally arrived. We boarded the plane from San Antonio to Des Moines, but before we could get there, we had to make a stop in St. Louis for our connecting flight.

As we had a beer in the airport waiting for our plane, a guy from Illinois asked us why we were going to Iowa. When we told him and told him who we were going to see, he responded with “Who in the heck is George Strait?” It certainly made a few heads turn in the airport, but that’s ok. While we may have not had the same taste in music, we both had something in common which was our displeasure with the University of Missouri.

 

Around 11 p.m. local time, our plane finally touched down in Des Moines and we headed to get our bags and our rental car. We ended up booking the cheapest rental car option they had and when we got to the counter, they asked us if we like trucks. Next thing I know we had the keys to a 2023 4×4 Chevy Silverado. Then it was off to our Air BnB near Capitol Park which was a home from the 1880’s. The creaky floorboards creeped me out a little, but it was cool.

When we woke up Thursday morning, we were ready to hit the city.

The first thing we did was go straight to the Capitol. As we walked around taking in the impressive sights, my wife noticed that you could walk in. So, we went in to take a quick peek and as we walked out, one of the employees ran after us and asked, “Don’t you guys want to take a tour? It’s free.” And I am so glad we did. We ended up taking a tour with a local elementary school and still enjoyed every minute of it.

With our hunger building up as well as our thirst, I had to pay my respects to the original king of tenderloin sandwiches, Smitty’s.

I can easily see why this place has been in business for as long as they have. When locals walked in, some of the workers not only knew the names of the customers but their orders as well.

Now it was time for a brew. I saw a ton of recommendations for Big Grove Brewery so to me it seemed like the obvious choice.

 

Of course, with Lua Brewing directly behind it, that was the next stop (you can’t put two breweries next door and not expect us to go to both).

With plans to go to eat later on, we decided to check out Gray’s Lake. And I am sure glad we did.

After spending some time there soaking in the beautiful weather, it was time to head to Barn Town Brewing. As we sat there and finished our beer, the next question we had was where to eat dinner. Well, it didn’t take long to answer that after we saw the food coming out of that kitchen. I HIGHLY recommend grabbing a bite and a pint here.

As Thursday ended, I wanted to add one more pit stop on the way home, El Bait Shop which of course is a Des Moines staple.

 

Friday’s Adventures

On Friday morning we woke up a little hungry, so I decided to introduce the wife to some Casey’s breakfast pizza. And to my surprise, she actually enjoyed it.

Next up, it was time to hit up the botanical gardens. While a botanical garden may not be my cup of tea, I did enjoy the scenery, especially by the river. Now it was time to head to KXnO’s studio for a radio hit.

I had a blast talking Big 12 football with Ken Miller and Trent Condon on their daily sports talk show. And if you are interested, you can listen to the full interview right here.

With the radio segment done, next it was time to find something to eat. And with so many wonderful suggestions, Iowa State fans told me to hit up Smokey D’s and that may have been the best tenderloin sandwich I have ever had in my entire life.

After eating a massive sandwich like that, we both thought we would find somewhere to walk off the lunch and we ended up in Polk City at Big Creek State Park. The views were spectacular, the sun was shining, and I even put my feet in the water which made me feel like I was at the coast.

And speaking of the coast, I was in the mood for something a little tropical, so we hit up Buoys for a drink at Saylorville Lake as well as Fenders Brewing for a cold beer.

With dinner plans at Exile in Des Moines, we headed back to the city and had a delicious meal along with a great brew.

To cap off the evening, we made a final stop at Confluence Brewing before heading home.

GameDay

As great as the other days were, it was finally concert day. We made our way to Ames around 10 a.m. and decided to stop and grab some lunch beforehand. With a craving for some BBQ, we stopped at Whatcha Smokin BBQ in Luther. And let me tell you, it was every bit as good as advertised!

