What you need to know about Iowa City before moving there.
It’s smart, cultured, literary and athletic, but it’s also a blend of urban, rural, and farm-to-table chic. It may be hard to define, but one thing is certain; this is not your average college town.
1. Black, Gold And Hawkeyes All Over
Upon arriving in Iowa City, you will notice that everything is black and gold, including the clothing of most people you pass. Rub your eyes all you like; you’re not seeing things. The Iowa Hawkeyes are members of the Big Ten Conference and compete in Division 1 of the NCAA, but they aren’t just the athletic teams representing the University of Iowa. Being a Hawkeye is also one of the main religions in the state. Kinnick Stadium, where football is played, and Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where basketball games take place, are considered by many to be holy ground.
2. It Has Suburbs, Too
Iowa City has two suburbs. Coralville, home to a large regional mall, is northwest of the city. North Liberty, bordered by Lake Macbride State Park, is north of Coralville.
3. It’s Well Read And It Knows How To Write
In 2008, Iowa City became the world’s third United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) City of Literature, following Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia. The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, based at the University of Iowa, is one of the world’s foremost programs in creative writing; workshop alumni have won 12 Pulitzer Prizes and four alumni have been named U.S. Poet Laureate.
4. It’s Fresh and Local
There are three farmers markets in town. The Coralville Farmers Market and Iowa City Farmers Market run May through October, and both have fresh fruits and vegetables, cut flowers, baked goods and more. The Iowa City Winter Farmers Market runs from late November through late April, selling local produce, baked goods, coffee, soaps, jewelry and more.
5. Move Over Des Moines, We Were Here First
Iowa City was the first capital city of the state, from 1840 until 1855, when the decision was made to move the capital to Des Moines, a more central location. Today, the Old Capitol building is a National Historic Landmark, and houses a museum where admission is free.
6. It Has Everything From Plastic Cups To Fine Stemware
The Princeton Review named Iowa City the No. 1 party school of 2013, a step up from its No. 2 ranking in 2012. But if binge drinking and keg stands aren’t your style, never fear; the city is also home to upscale restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.
7. You’re In Good Hands
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is one of the top hospitals in the country, and the only comprehensive academic medical center and regional referral center in the state. Named by U.S. News & World Report as one of “America’s Best Hospitals,” in six clinical specialties, it is also one of the country’s most wired hospitals for its use of technology. Oh, and it houses an extensive collection of artwork; some areas of the building feel like a museum.
8. Visit The Old World
The Amana Colonies lie just 20 minutes northwest of Iowa City, and are home to traditional German food and crafts. Originally a group of settlements founded by German Pietists, the Amana Colonies endorsed a communal life until the mid 1930s. Today the Amanas are a major tourist attraction, complete with restaurants, woodworking shops, wine shops, a brewery and craft shops. The colonies are listed as a National Historic Landmark.
9. It’s A Wind Power Pioneer
The Iowa City area is home to the first Wind Energy Supply Chain Campus in the United States. The 173-acre campus is a landmark for renewable wind energy.
10. Drink Up; The Beer Is Local And Fresh
Local breweries are becoming increasingly popular across the state, and Iowa City and the surrounding area have plenty of great beer to offer. Some worth checking out are Backpocket Brewing in Coralville, Millstream Brewing Co. in Amana, Big Grove Brewery in Solon, Kalona Brewing Company in Kalona, and more.
11. Get Ready To Stomp Some Grapes
If you’d rather drink something red or white, local wineries have got you covered. Brick Arch Winery in West Branch, Cedar Ridge Vineyards in Swisher and Fireside Winery in Marengo are all minutes away from Iowa City.
12. It’s Home To The ‘Public Ivy League’
The University of Iowa is one of three state universities in Iowa. It is one of the top public research universities in the country, and the oldest university in the state. The university is made up of 11 colleges, its campus takes up 1,900 acres, and it has a student body of just over 30,000. It is also the smallest public institution in the Big Ten. When the university opened in 1855, it was the first public university in the United States to admit men and women on an equal basis, and also the first public university to grant a law degree to an African American (G. Alexander Clark, 1870), and to a woman (Mary B. Hickey Wilkinson, 1873).
13. It’s Artsy
The weekend-long Iowa Arts Festival got its start in 1983, and features more than 125 local and national artists, as well as live music and entertainment, a Global Village, Children’s Day, a Culinary Row, and an Emerging Artist Area featuring student artists.
14. Your Dog Will Thank You
Iowa summers are hot and humid and no one is immune from just wanting to stay inside by the air conditioner, not even man’s best friend. Enter the Doggie Plunge in North Liberty, where, for one day each year, dogs are invited to come cool off at the pool just like everyone else.
15. Jazz Is Hard To Define, But Easy To Enjoy
The Iowa City Jazz Festival has been named one of the Top Ten Jazz Festivals in the country. The July festival showcases both well-known musicians and up-and-coming talent on four stages.
