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, resorts, and more. Here are the best things to do on your weekend getaway or day trip to Iowa City.
1. Amana Colonies
© 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
2. Coralville Lake
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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. More places to visit in Iowa
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.
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5. Iowa City Attractions: Gaslight Village
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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.
210 Parkside Drive, West Branch, IA 52358, Phone: 319-643-5301
7. Hickory Hill Park, Iowa City, Iowa
© 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
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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
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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. 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. 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.
305 W Park Ave, Waterloo, IA 50701, 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, Iowa City, Iowa
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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
18. Wilson's Orchard
© 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
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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
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Attraction Spotlight: University of Iowa Museum of Natural History
Located in Iowa City, Iowa, the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History showcases an extensive collection of natural history artifacts related to the geologic, biologic, and anthropologic history of the Iowa region, offering a variety of exhibit galleries and public programming. The University of Iowa Museum of Natural History is the second-oldest museum west of the Mississippi River, dating back to the 1858 charter of the university by the Iowa General Assembly.
A cabinet of natural history exhibits was showcased within the Iowa Old Capitol Building, which was integrated into the UI campus following the state capital’s move to Des Moines in 1857. University natural history professor James Hall was appointed as curator of the cabinet exhibit, but failed to assume his duties, a decision likely influenced by the university’s 1855 bankruptcy. As a result, faculty member Theodore S. Parvin became the university’s first acting natural history curator in 1859. Early museum collections focused on the state’s geology due to the formal geological surveys of the area occurring at the time, though later curators incorporated zoological collections throughout the later part of the 19th century. Charles Nutting, who assumed curatorship in 1886, is credited with large expansions to museum collections due to a series of international biological study expeditions. The expansion of collections facilitated the museum’s move to a larger permanent facility in 1895, named the Natural Science Building.
Permanent Exhibits and Collections
Today, the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History retains its 1895 location in the university’s Natural Science Building, renamed MacBride Hall in 1934. Together with the historic Old Capitol Building museum facility, the museum is part of the university’s Pentacrest Museums system, which presents a variety of integrated public special event programming throughout the year connected to the state’s natural, cultural, and civic history. As a major natural history collection and research facility, the museum is noted for its extensive collections, which comprise one of the largest natural history collections of any American university.
More than 15,000 artifacts and specimens are contained within the museum’s collections, which are divided into a variety of special collections grouped by species and artifact type. An ornithology collection showcases more than 31,000 birds, nests, and eggs, while a mammalogy collection contains over 5,000 skins, skeletons, and other specimens. Vertebrate, invertebrate, and entomology collections are also held, along with an archaeological collection of more than 6,000 objects from across times periods and cultures and around the world and an archival collection containing historic documents and photographs. Significant specialized collections include ethnographic materials preserved from the St. Louis World’s Fair and a collection of 700 historic stone tools preserved from nearby Tama County.
Exhibit areas within the museum include Iowa Hall, which takes visitors on a 500-million-year journey through the state’s natural and cultural history, and the Biosphere Discovery Hub exhibit, which examines humanity’s relationship with the changing natural environment. Taxidermy and fossil holdings are showcased in the museum’s Mammal Hall, which is anchored by a complete 47-foot Atlantic right whale skeleton, the William and Eleanor Hageboeck Hall of Birds, which displays more than 1,000 bird specimens, and the Diversity of Life Exhibits, located at the museum’s ground floor entrance. A Laysan Island Cyclorama exhibit also recreates the environment of a Hawaiian atoll in 360-degree panoramic view.
Ongoing Programs and Education
A wide variety of public educational programming is offered by the museum, including curriculum-incorporated field trip opportunities for elementary and secondary students and facility tours for community groups. A Discovery Trunk program brings museum specimens and collections directly into Iowa classrooms, while a Mobile Museum showcases traveling exhibits at area educational and family events. Workshops with University of Iowa instructors may also be scheduled at the facility, along with outreach visits to community groups and centers throughout the eastern Iowa area.
Periodic public special event programming is held at the museum in conjunction with the Iowa Old Capitol Building museum, including Adult Art Nite events, a Science Cafe Explorers Seminar series, a Makerspace Thursdays event series, and a Movies@MNH film series. Other annual public special events include a Pentacrest Museums Family Weekend event in April, a weeklong Pentacrest Museums Summer Camp, and Read on the Rug toddler activity groups. The museum also offers a public Escape Room, which may be rented for teams of five with advance online registration.
