Home to more than 22,000 people, the ever-growing city of Coralville is on the northwest shoulder of Iowa City and the University of Iowa Campus.
Coralville has come through a transformation in the last few years, constructing the Iowa River Landing district, which has an inviting mix of shopping, culture and entertainment.
The Coral Ridge Mall is the Iowa City area’s mall of choice, and goes way beyond a typical shopping hub, thanks to an NHL-regulation rink and the acclaimed Iowa Children’s Museum.
The University of Iowa is a big presence in Coralville, bringing top-notch sports action and real cultural gravitas for its world-renowned writing program and newly reopened art museum.
1. Coralville Center for the Performing Arts
Underpinning Coralville’s effervescent cultural scene is this modern performing arts complex that opened in 2011.
Right in the heart of Coralville, next to the public library building, this center contains a 472-seat auditorium with a 40-foot proscenium, clear sight lines, excellent acoustics, an orchestra pit and a high-end sound board.
This is the seat for the City Circle Theatre Company, putting on professional-caliber musicals and plays, but also organizing classes for the community, and offering a host of volunteer opportunities.
For children’s shows, the Young Footliters Youth Theatre has a wonderful season of performances to suit younger audiences.
2. University of Iowa
Coralville adjoins the main campus for Iowa’s oldest and second-largest university. So essentially there’s a small world of sightseeing, museums, sports action and performing arts on your doorstep.
Not to forget that Iowa’s former state capitol building (1842) is preserved on the campus and houses a museum with exhibits about Iowa, the university and this grand building.
The newly reopened Stanley Museum of Art has a collection to rival any university museum in the country, endowed with works by Picasso, Kandinsky, Matisse, Pollock and Chagall, to name just a few.
And that’s before we get to the Iowa Hawkeyes, a Big Ten powerhouse, with a football gameday experience infused with traditions new and old at Kinnick Stadium.
The Kinnick Wave is a heartwarming mid-game custom, greeting patients in the children’s hospital overlooking the stadium.
3. Iowa River Landing
On the riverfront in the east of Coralville is an exciting new district developing at high speed on a former industrial site.
Iowa River Landing is the gateway to the city along I-80, blending culture, entertainment, dining and retail.
Two spots that we’ve already covered are the Johnson County Historical Society Museum and Antique Car Museum of Iowa, but you’ve also got a globetrotting array of eateries, a craft brewery, a Hyatt hotel, a summer farmers’ market and the cutting-edge Xtream Arena (more later).
Iowa River Landing is also easy to navigate on foot, with public spaces like the Sculpture Park, comprising 11 captivating works of contemporary sculpture.
4. Xtream Arena
In 2020 a 5,100-capacity multipurpose arena opened at Iowa River Landing. Built at a cost of $50 million, Xtream Arena is both home court for the University of Iowa’s women’s volleyball team and home ice for the Iowa Heartlanders.
The latter are a professional minor league hockey team playing in the ECHL. The Heartlanders are a brand new franchise, launched in 2021, and regularly filled the arena in the debut season.
Containing two museums, the arena is a flexible venue, able to host a variety of other sports, from wrestling to indoor football, as well as concerts, comedians and all kinds of special events.
5. Johnson County Historical Society Museum
When the Xtream Arena opened in 2020, the Johnson County Historical Society set about relocating its museum to the complex. This move quadrupled the amount of exhibit space available, and the process of filling out the new space was gradual.
The new museum is a modern attraction, filled with vivid and detailed interpretive boards, telling you about the lives and customs of the Meskwaki people in Johnson County and painting a picture of the prairie and timber-lined river in the early 19th century.
The society’s collections are extensive, and when we wrote this article the society was in the process of moving fascinating pieces like a vintage Linotype machine from the Daily Iowan to the new site.
To continue your trip through Johnson County’s past, the Historical Society maintains several other sites including Plum Grove (1844), Coralville School House (1876), Johnson County Poor Farm (1855) and Coralville Old Town Hall (1892).
6. Antique Car Museum of Iowa
Another attraction that has switched to the Xstream Arena is this lovable car museum, with a collection going back to the early years of automobile travel in Iowa.
There are more than 80 vehicles at the Antique Car Museum, dating from 1899 to 1965. A few noteworthy exhibits include one of the three surviving Demots in the world, a 1908 Cadillac with a one-cylinder engine, a 1916 Haynes Cloverleaf Coupe with a strangely oversized hood and a build-your-own Sears Motor Buggy from 1912.
To go with these historic cars there’s a large display of old Iowa license plates and a complete Skelly gas station.
7. The Iowa Children’s Museum
At Coral Ridge Mall there’s a much loved, 28,000-square-foot educational playground for children up to the age of 12.
The Iowa Children’s Museum is immersive and hands-on, encouraging young minds to discover, create, explore and imagine, all in a safe environment.
