To A Student, From A Student

posted on Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Students with UNI Mascots and President

By: Erin Murphy 

While in my college search process, I knew finding the best fit for me would be a task because I grew up in a college town. After my visit to UNI here in Cedar Falls, I knew I had found my new home. In this article, I will tell you some of my favorite spots in the area and what I love about Cedar Falls as I enter my fourth year here.   

Historic Downtown District Cedar Falls Sign on Main Street

Community-focused and home-y Feel 

Growing up in Ames, I didn’t realize how big it was until I was doing my college search. Some schools were too small, and some, like Iowa State and Iowa, were too big. When I visited UNI for the first time, it was just the right size- not too big or small. Cedar Falls is packed with local and small businesses that help support each other and give back to the community year-round. The University of Northern Iowa also does its part to get students into the community through different opportunities and programs throughout the year. Inside UNI: Campus & Community 

There is plenty to do and get you off of campus and into the community, such as: 

  • Markets 
  • Evening and weekend events/festivals 
  • Thriving downtown (shop local!) 
  • Many Caffeine Stops (as a college student, this part is essential) 

Downtown Cedar Falls Farmers Market


Cedar Falls Farmers’ Market is every Saturday, May-October, 8:30 am-noon.  Located between the historical society and Overman Park in downtown Cedar Falls, you can find produce, baked goods, jewelry, crafts, coffee, and breakfast. It is a great way to support local and grab your friends for a little Saturday morning outing. 

Weekend Events/Festivals 

Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, you can enjoy live outdoor music at the River Place Plaza on most weekends. At the end of June, don't miss the outdoor Sturgis Falls Celebration and Cedar Basin Music Festival. When students return in the fall, there are plenty of opportunities to explore downtown during Panther's Downtown, part of Welcome Week. During Panther's Downtown, the university provides bus transportation to the Downtown District, where students can often find TC and receive a tote bag or t-shirt. This event encourages students to explore Cedar Falls, leave campus, and visit participating shops to collect stamps. Completing the stamp card typically earns some UNI swag. 

River Place Plaza During a festival

Thriving Downtown 

Cedar Falls downtown can’t be compared to a typical Iowa Downtown, with its 5-6 blocks of local shops, restaurants, and bars on Mainstreet alone. It beautifully curves block to block with hardly any vacant storefronts. Some of my favorite finds in downtown Cedar Falls are: 

Mainstreet Cedar Falls


  • The Nook, Indie Bookstore 
    • If you like Dog Eared Books in Ames, you will like the Nook. It has a variety of books, including Iowa authors and bookish goods, as well as a fun children’s section and an overall cozy feel.   
  • Square One Vintage 
    • Located right by the RiverPlace Plaza, this shop has real, casual, and good-quality vintage clothing that will elevate your wardrobe.  

Caffeine Stops! 

  • Sarah’s Espresso 
    • If you are a fan of energy infusions, this is the place for you. They have the best energy brew flavors. I try a different flavor each time and am never disappointed! Located next to Brass Tap and across the street from the public library, it is a nice place to do homework. The inside has comfy booths and is usually pretty quiet.    
  • Cup of Joe 
    • This stand-alone shop, located on the far corner right by the highway, is a great place to grab a good cup of coffee or pastry. It doesn't need to be too fancy, as the inside is fun and has a different feel from most other shops. It is a great place to do homework during the week because they are open until later in the evening, but have a backup in mind because often, on the weekends, it is busy, and there are no inside tables!   

Inside Cup Of Joe Coffee

  • Sidecar Coffee
    • I can't talk about Cedar Falls without mentioning Sidecar. It is a staple stop around here, with locations by campus on College Hill, on First Street, and in the industrial park neighborhood by Target. They also have a truck that is at the downtown Cedar Falls Farmers' Market every Saturday. Each shop has a different feel, good for both studying and social hour.  

Sidecar Coffee on The Hill

  • Tea Cellar 
    • Located on the corner by the RiverPlace Plaza, the Tea Cellar is a great place to go with a friend or yourself for homework or conversation. It has a much calmer and cozier feel, and its menu offers a wide variety of teas.   

Outside the Tea Cellar


  • George’s Local 
    • On the corner of 4th and Main Street, it's one of those places you want to go when your family is in town for a nice meal with casual vibes. Indoor and outdoor seating is available. 

George's Local Outdoor Seating

  • Mulligan’s 
    • Located off of Main Street and 18th next to Hansen's Dairy, Mulligan's is like a casual restaurant on a lake without being on a lake. It has outdoor and indoor seating and a wide menu. If you go, make sure to get either a pizza or pasta. 
  • Zury's Tacos
    • Located on College Street (The Hill) Zury's Tacos has added new life to the campus area. Their atmosphere is so fun and welcoming with good food and drinks. My friends and I have not had a bad experience here. They have daily deals on different food and drinks but I would recommend their fajitas.  


If you’re traveling from campus, it will take you less than 15 minutes to get across town and around 20 minutes to Waterloo so it is easy to get around (if you can handle the roundabouts). Cedar Falls is a great mix of local and corporate businesses that support each other and help make Cedar Falls what it is. Choosing the right school for you is important but you also want to make sure that the town in which your school is located is also compatible with you. Not too big, not too small, but just right with lots of opportunities.  

UNI Students and Cheerleaders

  UNI Student on Dome Field

Aerial View of UNI Campus

  1. cedar falls
  2. cedar falls
  3. coffee
  4. college town
  5. destinations
  6. dining out
  7. downtown
  8. downtown cedar falls
  9. experience
  10. new student
  11. student life
  12. things to do
  13. tourism
  14. uni
  15. uni-dome
  16. university of northern iowa

Subscribe To Our Blog