The museum is noted for its research initiatives related to the fields of geology, biology, and anthropology, including its Tarkio Valley Sloth Project, which excavated the skeletons of three giant ground sloths near the city of Shenandoah in 2001. Other major excavations completed include a woolly mammoth dig in Mahaska County in 2010 and a giant short-faced bear discovery in Cass County in 2008. Research and excavation projects frequently work in collaboration with other university and regional organizations, including the Paleontology Repository and the Office of the State Archaeologist.
17 North Clinton Street, Macbride Hall, Iowa City, IA 52240, Phone: 319-335-0480
Attraction Spotlight: University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art
Located in Iowa City, Iowa, the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art holds one of the nation’s most renowned university fine arts collections, showcasing extensive permanent collections galleries and a variety of rotating temporary exhibitions. Though the University of Iowa Museum of Art was formally opened in 1969 after a large 20th-century works donation by Cedar Rapids’ Owen and Leone Elliott, the museum’s collections predate the construction of a permanent facility by several decades.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the university amassed a substantial collection of contemporary artwork, including notable works such as Jackson Pollock’s Mural, Max Beckmann’s Karneval, and Joan Miró’s A Drop of Dew Falling from the Wing of a Bird Awakens Rosalie Asleep in the Shade of a Cobweb. Following the Elliotts’ donation, which included large numbers of 20th-century prints, paintings, silver and jade works, more than 2,000 donors contributed to funding efforts for the creation of a new permanent facility to house the works. Soon after its opening, the UIMA earned a reputation as one of the nation’s leading university art museums for its expansive and significant collections holdings. In 1976, a 27,000-square-foot extension was added to the museum campus as part of major renovations, and three years later, an African art collection was added to the museum’s galleries as a result of donations by Muscatine residents Maxwell and Elizabeth Stanley.
University offices for the University of Iowa Foundation and Alumni Association vacated the museum building in 1999, allowing for major renovations to convert the museum’s entire 70,000-square-foot premises into gallery and programming space. In 2004, the North Gallery for Special Exhibitions was opened to the public, adding another 6,000 square feet of exhibition space to the campus. Following a June 2008 flood, the museum’s collections were evacuated and relocated to storage in Chicago, with alternate gallery locations throughout the Iowa City region secured over the following year, including Davenport’s Figge Art Museum. On-campus exhibits were transferred to the Iowa Memorial Union in August of 2009, and in 2014, a partnership was established to redevelop the museum campus, with plans and a budget for the project approved in August of 2017.
Permanent Exhibits and Collections
As of 2018, the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art’s collections are split between the on-campus UIMA@IMU facility, the university’s Black Box Theater, and the nearby Figge Art Museum while construction proceeds on a new permanent museum facility. The new museum facility, which will take architectural precautions to prevent flooding issues, will be part of an overall reimagining of the campus’ artistic facilities and will house classrooms and lab spaces for visual arts studies alongside public gallery spaces. In the interim, the museum remains committed to its mission to present significant fine arts exhibitions throughout the City and State of Iowa and offer educational and community programming for K-12 students, campus arts students, and the Iowa City community. The museum is an accredited American Alliance of Museums facility and admits its executive director as a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors.
The museum’s permanent art collection holds more than 14,000 objects across artistic disciplines, including drawings, paintings, print work, sculpture pieces, photography, and fine ceramics and metals works. Collections span historic and contemporary works of the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa, with special collections for 20th century European and American works, indigenous art pieces of the Americas, and works created by Iowa artists. The museum is noted for its Stanley Collection of African Art, which holds more than 2,000 pieces, and its Western printmaking collection, which contains more than 5,300 historical prints. Notable artists on display include classic masters Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Fernand Léger, and Vasily Kandinsky, as well as 20th-century contemporary artists Marcel Duchamp, Louise Nevelson, Beverly Pepper, and Mark di Suvero. Approximately 500 items from the museum’s permanent collection can be seen on display at UIMA@IMU, and a variety of temporary rotating exhibitions may be viewed at the Black Box Theater.
Ongoing Programs and Education
A wide variety of educational programming is offered by the museum, including curriculum-incorporated field trip opportunities for elementary and secondary school students and collections tours for community groups. Tours may be booked at the UIMA@IMU facility, the Black Box Theater, or the Figge Art Museum collections in Davenport. Outreach programming is also available to bring fine arts education directly into the classroom in schools across Iowa, and a Senior Living Communities Program offers fine arts therapy and workshop programming for older Iowa City residents. Periodic public special events are also offered at the UIMA@IMU museum campus, including receptions for new exhibition openings, artists’ talks, and a public lecture series.
125 N Madison St, Iowa City, IA 52245, Phone: 319-335-1727