The richly-detailed pioneer life of Iowa native Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books comes to life on 20 Christmas trees in this seasonal exhibit at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. Historically adorned conifers such as the Fiddle and Harmonica Tree will transport minds to simpler days when Wilder's father, Pa, would bow up a tune, or to the memories of last weekend's trip to prairie band fantasy camp. The natural charms evoked by the exhibit's Wildflower Tree or enchanting Doll Tree, adorned with dolls Laura herself may have cherished, loom adjacent to a display of authentic artifacts from the Wilders' original Mansfield, Iowa home. A Little House Christmas offers whimsical holiday cheer to both adults and children (under 16 admitted free) with the added convenience of free parking for both motor vehicles and horse-drawn SUVs.
The Niabi Zoo houses 900 animals from 160 species hailing from a quintet of continents on its 40-acre grounds. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, this Midwestern menagerie abides by rigorous standards for bird and beast welfare. Traverse the educational trails, sighting zebras, ostriches, and giraffes trying on oversized bowties in the African exhibit or large cats such as the jaguar, leopard, and bengal tiger. The Niabi Zoo also protects 200 acres of area land for native wildlife preservation and bocce-ball tournaments.
Nestled on the banks of the Cedar River, the 17,000-square-foot nonprofit museum educates more than 30,000 people annually through tours, exhibits, and community programs celebrating African-American heritage and culture. Packed with more than 2,000 artifacts, 200 oral histories, and a library with more than 1,000 volumes covering African and African American topics, the museum crams craniums full of historical knowledge. Endless Possibilities, part of the flagship permanent collection, traces the history of Iowa's African American citizens through photos, objects, stories, and multimedia. A rotating lineup of compelling exhibits includes Unconditional Loyalty, running through December 17, which pays tribute to African-Americans who've served in the U.S. military from the Revolutionary War era to the present day. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday
As though scrawled by a member of the world's least-threatening street gang, the graffiti'd word "PENGUINS" on the stage's brick wall announces the venue's name. Nationally touring comics make that wall their backdrop every week, flooding the room with laughter as audience members accidentally flood their lungs with beer. The venue draws a number of recognizable industry names each month, with past appearances including Chris Kattan and Tom Arnold.
The sun and the stars serve as constant companions at Hillcrest Event Center, where a 9-hole golf course, a swimming pool, and camping grounds entertain visitors day and night. A breezy par 30, the executive course caters to all experience levels, inviting beginners to take on its short holes while letting seasoned golfers hone their approach shots. After navigating the water hazards, guests can purposely head to the Olympic-sized swimming pool, which ripples at the center of a 3,000-square-foot sundeck where waiters serve poolside food and drinks. Or, dine at The BBQ Pit, home of the Illinois BBQ Fest.
As the sun sets, the crackling glow of fires peppers the campgrounds, illuminating the nylon sides of tents or canvas hulls of mobile RVs. Tent sites include access to the resort's hot showers and restrooms, while the RV facilities' hookups pump water and electricity into mobile homes so residents can bathe in private and use electric carving knives for whittling. When the sun rises, residents can begin their day with a hike on the resort's nature trails.