The Tailgater’s Guide to Iowa City was first published in fall of 2017. Each year, we build on that original guide with updates, additions and revisions as appropriate. If you have thoughts, tips or tricks you use, please share them in the comments below. This is by no means a comprehensive guide, but this great community has a wealth of knowledge that could be tremendously helpful to someone making the trek.
If you are making the trip to Iowa City either for the first time or the first time in a while, be sure to check out footballgameday.hawkeyesports.com for the latest information about tailgating pollicies, road closures and more.
It’s finally here. Football is back. The Hawkeyes aren’t playing this week, but it’s game week for the likes of Miami, Florida, Arizona and Hawai’i. A week from today, it will be game week across the country and for Hawkeye fans, that means making the trek to the Mecca of Iowa Football known as Kinnick Stadium. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran of the Iowa City tailgate scene or making your first trip, we’re here to break down what you need to know to have a great experience in Iowa City.
So you want to go to an Iowa football game, eh? Well first things first, you gotta get there. And believe me, that’s half the battle. Iowa City may not be a big city, but it’s a growing one. That means a constant state of construction. Plan ahead to avoid major delays and frustration.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Before you start punching in directions in your fancy GPS, the first thing you really need to decide is where you’re headed. If you’re coming in the day before, it’s likely you’re off to your hotel or perhaps just downtown Iowa City in general to get the weekend started. That’s easy enough.
If you’re coming in on game day, you need to know where you’re dropping that car off the next several hours. It isn’t doing you any good around the stadium. Quite the contrary, it’s just going to slow you down.
Here’s a look at some points of interest in Iowa City as you make your preparations.
Plan your itinerary, then check your route and get on your way.
As already mentioned, Iowa City is in a perpetual state of construction. Fortunately for Hawkeye fans, 2019 looks to be a bit better than the recent past with major reconstruction projects on some key arteries either finished or nearly so.
For starters, the raising Dubuque Street has been completed and your main entry point into downtown Iowa City from the north is now fully operational. That includes a brand new Park Road bridge for anyone looking to cross the river from Dubuque Street. That’s particularly useful if you are coming through the back door to places like the Dental Lot or are planning to tailgate in the Hancher Lot.
Further west, 1st Avenue in Coralville (aka Hayden Fry Way) construction is largely complete. There are still some minor restrictions as of this writing, but by and large the work is done and delays on the Fryway should be minimal for much of the 2019 season.
Similarly, Mormon Trek Boulevard, which turns into 1st Avenue in Coralville, is undergoing some construction. Much of it is also done, but the changes are significant. The road is now one lane each way south of Melrose Avenue. That’s bad news if you plan to take your car south on Mormon Trek, but good news if you’re a biker as the lane reduction was made to add bike lanes each direction and add a center turn lane.
On the east side of town, Governor Street is still under some construction at one point south of Jefferson Street. This is only an issue if you’re looking to exit Iowa City on the east side as Governor is a one way mirroring Dodge Street (they merge at the Hilltop Tavern). Nonetheless, if you’re looking to get onto I-80 east and typically avoid Dubuque Street’s traffic, be aware you’ll have a minor detour on Governor.
In addition to the construction impacts, the University has announced some traffic adjustments around the stadium. Beginning 2.5 hours before the game through two hours after the game, Hawkins Drive east of Kinnick Stadium will close between Melrose Avenue and Evashevski Drive. Additionally, Melrose Avenue will convert to 2 lanes for westbound (read: ZERO lanes for eastbound) vehicles from Evashevski Drive to the point where Melrose becomes four lanes.
Additional changes are outlined on the map below:
NOTE: This map was created prior to the North End Zone construction project. North Evashevski Drive, while still on the map, is no longer in its ordinary existence. It was largely absorbed by the North End Zone. The road now stretches only from Melrose Avenue to the north end of Lot 43 with what remains of the former Evashevski Drive being a bus lane.
So you’ve figured out where you want to go and how to get there without waiting 3 hours in traffic. Great. Now where are you parking your car? If you haven’t forked over the money for a reserved spot in one of the donor lots, my recommendation is to park downtown and make the walk. According to the Google machine, the walk is just under a mile and should take you roughly 20 minutes. It’s not ideal, but you’re going to have a much easier time getting a spot, less headache trying to leave after the game, and you get to take in all the sights along the way.
