25 Best Things to Do in Iowa City (IA)

Source: Flickr / Alan Light | CC BY 2.0

Iowa City, the former capital of the state of Iowa, is nowadays known as the second-best small metropolitan area for doing business in the United States. The city is also quite popular amongst visitors with its attractions ranging from historic settlements to water parks. And even though Iowa City’s downtown is relatively small, it is filled with restaurants and bars.

Interestingly, Iowa City has been named a UNESCO City of Literature. This is because many accomplished authors have called the town their home, in part due to the outstanding writing program at the University of Iowa. 

Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Iowa City (IA)

Source: Map data @2022 Google

1. Amana Colonies

Amana Colonies
Source: Flickr / Teemu008 | CC BY-SA 2.0

Amana Colonies is a tourist attraction made up of seven German villages spread across 26,000 acres of land. Back in the days, 150 years ago, the villages were self-sufficient. Nowadays, it is a popular touristic attraction featuring old-fashioned stores, restaurants, and artists’ workshops.

So, go enjoy their foods and sip their wines and beers. You can also search for quality handcrafted products, art, and a variety of quaint shops that line the colonies’ streets. And if you have the time, visit the Amana General Store that sells old-fashioned toys and soaps, or the popular Millstream Brewing Company. Besides, the area frequently hosts special events and seasonal celebrations about German culture and history.

2. Lake MacBride State Park

Lake MacBride State Park
Source: Flickr / Tony Webster | CC BY-SA 2.0

Lake MacBride State Park is the biggest state park in Iowa covering 2,180 acres of fun space. Named after Thomas MacBride, the “father” of Iowa conservation, the park is a popular lakeside destination with family-friendly outdoor activities. The park features swimming, fishing, and boat rentals on an 812-acre lake plus trails, camping, and picnic sites. And, the lake itself also has an attractive beach with refreshment stands.

Besides, the park contains a circling of five-mile trodden limestone trail along the shoreline. Extra limestone trails and six long-lasting Volkssport paths offer visitors extra opportunities for fun activities.

3. Wilson’s Orchard & Farm

Wilson's Orchard and Farm
Source: Flickr / UI International Programs | CC BY-ND 2.0

Wilson’s Orchard is an orchard and nature park located on both sides of the Rapid Creek valley. The orchard contains different types of apple trees including a wide variety of different classes of apple. You can even pick your own apples. However, you get a tasting before-hand and an introduction with a map so you can go on your adventure prepared. Several varieties of pumpkins are featured in the fall as well.

While there, make sure to visit the Rapid Creek Cidery. This barn overlooking the orchard is an upscale restaurant serving cocktails made with Wilson’s excellent hard cider.

4. Terry Trueblood Recreation Area

Terry Trueblood Recreation Area
Source: Flickr / UI International Programs | CC BY-ND 2.0

With over 150 acres, Terry Trueblood Recreation Area offers a variety of recreational activities and amenities, including several trail routes that can be used for walking or running. Other activities include fishing, birdwatching, and hiking.

The main trail is 2 miles long with a cemented path that goes around the perimeter of Sand Lake. Part of the trail is near the woods which provides a bit of shade. There are benches placed at frequent intervals if you need to rest. Overall, it is a lovely walk and the people who work there are friendly and courteous.

5. Devonian Fossil Gorge

Devonian Fossil Gorge
Source: Flickr / Alan Light | CC BY 2.0

Devonian Fossil Gorge is an archeological wonder revealing the ancient remains of an ocean floor from 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.

The area itself is very pretty, and there is a really nice walkway, with a lot of explanatory plaques. So, you can take your kids and walk around while exploring all the ancient fossils around. Altogether, there are 17 points of interest in the park. These include the entry plaza, which interprets the site and features displays related to the nearby dam, the fossils, and the floods.

