#RAGBRAI · East Central Iowa · Grownup Getaways

Scouting RAGBRAI 2018: Iowa City’s Celebration, 42 Years in the Making

Something tells me that Herky is going to be very busy having a good time in late July.

Iowa City, IA:Johnson County

We had to travel a whole 0.0 miles for this gallivant because Overnight #7, on this year’s RAGBRAI route, is in our hometown of Iowa City and we couldn’t wait to scout this party out. It was 42 years ago when RAGBRAI last spent the night in Iowa City and this town prepping for a gathering that will be talked about for another four decades. You like the annual Taste of Iowa City? Great! Because Downtown Iowa City restaurants will have some of their famous offerings for a quick bite! Did you hear about the hugely successful Downtown Block Party last summer and the one coming up? Well that concept will be back for on July 27th. Like Sidewalk Sales? I knew you did and the retailers will be out in full force. Those three great Iowa City events out together and you get a huge RAGBRAI party  The good people of Iowa City know how to bring in thousands and here is a sample of how you they host all of them all at once. Let’s do this!


*Java House graciously gave us a complimentary meal. The views expressed are of our own. Now, let’s get this gallivant!

Java House on East Washington in Downtown Iowa City has been perking up the Iowa City locals for along time and now it’s time for RAGBRAI to experience a caffeinated staple downtown. Infamous Java Coolers, frappes, frozen this, iced that, premium espresso and a whole lot of hardworking baristas pumping out the goods all day long! Java House has multiple locations including one on First Avenue for all you folks making Mercer Park your home for the night.


The Big Pastrami with a side of riiiiiich mac and cheese from Mama’s Deli on East Washington Street Downtown! Tons of pastrami, melted Swiss cheese, coleslaw, Russian dressing and fried onions is just around the corner, RAGBRAI’ers!

You’ll encounter a lot of breaded pork tenderloins in Iowa and you may want to wait until you get to South Dubuque Street in Downtown Iowa City to have your first one on the route. Micky’s Irish Pub has my favorite in the area. Also very tasty is their meaty and cheesy Conglomeration Egg Rolls and their fresh 7-Layer Dip!

On North Dubuque is Pop’s BBQ and they are just up the hill from the main campground at City Park. During RAGRBRAI, they’ll have an extra grill and seating outside with burgers, brats and hot dogs. But don’t pass on their incredible Q. Get there early and partake in the Burnt Ends sandwich and try to tell me they’re not some of the best you’ve ever had.

One of Iowa City’s most beloved bars is George’s and they are famous for the good’ole fashion bar burger and warm side of mixed nuts with your really cold beverage.  Can  o’ Hamm’s for me, thank you very much!

Heirloom Salad Company is connected to the Java House on East Washington and they have some fresh items awaiting RAGBRAI. We had the Turkey Avocado sandwich with a smooth creamy dill sauce and the very filling Santa Fe breakfast wrap. We’re getting hungrier, yes.

Pizza is one of many things that makes Downtown Iowa City famous and Mesa on East Washington has some of the most memorable slices you’ll ever have. I suggest as much pasta as possible, during RAGBRAI, so why not have it on your pizza too!

Wondering if you should have pizza or a cheeseburger? Have both! The Mill on East Burlington is another IC landmark and their Hickory Hill pizza has all the beef, bacon, tomato, white onion, mozzarella, pickles and mustard based pizza sauce you need. Trust me, this is a winner!

In the heart of Downtown IC is the Old Capitol Mall and something very smoky. Jimmy Jack’s Rib Shack served up a platter of a beautiful half smoke chicken, baked beans loaded with their brisket, crispy fries and, my favorite, their sweet and perfect corn bread. The fries are to catch all that smoky juice that renders from the chicken. Mama didn’t raise no dummy. Reckless and gullible at times but I know how to eat BBQ properly. BTW, Mercer campers…..They have a location right near you on Lower Muscatine!

Biscuits, fried chicken, runny eggs and burgers. That sounds a lot like a trip to Pullman Bar & Diner on South Dubuque, Downtown. People, listen. The chicken and biscuits were great. The mixed drinks were refreshing and spot on. The Mo Burger…May be the greatest burger we’ve ever had. Two 4oz patties, smoked Fresno aioli, bacon jam and avocado. This was an absolute pleasure and I plan on slow dancing with the Mo Burger the next time I’m in. I’m thinking “Crimson and Clover” on the stereo would be nice.

East Market Street is home to Bluebird Diner and they have a very interesting and yummy breakfast sandwich. Want to have a little Chinese twist with your breakfast? Then put down the St. Blue! Egg Foo Yung with house pulled pork, green onion, Crimini mushrooms and red cabbage on toasted sourdough. Check into a little something called the Krakatoa while you’re here too….

