Downtown Iowa City celebrates the holidays with return of ‘Tis the Season


By Michelle Martin, Des Moines Register

It’s beginning to look a lot like the holidays — and from Thanksgiving through Christmas, the joy of the season will be celebrated throughout Iowa City and Coralville.

Downtown Iowa City’s family-friendly event, ’Tis the Season, will kick off its holiday festivities on Small Business Saturday, Nov. 28. ’Tis the Season offers a variety of holiday activities and showcases downtown attractions and retailers.


“People like to come down and enjoy an authentic holiday experience,” said Betsy Potter, director of creative services for Iowa City Downtown District, a nonprofit organization that supports the vitality of the downtown and Northside neighborhoods. “Every year we’ve added new elements and build upon our programming. It’s really about enjoying an experience downtown during the holiday season.”

With or without snow, a stroll through downtown Iowa City during the holidays is a charming throwback experience.

Family favorites such as free tractor wagon rides around downtown and visits with Santa will be offered every Saturday from Nov. 28 until Dec. 19. Tractor rides run 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Santa will be available for visits from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.


Another favorite activity, the Downtown Hunt for the Elves, will run every day from Nov. 28-Jan. 1. Elves are hidden in stores around downtown, and those who find 10 of them will receive a small prize and are entered to win a grand prize gift basket.

The always popular Downtown Teddy Bear Room, held in the Hilton Garden Inn, also will return this season. Hundreds of teddy bears of all sizes will fill a room in the hotel, where families can stop in to see them. The room is open every day until Dec. 24.

The Downtown Holiday Pop-Up Market also will return this year from Nov. 16-Dec. 24. Every week there are new pop-up shops in Black Hawk Mini Park. A list of shops can be found online.


“It’s really a unique holiday event,” Potter said. “A few years ago we had a local architect design and build the pop-up shops. We have five to six different shops that are a mix of makers in the community and small businesses that might not have brick and mortar location.”


On Dec. 5, local businesses downtown will host an open house with appetizers, drinks and specials — the perfect time to start holiday shopping. The open house runs 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

The Downtown Teddy Bear Room, held in the Hilton Garden Inn, also will return this season.

New this year is a Downtown Holiday Kids Market — a place for kids to go shopping without their parents. Kids can come to the market with a list of who they should buy for, and an elf or assistant will take them around the market, wrap the gifts and bring the kids back to their parents.

In addition to the activities of ’Tis the Season, the area is also home to the Holiday Thieves Market — a juried fine art show with artists from Iowa and the surrounding states. The event, which was held virtually last year, will be pared down in size this year for the safety of the artists and attendees.


This year, 22 new artists will be participating along with 25 others who have been in the show over the last five years. The show is managed by Iowa City-based Summer of the Arts.

“This event is an opportunity for artists to provide quality, handmade items for holiday gifts and general art for attendees to purchase,” said Lisa Barnes, executive director for Summer of the Arts. “The categories represented include ceramics/clay, fiber, glass, jewelry, mixed media, painting, photography, sculpture and wood.”

The event will run 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5, at the Hyatt Regency in Coralville. It is free to attend.

“I was an attendee of this event for many, many years before Summer of the Arts took on management of it, and I always saw it as an opportunity to purchase truly unique gifts for the holidays,” Barnes said. “Many of the artists produce special holiday items for this show like ornaments, Santa/snowmen sculptures, mini Christmas trees.”

To learn more about holiday events in Iowa City, Coralville and the surrounding area, visit

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