The Ultimate Guide to Living in Iowa City, IA

The Ultimate Guide to Living in Iowa City, IA

Downtown Iowa City depicting the Old Capitol on the Pentacrest.

Nestled in Eastern Iowa, Iowa City boasts a comfortable, but a lively community to live in. With the Big 10 University of Iowa, eclectic shops, and many different restaurants, downtown Iowa City has a lot to offer in terms of entertainment. The city deserves a deep dive into the ins and outs of its culture.

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Cost of Living

The cost of living in Iowa City is relatively decent but on the pricier side. It is 3% lower than the national average.

While the cost of living is higher than in the rest of the state, this can be attributed to the University of Iowa and downtown Iowa City.

Rent rises downtown, which also has a lot of housing. This causes the cost of living to increase. The cost of living can also be attributed to the dense population of 74,596 in the small area of the city.

The average monthly rent is $978. The least expensive average is a studio apartment at $778, and the priciest is a four-bedroom apartment at $1,766.

Rent will vary in price based on space, location, bathroom, and bedroom numbers. Apartments downtown will be more expensive. Houses are a different story. The average home price is $328,988, and the average mortgage is 3.03%.

Other needs, like utilities and groceries, rank below the national average. Energy costs $131.18 and phone bills typically cost $181.33.

Other expenses like health care providers vary on location. If you use the University of Iowa hospitals and clinics they will likely be more expensive than a private practice.

Goods and services meet the country’s average. The average household income as of 2019 was $48,148.

Suburbs around Iowa City

While downtown Iowa City is a hot spot for entertainment and modern trends, many of the people who work in the city live in the surrounding suburbs. There are three main suburbs that are connected to the city: Coralville, Tiffin, and North Liberty.


Coralville, Iowa, has a population of 20,645. The average family income is $102,024.

This is the suburb closest in proximity to Iowa City, about a five-minute drive into town.

The biggest attraction of Coralville is the Coral Ridge Mall, which is surrounded by restaurants. Iowa’s Children’s Museum inside the mall also draws a large crowd. This attraction requires a child of 3+ to attend, and it introduces different concepts of art, science, and other educational topics.

Coralville also has the only antique car museum in Iowa. The museum holds many different types of cars from each decade.


Next is Tiffin. It is a sixteen-minute drive to downtown Iowa City. The population is 4,157. The median household is $83, 079. This is the second farthest from downtown Iowa City.

Tiffin boasts many parks and trails, but most of its attractions actually happen in North Liberty or Coralville.

The town mostly has fast-food restaurants, but Tiffin does have a few local eateries that they advertise to the public.

North Liberty

The final suburb is North Liberty, IA. The town is about 20 minutes outside of Iowa City and is more residential than Coralville. The population is 19,501, and the median household income is $88,605.  

In terms of attractions, the city provides a few. At the beginning of the year, in late January, North Liberty hosts a festival called ‘Beat the Bitter’. They have food, games, and fireworks to try to lighten the frosty mood of the season.

The city runs a Blues and Barbecue event in July in Centennial Park. Admission is free and there is food and fun for the entire family. The city also has a series of hiking and mountain biking trails called Sugar Bottom Trails.

Iowa City Education

Obviously, you can’t talk about the education in Iowa City without giving a nod to the University of Iowa. The university is known for its Hospitals and Clinics, as well as its Creative Writing Program.

Iowa City is considered the City of Literature, and its writing program supports that assertion. They offer many other areas of study as well and had an enrollment of 31,206 in 2021.

Outside of the major university, however, there are many more options. Iowa currently ranks 18th for education out of all 50 states.

The Iowa City area has 21 elementary schools, 3 Junior Highs, and 5 high schools. All of these fall under the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD). This district also provides an online option that completes Preschool through 12th grade.

If public school isn’t your speed, there are five private schools in Iowa City. These schools range from liberal arts approaches in education to religious ones. There are also Montessori schools to meet any needs that a family may have.

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Things to Do in Iowa City

In downtown Iowa City, many shops and restaurants call the place home. There are so many places that will meet or exceed expectations, but there are a few things that locals recommend doing when you pay the city a visit. And outside of downtown, you can find many different parks and hiking destinations.

The Englert Theatre

The Englert Theatre is a charming building located on Washington Street. They host many different events from concerts to plays.  They host the Mission Creek Festival and the Witching Hour Festival. These two festivals invite new artists and writers to share their crafts in themed settings. The Englert is also available for rent and tours.

Hancher Auditorium

Hancher Auditorium sits on the West side of the University of Iowa campus. It hosts events from lectures to dance recitals, and this is often where the University holds its artistic events.

