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The Highlander Hotel, Iowa City – Family Friendly Hotel

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Last Updated on October 10, 2023 by Leah Hall

The Highlander Hotel in Iowa City, Iowa is a great family friendly hotel with options for all ages. Chic meets shag in this bohemian themed hotel with an indoor pool and lounges. This urban resort is the place to stay in Iowa City or Coralville, Iowa!


Before we start in about all the lovely things we have to share about The Highlander Hotel Iowa City, we first have to cover the history of the building! We recently stayed at their sister location of Hotel Grinnell in Grinnell, Iowa, so you need to check that post out too! The history behind both of these locations is rich and makes the themes of the hotels make sense!


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To make reservations at the Highlander Hotel for yourself, click here!

Vintage Picture of the Highlander Hotel Iowa City - from the 70s with a diving board

photo courtesy Steve Miller of Slingshot Architecture

Highlander Supper Club

The Highlander Hotel started out as the Highlander Supper Club which opened in 1967 on the edge of Iowa City. It was (and still is) adjacent to the I-80 interstate. Supper clubs were popular in the Midwest where guests could go for a special occasion or a weekend evening out, usually with music, drinks and good food. 

Highlander Supper Club Sign, black and white

Photo courtesy Press-Citizen archive

A few years after the Highlander Supper Club opened they then revealed the second part of their project. A coffee shop, convention center and meeting rooms, ballroom, lounge, 90 hotel rooms and indoor pool were completed in 1973. It was the place to go in Iowa City for a long time – parties, weddings, retirements, you name it!


The Highlander Supper Club had three dining rooms, a bar, dance floor and live music, so it stayed a popular location! They had signature meals: New York Strips, Prime Rib, fried mushrooms, and shrimp cocktail. The old menu pictured here is a trip – look at the prices!

Picture of menu of Highlander Supper Club at the Highlander Hotel Iowa City


Vintage picture from the Highlander Hotel Iowa City of a car show by the pool

A 1975 Ford exhibition at the Highlander Inn and Supper Club in Iowa City. photo courtesy — Sheila Boyd

The property changed owners over the years and was finally the Clarion Highlander Hotel and Conference Center. This is when Angela Harrington got a hold of it, and has been changing things up to show off her groovy ideas in this fun urban resort.


Highlander Hotel, Iowa City

The re-imagining of the Highlander is retro with chic meeting shag. We love seeing old properties transformed into new, as Hotel Grinnell was one of those too, and the Highlander urban resort didn’t disappoint. The Highlander Hotel in Iowa City is located on a hill right alongside the I-80 interstate. We definitely didn’t notice road noise unless we were outside, and even outside it wasn’t bad.

Outside marquee sign at The Highlander Hotel Iowa City

Iowa City is a great location for us, it was just under a four hour drive from Omaha, and from Des Moines it was less than two. Cedar Rapids is 30 minutes north, and Chicago is 3.5 hours drive to the east, so perfect for any direction for a great road trip to the Highlander Hotel and Iowa City! And we think that road trip is calling your name. We took our boys on this trip, and they will even tell you in their own words below what they thought about this great hotel!

boy jumping into pool blond boy, brunette boy in pool, smiling

Look down long hallway with wooden floors

Highlander Hotel Great for School Breaks

While we love the idea of going to The Highlander Hotel Iowa City for quick weekends away, we encourage you to think about going over Thanksgiving break for a long weekend with family or the kids, as well as Christmas break! I don’t know about you, but my kids would think we are the absolute best parents for this lovely and kid friendly location during school break! Because of the many things to do, as well as the pool (duh!) it would be a fabulous time away from home, fun for the kids and adults alike!

pool at the Highlander Hotel Iowa City lobby at Highlander Hotel with maroon sofas, blue chairs, marble end tables and coffee tables

There are also some great fall and winter events in the area that would be perfect to attend while you are staying at The Highlander.