This is especially true if you’re planning to soak up any of downtown Iowa City either before or after the game. There’s a Kum and Go en route to the stadium for last minute supplies/ill-advised restroom breaks, the best the UI student-body has to offer along Burlington Street, and a Riverside Drive overpass which definitely won’t collapse regardless of the massive volume of pedestrians and the swaying sensation you get crossing.
But there are those of us who, for various reasons, can’t or don’t want to walk a mile to get to the action. Luckily, there are a number of public parking options closer to the stadium provided by the University. Here’s a map:
There are also dozens of entrepreneurial locals who will gladly rent you a few square feet of their yard/driveway/anything they can find for $5-20. Leaving isn’t always as easy, but you’re not walking as far and that means more time to get to the good stuff.
Want to skip all the hassle of construction and parking and still avoid walking? Check out the Hawkeye Express. You’ll miss out on downtown, but there’s plenty of time for that later (or earlier). If you have a youngster, the train is always a crowd-pleaser.
A round-trip ticket will set you back $15 per person, but kids under 12 are free. Despite being free, you still have to go through the line to get a ticket for everyone who will ride.
You hop on the Express at the “depot” in front of IHOP and the Comfort Suites in Coralville. That’s just across 2nd Street from the Coral Ridge Mall and a few minutes from both Interstate 80 and 380. There is free parking, but things do get crowded closer to game time.
Service begins three hours before kick-off for 11:00 a.m. games and four hours before for all other games. Service stops for the first three quarters of the game so no luck if you need to leave early (not that you ever would, right!?) but picks back up again at the start of the fourth quarter and continues until 90 minutes after the game.
The dropoff location by the stadium is just down a flight of stairs and across the western portion of Evashevski Drive from Kinnick.
WHAT TO SEE
So, you’ve decided on your preferred mode of transportation, you know where you’re parking and what streets to avoid. What is there to see once you get into town? Let’s take a look.
THE PENTACREST & OLD CAPITOL
This is it, the heart of campus. If you went to the University of Iowa, you’ve almost certainly had a class or five in one of the four buildings surrounding the Old Capitol that make up the iconic core of Iowa’s beautiful campus. The east end is adjacent to downtown Iowa City, making it a perfect spot to grab a quick picture before you head across the river for the game.
If you get into town early, you can scope out the Museum of Natural History at Macbride Hall. It’s not what you came for, but if you’ve got kiddos you can kill an hour checking out the sloth and other various artifacts.
Head down the hill to the west of the Pentacrest and you’re facing the Iowa Memorial Union, Main Campus Library and about a three-quarters of a mile walk to Kinnick.
Just as the Pentacrest is the heart of the UI campus, the Ped Mall is the heart of downtown Iowa City. Just southeast of the Pentacrest and bounded by Clinton Street to the west, Washington Street to the north, Linn Street to the east and Burlington Street (OK, the Sheraton Hotel) to the south, the Ped Mall is where all the non-football action is.
This is the main hub for bars and restaurants, and on gameday it will be overflowing with black and gold-clad fans. There are a number of places to grab your last-minute Hawkeye gear or gameday supplies.
If you’re looking for something to do, somewhere to eat or drink, or just some good people watching, this is the place to be any day of the week in Iowa City.
ATHLETICS HALL OF FAME
Located just a little over a mile west of Kinnick Stadium along Melrose Avenue (across Mormon Trek Blvd from Finkbine Golf Course), the Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame is a great place to spend an hour or half a day depending on your schedule and level of interest. Admission is free and the walk to Kinnick is doable, though not ideal. Here’s what the UI has to say about the museum:
The University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame is the ultimate fantasy for a Hawkeye fan. The UI Athletics Hall of Fame has three floors of Hawkeye memories; from the National Championship trophies to the Orange Bowl to Nile Kinnick’s Heisman trophy. The UI Athletics Hall of Fame is a must see destination for friends and fans of the intercollegiate athletic programs at the University of Iowa.
I’ve been a number of times and you genuinely can learn something new each time. It’s a bit of a shame the HoF isn’t closer to Kinnick and Carver. If you have the time, it’s worth the trip.