Hancher also brings in a variety of outside performers from Bill Nye to Storm Large. For larger events, they are most likely to occur at Hancher rather than The Englert.

The Museum of Natural History

Hancher is not the only building to visit on the University of Iowa campus. The Museum of Natural History also draws a crowd. This museum is dispersed throughout MacBride Hall on North Clinton Street. The museum covers humans, animals, and concepts like evolution.

Kinnick Stadium

Going along with the University of Iowa being a hotspot of activity. Kinnick Football Stadium draws hundreds every season. In 2022, it will be entering its 102nd year of serving the community.

This is also home to the famous ‘Wave’, which is when the fans and football players at Kinnick wave to the children at the UIHC Children’s Hospital right across the street.

The Devonian Fossil Gorge

Outside of downtown Iowa City, there is still plenty to do. One of the most popular sites to visit is Devonian Fossil Gorge. Located around Coralville Lake, this attraction holds fossils from the Devonian era. The fossils run along the auxiliary spillway’s flow path of the dam. The fossils feature many prehistoric sea creatures.

Wilson’s Orchard

The final destination of things to do in Iowa City is Wilson’s Orchard. Complete with a pumpkin patch, apple orchard, store, and restaurant, this farm seems to have it all.

The orchard has been around since the 1800s but opened its doors to the public in 1985. Today, the orchard is a must-see destination for visitors and locals alike. You can pick apples, visit the store, or try some of their homemade hard cider.

Iowa City Restaurants

One thing is for certain: you will never be bored of Iowa City restaurants and what they have to offer. There are restaurants to meet any craving for any meal. They have cafes, grocery stores, dine-in, fast food, and convenience stores. If you’re craving something special Iowa City is guaranteed to provide a quick input into the GPS. However, there are restaurants that stand out among the rest.

Big Grove Brewery

Just outside the heart of Iowa City, the local Big Grove Brewery provides a hot take on bar and street food. This location was the second to open in Iowa.

Big Grove has 8 different brews to accompany its unique menu. They are a hotspot on the weekends and for sports games. They also host events year-round to support the nightlife in the community.

St. Burch Tavern

In downtown Iowa City there are restaurants around every corner. St. Burch Tavern is one such location. While on the pricier end, they host happy hour every day from 3-6 P.M.

This is an easy way to get a taste of Burch. The restaurant has a cozy feel intended to be reminiscent of supper clubs. The restaurant’s food definitely matches the high-end, but the homey vibe continues to be an Iowa City favorite.

Bluebird Diner

Bluebird Diner is a unique breakfast joint located on Market Street. Open and closed early, you can expect to have a wait time here. However, for good reason, every dish and drink is homemade.

They even have their own coffee blend. This causes the menu to be more simple than some other eateries, but the dishes are impressive regardless. Breakfast is the recommended meal to have at Bluebird.


If you plan to join in on the college nightlife, then you’ll have to visit Pancheros or ‘Panch’. Its claim to fame is the hand-pressed tortillas and ‘bob’ technique. The ‘bob’ technique ensures deliciousness in every bite with a small paddle used to mix up the contents of a burrito. Panch is an assembly line for all things fast-food Mex and stays open until 2 A.M. downtown. This is to profit from the bar rush that is mostly seen on weekends. You’ll have to try their famous queso as well if you plan to visit.

The Airliner

The Airliner is another favorite of bar-hoppers as well as alumni of the University of Iowa. They are the oldest bar in Iowa City and are most famous for their pizza.

The Airliner sells Deep Dish, New York Style, Airliner Regular, and Gluten-Free crusts. They have specialty pizzas or a build-your-own option. The Airliner can be rented for private parties. They also have regular specials that they promote online.

Uncle Sun

Another eatery is somewhat slept on. Uncle Sun is an authentic Chinese restaurant in downtown Iowa City. This Iowa City restaurant serves affordable and delicious dishes. Their website gives a large menu to satisfy any craving that an Iowa City resident may have. They operate during dinner hours and the late evenings, except for Saturdays which cater to lunchtime.

That’s Iowa City!

Hopefully, any moves or visits to Iowa City feel much easier with this deep dive. The city has many hidden gems throughout its alleys and streets. There are some that definitely did not make the list, and it is best to do your own research after viewing this guide. Enjoy Iowa City!

Maura De Cicco attends the University of Iowa as a Journalism and Anthropology student. She plans to pursue a strategic communications track when it comes to writing, and an archaeology track when it comes to Anthropology.