  • Aisle of Lights – Coralville. Sunday, December 12 to see spots around town lit up for the season.
  • Brunch with Santa
  • BrrrFest – a beer fest in Coralville. January 29, 2022.
  • ‘Tis the Season – downtown Iowa City. Santa Saturdays and Tractor rides, downtown market and scavenger hunt for the Elves.

Bart at The Highlander Hotel Iowa city - blue chairs, black bar with white top, chandelier Row of blue bar chairs at white marble bar Patterned painted blue ceiling of bar with gold chandelier

Highlander Hotel Lounge and Restaurant

The Highlander Hotel has a spacious bar and lounge with a colorful painted ceiling that is just gorgeous. Make sure to get a look at it when you visit! The bar has a great selection of beers, wine and a custom cocktail menu with signature cocktails as well as classics. The blue Mai Tai is groovy and so much fun, and they are working on a new fall and winter cocktail menu too, which we may or may not have had a small hand in! We got to try an orange and cranberry cocktail as well as a pomegranate mule that aren’t on the menu yet!

Blue green cocktail on white bar with neon sign behind orange cocktail on black and white table copper mug cocktail with pomegranate arils on black and white print table

Their food menu is food truck inspired and everything we had was fresh and flavorful. Everything is made from scratch and it shows. Breakfast is simple but tasty, with great choices for all – oatmeal, eggs, bacon and sausage and baked goods. They also served a pico de gallo like salsa with cucumber in it both days, which was a great twist, and it was tasty on the eggs, or even by itself. The boys liked breakfast both days!

top shot of breadfast - eggs, muffin and potatoes in white bowl with orange juice and coffee on blue and white table

We ate lunch in the lounge on Saturday and then dinner on Saturday night as well, and didn’t feel like we had to repeat foods, and we loved everything we tried. For lunch the boys had a pepperoni pizza and a margarita pizza. Jay had the Japanese Pan Bowl which was a sweet and spicy dish that included noodles, corn salsa, carrots, mushrooms, and green onions. The broth had a great umami and we couldn’t stop eating it! (Yes, I said we!). I had the Butter Chicken tacos which was Indian inspired and very flavorful.

Hand holding pizza piece on black and white paper Pizza on black and white paper Noodle bowl at The Highlander Hotel Tacos in stand at Highlander Hotel

Dinner at Highlander Hotel

For dinner, we shared the Charcuterie plate with meats, cheeses, berries, olives, spicy pickles and a spicy pepper jelly topped cream cheese with salty crackers. This was gobbled up quickly. The boys each had the Mahi Mahi tacos with a corn salsa and sour cream dill sauce. They were so tasty and I don’t think the youngest even chewed between bites he loved it so much!

top shot of charcuterie board with meats, cheeses, pickles and berries Pizza on black/white check paper Jay had the KC BBQ pizza that I nibbled off of, and everything was fresh and hot. To finish the meal we had cheesecake mousse with strawberry slices and vanilla cookies, it was rich but not overly so and went down quickly. The boys had the S’mores Pizza with lots of gooey melted chocolate and melty marshmallows. Jay and I didn’t even get to try it because they loved it so much!

Tall glass with white pudding, strawberries and tall cookies on black and white pattern table hands reaching for a s'mores pizza with chocolate and marshmallows

Snack Shack

The Snack Shack is near the lounge for breakfast purposes, and there is coffee, fresh fruit and yogurt available to guests in the morning, and then once the pool opens at 9 am, there is a window that opens into the pool area. You can order food and drinks through the Snack Shack to eat and sip on while taking a break from swimming, or while the kids are still in the pool.

Snack Shack at The Highlander Hotel Iowa City Menu on wooden table in pool area

The Snack Shack is open 24 hours and offers complimentary coffee all the time. The same goes for soda. They are also eco-conscious, so no straws, paper cups, styrofoam, or plastic bottles. 

