Creative ways to spend your 21st birthday in Iowa City

Turning 21 and still trying to figure out what to do besides the usual alcohol-motivated parties or late-night bar hopping? Iowa City has more to offer than drinks upon drinks — here’s a list of new ways to spend your 21st in and around Iowa City.


Madyson Gomez

Customers play one of six pin ball machines in Double Tap bar in Iowa City. Double Tap opened its door in the summer of 2022 and features many vintage video gaming machines along with a full service bar.

Parker Jones, Arts Editor

The expectations for a 21st birthday usually involve copious amounts of alcohol, a raging party, going to a bar or two, or other drinking-related activities. Despite being a college town with no short supply of these options, make your 21st memorable by checking out this list of ways to get creative in Iowa City with your birthday celebration.

Awaken your inner child — For many, turning 21 often marks the last real “adult milestone”: unlocking the secrets of legal drinking. However, Iowa City has a lot to offer when it comes to childhood whimsy in the form of activities like laser tag, bowling, or mini golf. Apex Laser Tag, SpareMe Bowl and Arcade, and Colonial Lanes are all great locations to reconnect with your inner kid.

Visit sober spaces — Despite what society might expect, alcohol is not required on the night of your 21st birthday. If you are sober or just don’t feel like drinking, visiting sober spaces around town might be the way to go. Places like Unimpaired Dry Bar and Eats or any of the cute coffee shops in Iowa City would make great spots to get together with friends for some alcohol-free beverages.

See a performance — The performing arts scene in Iowa City is a booming one. Refine your artistic palette by seeing a play, concert, or something in between at locations like the Englert Theatre, Hancher Auditorium, or Riverside Theatre. If you want to drink, try out the combo of beer and live music at locations like Elray’s Live & Dive or Gabe’s in Iowa City.

Spa day — Birthdays can be stressful, so getting a massage, facial, mani-pedi, or all three would be a great way to relax and enjoy your new age. Visit Iowa City’s Zen Salon & Spa or Spa Bilancia in Coralville for a meditative birthday moment.

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Learn something new — There is no time like your birthday to learn a new fact or two. Visiting a local museum could be a fun group activity and a way to feel unusually intellectual for a 21st birthday. The University of Iowa has its famed Pentacrest Museums and the newly opened Stanley Museum of Art, and both have no shortage of information to consume.

Treat yourself — Nothing brightens birthday spirits like a shopping splurge. Whether it be clothes, gadgets, books, or just a nice meal, spending more than you usually would is a great way to give yourself something special for the big 21. It also supports small local businesses in downtown Iowa City.

Take a road trip — Although Iowa City is a great place to turn 21, there are multitudes of places outside city limits to have a birthday celebration. Reconnect with nature by visiting the Devonian Fossil Gorge or Lake Macbride State Park, or visit some small towns you might normally pass by — make your birthday an adventure.