Exploring Des Moines: The Heartland’s Hidden Gem
When you think of iconic travel destinations in the United States, your mind might first wander to bustling cityscapes or sprawling coastal vistas. But nestled in the heart of the American Midwest, Des Moines, Iowa, offers a rich tapestry of history, culture, and natural beauty just waiting to be discovered. From its vibrant arts scene and captivating historical landmarks to family-friendly attractions, Des Moines extends a warm Midwestern welcome to all who visit. This guide will take you on a detailed journey of 25 unforgettable spots, local transport, accommodation recommendations, climate, and travel tips that promise to make your Des Moines exploration an engaging and enriching experience.
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15 Must-Visit Places in Des Moines
- Des Moines Art Center – This unique museum houses an impressive collection of modern and contemporary artworks worldwide. Its three-building complex, designed by renowned architects, is an architectural marvel. Enjoy exhibits of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and mixed-media art interspersed with engaging programs and workshops. Website
- Iowa State Capitol – Overlooking downtown Des Moines, the majestic Iowa State Capitol building features stunning 19th-century architecture. It boasts a magnificent 23-carat gold leaf dome, beautiful murals, and numerous historical displays. Don’t miss the panoramic view of the city from its observation deck. Website
- Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden – Experience the beauty of nature all year round in this indoor/outdoor garden. It has 14 acres and features tropical and temperate plants, spectacular seasonal displays, and a beautiful water garden. Website
- East Village – This vibrant neighbourhood offers an array of unique boutiques, eclectic eateries, and art galleries. Historic buildings blend with modern architectural elements to create a uniquely charming atmosphere, perfect for a leisurely afternoon stroll. Website
- Pappajohn Sculpture Park – Sprawled over 4.4 acres in downtown Des Moines, the park features 31 magnificent works of art by 25 world-renowned artists. This open-air museum provides an intriguing fusion of art and nature. Website
- Des Moines Farmers’ Market – Immerse yourself in local flavours at one of America’s top farmers’ markets. Held seasonally in the Historic Court District, the market offers fresh produce, baked goods, handmade items, and live entertainment. Website
- Salisbury House & Gardens – This historic house museum was modelled after the King’s House in Salisbury, England. It has a rich collection of art, literature, and global artifacts. The surrounding gardens and woodlands provide a tranquil retreat. Website
- Blank Park Zoo – Home to over 100 different animal species, the Blank Park Zoo is an engaging exploration of the animal kingdom. The zoo is committed to conservation and offers various interactive exhibits and education programs. Website
- Des Moines Performing Arts – From Broadway performances to concerts and educational events, Des Moines Performing Arts offers a diverse program that will thrill culture enthusiasts. The Des Moines Civic Center’s main venue is an architectural gem. Website
- Wells Fargo Arena – As part of the Iowa Events Center, the Wells Fargo Arena is the “go-to” venue for large concerts and sporting events in Des Moines. It hosts the Iowa Wolves NBA G League, Iowa Barnstormers Indoor Football, and Iowa Wild AHL Hockey teams. Beyond sports, the arena has welcomed an impressive list of performers, from Paul McCartney to Garth Brooks. Whether you’re a sports fan or a concert lover, something exciting always happens at the Wells Fargo Arena. Website
- Gray’s Lake Park – Covering 167 acres, Gray’s Lake Park offers recreational activities like swimming, boating and a 1.9-mile trail encircles the lake. It also features a spectacular 400-foot-long pedestrian bridge that offers stunning views, especially at sunset. Website
- Science Center of Iowa – Although it’s also great for kids, adults can equally enjoy this interactive museum. It features fascinating exhibits on topics like space, dinosaurs, and the human body, alongside a planetarium and an IMAX theatre. Website
- Jordan Creek Town Center – This premier shopping destination offers over 150 stores, a movie theatre, and numerous dining options. The surrounding park, lake, and boardwalk provide a beautiful backdrop for a day of shopping. Website
- Iowa Hall of Pride – The Iowa Hall of Pride is an interactive exhibit showcasing all Iowans’ achievements, from sports heroes and entertainers to everyday citizens. Through various displays, it offers a comprehensive view of Iowa’s cultural history and communal pride. It’s a great place to get to know the people and stories that shape Iowa. Website