Amenities at the Highlander Hotel in Iowa City

  • Indoor Swimming Pool: The piece de resistance of the Highlander is the indoor pool area. Renovated last year, there is a huge vibrant mural on the wall and a balcony from the penthouse suite into the pool area. There is also a large hot tub, space and chairs for lounging, high top tables for eating, and garage doors that open up onto the courtyard.
    The Highlander Hotel has the largest indoor pool in the Iowa City area. If you are a family that loves to swim, this is the place to stay when you are visiting Iowa City! Your entire day can be spent playing in the swim area alone.

boy jumping into pool blond boy, brunette boy in pool, smiling Indoor pool at the Highlander Hotel from a balcony pool room Indoor Pool at The Highlander Hotel Iowa city Pool at Highlander Hotel Iowa City at night

  • Portable Record Players: Take a record player back to your room to listen to some vintage records that they have in the vinyl lending library in the lobby. The soundtrack for your stay can be any favorite album that is there. We saw the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Black Sabbath and tons more!

Suitcase record player with Kiss album

Wooden boxes of records and games on shelves, colorful pictures in lending library at the Highlander Hotel Woman in maroon sweater looking through records Lending Library in Lobby of The Highlander Hotel Iowa City, blue chair, wooden boxes on shelves and green peace picture

  • Fitness Room: equipment is available in the room just off of the pool.
  • Games: Game lovers can enjoy three TVs in the lounge to watch games on, and a giant Pictionary wall is there in the bar as well, too. There are also board games to check out from the lending library in the lobby – Catan, Apples to Apples, Spirograph and more! There are lawn games out in the courtyard, chess and checkers as well as cornhole. Table tennis is available in the pool area.

Wooden boxes of records and games on shelves, colorful pictures in lending library at the Highlander Hotel Large chess pieces on outdoor chess board boys playing outdoor checkers boy throwing beanbag playing cornhole outside

boy throwing beanbag playing cornhole outside


Table Tennis in the pool area at the Highlander Hotel Iowa City

  • Fire Pits: various spots around the property have fire pits available to sit around on those chilly fall and spring nights! The front patio just off of the bar and lounge has a lot of chairs and fire pits, as well as the courtyard for a more secluded experience.
View of pool from outside courtyard at The Highlander Hotel Iowa City courtyard with firepits and chairs at The Highlander Hotel Iowa City Striped outside chairs at a fire pit

Highlander Hotel Rooms

Whether you’re looking for a staycation or just driving through Iowa City, we can’t recommend a stay at The Highlander Hotel enough! We stayed in a poolside suite for a family. It was two adjoining rooms, so we ended up with a king bed room with a living room area and a small kitchenette, as well as a bathroom. The adjoining room had two queen beds and a bathroom. Both opened onto the pool area with sliding glass doors. These doors do have many locks on them, and when the pool is closed down at night they are locked from inside the pool area as well, and not reopened until 9 am when the pool opens again the next morning.
Hotel Room at The Highlander Hotel Iowa City - white bed sheets, wooden bed, blue chairs Table with tv, gold stool, mirror and orange picture on wall bathroom at the Highlander Hotel Iowa City with light blue tile
Check out time is at noon, so if you are leaving you still have plenty of time to get the kids one last swim before checking out. We did this, even had breakfast and had the car packed and were leaving by 11:30! The kids thought it was so fun for one last swim!

If you forgot anything or need something for your room, there is a sign in your room listing things that are available for your use. You can request everything from alarm clocks, space heater, and refrigerators to phone chargers, baby monitors, and yoga mats. Pets are welcome at this urban resort for a $30 fee.

orange and black sign of needed amenities at The Highlander Hotel Iowa City

The Do Not Disturb signs for the doors are wooden peace signs, another nod to the retro vibes.

Poolside Hotel Rooms

If you have kids with you, or plan on spending a lot of time swimming, we recommend a poolside or balcony room. But, also be aware that these rooms are noisier. If you want a quieter night consider booking one of the rooms overlooking the courtyard or outer part of the hotel. The pool closes at 10 for children, but adult swim is available until 11, so it does stay noisy in the pool area until that time. Just as a heads up.