As you prepare for the game, you obviously need to think about how early you want to get into the stadium. Are you the type to get there in time to see warm-ups or the guy who has to finish one more game of flippy cup or down one more brat before sliding into your seat as the first kickoff takes place? Either way, try to save enough time to walk by the Nile Kinnick Statue on the south end of the stadium.
As was highly publicized, the statue was recently removed for repairs, but it’s back in its rightful place now. Given the stadium’s namesake and the prominence in Iowa Football history, I think the Kinnick statue is a must see - even if your seats happen to be on the opposite side of the stadium.
Speaking of the stadium, it’s a site in and of itself. You’ll hear it referred to as “beautiful and historic Kinnick Stadium” on the PA system from inside, and it’s true.
Kinnick was built in 1929, before Nile Kinnick was even in Iowa City. Originally known as Iowa Stadium, the Hawkeyes christened their new home with a 46-0 drubbing of Monmouth College. Back then, Kinnick was one of the larger stadiums in the land, holding 53,000 fans.
Since then, it’s undergone quite a transformation, while maintaining its early heritage. The exterior facade looks much the same as it did in the early days, though there is now a large press box on the west side of the stadium and each endzone now has stands. Those additions brought capacity up to 70,585. In 1972, Iowa Stadium was formally renamed Kinnick Stadium after the University’s only Heisman Award winner and American hero Nile Kinnick.
The transformation is still ongoing with the North Endzone Project. While that is nearly complete, some finishes touches are still in progress.
For anyone who hasn’t been to the stadium since the project started after the 2017 season, it’s a visual stunner. The new scoreboard is now operational and the added height on that end of the stadium is tremendous.
It really makes one wonder what they need to fund raise to get the south endzone to match. It looks a bit unnatural having the two ends different.
WHAT TO DO
Outside of the game itself, there is plenty to do ahead of kickoff in and around Iowa City. A lot will depend on your timing, but there are lots of options if you get to town the Friday before and make a weekend of it.
The first week of every season dating back to 2009, Hawkeye fans have been celebrating the return of Iowa Football by paying homage to the living legend that is Hayden Fry. Fry Fest kicks off at 9 am the Friday (or Fryday) before the home opener on Labor Day weekend and runs until 10pm at the Coralville Marriott and Convention Center (see map above).
If you’re an Iowa fan, there’s something for you at Fry Fest. Things officially kick off with the blood drive at 9, but the real action starts at 10am when the tradeshow and collector’s showcase open. Throughout the day, there are opportunities to meet current and former Hawkeyes, listen to them speak, and get a perfect photo op with Herky.
The afternoon includes the High Porch Block Party, complete with food trucks, a kids zone, and a bags (cornhole) tournament. There’s also a band and a pep rally. Things conclude with a fireworks show at 10pm.
Also of note for Iowa fans, in honor of the 15th anniversary of the 2004 season, a number of former Hawkeyes will be on hand for a panel discussion and autographs.
You can see the entire schedule of events below.
If you have the opportunity to get into Iowa City a day early for the season opener, this is a must stop for Hawkeye fans.
Looking for a bite to eat? Boy, do we have you covered. In case you missed it, we ran an entire series of Friday posts a couple summers back dedicated to the best restaurants in and around Iowa City. Everyone has their preference, but whatever floats your boat - from breakfast and lunch to dinner and other - we have an option for you from Iowa City Eat-A-Palooza. There are also a number of new restaurants popping up all over the place, including some new spots around Kinnick.
On game day, most of the local bars will fill up pretty early, so get there in plenty of time if you’re looking for a seat. Same goes for the breakfast spots if you’re looking to catch an Iowa City staple ahead of the tailgate scene.
But fear not, there are dozens and dozens of options around the stadium. From pizza to barbecue to the classic “big ass turkey leg!” If you can’t find what you’re looking for from a street vendor, find your way to an Iowa tailgate and make some new friends.
THE BEER BAND
Like everything in Iowa City, the fun for home games gets started early. And no, I don’t mean like 5 am early, though that is undeniably true. The festivities truly begin days in advance as Iowa students campus-wide kick off the weekend on Friday (or Thursday.... or Wednesday if we’re being honest). And that includes the Marching Band.
