Meet your tour guide to Mount Vernon and the surrounding area, man about town Clint McDaniel, a rising Junior and PA with NSO 2015! No matter what your interests, you are bound to find something in Mount Vernon or the area to love and chances are, other Cornellians who’ll love to tag along.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they come to Cornell is assuming that there is nothing that exists beyond the campus. Coming from someone who has lived in a rural town my entire life, I can see why. Most small towns can be the most boring places on the planet, but you definitely shouldn’t assume that about Mount Vernon. Surprisingly enough, there are actually things to do here! Both Mount Vernon and the Iowa Corridor (the name given to this area) are ready to impress.
FOR THE SHOPPING INCLINED
For someone who likes to shop, Mt Vernon has a lot of unique local stores to check out. Most of the shops are along the downtown and clustered around First Street, the main street running through town. Mount Vernon is home to a number of antique stores–and now, before you write that off for your mom or grandma when they visit, these shops are a lot of fun to browse and possibly nab some unique art or interesting items for your room. First Brick Antiques (sometimes called Perfect Blend) is an interesting studio/gift shop/some antiques/used books near campus–insider suggestion: stop in and get some shortbread–it is the BEST. If you are interested in old trinkets, Polly Ann’s antique shop has variety of items to browse and is a great place to start.
For those who would rather just hang out and grab a cup of coffee as, Fuel is a nice place with a relaxing atmosphere, also with some trinkets for sale around the shop. Probably the biggest quirk about Mt Vernon would be the First Street Community Center. Originally a local middle school, the building was refurnished to house many small business like the Green Door (a thrift shop) and hosts a variety of community events. Personally, my favorite shop at the community center is Mt Vernon Confections which sells delicious chocolates and ice cream. Who doesn’t love that!? Plus, there’s also a discount for any Cornell students.
Big Creek Emporium is a nice shop in town that sells organic/natural foods along with serving as a deli and coffee shop. It’s a great place to grab a smoothie or grab some hummus for a snack. The Silver Spider is a fantastic stop for anything quirky and lovely and is a fun place to poke around with friends. There are other shops that are fun to look through–just browsing is welcome.
For practicality, ACE Hardware carries a lot of the random things you may forget you need (lightbulbs, a surge protector, a laundry basket) and is a close walk to campus. Toiletries and the like can be picked up when filling a prescription downtown at Care Pro. Target and Wal-Mart runs are a favorite past time as well. (closest Target is in Cedar Rapids, closest Wal-Mart is in Marion)
If you ever want to have a meal that isn’t from the cafeteria, there are also plenty of restaurants in town. Skillet Cafe is a great place to go for breakfast or lunch. Some of the bars like Scorz and Chameleons also serve great food if you’re wanting something like a burger. Palisades Cafe serves both lunch and dinner–know that dinners can get a bit fancy, but lunches are reasonable for college kids. For those who are wanting some pizza, I would recommend Algers Pizza Palace for your typical slice. If you’re feeling like a classy night (or your parents are visiting…) try to hit up Lincoln Wine Bar for their woodfired pizzas with unique flavors [the smoked margherita pizza is this blogger’s favorite!]. And let’s face it–sometimes there is nothing better then a pizza in your pajamas on a Friday night. For local delivery, call Alger’s, Casey’s [yes, gas station pizza is actually pretty good!], or call Paul Revere’s in Lisbon–they deliver to campus and have some pretty good deals.
If you feel like cooking, Gary’s grocery store in town should suffice or Brother’s Market on the way to Lisbon. Big Creek Market is also a great stop for some organic or local food. Keep an eye out for the farmer’s market, Thursdays down in the Community Center, that usually continue into the fall.
Heading to Perkin’s in Cedar Rapids for 24 hour breakfast food, pie, and coffee is another Cornell adventure. Local towns like Solon and Lisbon are home to more interesting little cafes and food options. Solon boasts Salt Fork Kitchen which serves interesting and delicious farm to fork fare (try a burger with fresh mozzarella), El Sol for really good Mexican food, and Big Creek Brewery, which has variations of pub foods.
Mt Vernon is also home to its own movie theater, the Bijou. It’s a great place to go if you want something to do for an evening. The theater does only show one movie at a time, but it is definitely worth checking out. Tickets are about $6 and if you bring your own popcorn bucket and cup, they can be filled for half price. Remember to keep your ticket out your first time there–they do a drawing before each show for free admission and treats. They will get big releases sometimes even for a special opening–be sure to reserve a ticket early on! There are numerous movie theaters in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City to check out if you’re looking for a different movie time or sometimes, a movie in limited release.
If you’re feeling nostalgic for a movie that the library doesn’t have (and there are a LOT on first floor!), Video Village downtown does movie rentals. Or, there’s always Netflix. (Which is by the far the most popular Cornell activity…)
SPENDING TIME OUTSIDE
Something I recommend doing while in town is stopping by the Train Bridge, an installment in Cornell vernacular. Located at the edge of town and close to Ash Park, this now pedestrian bridge used to carry the historic Lincoln Highway over the Chicago and Northwestern Train Track that runs outside of town. Not only is the feeling trains rushing by from right under is so cool, but the bridge is also an ideal spot if you want to just relax and stargaze.
