On the eastern side of Iowa lies a fun college town with an artsy vibe. Cultural experiences here include exploring the university's art and natural history museums as well as a charming literary walk. Iowa City, Iowa, has been named a UNESCO City of Literature and many accomplished authors have called the town home, in part due to the outstanding writing program at the university. Visitors can enjoy great restaurants, wedding venues, breweries, resorts, wineries and more. Here are the best things to do on your weekend getaway or day trip to Iowa City.
© Amana Colonies
Amana Colonies is a tourist attraction made up of seven villages located among 26,000 acres. The colonies were founded and built by a group of religious Germans who fled to the area to escape persecution. The colony was nearly self-sufficient and inhabitants engaged in crafting and farming. Today the seven villages are a popular tourist attraction with many craft shops and restaurants.
The area boasts a number of bed and breakfasts, hotels, independent shops, and more. Visitors can learn about the history of the colonies as well as traditional arts, crafts, and agricultural operations. The villages frequently host special events and seasonal celebrations.
622 46th Avenue, Amana, IA 52203, Phone: 319-622-7622
© Courtesy of Bob Randklev - Fotolia.com
Coralville Lake's primary purpose is to prevent floods and control water flow in the area. However, the lake offers many recreational opportunities as well. The surrounding grounds have 500 campsites spread across three campgrounds. Several of the recreational activities that are available include fishing both from the pier and from boats as well as on the nearby river.
Additionally, visitors can take advantage of the lake's hiking and mountain biking trails, swimming in the lake, sand volleyball courts, and picnic areas. The lake is easily accessible from I-80, making the site a convenient place to spend a day or two.
2850 Prairie Du Chien Road NE, Iowa City, IA 52240, Phone: 319-338-3543
3.University of Iowa Museum of Natural History
© University of Iowa Museum of Natural History
The University of Iowa Museum of Natural History is a museum located on the campus of the University of Iowa. The museum was established in 1858 and houses an extensive collection of mammals and birds as well as Native American artifacts.
The museum follows approximately 500 million years of Iowa's history and explores the disciplines of geology, culture, and ecology. The Mammal Hall showcases the evolution, adaptation, and diversity of almost every mammal species. Similarly, the Hall of Birds displays more than 1,000 bird specimens. Guided tours are available with prior reservation and self-guided tours may be taken during opening hours.
17 N Clinton Street, Iowa City, IA 52240, Phone: 319-335-0480
4.University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art
© University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art
The University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art houses one of the leading university art collections in the United States. The museum contains around 15,500 objects and pieces of art with many diverse origins. The art comes from virtually every medium, including painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, textiles, ceramics, and silver-working.
Some of the prominent collections housed in the museum include the Elliot Collection, which is a collection of post-impressionist European art, and the Stanley Collection of African Art, which contains more than 2,000 objects of African art. Visitors can tour the museum's large collection of art and artifacts. Special group and class tours can also be arranged. There are several temporary gallery spaces on campus and around the state which are listed on uima.uiowa.edu.
5.Iowa City Attractions: Gaslight Village
© Courtesy of geargodz - Fotolia.com
Gaslight Village is a historic landmark in Iowa City's Historical North Side, located on 2 acres of hilly woods and featuring many distinctive apartments and rentals. The village was created to offer interesting and unique living experiences at a low price.
The four buildings that make up the village are located in a serene and quiet environment and include two Victorian buildings, the oldest of which, the Charles Berryhill Mansion, was built in 1860. The two other buildings are rustic, 1940's California-style homes. Many famous people have spent time at Gaslight Village and Kurt Vonnegut lived nearby.
426 Brown Street, Iowa City, IA 52245, Phone: 319-430-0736
6.Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
© Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is the presidential library and burial site of the 31st President of the United States, Herbert Hoover. The library and museum is located at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.
The library houses papers, photographs, and objects that belonged to the Hoover Administration as well as the family's personal belongings. Materials in the library can be used for research with prior arrangement. The museum tells the story of Herbert Hoover's life and features a temporary gallery with changing exhibits. The surrounding park grounds are home to President Hoover's birthplace cottage, gravesite, and several buildings from the period. Things to Do in Iowa
210 Parkside Drive, West Branch, IA 52358, Phone: 319-643-5301
7.Hickory Hill Park
© Hickory Hill Park
Hickory Hill Park is a large park in northeast Iowa City. The park contains 190 acres of abandoned fields, forests, prairie, wetlands, and more surrounding Ralston Creek and other streams. The park is home to a variety of amenities, including several picnic shelters, picnic tables, grills, restrooms, water fountains, and multi-use trails.
The park is available for public recreational use and is a popular destination for nature lovers who wish to enjoy the outdoors, study nature, or take a hike or run. The park is open all year round with winter activities such as sledding and cross-country skiing being popular cold-weather activities. The trails in the park are dog-friendly as well.
