A Sober Mom’s Guide to Iowa City

On November 30, 2022, I had my last drink. I thought I was just going to detox for a month, but I don’t think I’ll ever drink again. However, this is NOT an easy decision. After all, we live in Iowa. What’s a girl to do for fun if there’s no alcohol involved, am I right?  Our toxic drinking culture has definitely caused me to be embarrassed about being sober. No, I’m not pregnant. No, I wasn’t an alcoholic. I just knew it was time for my physical and mental health to give it a rest.

The questions are fair, I suppose, given our location. The University of Iowa boasted the title of #1 party school in the nation for years. We’ve dropped to #17 (UC Santa Barbara holds the top spot now), but those of us who helped drive our #1 ranking still have that party culture engrained in us. Our lack of imagination when it comes to entertainment is astounding. I don’t drink anymore and the only other thing I can think of to do on a kid-free Friday night is sit at home in my pajamas watching Law & Order: SVU and doing a puzzle.

However, I’m an extrovert, and I can’t live on puzzles and TV for long.  I’m trying out this new sober life and finding new ways of socializing that don’t involve alcohol. Of course, there are always the old stand-bys: movies or bowling. But you can’t catch up over a movie, and let’s face it–you can only go bowling so many times before it gets old. 

So, I’ve been thinking outside the box on this a lot lately, and I’ve also gone to my fellow ICM team members for some suggestions on how to have fun in our community sans drinks. Here’s what we’ve come up with:

  • Did you know there’s a dry bar in Iowa City?!?! I didn’t until I started working on this post! It’s called Unimpaired and it’s delightful! The kids and I went for pizza and we all cheers-ed with our mocktails and had a lovely time. I imagine I would have an equally lovely time with adults. They apparently have karaoke every Tuesday night, too! (Although I’m not sure sober karaoke is a great idea…LOL).
  • Go throw some axes! Hatchet Jack’s is such a blast and, let’s be real, it’s probably a good idea to be sober while lobbing hatchets in public.
  • Did you know the UI rec facilities are open late? The Field House is open until 10:30 p.m. and the Campus Recreation & Wellness Center is open until midnight! Go climbing (4-8:30 p.m.), go swimming (until 10 p.m.), or go do one of my favorites and play racquetball! I have found that exercise has become my favorite thing to do now that I don’t drink. And it’s a heck of a lot easier when you aren’t hungover.
  • Iowa City ALWAYS has live music. Yes, it’s mostly happening in bars, but that doesn’t mean you have to drink alcohol–many of our local bars offer non-alcoholic beverages. Some ICM team favorites include the Sunday Morning Sour NA at Backpocket Brewing, the pineapple cobbler mocktail at Vue Rooftop, and tequila-inspired mocktails at the brand new Coa Cantina!
  • I LOVE drag shows. Whether it’s drag brunch at Big Grove with a non-alcoholic raspberry mule or dancing at Studio 13 with my favorite Queens on a Friday night, I’ve found that I don’t even need alcohol to feel pure joy at a drag show!
  • Every Thursday night, I meet a group of friends for trivia somewhere
    (usually The Vine or Sam’s Pizza). By the last question, I’m usually the clutch player because I’m the sober one and can still think fast. I saved our team a few weeks ago by knowing the answer to the final question (What was the Beach Boys’ last #1 hit? Kokomo. Duh.).

*If you are not at the point in your sobriety journey where you are able to spend time at bars or other alcohol-serving establishments, we totally get it. Many of us have been there, too. Here are some great suggestions from our team for alternatives to “let’s grab drinks”:

  • Let’s grab coffee or lunch! (Our team loves lunch with the homemade blueberry lemonade at Nodo, or a pizza and Diet Coke at Marquee Pizza–especially when you can sit outside in the summer!)
  • Let’s take a hike! (Here are some of our favorite spots…)
  • Let’s go shopping! (Bonus points if you shop small and shop local!)
  • Let’s book an experience! (We recommend a painting night at Brush and Barrel or a candle pouring class with Tura Lura Co!)

If you have any good ideas, send them my way in the comments! This is just the beginning of the Sober Mom’s Guide, and I’d love to continue collecting ideas to share with others. As Iowans, drinking is definitely one of our favorite pastimes (in 2022, Iowa ranked second in the nation for excessive drinking), however for many people, it’s just not a healthy option. I’m happy to help contribute to the sobriety of others, and one of the first steps is that we just have to make it a) less boring and b) more accessible. There are so many fun alternatives in Iowa City, and we’re excited to try even more in 2023!


  1. Sara, I enjoyed your post! Thank you for this extensive list of fun and non-alcohol centric things to do in our area.

    I recently heard the term “sober curious.” I would learn more about that, maybe in another post on the mom’s blog!

    Thanks for the great work!

  2. Suggest checking out martial arts, hot yoga, or some other new and seemingly “impossible” activity to challenge yourself with! It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you are not healing from a bottle of wine last night!


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