Pleasant. That’s the word I’d use: pleasant. There are few experiences more pleasant than a fine weather weekend during the late summer or early fall in the Midwest.
This is not adventure travel. There are no mountains or glaciers or waterfalls. There are no Michelin stars or world-famous monuments. This is easy, comfortable, relaxing travel. Pleasant.
Pleasant can be underrated.
We experienced just such pleasantness on a Labor Day weekend visit to Iowa City, IA. Kristi was invited to speak at the University of Iowa’s Sport and Recreation Management conference which we turned into a long weekend in order to take in a Hawkeyes’ football game.
Small airports, no traffic, sunny, 80-degree days, cool, 55-degree nights, walks around campus, good food and craft beer were just what the doctor ordered after a long, hot Florida summer. We flew from Atlanta to Cedar Rapids and drove an easy 30 minutes to Coralville, IA, two miles from the UI campus.
The Iowa River Landing in Coralville provides modern – in the sense of time, not sense of fashion – chain hotels and locally owned restaurants on the banks of the Iowa River in a mixed-use development that is trying very hard to become a local go-to for entertainment and residential living.
We stayed at the Marriott, which was perfectly fine. Its greatest advantage was proximity to surprisingly good food and drink options. Just outside the front door were Vesta (Mediterranean-inspired, upscale-feeling, some farm-to-table), Backpocket Brewing (brewery with small, no-frills pizzas) and 30 Hop (hipster craft beer dispensary meets sports bar) to name three.
Let’s eat… and drink!
A Vesta, I enjoyed a house specialty of Elk Stroganoff while Kristi had pork tenderloin. As would become a theme, both were much better than we expected. The food menu was accompanied by a fine selection of local craft beer and wine options. Prices were VERY reasonable, another pleasant theme in Iowa City. Parking – even downtown – was uniformly cheap, as were gas prices.
Backpocket Brewing brews its 13 craft beers on premises. Exotic and experimental choices (peated bock) share the menu with classics such as IPAs and a coffee stout. The food won’t wow you, but again, is reasonably priced, served quickly and friendly, and does enough to hit the spot while you’re enjoying the beer. Note: Iowans love their beer.
30 Hop was a show-stealer with over 50 craft beers on tap including selections from Iowa and throughout the Midwest. A creative cocktail menu accompanied the beer choices as did an excellent selection of whiskeys and scotch. My Michter’s Rye was highly satisfying. Kristi ordered a ginger beer from Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing twice. Pretzel bites, chicken satay and my burger were all well-prepared… and reasonably priced.
I’m not a complete cheap skate, but again, part of what I consider to be “pleasant” travel is not having to feel bad about ordering an entrée or extra drink due to price.
Adjacent to campus, Wig and Pen is a British pub-themed restaurant/bar serving pizza, including a more than passable Chicago-style deep dish I sank my teeth into. Wig and Pen offered outdoor seating, as did every other restaurant we visited, a great perk on a weekend such as the one we were treated to.
University of Iowa
A visit to the UI campus is a “must” for any traveler to Iowa City, regardless of whether or not the football team is playing. A home football game does provide a level of energy that surely can’t be matched without it.
The campus is green and surprisingly hilly with plenty of wide lawns, mature trees and architectural uniformity. Look out for the multiple themed “Herky” statues ideal for photo ops. Herky is the school’s Hawkeye mascot.
The campus is divided by the Iowa River which offers bike and walking paths along its length through Iowa City and out to the Iowa River Landing.
Two hours provides you plenty of time to tour it all, but you can get the gist in much less time. UI has over 30,000 undergraduate students and a campus of a scale to match.
One end of campus is anchored by downtown Iowa City. Student-bars and restaurants, bookstores, UI fan merchandise shops and boutiques – the standard near-campus lineup – can all be found here. Much of the downtown area was under construction when we visited making the area difficult to grade. It’s obvious, however, the City is making an effort to create there a destination for locals and tourists alike.
Does Iowa City belong on any traveler’s bucket list? Surely not unless you are a Big 10 sports junkie. That doesn’t mean a wonderful time can’t be had there should the opportunity present itself. Memorable travel experiences can feature majesty and grandeur and involve all-day flights and great expense and danger and mystery… and they can also, simply, be pleasant.