Late night Ped-Mall. Now that sounds like a show I’d watch! IC, if you need a host, I’m willing to chat. Food carts can be seen on a nightly basis and one of the best is Banh Mi Amore and their very juicy late night and early morning Vietnamese style sandwiches. It takes 20 hours to cook the pork that goes into the fresh bread and I love every tender and flavorful bite. At 10pm and 2am and just…gimme!

Rest-Up & Cool Down

The main campground is City Park and it’s loaded with a lot of much needed shade. I suggest a dip in the cool water at the City Park Pool and showoff your best RAGBRAI belly flop. I just checked with my HR department and they said that would not be advisable. So just cool off, real chill-like.

Just down the road from Mercer Park and one of Iowa City’s bike paths is Heyn’s Ice Cream and you need to find this place. They have been a constant in the world of the sweet tooth for SE-Iowa City and what better way to cool down than a double scoop of local ice cream. The banana pudding ice cream could bring world peace if you gave it a shot. Let’s start with treating RAGBRAI first.

Old Capitol Town Center is right on South Clinton in Downtown and it will have its air conditioning pumping for RAGBRAI. Come in and chill for awhile. Or keep eating! OCTC has many restaurants and you can tour Asia without ever stepping outside. That saves you a lot of money in plane tickets.

*The Hilton Garden Inn provided a complimentary room for us during our visit. The opinions expressed are of our own.

One of Iowa City’s newest hotels is right downtown. Hilton Garden Inn and their professional staff showed us what it means to have comfort in Downtown Iowa City. Those soft sheets, comfy beds, swimming pool and hot tub could be just what you need anytime you’re visiting the area. Now let’s get to what this town really knows how to do!


Be on the lookout for these! Buses will be shuttling folks from City Park, Mercer Park and Trueblood Rec Area all day so take advantage of this and party on!

Joe’s Place is right on Iowa Avenue in Downtown and it has changed quite a bit over the years, but it still has that classic Joe’s vibe. Their rooftop is entertaining and offers a great outdoors venue while you tip back on those Tito’s and lemonades.

The Deadwood is on South Dubuque and they have one of the best drink specials in town. When the Chicago Cubs are playing they’re cans of cold PBR are only $1.00. The internet tells me that first pitch is at 7:15pm on July 27th. Go Cubs Go!

Not only does The Airliner have great food, they have a historic bar and oodles of locals, students and visitors have piled into the “Liner” for many years. Let’s close it down together on July 27th!

The rooftop theme continues and the tallest bar in downtown Iowa City is atop of the Hilton Garden Inn and its simply known as Vue Rooftop. One of the best views in town and always lively with it’s live bands, outdoor patio and long bar with bartenders mixing some signature drinks and all the classics.

Pints is right on South Clinton Street and you may have located one of the best air conditioners in the area when it come to our local bars. How does that sound with your cold one!

If you’re going to Downtown or coming back from Downtown to Mercer Park, you just might pass a little neighborhood pub but you shouldn’t pass it up. Shakespeare’s  on First Avenue has plenty of taps and another great Iowa City food menu. You can stop in for a few…Club sandwiches. And pitchers!

Open to the public and open to RAGBRAI! Just up the hill from Mercer Park is the local American Legion Post 17 is on Muscatine and they are training for this year’s invasion of cyclists to Iowa City. They know how to support our troops and whomever is looking for a cold beverage and home cooked meal.

Be looking for these taps all over town while you’re here in the Iowa City area. Brewed right here in Johnson County and getting stocked up for the craft beer masses on wheels. ReUnion Brewery can be found in many area bars and restaurants and they are gearing up to see a Tank Puncher IPA in the hands of as many visitors as possible. Hey! You can even stock up your coolers with their craft beer when you make your “errands” at the local grocery stores.

We gallivanted Iowa City on a very busy Iowa Arts Festival weekend and it was a great way to see a sample of what this town will be like when RAGBRAI rolls in. The main stage will feature local talents Kevin “B.F.” Burt and Elizabeth Moen. Headlining will be the Jayhawks and we know this lineup will bring in the crowds for another amazing Iowa City music scene.

I’m proud to write about my hometown anytime I get a chance and I can’t tell you how much we’re looking forward to RAGBRAI here at The Iowa Gallivant. We could have piled so much more into this post but you’ll just have to experience it for yourself. We love this town and 42 years is far too long to wait for another trip. We’ll see you in July and many other dates after that. Book it to Iowa City and often!

Thank you to Nick Pfeiffer at Think Iowa City for all the assistance in getting our trip ready. We know Iowa City is going to put on an amazing experience!
Thank you to Hilton Garden Inn for hosting us and providing a wonderful experience. The crew there was incredible and a pleasure to work with.
Go to the RAGBRAI website to see all the info on the world’s greatest bike tour! Like the RAGBRAI Facebook page to keep up on all the updates.

Be sure to read about our trips to Overnight #3 in JeffersonOvernight #7 in Iowa City and Overnight #8 in Davenport!

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