6. Englert Civic Theater

Englert Civic Theater
Source: Flickr / Tony Webster | CC BY 2.0

The 100-year-old Englert Theater hosts musicians, writers, and comedians while staging plays as well as art exhibits. This is a renovated vaudeville-era playhouse now serving as a community arts center and 725-seat performance venue. Besides, it is easy to get to. It also has delicious food close by and the coffee next door is perfect for after the show!

During springtime, the Englert Theatre hosts the Mission Creek Festival with a focus on public events, concert, and literacy program that features more than 100 writers every year. 

7. Hancher Auditorium

Hancher Auditorium
Source: Flickr / Phil Roeder | CC BY 2.0

Hancher Auditorium is the University of Iowa performance hall hosting Broadway musicals, contemporary dance, and classical music. The auditorium has been serving the people of Iowa, and artists from around the world, since 1972. Unfortunately, in 2008, the auditorium was closed due to flooding. So, a new facility, designed by architect Cesar Pelli, opened its doors to the public in 2016.

Besides the stunning interior, Hancher is a feast for the eyes outside too. There are no straight lines, it almost seems as though the building bows to the city above. The building itself is a beautiful backdrop for photos and photography shoots.

8. Palisades-Kepler State Park

Palisades-Kepler State Park
Source: Flickr / Chepner | CC BY 2.0

Established in 1922, Palisades-Kepler State Park is a picturesque park with an array of recreation options, plus a historic lodge for event rentals. Along the six miles of trails, you might be able to spot a variety of wildlife, including white-tailed deer and wild turkeys.

Besides, picnickers can enjoy themselves, while at the same time, enjoying views of the beautiful Cedar River and the tree-lined bluffs along it. The river itself offers some excellent fishing for a variety of species, including channel catfish, bass, and bluegills.

9. National Motorcycle Museum

National Motorcycle Museum
Source: Flickr / Chuck Coker | CC BY-ND 2.0

Founded in 1989, the National Motorcycle Museum celebrates the design, lore, and popular allure of motorcycles plus vintage-bike rallies. Engineers, racers, bike builders, tuners, and others as far back as the late 1800′s built the groundwork for what motorcycling has become. The museum’s goal is to share all their passion through interpretive exhibits. The museum’s displays include the Early American Transportation Innovation, Barn Find, 1920s Era Gas Station, and Featured Bikes.

But you better make sure to have at least a few hours if you are going to get the full tour of the museum. There are tons of bikes, tons of information, and tons of memorabilia to explore.

10. Iowa City Farmers Market

Iowa City Farmers Market
Source: Flickr / Alan Light | CC BY 2.0

The Iowa City Farmers Market provides a space for consumers to learn about local products and high-quality locally grown food. The vendors sell everything, from different types of native, seasonal fruits and vegetables to homemade baked goods. Not to mention the local craft products.

The market opens during summer and operates at two different locations in the city. And during the holidays, the Farmers Market hosts indoor holiday markets and events. Besides, it hosts a variety of family-friendly events throughout the year including tasting events, children’s days, and live music concerts.

11. Hickory Hill Park

Hickory Hill Park
Source: Flickr / Alan Light | CC BY 2.0

With 190 acres, Hickory Hill Park consists of uninhibited fields, forests, grassland, and swamplands which surrounds Ralston Creek and a few more streams. The park is well-maintained and features a variety of amenities, including several picnic shelters, picnic tables, grills, restrooms, water fountains, and multi-use trails. But be aware that the park contains an impenetrable trail system. While some are carefully planned, others are generated through frequent trampling. So, be careful not to get lost.

Hickory Hill Park is open all year round with winter activities such as sledding and cross-country skiing being popular cold-weather activities.

12. Pedestrian Mall

Pedestrian Mall
Source: Flickr / Alan Light | CC BY 2.0

The open-air Pedestrian Mall is a shopping and dining area featuring a kids’ playground, fountains, sculptures, and much more. In fact, this is a great place to walk around and window shop or watch people, if you do not feel like shopping.

