I grew up in far northwest Iowa and when someone asked if you were going to the Tulip Festival, they were not wondering about the the one in Pella. They were asking about the one in Orange City. While the Orange City Tulip Festival (which, incidentally, starts today and runs through Saturday) was not a huge part of my childhood, I did volunteer while in high school as a puppeteer for many years during the daily festivities.
Pella, like their Sioux County Dutch heritage counterparts (Orange City, Sioux Center, etc), takes incredible pride in their community and traditions. As the old joke (at least in Northwest Iowa) goes, "If you ain't Dutch, you ain't much."
At just over 10,000 residents, it is easily one of the cleanest cities not only in Iowa - but probably within the entire United States. I would also imagine that the per-capita income of the community has to be among the highest in Iowa too. Obviously, there is a lot of tourism but they also have a lot of great employers of all sizes, including Central College.
Pella is about 5 hours from where I grew up and so it was not necessarily a common destination - until I moved to central Iowa after graduating from Iowa State. I get to Pella or drive through on nearby 4-lane Highway 163 a few times a year. However, I had never been to the Tulip Time festival - held every year in early May - until this year. This year was the year I finally made it to Pella Tulip Festival.
A friend and I attended on the Friday evening for a few hours. The weather was perfect and after a long and brutal winter, it was clear that many were eager to enjoy the nice spring-like weather.
Of course, there are tulips everywhere (of many colors) and they were generally nicely in bloom.
My friend and I gave several items a try. Ever since being introduced to poffertjes in Orange City many years ago, I definitely had a craving for it. Poffertjes are like tiny pancakes with some syrup and powdered sugar. Sometimes people add other toppings, like fruit.
I was tempted to take home this poffertjes maker as well as the box of batter, but decided my waistline should only have poffertjes at festivals.
My friend enjoyed some of the bologna on a stick. I tried a little. It was quite delicious.
However, we did not try the Dutch taco, which included similar bologna.
We popped into one of the meat markets before it closed for the night. We did not buy anything but there were plenty of other carnivores doing some shopping.
The line, per usual, to get into Jaarsma Bakery was outrageous. I've been before but there is almost always a line. I certainly was not going to attempt that.
There were a couple of different areas where local groups - from churches to schools to civic organizations - could sell food and beverage as a fundraiser for their various projects and efforts. The area was packed and they also put in some picnic tables in the middle for those who wanted to sit and eat - or just sit and do some people watching.
I also tried some Kroketten - which was kind of a mix of meat rolled in crumbs and fried. It came with fries and a pickle as well as some mayo-like sauce that I mostly avoided. This was my first time trying this. It was mushier than I expected but tasty.
I did not try the Dutch Letter Shake at Smokey Row, but it sure sounded delicious. Smoke Row is one of my favorite coffee shops in Des Moines.
The Craft Beer
I did not expect that there would be any alcohol sold at the Tulip Festival. That certainly would NOT be the case in Orange City. In fact, the joke is that it's hard to even find alcohol - any time of the year - in Sioux County. Nonetheless, the Iowa Craft Beer Tent had one of the trailers parked behind a bar and there was a separate entrance for 21+ to enter and enjoy some $6 beverages.
I very much appreciate that nearly everything in Pella - both old and new - has that Dutch themed construction. Yes, even the Walmart and the Casey's General Store has some Dutch flare to it. I plan to come back to Pella sometime in the near future to enjoy some of the historic district and elsewhere when it isn't so busy with festival activity.
I loved the "burglar alarm" on this old bank building.
The Tractors and the Kids Games
My friend and I happened upon an event where people on antique tractors attempted to balance the weight perfectly evenly. I watched one gentlemen make four or five attempts before finally throwing in the towel.
Below, you can see he got pretty close but ultimately failed.
In a corner of the city square, there was some miniature golf and other activities for younger children.
The Customs and Costumes
I came across a group of people in full costume doing some dancing under the Vermeer Windmill.
Before the parade, as is customary, the streets are washed. I believe this is to ensure that the route is clean for the coming royalty.
During the festival, they will have two parades a day: one in the morning and one in the evening. They advertise the evening parade as one of the prettiest sites in Iowa. There is always a good crowd for it and they bring in bleachers to accommodate the interest in it. It was nice though admittedly, my friend and I did not stay for the whole thing in order to get ahead start back to Des Moines and beat some of the traffic.
The Merchandise and Souvenirs
There are always stores and stands to get yourself something to remember your visit to Pella. You could get yourself some tulip bulbs or maybe a pair of wooden shoes?
I was kind of surprised to see these were made in China!
Maybe your pet needs a treat? I always love a good pun. I spotted this guy/girl on the street - dressed to impress.
Without a doubt, the Pella Tulip Festival is one of the premier cultural heritage events in our state. Pella is worth visiting any time of year and I look forward to a return trip in the near future. I need to do more exploring and to hit up the historical park, especially the windmill, in more depth.
However, if you can make it to the tulip festival next year, it's worth the adventure to Marion County. Otherwise, consider a trip to Orange City for their event. Maybe hit them both in the same year? If you do, let me know which city has better poffertjes.
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places in Marion County or any of the other 98 counties to visit and profile. If you have a suggestion or would wish to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through my website.