Top Things to Do in Iowa City | Midwest Living

Top Things to Do in Iowa City

The University of Iowa anchors the state’s original capital, where the old statehouse, a vaudeville-era theater and eclectic dining enliven a stay.


Coral Ridge Mall An indoor ice arena, carousel and children’s museum (with free admission to all on the last Friday evening each month) amp up the fun.

The Englert Theatre Catch a reading, musical, play, dance performance or concert at the 1912 former vaudeville theater and opera house.

Hancher Auditorium A sleek, curving $176 million performing arts center replaced the University of Iowa’s original auditorium, destroyed by flooding. About 50 events each year include ballets, concerts, lectures and musicals.

Hancher Auditorium

Hancher Auditorium. Photo courtesy of Miriam Alarcon Avila

Haunted Bookshop It’s still supervised by two cats, but the tidy shop selling books, toys, gifts and cards has moved to the historic Wentz house on North Gilbert.

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum It’s worth the 11-mile drive east on I-80 to see the birthplace cottage, library, museum and burial site of the first U.S. president born west of the Mississippi.

The Iowa City Pedestrian Mall  Abutting the University of Iowa campus, the Ped Mall is home to restaurants, bars and shops. A facelift that includes new seating, plantings and lighting wraps up in 2019.

Old Capitol Museum Retrace the footsteps of the state’s founding fathers in Iowa’s original capitol. Lectures and concerts entertain in the Senate Chamber.

Prairie Lights Books Browse three floors of books and catch an author reading in the long-running Live from Prairie Lights series.

University of Iowa Museum of Natural History Learn about Iowa’s 500 million years of history, see 1,000 birds on display and say hi to Rusty the giant sloth replica.


A and A Pagliai's Pizza Using a northern Italian family recipe, this casual spot provides Iowa City with a taste of old-world pizza.

30 Hop Sixty beers on tap in the main restaurant and 30 in the rooftop bar make this a popular spot to gather in the Iowa River Landing district. Nibble on a side of truffle fries.

30 Hop

30 Hop

Backpocket Brewing Company Go for outdoor seating, craft beer and thin-crust pizza in the Iowa River Landing development.

Baroncini Soft music and cozy booths set the tone for an evening of contemporary Italian dishes such as agnolotti pasta stuffed with local beef and Parmesan.

Big Grove Brewery The Laotian sausage bowls should clue you in that this isn’t a typical brewpub. Come for the diverse menu as well as live music, brewed-on-site beers, the game room and an expansive patio.

Bluebird Diner Savory sausage and excellent hollandaise elevate breakfast standbys.

Bluebird Diner

Bluebird Diner

Blackstone American-style dishes sizzle with Mediterranean and Asian influences. Brandy-doused flaming cheese creates a scene.

Hamburg Inn No. 2 A burger specialist comes in at 4 a.m. daily to make the patties for this downtown diner that opened in 1948.

Heyn's Ice Cream For more than two decades, Heyn’s has been dishing up Iowa City's favorite ice cream in nearly 40 flavors.

Iowa River Power Restaurant In a former power plant, enjoy expansive views of an Iowa River dam and cooked-to-perfection prime rib.

Leaf Kitchen You can still get high tea at this tearoom, but also eggs Benedict or crepes for breakfast, and a grilled chicken club for lunch.

Molly's Cupcakes Devour a created-to-order cupcake or three. A portion of profits is donated to area schools.

Oasis Falafel It’s the place to go for authentic, inexpensive Middle Eastern fare, such as a pita bursting with falafel, hummus, babba ganoush and Mediterranean salad.

Pullman Bar and Diner The modern diner serves food both familiar and unexpected—fried chicken and corned beef hash, yes, but also roasted marrow bones with bacon jam.

Rapid Creek Cidery In a barn overlooking Wilson’s Orchard 15 minutes from downtown, this upscale restaurant serves cocktails made with Wilson’s excellent hard cider.


Brown Street Inn The six-bedroom 1913 mansion in a leafy neighborhood feels serene but is close to downtown attractions.

Graduate Iowa City A lobby filled with bookcases, reading nooks and (literally) writing on the walls reflects literary inspiration from the University of Iowa at this new 231-room downtown hotel.

HotelVetro Sleep on pillow-top mattresses in chic, ecofriendly rooms, and take in city views from the huge third-floor patio.

For information: Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

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