And while children learn as they play, parents and caregivers will be given everything they need to make the museum’s interactive environments as enriching as possible, helping them become as involved as possible in the child’s learning process.
For a sense of what to expect there’s an art studio, a music area, a room with three model train systems, a construction-themed room with thousands of LEGO bricks, and a series of highly interactive exhibits recreating daily scenarios, like a hospital, grocery and pizzeria.
8. Coral Ridge Mall
The top mall for the Iowa City area opened in Coralville in 1998. Part of the Coral Ridge Mall’s success is that it’s much more than a shopping and dining destination.
We’ve talked about the Iowa Children’s Museum, and there’s a Marcus Cinema, but you’ve also got the Coral Ridge Ice Arena, an NHL-size rink. This is open to the public of course, but also used by youth teams and the University of Iowa’s hockey clubs.
There are more than 100 tenants at the mall, and a few of the many famous names are Barnes & Noble, H&M, JCPenney, Old Navy and Target, while the food court by the rink has a Sarku, Panda Express, Panera Bread and Chick-fil-A.
9. Coralville Lake
A short way upstream from Coralville, the Iowa River was dammed in the 1950s to form a reservoir of epic proportions, with a normal surface area of almost 5,300 acres.
Coralville Lake is primed for outdoor recreation, with 18 boat ramps, 3 campgrounds, 3 marinas, 4 swimming beaches, 29 miles of trails and 11 distinct recreation areas on its shores.
Within a short drive of Coralville you can get to the dam complex, which has campgrounds, a disc golf course, a visitor center for the lake and a beach area.
There’s a gorgeous network of wooded trails a bit further north at Squire Point, while the opposing shore is home to the Sugar Bottom Recreation Area, with some of the best mountain biking in all of Iowa.
10. Clear Creek Trail
Clear Creek flows southeast through Coralville on its way to the Iowa River, and for much of the route there’s a 4.3-mile trail that you can follow through woodland rich with wildlife.
The Clear Creek is mostly unpaved and is ideal for a summer walk or bike ride thanks to the ample tree cover. At the east end the path connects with the Iowa River Trail and onto the University of Iowa campus.
At the time of writing work was underway to extend the trail westwards to Kent Park in Tiffin, six miles from Coralville, and this will include a new bridge over Buffalo Creek.
11. Coralville Farmers’ Market
Iowa City has one of the best farmers’ markets in the state, and this twice-weekly shopping event is just ten minutes away.
But you’ll be pleased to know that Coralville has a market of its own, recently relocated to Iowa River Landing.
Kicking off in mid-May, the market takes place on Monday evenings, and shines for its seasonal local produce, baked goods, honey, eggs, flowers, wine and a wide variety of handmade arts and crafts.
Live music is always part of the experience, with a new guest musician each week.
12. Devonian Fossil Gorge
South of the Coralville Lake dam you have the chance to walk along an ocean floor dating back 375 million years and embossed with amazing fossils.
This limestone bedrock was revealed in stages after floodwater ripped away layers of silt, sand and vegetation in 1993 and 2008.
What remains is an incredible document of life during the Devonian period, accompanied by interpretive signs to let you know what you’re looking at.
There’s also an excellent primer at the Entry Plaza, where information boards are attached to six monoliths composed of 425-million-year-old dolomite, standing up to 15 feet tall.
13. Iowa Firefighters Memorial
Iowa is the first state in the country to erect a monument and visitor center for its firefighters. It makes sense, as Iowa has long been a leader for safety education and fire service education.
The Iowa Firefighters Memorial can be found close to the Iowa River in Coralville and is designed to “honor, celebrate and inspire the spirit, courage and service of Iowa firefighters-past, present and future”.
The site features a wall with the names of 700 Iowa firefighters who have given their lives in service, together with a memorial sculpture, eternal flame, garden and a visitor center with restrooms.
14. Coralville Community Aquatic Center
By City Hall on the eastern edge of S. T. Morrison Park sits Coralville’s outdoor pool complex, a real oasis during those humid summer months.
The center boasts more than 11,000 square feet of surface water, and centers on a large, L-shaped pool. This has a 25-meter section with lanes, connected to a beach-entry recreational pool that has children’s climbing equipment in the shallowest part.
Also for kids is the fantastic splash deck with fountains and more play structures, while the center also has a diving well, three different slides and a concession stand.
15. Coralville 4thFest
The biggest community event of the year in Coralville goes down at S.T. Morrison Park around Independence Day.
On the schedule for this three-day event there’s a carnival, tons of family-friendly activities, food and craft vendors, a 5k run, a program of live entertainment and the largest 4th of July parade in the area.
The parade sets off at noon on the final day, and features marching bands and impressive floats from numerous local organizations, clubs and businesses.
Of course, no 4th of July celebration would be complete without fireworks, and these take place after dusk in S. T. Morrison Park.