800 Conklin Street, Iowa City, IA 52240, Phone: 319-356-5000
8.Iowa Avenue Literary Walk
© Iowa Avenue Literary Walk
Iowa has been home to many accomplished poets, playwrights, novelists, and journalists. The Iowa Avenue Literary Walk celebrates and explores the lives and works of 49 authors who are related to Iowa in some way. The walk follows a series of bronze panels that feature quotes from literary works as well as the authors' names.
The path features other quotes about books and writing within the sidewalk itself. The walk also features an author section that displays biographical information about each author and explains the author's connection to Iowa. Booklets about the Literary Walk can be purchased at Iowa Book & Supply or Prairie Lights Bookstore.
123 S. Linn Street, Iowa City, IA 52240, Phone: 319-356-5245
9.Iowa Old Capitol Building
© Courtesy of Jesse Kunerth - Fotolia.com
The Iowa Old Capitol Building is the former site of the main government building for the state of Iowa. It now stands as a landmark and centerpiece of the University of Iowa campus. The building has been beautifully restored and is used as an exhibit space and for educational programming.
Highlights of a visit include the Hansen Humanities Gallery, the Senate Chamber, and the Supreme Court Chamber. The museum hosts a variety of temporary exhibits and events. Tour guides lead groups on free tours several times throughout the day. Reservations are required for free public tours as well as private group tours and special events.
21 N Clinton Street, Iowa City, IA 52242, Phone: 319-335-0548
10.Iowa City Farmer's Market
© Iowa City Farmer's Market
The Iowa City Farmer's Market operates during the summer and features two locations in Iowa City several days a week. The market offers a variety of local, seasonal fruits and vegetables as well as home-made baked goods. Additionally, local craft-makers have goods available for purchase.
The market also provides a space for consumers to learn about local products and high-quality locally grown food. The market hosts a variety of family-friendly events throughout the year. Some examples of past events include tasting events, kids' days, and live musical performances. During the holidays, the farmer's market hosts indoor holiday markets and events.
410 E. Washington Street, Iowa City, IA 52240, Phone: 319-356-5000
11.Iowa City Attractions: Lake Macbride
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Lake Macbride State Park is the largest state park in the state of Iowa. The park features 2,180 acres of recreational space, featuring a variety of outdoor activities, including boating, swimming, fishing, camping, and hiking. The park has reservable picnic shelters and a lodge. The lake has a beautiful beach with a designated swimming area and concessions.
A 5-mile crushed limestone trail circles the lake following the shoreline. Additional limestone paths and six permanent Volkssport trails provide additional opportunities for recreational activity. The lake has boat ramps as well as boat rentals, providing ample opportunities to experience the park from the water.
3525 Highway 382 NE, Solon, IA 52333, Phone: 319-624-2200
12.NewBo City Market
© NewBo City Market
NewBo City Market is a market in the New Bohemia District of Cedar Rapids. The market features a variety of local and homegrown food as well as art and events. Newbo City Market is located in a former industrial site that was destroyed by flooding in 2008 and then abandoned.
The market exists to promote healthy eating, food access, and education. The market features the Learning Garden, which is a wheelchair-accessible learning space dedicated to teaching about gardening. Newbo City Market hosts a wide variety of events, including exercise events and film showings. The event calendar is accessible from the market's website.
1100 3rd Street SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401, Phone: 319-200-4050
13.Things to Do in Iowa City: Plum Grove Historic House
© Plum Grove Historic House
Plum Grove is a historical home and the former residence of the first Governor of Iowa, Robert Lucas. The house was also later the birthplace and childhood home of author Eleanor Hoyt Brainerd. During the time the Lucas family lived in the home, there was a large orchard nearby with many plum trees, which is possibly how the home came to bear the name Plum Grove.
The home now resides on 4 acres of the original property and is furnished in the style of the 1840s–1850s, which is when the Lucas family resided there. Visitors can take free tours of the home as well as the historical vegetable and flower gardens.
1030 Carroll Street, Iowa City, IA 52240, Phone: 319-337-6846
14.Silos and Smokestacks
© Silos and Smokestacks
The Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area is dedicated to farms and agribusiness in a large section of the state, including Iowa City. The area preserves and interprets farm life as well as the past and present lifestyle of many rural communities.
The heritage area includes a third of the state of Iowa inclusive of 37 counties as well as nearly 100 publicly and privately owned interpretive sites, which combine to tell the story of the region and agriculture in America. The sites range from museums to tractor assembly plants and dairy farms and include Brucemore, the Amana Colonies, and the Living History Farms.
604 Lafayette Street #202, Waterloo, IA 50703, Phone: 319-234-4567
15.Terry Trueblood Recreation Area
© Terry Trueblood Recreation Area
The Terry Trueblood Recreation Area is 152-acre park with a variety of recreational activities and amenities. The park features several trail routes that can be used for walking or running. Other activities include fishing, birdwatching, and hiking.