16. You’re Welcome For Ashton Kutcher
Ashton Kutcher is originally from nearby Cedar Rapids, but he was a student planning to major in biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa when he was discovered by a model scout at The Airliner bar in Iowa City. From there, he placed first in a modeling competition, and the rest is history. But the answer is yes, corn-fed Iowa kids really are that good looking.
17. A Pioneer History With A Local Farm Future
Just southwest of Iowa City is Kalona, a town known for its rich pioneer history, quilting, and its historical village. And, if you shop at Whole Foods, co-ops or specialty stores, you may have seen a brand called Kalona Super Natural in the dairy section. Sustainable family farms in Kalona create certified organic milk products from pasture-grazed cows. The milk is non-homogenized, which means the cream rises to the top, and the pastured (instead of feedlot) raised cows mean the milk is higher in healthy fats like omega-3s.
18. It Elected The First Female Mayor
Iowa City is known for its liberal attitude, and has been that way for a long time. In 1923, Emma J. Harvat became mayor; she was the first woman to be elected as leader of a U.S. city with a population of over 10,000. Her election made history, and was covered in the news worldwide.
19. It’s Connected
Interstate 80 runs east-west and is important for connecting Iowa City to other nearby metropolises, and connecting them quickly. It takes just two hours to drive to Des Moines in the west, and a little over three and a half hours to get to Chicago in the east. Many U of I students come from Illinois and the Chicago suburbs; maybe the quick trip home is why Mom and Dad agreed to pay for tuition at a top party, er, academic, institution.
20. Float, Boat Or Walk Alongside the River
Iowa City is one of the last places the Iowa River passes through on its way to the Mississippi River. Just north of Iowa City lies the Coralville Dam, which creates Coralville Lake. State parks and nature recreation areas line the river, making it an ideal place for boating or exploring trails.
21. Its Mall Isn’t Just A Mall
Coralville is home to Coral Ridge Mall, a super regional (meaning really big) mall, right next to I-80. Other than shopping, the mall is also home to the Iowa Children’s Museum, a 10-screen movie theater and an NHL regulation-sized ice rink where the University of Iowa Hawkeyes hockey team plays most of its home games.
22. It Rises To The Top
The Iowa City area is popular on lists of places to live. For example, Forbes listed Iowa City 13th in the Best Cities for Business and Careers category in 2011, and Yahoo! Finance ranked Iowa City as the #1 City to Start Over in.
23. It’s Run By A Bunch Of Kids
The median age is 24.8 years, thanks in part to the university’s large student population and those students who decide to stick around after graduation.
24. It’s A Pedestrian’s Paradise
Iowa City has the highest walkability ranking in the state, and its Downtown District has a 95/100 score on the walkability website walkscore.com. A walk downtown on the “Ped Mall,” as most people call it, is enjoyable not just because of the great restaurants and shops, but because no cars are allowed. It’s just bricks, trees, and a lot to see as you stroll by.
25. There’s Always Green Space
A popular misconception about Iowa is that it’s nothing but mile after mile of cornfields. There’s nothing wrong with cornfields, but that stereotype just isn’t true. Iowa City is made up of, and surrounded by, rolling hills, prairie grasses, rivers, lakes and woodlands, and the city’s 41 public parks are situated in all of these.
26. A Museum More Than 400 Million Years In the Making
In 1993, historic flooding covered much of Iowa. Although the state was declared a state of emergency and recovery took years, one positive thing that came from it happened at Coralville Lake. When flooding poured over the emergency spillway and eroded a deep channel, Devonian-age sea floors were exposed. Today you can see fossils, glacial-age deposits and small cave systems at the Devonian Fossil Gorge.
27. Wooly Mammoths Live Here, Too
Speaking of prehistory, the Museum of Natural History houses a large collection and has research on display, taking visitors through 500 million years of Iowa’s history, from plant life, to wooly mammoths, to hummingbirds, to the area’s first human inhabitants. It’s small, free, and locals love it.
28. It Serves Brunch In An Old Power Plant
Every mid-sized city has that one iconic restaurant that everyone has to try at least once. The Iowa River Power Co. Restaurant is that restaurant for Iowa City, but no one goes just once. True to its name, the restaurant is housed in a turn of the century power plant, offering great views of the Iowa River.
29. It’s Presidential
Less than a 15-minute drive east of Iowa City is West Branch, the birthplace of Herbert Hoover and home to his Presidential Library and Museum. You can visit the library, the two-room cottage where Hoover was born, other historic homes, his gravesite, and a prairie area.
30. It’s A Theatrical Gem
Englert Theatre isn’t just a playhouse; it’s both modern and a throwback to the Vaudeville era, as well as a figurehead of the local arts and theater scene. Come watch a live performance or check out art exhibits.