With our bellies full, now it was time to make our way to Jack Trice Stadium. We found some great parking in a neighborhood nearby and as we walked to the parking lots, Brent Blum hit me up saying he had a six-pack of Ames Lager iced down for me. And it would have been EXTREMELY rude to turn down free beer.

Brent and his wife Krystal were incredible to meet and extremely nice to us. And when that first sip of Ames Lager hit my lips, I knew I was going to crush some more of those beers before the concert.

We met several other Cyclone fans at Brent’s tailgate who were all kind. If you are an Iowa State fan and able to donate, I would strongly encourage you to think of the We Will Collective.

Before we headed inside, I decided to say hello to another Iowa State fan in the RV lots, Scott Cronbaugh. Before I could even get three words out, the man put a cold beer in my hand. There, my wife and I also met Kyle Adma and his wife Jenn (who was celebrating a birthday by the way!) along with Carly Martin. We all drank some beer together and had some good conversation and I was truly fortunate to meet all of them.

Next up, it was time to make our way in. And I just had to walk on that glorious bridge to the stadium.

As we made our way inside, I could already see the beer flowing. Lines everywhere but we did manage to find a few vendors walking around without anyone by them to grab a beer. Let me just say, if Jack Trice Stadium ever wants to sell beer, I would suggest a bigger concourse area to avoid traffic jams.

Now it was time for the party to get started. Little Big Town started things off and then Chris Stapleton came on. I swear that guy could sing anything and it would sound good. He is the true definition of a musician.

Finally, The King took the stage. He may be 72 years old but his voice is just as good as it was 20 years ago. What a crowd, what a scene, and what a show. My words will not do it justice but just look at some of these great pictures.

It’s been 25 years since Jack Trice Stadium held a concert (the last time was also George Strait) but after seeing this, I hope they have one every single year from now on.

Goodbye Iowa

Sunday was a bit different for us. We were pretty tired after getting home late from the concert, so we slept in later than usual. The plan was to drive over to Omaha but before we left town, we grabbled a little taste of back home for breakfast.

Being from the Czech belt of Texas, sausage rolls and kolaches are in my blood (yes, there’s a difference). Coaches Kolaches were, dare I say, better than the ones you would find at the famous Czech Stop in Texas.

Just a couple of hours later, we finally arrived in Omaha.

We walked around the riverwalk area and stopped by a few breweries but after a while we were ready to head back to Des Moines. And as soon as we crossed that state line, we saw a brewery in Council Bluffs that was recommended, and I am sure glad we made the stop.

It was getting late coming back in, so we decided to eat our final dinner in Des Moines at Barn Town Brewing. It was so good the first time that we had to have it again before we left.

When I woke up Monday, I was a little sad. It was the final day of our trip and that meant we had to go back home. We said goodbye to the old house and pulled out of the driveway.

With a few hours to kill before our plane took off, we decided to check out the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge to get some great views of the city.

With lunch calling our names, I saw that Court Avenue Brewing Company was open and served food. Consider me sold. I am glad we did because it was delicious.

With time running short, there was only one thing left to do. It was to go see Chris Shipley from the Old Man Strength podcast who wanted to show me his Iowa State ambulance.

What a thing of beauty that thing was from the inside and out. We talked with Chris for a bit and before I left, he was kind enough to grab me a bottle of the 1858 vodka to take home.

Unfortunately, after that it was time to head to the airport to head back home. We boarded the plane and as soon as those wheels came off the ground, I just had to pull out my laptop and get to work. When I started typing, it didn’t take me long to figure out the question from earlier: Why go to Iowa?

Why?

After spending the last five days here I can answer the question as to why we decided to come here. While the state itself is beautiful in its own right, it has nothing to do with that. It’s the great people that make Iowa such a great place. They aren’t just any kind of people. These are salt-of-the-earth kind of people, the kind of people that would give you the shirt off their back or make sure your beer is never empty at a tailgate.

The only question left is not if we will ever go back to Iowa but how soon can we go back?

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