Before the summer weather begins to fade away, grab some friends and spend the day at Palisades-Kepler State Park. The park is only a few miles outside of town and is gorgeous. There are hiking trails, places to camp, and also plenty of spots to have a picnic or barbecue. Lake Macbride is another local place to check out. If you get the opportunity to go to any of these areas, then do so.
Right on campus, head down to Ink Pond on Pfeiffer Hill. The Pond is home to floating islands, frogs, turtles, and seasonally, a nesting pair of Canada geese. See if you can figure out what shape the pond was made in. On occasion, it’s not rare to see a raccoon or fox in the mini-wilderness. It’s a great place to perch on one of the rocks and think or chat with a friend on the swing by the water’s edge. Campus is home to a lot of green space that is fair game to study or lounge on. Find a favorite tree and (maybe) phone service to call home from.
When the fall rolls around, visit some local apple orchards and experience Iowa in the fall. Seeing rolling hills covered in beautiful fall color is one perk of being in the Corridor area. Take a drive in the fall and try to snap a picture of the American Gothic barn…
If you do want to visit a city, the Cedar Rapids area does have a lot to offer. Along with Lindale mall, there are also many stores like Half Price Books and things like that. There are a lot of chain restaurants to eat at, but a fantastic place to go to is Michello’s. It’s this little
restaurant that serves great food and it stays open until 1am. Other popular places in Cedar Rapids are Chipotle (it’s at the mall), a few sushi places, and of course, BWWs (Buffalo Wild Wings, but you’ll probably only hear it as “B-dubs”). The Cedar Rapids Target is a familiar excursion for Cornellians; a Wal-Mart is in Marion as well.
Iowa City also has a lot of places to visit. Sports fans can go see a Hawkeye game while people more inclined to shopping can go to the Coralville mall for a Target and usual ‘mall’ stores; also–the food court offers a lot of food you may be craving (and a Panda Express). Downtown Iowa City has a lot to offer by way of unique shopping, art galleries and museums, coffee shops, and of course FOOD. Try to visit the pedestrian area downtown near the U–and the University of Iowa campus in general is a beautiful place to walk around. (And as a student, you can get a card to the Universities’ library as well!)
If you’re more interested in a coffee shop to relax in and get going on a project or reading for the night, Java House is a local favorite and is open until 11–just be sure to find a table to plug in your laptop. Prairie Lights is a famous independent bookstore and it a fantastic place to spend some time browsing–be sure to check out the cafe upstairs and spend some time writing.
While you can find pretty much anything you could want to eat in Iowa City’s downtown, some favorite places include Iowa Chop House, Masala Indian Cuisine, Takanami Sushi Bar (visit during the ‘sushi happy hour’ for cheaper prices!), and The Hamburg Inn for a pie shake is an experience you’ll never forget. Explore and find your own favorite places! IC’s Old Capital Town Center is home to a lot of your favorite comfort (fast) food like Noodles & Co. and Chipotle.
Iowa City is home to a lot of unique shops. Molly’s Cupcakes is amazing for a sweet treat or Mesa for a quick slice of pizza. Hala Hala Hookah Bar is an interesting IC business to visit; the place is a rather relaxing environment that gives you the chance to just hang out with friends while smoking hookah (a flavored tobacco). The arts scene in the Corridor is alive and well. Blick Arts Supply is a great stop to pick up materials for a new project. The Englert Theater in Iowa City gets a lot of interesting shows and concerts throughout the year or visit a coffee shop on a music night for some local sound.
If the local culture isn’t enough, Cornell is “5 from 5” [within a 5 hour range of 5 major cities of the Midwest: Saint Louis, Chicago, the Twin Cities, Madison, Milwaukee] if you feel like visiting a big city on a block break. Cornell’s student org Get Out of Town schedules different events around the midwest for students to get out off campus and do something fun at a student rate and are a great opportunity to see more of the area.
Overall, Mt Vernon and the surrounding area is really a great place that offers a lot of variety and options to explore in your time here.
Mount Vernon and the corridor really does have something to offer to anyone. While a lot of my favorites are included in the above guide, here are a few plugs for my favorite local things: Fuel coffee shop is one of my favorite places in the world. Sure, that sounds overblown, but as an avid connoisseur of chai tea, it is well deserved. It’s all you could ever hope for with a cozy, local coffee shop. Try the scones or whatever they have coming out of the oven and if you drink coffee, a friend lives by Grumpy Monkey. Mount Vernon hosts a lot of events throughout the year: it’s a great time to have people visit and show off the town.
My best advice for getting to know–and LOVE–this area: be open to exploring with friends and on your own. I have never had a car on campus, but have made friends who were just as excited to explore and try new things as I was. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it and your love for this area. Sure, you’ll make some favorites a routine–like long nights at Java House–but always be open to trying something new; you may just love it. And conversations with friends on car rides back may just become some of your favorite memories at Cornell. Look forward to your time at Cornell and the adventure ahead; soon this small town (and the train going by at random times) will feel like home.
(post edited, formatted and supplemented by L. Michelson)