Though not officially sanctioned by the UI, if you venture downtown Iowa City on a Friday night before a home football game, you’ll almost certainly hear the tunes of gameday flowing from a trimmed down version of the Hawkeye Marchi...a group of randomly gathered **wink wink** students with instruments affectionately known as the Beer Band. As the name implies, they play music and they drink beer. They drink beer and they play music.
They travel from watering hole to watering hole, playing the various melodies we all know and love - from the fight song to the victory polka to spoofs of our opponents fight song (my personal favorite was their take on Hail to the Victors) - and all they ask for in return is that you buy them a drink. Or five.
Here it is, the meat and potatoes of the gameday eperience. Most long-time Iowa fans have their preferred tailgate spots and have been in them for years. But for new visitors, Iowa City on gameday can be a little overwhelming. While Kinnick Stadium holds just north of 70,000 fans, the area surrounding it swells with crowds well over 100,000 people.
Most of those fans will find their way to a tailgate spot in a parking lot or a backyard, but there will still be thousands wandering in the streets. If you don’t know where you’re headed, you can get lost in the sea of black and gold.
Any of the public parking areas outlined above will be littered with tents, truck beds, grills and, uh, beverages. Same is true for the donor lots. The closer you get to the stadium, typically the more upscale the tailgate (you’ll note those donor lots are much closer than the public ones), but that’s not always the case.
Here’s a look at the University of Iowa’s official policy on tailgating:
So yes, alcohol is allowed in the UI parking areas near Kinnick, but the UI’s official stance on that alcohol on public property (ex-the UI property) is that it is prohibited.
Per the gameday website:
Anyone in possession of an open container (including beer, wine and hard liquor) while walking/driving to University property on the public sidewalks and roads will be issued a citation and the beverage will be confiscated.
While that may be true, the fact remains there will be in excess of 100,000 fans wandering the streets and not nearly enough law enforcement to truly enforce that stance. In my experience you’ll be perfectly fine if you crack one open on your way to the tailgate provided you’re on or near Melrose Ave and are being reasonably responsible about it. If you’re under the legal drinking age, all bets are off. This is a prime time for the city to make some money on citations. [Editor’s note: We do not condone breaking laws. Drink responsibly.]
I fully acknowledge that will do little to stop one of the country’s top party schools from doing what it does best.
If you don’t have a place picked out ahead of time, make your way to Melrose Avenue and just soak it up. Yes, there are plenty of parking lots full of tailgaters, just like most other major universities not named Northwestern. Yes, there are tons and tons of houses with yards full of open tailgates and Hawkeye fans imbibing. What makes Iowa unique is the mixture of those things with the mayhem of the surrounding streets with their street vendors and people getting ready for Hawkeye football. If you get that far, you’re sure to have a good time. Just wear black and gold.
CARVER-HAWKEYE OPEN PRACTICE
This one isn’t a guarantee for every home game, so be sure to check social media or your favorite Hawkeye-related message board, but there’s a long-standing tradition of open practices and informal pick up games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena a few hours before Iowa football games.
The basketball team has, for years, held regular shirts/skins games without coaches present, but with the doors to the arena open to the public. You’ll see a mix of current players as well as prospects mixing it up on the hardwood.
But it isn’t just the hoops team taking advantage of Carver-Hawkeye on football game days. The Hawkeye Wrestling Club also hosts open practices/workouts on Saturday mornings. It’s a great way to get an inside look at some of the Hawkeye greats practicing their craft. Just be sure to bring a towel and don’t get too close to the mat.
THE BAND/THE BOOM
If you’re looking for something a little more buttoned-up before kickoff, head to the UI Recreation Building just northwest of the stadium. Beginning 75 minutes prior to kickoff, the Hawkeye Marching Band plays for roughly 30 minutes. The pep rally includes the cheerleaders and Herky to get you ready for the game. Doors open 2 hours ahead of kickoff.
From there, the band marches across the street (and parking lot) to Kinnick where Iowa fans can “get ready for the boom.” The signature line leads the band onto the field as they prepare to welcome the team.
For a closer look at the band and their preparations, check below. You can get a glimpse of the pep rally and their march to Kinnick starting around the 11 minute mark.
On the opposite end of the stadium from the pep rally near the Kinnick Statue, Hawkeye fans can get an up close look at the entire Iowa football team and coaching staff as they enter the stadium. Two hours prior to kickoff, the team buses arrive on Melrose Avenue via police escort, though if you really want to catch a glimpse of the players, you’ll likely need to be there sooner to get a decent spot.