King bed with white cover and star over bed, looking out door to pool king bed with star over bed, looking out to the pool at the Highlander Hotel living room - blue couch and maroon chairs with tv at The Highlander Hotel Iowa City playing a game poolside at The Highlander Hotel playing a game poolside on wooden table Kitchenette with light blue retro fridge in hotel suite

We had a first floor room, near the hot tub, and when opening our sliding door could step right onto the pool deck. There is a table and stools for each room on the pool deck for your personal use, so it’s great for eating or just hanging out. Also great for sitting at if you want to watch the kids play in the pool.


The Highlander Hotel Vibes

The hospitality team at The Highlander Hotel was incredible. Everyone was helpful and always willing to help with directions or questions.


1970s and 80s music is pumped through the sound system. Jewel tones were on the walls and in the furniture. A fun neon lit peace sign is in the bar, and colorful artwork is all over the hotel.

lobby at Highlander Hotel with maroon sofas, blue chairs, marble end tables and coffee tables 

The hall floors are bright and colorful. Every hallway is a different color palette and pattern.


The communication from the hotel before and during our stay was great. A few days before we arrived, we received an email inquiring about arrival time. As soon as we checked in and got to our room we received a text message asking if everything was ok in our suite.

Lobby at the Highlander Hotel Iowa City. Maroon couches, blue chairs, green vase with flowers and chandeliers

The lobby of The Highlander Hotel has a retro vibe and the kids loved it! The boys said that it was such a fun hotel with yummy food and so many things to do they never felt bored or needing to find things to do. There were always other options if they got tired of one thing, they were on to the next. Since the signature cocktails at the The Highlander Hotel Iowa City are all able to be boozy or mocktails, they ordered them as mocktails and felt as grown up as the adults.

Front desk at hotel, black and white floors, wooden desks Highlander Hotel Iowa City logo sign - peace sign

Our oldest got the mocktail grasshopper and said it was liquid dessert, he loved it! The youngest got the Bra Burner, LOL, and said it was so yummy. It was a twist on the classic Sex on the Beach cocktail. He loved the tropical flavors, we told him it was a “training bra”. Ha!

blonde boy with glasses drinking a pink mocktail

Iowa City, Iowa

The Highlander Hotel Iowa City is just off of the interstate on the east side of Iowa City which is a very convenient location. The hotel is easily accessible for interstate drivers, but it’s also just a short drive from downtown Iowa City. If you are planning to spend time at the hotel for a vacation or staycation, it’s a great place to stay to explore the area as well. A great home base for events or sports, also a great way to get to your inner rocker! We also went to Press Coffee just down the street – they had some great fall flavors, too!

Table and blue stools on balcony of hotel room Indoor pool at the Highlander Hotel from a balcony pool room

Which popular attractions are close to The Highlander Hotel: Iowa City or Coralville?


Things to do With Kids in Iowa City

  • Devonian Fossil Gorge – we went to this, and it was so neat to see old fossils in rocks. Its almost like a scavenger hunt to find them, so fun! It’s at Coralville Lake – so many recreation options: trails, boating, fishing, camping.
  • Museum of Natural History – on the University of Iowa campus
  • Stanley Museum of Art – on the University of Iowa campus. Great programs for kids, and changing exhibits throughout the year. They are moving to a new location in 2022, so right now, they are just virtual visits.
  • Iowa Raptor Project – Solon, Iowa. Self guided tours of the birds of prey.
  • Downtown Iowa City Digital Scavenger Hunt
  • Iowa Children’s Museum – Coralville

Spirited Travel


Attractions within 30 Miles from the Highlander Hotel, Iowa City


What are the check-in and check-out times at The Highlander Hotel?

You can check in from 3:00 pm on. Check-out time is noon.


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Other Places to Visit

Like this post? Check these out below, too!

Outside shot of Hotel Grinnell during the day. G on tan brick building, orange tile trimHotel Grinnell, and the town of Grinnell, Iowa


Lineup of Beers to taste at Wise I Brewery in Le Mars, Iowa for the Iowa Brewery Tour and the Iowa Beer PassportSioux City Brewery Tour

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