The space is very nice and peaceful during the day, with many places to settle down and relax. During the night, there are changing lights and live music on Fridays. The area also hosts several events throughout the year, such as the War and Peace Book Festival.

13. University of Iowa Museum of Natural History

University of Iowa Museum of Natural History
Source: Flickr / Teemu008 | CC BY-SA 2.0

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. This is the second-oldest museum west of the Mississippi River, dating back to 1858.

More than 15,000 artifacts and specimens compose the museum’s collections, which are divided into a variety of special collections grouped by species and artifact type. The museum trails roughly five million years of Iowa’s history. And its highlight is the Mammal Hall containing exhibits of the evolution, edition, and varieties of nearly every species of mammal.

14. Old Capitol Museum

Old Capitol Museum
Source: Flickr / Tony Webster | CC BY 2.0

The iconic Old Capital Museum is a former government center featuring a gold dome and exhibits on local history. The building has been renovated and some areas have been restored to their original appearance while having the benefit of air conditioning. Nowadays, the capitol is a centerpiece of the University of Iowa. The building itself is spectacular including its large 23-karat golden dome and other smaller domes.

The museum offers a guided tour. The highlights include the Hansen Humanities Gallery, the Senate Chamber, and the Supreme Court Chamber.  This is one of the best sites you do not want to miss while in Iowa City.

15. Penn Meadows Park North

Penn Meadows Park North
Source: Pexels / Helena Lopes | CC BY-2.0

Centrally located in North Liberty, Penn Meadows Park North is a recreational park featuring many outdoor activities and amenities. The park is very large with several playgrounds for children of various ages. It also features soccer fields, baseball diamonds, several tennis courts, three separate playsets placed around a large field, and a baseball-themed splash pad.

Besides, there is a lot of seating and nice shady trees. Not to mention the lovely gazebo. However, all the walkways consist of gravel so watch out if you have a wheelchair or a stroller.

16. Coralville Lake

Coralville Lake
Source: Flickr / Alan Light | CC BY 2.0

Initially established to prevent floods from the Mississippi River, Coralville Lake is now a recreational area with campgrounds and picnic areas. The lake was artificially built as a dam from 1949 to 1958 and it is popular for fishing and boat trips.

Besides, visitors can take advantage of the lake’s hiking and mountain biking trails, swimming in the lake, and sand volleyball courts. With 500 campsites spread over the 3 campgrounds, this is a great spot to take your family closer to nature around Iowa City.

17. Nile Kinnick Stadium

Nile Kinnick Stadium
Source: Pixabay / marchinileo0 | CC BY 2.0

Nile Kinnick Stadium is a massive football field, home to the University of Iowa Hawkeyes with over 70,000 seats. The stadium honors a Heisman Trophy winner who fought and was killed going into battle for his country. The stadium is also home to college football and sports most emotional moments when all the fans, players, coaches, and everyone else wave to the kids at Iowa’s world-renown children’s hospital.

Kinnick Stadium is the place to be in the fall. There is not much going on in Iowa, so the football games are where everything goes down. Plus, you can get an amazing view of the game from any seat.

18. Coral Ridge Mall

Coral Ridge Mall
Source: Wikimedia / Iowahwyman | GNU Free Documentation

The Coral Ridge Mall is a shopping area with an NHL regulation-sized ice rink, food court, carousel, and a movie theater. Interestingly, this was previously the largest shopping mall in Iowa but now it holds the spot as the second-largest, after Jordan Creek Town Center.

The mall houses retail stores like Abercrombie & Fitch and Hot Topic, a children’s museum, and an ice arena with an indoor ride. Besides, the food court has a great selection of food choices including the popular Zombie Burger.

19. NewBo City Market

NewBo City Market
Source: Flickr / Ethan Olson | CC BY-ND 2.0

Located in Cedar Rapids, 30 minutes from Iowa City, NewBo City Market is a gathering place. The space features unique food and retail business start-ups; farmers and artisans’ markets; and numerous community arts, entertainment, and educational events.  Besides, NewBo Market is an event center serving many different needs for a wide range of people and organizations.

