Free parking, free trolley rides, elves (and their boss) and bears: The holiday season starts Saturday in downtown Iowa City

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Front page illustration of the Iowa City Press, Dec. 24, 1918. via the Iowa City Public Library’s database of historical newspapers.

Free parking in the ramps isn’t exactly a holiday miracle, but it is a nice, stress-free part of the season. Starting this weekend, parking in the downtown ramps will be free on three out of the five Saturdays before Christmas.

The free parking kicks off on Nov. 24, as part of the city’s effort to promote “Small Business Saturday.”

Since 2010, it’s become a tradition to highlight local retail on the day following the discount-fueled excesses of the big-box-centric Black Friday. Although, unlike more traditional seasonal events, its name is actually a registered trademark of a corporation — American Express.

Parking in the ramps below will also be free on Dec. 15 and 22, even though neither of those Saturdays have a special corporate-trademarked name.

• Dubuque Street Ramp, 220 S. Dubuque St.

• Capitol Street Ramp, 220 S. Capitol St.

• Tower Place Ramp, 335 Iowa Avenue

• Chauncey Swan Ramp, 410 E. Washington St.

• Court Street Transportation Center, 150 E. Court St.

• Harrison Street Parking Ramp, 175 E. Harrison St.

But free parking won’t be the only downtown holiday attraction downtown on Saturday.

Hills’ horse-drawn trolley

Once again, Hills Bank is offering free horse-drawn trolley rides around downtown on the Saturdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Carols will be sung and sleigh bells rung as the trolley rolls through downtown, starting and stopping at the Hills Bank in the Old Capitol Mall.

Tickets are free but limited in number, and are usually all gone within 30 minutes. Ticket distribution starts at 11 a.m., and the trolley runs from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Santa Saturdays at FilmScene

Every Saturday until Christmas, the Iowa City Downtown District and FilmScene will be offering holiday photo ops for kids. Between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., Santa will be at FilmScene on the Ped Mall (118 E College St). Photos will be free, and parents are welcome to take their own photos if they want.

The Downtown Teddy Bear Room

The downtown teddy bears are moving up in the world. Last year’s teddy bear room was in one of the pop-up shops on the Ped Mall. This year, the bears will have their own room at the Hilton Garden Inn (328 S Clinton St).

As Betsy Potter, ICDD’s director of operations, explained last year, “Families and kids can come and hug teddy bears, and have their photos taken in the teddy bear room. At the end of the season the teddy bears will be donated to local service groups.”

The teddy bear room will be open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., from Nov. 24 to Dec. 23.

The Downtown Hunt for Elves

It’s part scavenger hunt for kids, part Where’s Waldo?, but with elves instead of random items or a guy in stripes. Elves — including “Dot,” “Stinky,” “Ray Milland” and more than 20 others — have been hidden in the following downtown locations.


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• Active Endeavors

• Akar

• Artifacts

• Aspen Leaf

• Beadology Iowa

• Bread Garden Market

• Catherine’s

• Daydreams Comics

• Discerning Eye

• Domby

• The Englert Theatre

• FilmScene

• Glassando

• Graduate Iowa City

• Hands Jewelers

• High Ground Cafe

• Hills Bank

• Hilton Garden Inn

• Iowa Artisans Gallery

• Iowa Book

• Iowa City Public Library

• Java House

• Luxe Interiors

• Maker’s Loft

• McDonald Optical

• Molly’s Cupcake

• Moss

• Oasis

• Old Capitol Museum

• Poindexter Coffee

• Pop’s BBQ

• Prairie Lights

• Raygun

• Revival


• Sweets and Treats

• Tailgate

• The Downtown Teddy Bear Room

• Ten Thousand Villages

• The Shop

• Velvet Coat

• UI Museum of Natural History

• White Rabbit

• Willow & Stock

• Yotopia

The ICDD explains that kids “who find at least 15 of those mischievous elves will receive a prize at Iowa Book, The Englert Theatre or the Iowa City Public Library Children’s Room and be entered to win a grand prize basket.”

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