Toddler-Teens will love The Highlander Hotel in Iowa City

The Highlander Hotel

Do you want to feel like you left Iowa and landed in chic 1970’s Hollywood? Stroll through the stunning lobby at The Highlander Hotel in Iowa City, spin a vintage vinyl record, and you’ll be hooked. 

You can check out a record player for your room and browse through dozens of vintage records. My husband says he misses going to the old music stores and spending hours appreciating the album artwork. 

Disclaimer: Our visit was hosted, however, all opinions expressed in this article are completely ours and based on our own family’s unique experience.

A Little History...

Take a step back to fully appreciate the retro vibe that has been restored to The Highlander Hotel. 

In 1974, one of the original owners, Bob McGurk, boasted that the indoor swimming pool was drawing in visitors from as far away as 50-60 miles just to spend the weekend enjoying the pool. “It’s going to be our bread and butter,” he reported. 


Check out this amazing photograph from the 1975 Ford Exhibitation in the pool area. Somehow they managed to float a 1975 Ford Granada on the pool. (Image Courtesy of Sheila Boyd)

Notice how the second-floor rooms do not have a balcony? That addition comes later in the hotel’s history. 

After decades of use, remodeling additions, and standard hotel upgrades, the facility needed more than just a renovation; it needed a metamorphosis, a renewed vision, a groovy vibe. 

Enter new owner Angela Harrington. She led her team at Catalyst Hospitality Management through the hotel’s amazing transformation and restoration of the original 1960’s supper club to the family-friendly Iowa resort. 

I am going to look into taking hubby for a couple’s getaway to Angela’s other place, Hotel Grinnell.

The boys can’t wait for the pool to open during the morning of our stay. The pool was a highlight of our visit and one of the kids’ favorite areas to hang out. 

Megan from Olio in Iowa shares incredible vintage photographs and dives into the history of supper clubs and The Highlander Hotel. Check out her perspective.

While offering such a variety of accommodations, the hotel feels intimate and personal. The guest service check-in is not a large boxy counter, but a simple desk hosted by friendly staff. No clanky elevators dinging all night, just a few groovy hallways and clean stairwells.

Resort Details

Reopening in July of 2020, The Highlander Hotel is more than a sleep-over pit-stop, it’s a Midwest resort destination! 

The 400 guest ballroom is perfect for large parties, weddings, or business events. Families will love the courtyard and indoor pool for reunions, birthday parties, and stay-cations. 

The outdoor courtyard has yard games and a smokeless fire pit. If you don’t know what a smokeless fire pit is, check out our Instagram video. Outside of the fitness center is a second patio area that also boasts a smokeless firepit

The Highlander is the perfect place to gather with family or friends to hang out and connect. If you live in the area, check out the day pass option.

Picture yourself in the fabulous game space and drawing on the Pictionary wall. The toddler decided to just color. 

Choose Your Room

With over a dozen room styles and accommodations, including everything from a multi-room Penthouse to family suites, poolside rooms, and courtyard views, you’ll be sure to find the perfect fit and price for your budget. 

Our family slept in a Family Suite with a poolside balcony and adjoining two queen bedroom. The two separate spaces were fabulous for putting the toddler to bed before the teens.

If you have been following the blog for a while, you’ll know my obsession with hotel refrigerators. The mini retro fridge was not only adorable but it was spacious. 

We brought a lot of our own food for the toddler, and the fridge in our Family Suite was perfect for holding all of our picnic lunch supplies (the next day we headed out to Wild Cat Den State Park).


The Highlander Hotel serves guests a food truck-inspired menu from either the Snack Shack, located near the pool or the swanky Highlander Lounge. 

Street tacos, stone fire flat pizzas, noodle bowls, and milkshakes are just a few of the treats to grab before 10 pm. 

Room service is available for order from 7 am-midnight each day.

Complimentary coffee is constantly available, and a light breakfast, including breakfast burritos, is served in the Snack Shack.

Aside from each room having its’ own designated table there are multiple places to sit and eat around the pool and near the Snack Shack. 

We Are Family

Even with the groovy chic vibe, the Highlander Hotel is kid-friendly and accommodating to parents. Ask about amenities like a Pack ‘n Play and board books. 

After reading about how much fun our friends at Des Moines Parent had with their kids, we couldn’t wait to bring our teens and toddler here. 

I knew they would like it, but I wasn’t expecting them to love it so much. This is by far their favorite hotel we have ever stayed at, which is quite a few now. 

Five stars all around from the kids who are already asking when we can return. I told hubby that this would make a super fun place for a teen birthday party. 

Our sleepy sweet boy got worn out from all the fun in the pool.

By random chance, I bought a Tula Toddler carrier from a consignment store just a few days before our trip. Peace signs and VW Bus fabric pattern! 

We highly recommend The Highlander Hotel!

Iowa natives, come for a stay-cation.

Road trip warriors, don’t miss this spot to stop and rejuvenate. 

Area Attrations

Looking to extend your time and make a weekend trip out of your Highlander Hotel visit? Consider these trip ideas.

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