NewBo Market is a great place to browse and have lunch during a quick visit to Cedar Rapids. Even though it is not a very large place, they offer a handful of shops with primarily handmade goods. In addition, there are also a decent number of restaurants, sweet options, and a coffee shop.

20. Carver-Hawkeye Arena

Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Source: Flickr / Alan Light | CC BY 2.0

Carver-Hawkeye Arena is a large, longtime indoor stadium offering wrestling events, college basketball games, and other sports. With an energizing atmosphere, you get such an amazing rush at the top of the arena stairs, when you look down and see how large it is. There are several different types of food vendors and most of them have more than one location. The food is good and there are enough concession stands so you do not have to wait long to get food.

Also, Herky the Hawk is amazing as he walks around the seats. He welcomes you, takes pictures with you, and play with the kids.

21. Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
Source: Flickr / Ron Cogswell | CC BY 2.0

The 187-acre Herbert Hoover National Historic Site features President Hoover’s birthplace, his gravesite, and more. There, you get a wonderful view into the beginnings of a President and the beginning life of President Herbert Hoover.

The site houses the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum which is the presidential library and funeral location of Herbert Hoover who was the 31st US President. The museum narrates the life story of Herbert Hoover and has a temporary gallery with alternating exhibits. Meanwhile, the library houses papers, photographs, and objects that belonged to the Hoover Administration as well as the family’s personal belongings.

22. The Iowa Children’s Museum

Iowa Childrens Museum
Source: The Iowa Children’s Museum

The Iowa Children’s Museum is dedicated to kids and features tools and gears that encourages children to play. This colorful museum aims at teaching kids about the world around them through fun and play. The museum has a lot of imaginative, and creative play available for kids, and most of them are self-explanatory. There is a lot of make-believe activities and rooms. These include the ambulance, hospital, post office, pizzeria, stage, and dress up. Not to mention some electronic flying games. 

The museum has exhibits for all ages and they are very educational without the kids knowing they are learning. Also, it is located inside Coral Ridge Mall and has easy access to the food court.

23. Marcus Sycamore Cinema

Marcus Sycamore Cinema
Source: Unsplash / Krist Luhaers | CC BY 2.0

Marcus Sycamore Cinema is a theater chain for mainstream films and most of them offer enhanced picture and sound, as well as expanded dining options. The Iowa City Sycamore Cinema has huge movie screens and great surround sound. The chairs are very comfortable with plenty of legroom.

There is usually a large selection of movies and the popcorn is always fresh and delicious! The facility is generally clean and well cared for, and you can buy your tickets through the Marcus mobile app. They offer matinee times with a discount making this a perfect place for Movie Night.

24. Colonial Lanes

Colonial Lanes
Source: Flickr / Ginny | CC BY-SA 2.0

Colonial Lanes is an old-school bowling alley with reasonable prices. With 25 lanes, they have a great variety of balls to choose from. Besides the bowling lanes and a full 18-hole indoor mini-golf course, the space also counts with a pool table, arcade games, kitchen, a full bar with darts, and friendly staff. And make sure to order their famously good Jell-O shots.

This is perfect for just about any occasion, with something for everybody. It is a low-key, chill place, which is a favorite amongst the locals.

25. Bluebird Diner

Bluebird Diner
Source: Flickr / Alan Light | CC BY 2.0

Bluebird Diner’s reputation for delicious, fresh Midwestern soul food served in a relaxed, retro environment is well known among Iowa City and North Liberty folk. The restaurant is a comfortable all-day eatery with a low-key, retro vibe, and a menu of updated diner-style fare. As a bonus, there is ample street parking and a lot adjacent to the building.

Their menu includes several Gluten-free options. And their most popular dishes include the omelet, eggs benedict, and hash browns. However, the kids’ favorite is for sure the pancakes, which are served all day long.