New to Town? 5 Helpful Places for Getting Settled in Iowa City

When I was growing up, I had big dreams for my future. If you had asked me where I might end up, I might have said a big city on the East Coast, or a beautiful mountain town in the Rockies or Pacific Northwest, or even meandering through Europe. I did end up spending some time in most of those places, but never in a million years would I have guessed that one day I would be living in Iowa. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great place, but it had never really been on my radar. (For shame!)

The fact is, though, that Iowa City is a vibrant place that attracts lots of professionals and families. With the University of Iowa as a centerpiece, many people are drawn here for college, graduate school, medical/dental residencies, career opportunities, and more.

iowa countryside

This time of year brings lots of new families to Iowa City – my own included! Moving to a new place is always hard. Leaving behind family, friends, and familiar comforts and venturing into the unknown can be lonely and unnerving. Add to that mix any children that are also dealing with all the social and emotional aspects of such a big transition, a houseful of boxes that need to be unpacked, utilities that need to be set up, and work/school/childcare arrangements that need to be made, and you’ve got a fail-proof recipe for stress.


Fortunately, this area is large enough to have everything you need to get settled in a new house and start getting connected to the community. As you might guess, our first few weeks here have been a mix of setting up a house and trying to explore and keep a little one busy. Here are a few of our go-to places that have been helpful for getting settled and keeping our spirits up during our move.

The shopping area on and around Coral Ridge Avenue & 2nd Street in Coralville

Here you’ll find lots of options that are especially relevant for setting up a new home, from home improvement projects to décor and essentials. This is where you’ll find stores like Lowe’s, Bed Bath and Beyond, Pier 1, Gordmans, TJ Maxx, Kohl’s, Target, and much more. There are also a few furniture stores nearby, like McGregors Furniture, Simpson Furniture, and Dwell Home Furnishings & Interior Design.

Coral Ridge Mall

While you’re out, stop by the Coral Ridge Mall on Coral Ridge Avenue. (It’s connected to Target!) Grab some new clothes for your job interviews or the kids’ first day of school, or just take a break and enjoy some of the many entertainment options. In addition to tons of stores, the mall houses the Iowa Children’s Museum, a movie theater, a carousel, an indoor play area, and an ice skating rink. Perfect for getting the kids excited about their new home!

Grocery stores

I’ve moved around a lot (seven states and two countries), and one of the most immediate needs is always stocking the fridge and pantry in your new house. Grocery stores vary regionally, so even if you’re coming from just a few hours away, you may not see the familiar names you’re used to. Iowa City has lots of choices, but some potentially recognizable options include Hy-Vee, Fareway, Costco, and Aldi. Walmart and Target also have grocery selections.

Iowa City Public Library

Little ones’ patience runs out quickly, and they can only handle so much unpacking before they need to get out of the house and have some fun. The Iowa City Public Library, with its amazing children’s area, is a lifesaver on those days. Kids can enter the children’s area via a secret slide entrance, make-believe in a playhouse made of books, play with all sorts of toys, and, of course, peruse a large selection of books. Be sure to check some out to keep the kids busy at home when you have to get back to business. On days when you’d like more structure, the library keeps a full calendar of events, with lots of options for storytimes and other programs for kids of all ages. There are several other libraries in our area, so check out our guide to Library Story Times and Kids’ Programs for more options.

Pedestrian Mall in downtown Iowa City

When you’re done at the library, be sure to exit out of the doors facing the Ped Mall and let the kids burn off some energy on the playground.  Even adults need an occasional break from the chaos of moving, and the Ped Mall is the perfect place to enjoy one. Check out all the great local shops, grab some coffee or a sweet treat, or even skip cooking dinner when you can’t find your pots and pans, and choose from a ton of restaurant options. Being out among lots of people and appreciating all the local businesses in the Downtown District is sure to help you feel more at home before too long.

And of course, make time to meet people to help stave off any homesickness. Be sure to check out our list of community groups as a built-in way to make new friends!

For all you veteran/native Iowans, what would you add to this list? What are some helpful places in the Iowa City area that newcomers should know about?



Kristin Flanary
Kristin met her husband in college at Texas Tech University, and they later moved to New Hampshire, where they earned his-and-hers advanced degrees (complete with matching towels) at Dartmouth. They had their first date on Valentine's Day, got engaged on Valentine's Day three years later, welcomed their first daughter (Charlotte) on Valentine's Day three years after that, and their second daughter (Claire) on Valentine's Day three years after that! Kristin and her family moved to Iowa City in 2014 so her husband could begin his residency at UIHC. She is currently laugh-crying her way through raising a threenager and an infant while simultaneously working full-time at the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development and juggling the crazy schedule of a resident's wife. Kristin has been a stay-at-home mom, a work-at-home mom, and work-outside-the-home mom, so she can officially judge that each scenario is hard and equally wonderful. In her free time, you can find Kristin either taking pictures and learning about photography, reading about how not to screw up her daughters, on her soapbox about women's rights, enjoying a hard-earned glass of wine, or collapsed from exhaustion. Her life is ridiculous and her heart is full.


  1. Where do you IC moms take your babies for their first hair cut. Any specific stylists you would recommend at these places? Thanks!


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