entertainment, free stuff, moving, resources

10 Ways to Find Local Hot Spots

April 10, 2015

orphan survival guide - social media - 10 ways to find local hot spots (1)

Now that I’ve moved to a better host and I can actually make updates, it’s time for an update to How To Find Local Events!

I grew up in Tourist Central, surrounded by chain big box stores and Disneyfied everything. Moving to Iowa City gave me some serious culture shock because there’s such a big locavore culture here and I grew up on a block that had two McDonalds restaurants.

I’m never at a loss for places to go or people to visit–in fact, I’m usually overwhelmed with choices. Where do you want to go for dinner?  is a really hard question to answer when there are hundreds of restaurants at your disposal. And I don’t have to give in to #2 Party School  culture to keep myself entertained.

I’m never bored by Iowa City. There’s so much to do here, and it’s not hard to find the best places to eat, shop, and people-watch. So whether you’re just moving to a new town or you’re looking to find something new and interesting to do this weekend,  here are my ten best tips to find local hot spots.

IRL Tips

1. Go Outside

This is the first thing you should do when you move somewhere new or if you just want to see what’s going on around your neighborhood this weekend.

Just go outside.

Walk around, bus around, bike around, even drive around. See what’s happening. Patronize nearby businesses that are doing things–you might end up becoming a regular.

2. Ask Someone

People are, in general, pretty nice if you ask them for directions or for the best burger joint in town. It doesn’t hurt to ask, and some people (like me) seem to give off a locavore radar and get asked for directions all the time.

If you’re at a loss for where to get dinner, just ask someone, “Hey, what’s your favorite restaurant?”

3. Public Services

Maybe you can’t become a coffee shop regular because you’re broke. That’s fine–there’s still a ton of free stuff to do around town.

The city provides calendars and press releases for local events that take place in public–places like parks and muesums and the recreation center–and a lot of places have public bulletin boards and calendars that announce even more events.

Like I said in How To Find Local Events, think like Leslie Knope. Parks! Recreation! Government services!

Orphan Survival Guide - What Would Leslie Knope Do? -- How to Find Local Events


However, unlike Leslie Knope, my favorite public service is the library.

The library has books and movies, which are great for alleviating boredom, but libraries are also an incredible resource for finding out what’s going on around town. The public and university libraries always have, at the very least, a bulletin board where people stick up flyers for their groups and events. They usually have a calendar either at a desk or online that tells you what’s going on.

A lot of events happen at the library, from author readings to puppy readings, . I’m a big fan of movie screenings, food canning demonstrations, book sales, and classes at the library.

The university library should also have resources for finding all of the university events.


  • museums
  • recreation centers
  • City Hall
  • public parks
  • public meetings
  • public art installations

4. The Newspaper

Your local and university papers should have teasers and calendars of events both in print and online. And don’t forget to check out the community paper and alternative magazines for all the things that are too cool for the mainstream papers.

If you’re not sure where to start looking, check out How To Find Local Events, where I listed a good dozen of newspaper and online resources for finding local calendars in Iowa.

5. Like a specific thing? Go to a place that has that thing!

Where do you find books? Bookstores and libraries. Where do you find coffee? Coffee shops. Where do you find drunk friends? Bars. Where do you find new music? Performing arts centers and public concerts.

Like stuff? Find the places that have that stuff and then connect with people there to find even more places!

Talk to people. Make friends. Become a regular. It will expose you to lots of other cool, related stuff to do.

Online Tips

1. Google

Use Google Maps to see what’s around your neighborhood without having to leave your house until you have a solid plan.

Google searches are also a great way to find newspapers, blogs, and lists of all kinds of stuff. Plug in the thing you want and your location, and find a myriad of links that vary in usefulness–but they’re a good starting point.


  • “chinese delivery in iowa city”
  • “iowa city concerts”
  • “iowa city events calendar”
  • “iowa city festivals”

2. Twitter

It’s not secret that I have a Twitter problem (I have two personal accounts, and two work accounts) but I keep everything organized by creating lists and using separate apps for separate purposes. My locavore lists are pretty expansive. If you want to find Iowa City area Twitters, my Iowa City (ish) Twitter list is full of them.

Look through the Following pages, RTs, and Lists of various local people and businesses to find hidden treasures.


  • newspapers
  • reporters
  • official city accounts
  • official university accounts
  • unofficial city and university accounts
  • businesses
  • restaurants
  • festivals
  • seasonal/annual events
  • students
  • celebrities
  • neighbors

3. Facebook

I asked my Facebook friends for their favorite things to do in Iowa City and they gave me dozens of events and places, ranging from the local farmer’s market to the Mennonite grocery store a town over, from pregretful Chinese buffets to amazing Indian restaurants, from children’s book festivals to the summer jazz festivals.

Like Twitter, Facebook is a goldmine for finding local businesses and events–not just because you can follow the deals and announcements someone wants to promote, but because those businesses share each other’s events. There’s a ton of cross-promotion among small businesses that can widen your search for weekend stuff to do.

It’s also a great place to see the content that didn’t make it to the paper and online formats of local newspapers–I know my local papers tend to share event invitations and announcements for local stuff online that I wouldn’t otherwise know about if I just read the paper.

4. Event Sites and Apps

I don’t use a lot of event aggregator sites because I keep up with everything on social media, but I have tried out Nearify and the barrage of notifications are sufficiently annoying–so you should have no shortage of places to go if the only thing you do is check Nearify.

There are also a lot of local connection apps and sites like Foursquare and Meetup where you can actually interact with the other people who go to the same places you do. I used to be really into Foursquare but I have burned through so many phones it’s just not on my instant download anymore. But maybe I’ll pick it back up again…


5. Local Deals and Coupons Sites

One of the drafts I have in progress right now is about couponing because I have a soccer mom living inside me–but sites like Groupon are awesome for trying out new places you weren’t sure you’d like, because you don’t have to pay full price!

They’re also great for finding coupons for places you already like–every summer, I take advantage of the Groupon deal for 50% off froyo coupons, because why not!


“Why did you move to Iowa? It’s in the middle of nowhere! What do you even do?”

So many things! To give you an idea of why I love Iowa so much, here are some of my favorite local hot spots and events

Public Places: Hickory Hill Park, College Green Park, Hubbard Park, Lake Macbride, Iowa City Public Library, Iowa Memorial Union, Wilson’s Orchard

Drinks: The Mill, George’s, Joe’s Place, Studio 13, Deadwood, Sanctuary, Mickey’s, Dublin Underground

Food: Yotopia, Panchero’s, Java House, Bread Garden, New Pioneer Co-Op, Oasis, Hamburg Inn, Masala, Thai Spice, Short’s Burgers and Shine, Blackstone, HuHot,

Shopping: Raygun, Ragstock, White Rabbit, Revival, Haunted Bookshop, Home Ec Workshop, Second Act, Crowded Closet, Houseworks, Stringtown Grocery,

Performances: FilmScene, Englert, Blue Moose, Gabe’s, CSPS

Events: Farmer’s Market, Pride Parade, Summer of the Arts, Artsfest, Jazzfest, Oktoberfest, Summer Concert Series, Movies on the Pentacrest, Mission Creek Festival, Book Festival, weekly pub quizzes and karaoke

If you love local events as much as I do, what do you do to find local hot spots and new places? What are some of the places you love to visit? What’s the first thing on your list to find when you move to a new town?

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