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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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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
Highlander Hotel Rooms
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Which popular attractions are close to The Highlander Hotel: Iowa City or Coralville?
- University of Iowa
- Old Capitol Museum – Next door to the Museum of Natural History on the University of Iowa campus. Only National Historic Landmark in Iowa.
- Wilson’s Orchard: grows fruits and vegetables, has many options of apples to pick from, as well as berries throughout the summer and fall. A lot are U pick options. They also have Rapid Creek Cidery – a hard cidery!
- Terry Trueblood Recreation Area – great for bird watching, trails, picnicking. Kayak, Paddle Boat, Paddle Board Rentals.
- Finkbine Golf Course
- Prairie Lights Bookstore– they have three floors of books, including an acclaimed children’s department, as well as a cafe/wine bar. Readings and special events available.
- Winter Recreation: cross country skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing, sledding. Iowa City even has a Nordic Club!
- University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame and Museum
- Hickory Hill Park – passive nature area. Hiking, birdwatching, skiing.
- Taste of Iowa City – in August every year. Taste food and drink from around Iowa City.
- Northside Oktoberfest – in October, beer and food fest!
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
- Iowa Brewing Co – Cedar Rapids
- Big Grove Brewery – Iowa City
- Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery – Swisher, Iowa (between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids), wine and whiskey, vodka, rum, brandy and gin.
- 30 Hop – Coralville and Cedar Rapids
- Backpocket Brewing – Coralville
- Sutliff Cider House – Lisbon, Iowa
- Clock House Brewing – Cedar Rapids
- Wild Culture Kombucha – Iowa City
- Reunion Brewery – Iowa City
- A lot more breweries in Cedar Rapids: House Divided, Quarter Barrel, Third Base Brew, Lion Bridge Brewery
- Wineries: Buchanan House Winery – Tipton, Iowa, Fireside Winery – Marengo, Iowa, Brick Arch Winery – West Branch, Iowa, Cherry Meadow – Marion, Iowa
Attractions within 30 Miles from the Highlander Hotel, Iowa City
- African American Museum of Iowa – Cedar Rapids. Permanent and rotating exhibits. Great for kids and adults.
- Ushers Ferry Historic Village – 9 accessible buildings for tours that depict small town Iowa life in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Cedar Rapids.
- Collins Aerospace Museum – online available right now. Tours have been suspended for the time being. Cedar Rapids.
- Amana Colonies – 20 miles to the west. The colonies were established as a historical site in 1965. They have yearly festivals, restaurants, breweries, wineries, great places to shop, tours and museums. A great German historical site.
- National Czeck and Slavic Museum – Cedar Rapids. Great for kids and adults.
- Brucemore Estate – Cedar Rapids. Tours and events on the estate all year.
- Cedar Rapids Museum of Art
- Antique Car Museum of Iowa – Coralville.
- 1876 Coralville Schoolhouse – Other sites are also available for a tour: Johnson County Historic Poor Farm, Coralville Old Town Hall, Plum Grove Historic Home.
- Indoor Ice Skating Rink – Coralville
- Indian Creek Nature Center – Cedar Rapids
- Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum – 20 miles east from Iowa City
What are the check-in and check-out times at The Highlander Hotel?
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Other Places to Visit
- The Pinch – Charleston, South Carolina
- McHenry County Craft Beverage Trail – Illinois
- Killiecrankie House – Pitlochry, Scotland
- Hewing Hotel – Minneapolis, Minnesota
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