From the buses, the team and staff depart and do the Hawk Walk into the stadium. As they enter through the South Entrance, each player passes through the sea of fans and touches the Kinnick Statue.
This is what you’re here for! It’s easy to forget with all the pageantry and activities abound in the college football pre-game experience, but it all comes down to game time. How early you need to arrive really depends on what you care about. There are plenty of Hawkeye traditions that take place before kickoff. If you want the full experience, get there plenty early and find your seat (here’s a helpful map, including restroom locations and amenities). If you’d rather soak up what’s left outside the stadium, go for it. Just remember lines can be longer closer to game time. You can find important info about what is and is not allowed in Kinnick Stadium here.
BACK IN BLACK & THE SWARM
If you’re not the type to take in warm ups and sit patiently for a half hour before game time, but still want as much of the Hawkeye experience as you can get, I recommend getting there at least 10 minutes ahead of scheduled kick off time. Due to the potential for lines, preferably closer to 15 minutes early.
Around the 8-9 minute mark as the clock counts down to kickoff, the PA system music will cut. The video boards will turn to the tunnel and the sweet sounds of AC/DC’s Back in Black begin to fill the air in the stadium. As the team approaches the end of the tunnel to form the swarm in the southwest corner of the stadium, the crowd attempts to clap along to the beat (with notoriously poor rhythm). The crowd gets louder and louder as Back in Black fades to Metallica’s Enter Sandman. The video board transitions to video of the Iowa Football equipment truck making the journey to Kinnick. As it approached, the opponents logo stands in the way (cheesy, I know), and as it plows through the logo, the swarm takes the field, led by the classic I-O-W-A flags and the music fades out as the band blasts the fight song.
Shortly after the team takes the field, and prior to the singing of the National Anthem, fans are asked to turn their attention to the south endzone where they can see footage from Nile Kinnick’s acceptance speech for the Heisman Award in 1939. The audio and video are only a snippet of the full speech, but given Kinnick’s sacrifice in World War II, his place as the school’s only Heisman winner and the stadium’s namesake, it’s a great tribute to Hawkeye history.
From here, it’s game time. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the best (hopefully) the Hawkeyes have to offer.
This is it, college football’s greatest new tradition. In case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s a quick rundown of what to expect.
Between the first and second quarter, the PA announcer will ask the fans to direct their attention to the video board for a message from the UI Children’s Hospital. An incredibly touching video will play and almost nobody will actually pay attention. Not because they don’t care, but because they’ll be busy already turning to the tower standing across Hawkins Drive and waving like crazy.
Look at nearly any window in the tower and you’ll see kids, families and friends waving right back, most with signs ranging from “Thank You” to “Go Hawks!” and everything in between. But it’s not just the fans waving to the kids, it’s the players, the officials, everyone. It truly is incredible and it’s difficult to describe until you see it live.
Don’t worry about the dust in your eye, everyone else has it too.
And while you have the feels, it’s always a good time to consider doing more than just waving. You can support the children and families in the Stead Family Children’s Hospital with a gift of any size. Every donation truly makes a difference.
Remember those I-O-W-A flags I told you about? Hopefully they get some work in the game as well. Following each Hawkeye score, cheerleaders in each corner of the stadium lead a chant by raising their flags in succession: I-O-W-A. The fans split the stadium into quarters and follow their closest flag.
Students (the “I”) tend to be loudest, for obvious reasons. They also tend to not really need the flags to keep things rolling. Kids these days.
THE VICTORY POLKA
If all goes according to plan, the game ends with the band playing and the fans singing the Hawkeye Victory Polka, more commonly known as In Heaven There is No Beer. If you didn’t embrace the beer band the night before and hear this one a million times, here’s a look at it in action.
There’s a longer version of the song, but here’s what you need to know to fit in:
In heaven there is no beer. That’s why we drink it here. And when, we’re gone, from here..... Our friends will be drinkin all the beer.
This is certainly not an all-encompassing guide. If you have your own tips, suggestions or recommendations, drop them in the comments below! We want everyone who isn’t an opposing team member to truly enjoy their time in Iowa City. Have a blast and go Hawks!