- Raccoon River Valley Trail – This 89-mile trail takes you through scenic rural landscapes, woodland areas, and charming small towns. It’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, perfect for biking, walking, or cross-country skiing in winter. Website
10 Kid-Friendly Destinations in Des Moines
- Adventureland Park – This fun-filled amusement park offers over 100 rides, shows, and attractions. From thrilling roller coasters to a water park and kid-friendly rides, there’s something for everyone. Website
- Living History Farms – Let your kids step back in time at this interactive outdoor museum. They can explore historical farms, a small town from the 1870s, and a 1700 Ioway Indian Farm. Website
- The Iowa Children’s Museum – Fostering active learning through play, this museum features engaging interactive exhibits that cover arts, culture, technology, science, and more. Website
- Pump It Up – This indoor inflatable party zone provides hours of active fun. Kids can jump, slide, and bounce in the various inflatable arenas. Website
- Sky Glider East – Take a scenic ride across the Iowa State Fair on the Sky Glider. It’s the longest portable sky ride in the world, offering unique aerial views of the fair and the surrounding area. It’s a relaxing, fun ride that kids will love. Note: Sky Glider operates only during the Iowa State Fair. Website
- MB2 Raceway – For kids who love speed and competition, MB2 Raceway offers exciting go-kart racing. They have junior karts for kids, and the raceway ensures a safe, controlled environment for kids to enjoy the thrill of racing. Website
- The Playground For Kids – An indoor play centre with a gigantic climbing and play structure, slides, bounce houses, and a particular toddler area. It’s a perfect spot for kids to burn off some energy, regardless of the weather. Website
- Sky Zone Trampoline Park – Kids can jump to their hearts’ content at Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline park offering freestyle bounce, dodgeball, fitness programs, and more. Website
- Des Moines Playhouse – The Des Moines Playhouse presents regular children’s theatre productions that entertain and educate young audiences. From adaptations of beloved children’s books to classic tales, these performances can be a great introduction to live theatre for kids. Website
- Funny Bone Comedy Club – While known for its adult comedy shows, Funny Bone Comedy Club also occasionally hosts performances aimed at kids and families, like magicians and puppet shows. It can be a fun, laughter-filled outing for older kids and teens. Please check their schedule for family-friendly events. Website
Des Moines offers several transport options for tourists. The Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) offers extensive bus service across the city. The downtown area is served by a free D-Line shuttle. For details, visit DART’s website.
For cycling enthusiasts, Des Moines B-cycle is a bicycle-sharing program with several stations across the city. Check out their website for more details. Uber and Lyft rideshare services are also widely available in the city.
Top 5 Hotels in Des Moines
- Des Lux Hotel – This luxury hotel, located downtown, offers spacious rooms and a complimentary breakfast bar. It also has a 24-hour gym and sauna. Website
- Hotel Fort Des Moines, Curio Collection by Hilton – A historic hotel with modern amenities within walking distance of top attractions. Website
- Embassy Suites by Hilton Des Moines Downtown – This hotel provides comfort and convenience by Offering river-view suites and free made-to-order breakfast. Website
- Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Des Moines Downtown – Located in the heart of downtown Des Moines, this hotel offers stylish rooms and suites, free Wi-Fi, and a complimentary breakfast. It’s a short walk from popular attractions like Wells Fargo Arena, the Civic Center, and the Science Center of Iowa. Website
- Renaissance Des Moines Savery Hotel – Combining historic charm with modern amenities, this hotel offers a unique stay experience in downtown Des Moines. Website
- Des Moines has a humid continental climate. Always check the weather forecast and pack accordingly.
- Try to time your visit with the Iowa State Fair, one of the largest and most famous state fairs in the US.
- If you’re interested in politics, visit during the Iowa Caucuses, the first major electoral event in nominating the President of the United States.
- Exploring the city on a bicycle can be a great way to enjoy Des Moines’ many trails and parks.
- Downtown parking is metered on weekdays but free on evenings and weekends.
- Don’t miss trying local delicacies like Iowa sweet corn and pork tenderloin sandwiches.
- Remember, Iowans are known for their friendliness and hospitality, don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation!
Des Moines offers an immersive and enriching travel experience for all ages. By tapping into its historical roots, vibrant arts scene, natural beauty, and Midwestern charm, you’ll discover a genuinely American heartland adventure.