The park features three picnic shelters and seasonal rentals of ice skates, kayaks, canoes, and other rentals are available. Terry Trueblood Recreation Area's Park Lodge is a nearly 6,000-square-foot venue that can seat 150 guests. The facility is available for rent for weddings, parties, and other private events. The lodge includes amenities such as tables and chairs, a full kitchen, and a patio that overlooks the lake.
579 McCollister Blvd, Iowa City, IA 52240, Phone: 319-356-5100
16.Jimmy Jack's Rib Shack
© Jimmy Jack's Rib Shack
Jimmy Jack's Rib Shack has been voted as the best barbecue in Iowa by Yahoo, offering two locations in Iowa City and North Liberty. The chain, which was opened by childhood best friends Jack Piper and Jimmy Adrian, strives to adapt classic Kansas City barbecue styles for Iowa diners, offering up delectable sandwiches and full meat places prepared with the restaurant's homemade barbecue sauce recipes. Diners can choose from pulled pork, smoked chicken and turkey, beef brisket, or vegetarian smoked portobello options or load up on all of the above with signature Supreme sandwiches and sampler platters. Classic Southern-style sides include baked beans, cole slaw, and the restaurant's signature honey-buttered cornbread.
1940 Lower Muscatine Rd, Iowa City, IA 52240, Phone: 319- 354-7427
17.Devonian Fossil Gorge
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Devonian Fossil Gorge is a unique geological site where visitors can explore a former seafloor from approximately 375 million years ago. Long ago this section of Iowa was covered with a warm shallow sea and many fossils from that time period provide evidence of this past. Floods in 1993 and 2008 washed away several layers of soil and rock, exposing the fossils in the bedrock.
There are 17 points of interest in the park including the entry plaza, which interprets the site and features displays related to the nearby dam, the fossils, and the floods. A map detailing all of the sites is available online and at the park's entry plaza.
2850 Prairie Du Chien Road NE, Iowa City, IA 52240, Phone: 319-338-3543 ext. 6300
© Wilson's Orchard
Wilson's Orchard is an orchard and nature park located on both sides of the Rapid Creek valley. The orchard features many varieties of apple trees growing nearly every imaginable kind of apple. Several varieties of pumpkins are featured in the fall as well.
Guests are welcome to pick their own apples and pumpkins. Guests who wish to pick apples may first visit the barn to sample the varieties of apples and get maps of the orchard as well as an introduction. Wilson's Orchard is a family-friendly destination. Several activities are on offer, including tractor rides and sampling a variety of freshly made food such as apple turnovers and fresh apple cider.
4823 Dingleberry Rd NE, Iowa City, IA 52240, Phone: 319-354-5651
FilmScene is a compact movie theater that shows first-run films, classic movies, film series, and workshops. The theater is located on the downtown pedestrian mall and features a cafe and a rooftop patio. The theater is operated as a nonprofit business. Each year the small, single-screen theater shows more than 200 feature films.
In addition to simply showing films, many of the shows feature dialogues with filmmakers, panel discussions, and more, creating a robust experience for film lovers. FilmScene is devoted to the community, involved in a variety of organizations, and also hosts many community events throughout the year.
118 E College Street, Iowa City, IA 52240, Phone: 319-358-2555
19 Best Things to Do in Iowa City, Iowa
- Amana Colonies, Photo: Amana Colonies
- Coralville Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Bob Randklev - Fotolia.com
- University of Iowa Museum of Natural History, Photo: University of Iowa Museum of Natural History
- University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, Photo: University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art
- Iowa City Attractions: Gaslight Village, Photo: Courtesy of geargodz - Fotolia.com
- Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, Photo: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
- Hickory Hill Park, Photo: Hickory Hill Park
- Iowa Avenue Literary Walk, Photo: Iowa Avenue Literary Walk
- Iowa Old Capitol Building, Photo: Courtesy of Jesse Kunerth - Fotolia.com
- Iowa City Farmer's Market, Photo: Iowa City Farmer's Market
- Iowa City Attractions: Lake Macbride, Photo: Courtesy of faykatriona - Fotolia.com
- NewBo City Market, Photo: NewBo City Market
- Things to Do in Iowa City: Plum Grove Historic House, Photo: Plum Grove Historic House
- Silos and Smokestacks, Photo: Silos and Smokestacks
- Terry Trueblood Recreation Area, Photo: Terry Trueblood Recreation Area
- Jimmy Jack's Rib Shack, Photo: Jimmy Jack's Rib Shack
- Devonian Fossil Gorge, Photo: Courtesy of watcherfox - Fotolia.com
- Wilson's Orchard, Photo: Wilson's Orchard
- FilmScene, Photo: FilmScene
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of ASP Inc - Fotolia.com