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26 Fun & Best Things to Do in Des Moines, Iowa

If you live in the United States and hear “Iowa,” then you may already be envisioning rows and rows of corn. While the Hawkeye State is the top producer of pork, corn, and soybeans, the state has so much more to offer than only its crops.

Coal and diamond mining brought an influx of settlers to the Des Moines area in the 1860s. The city experienced economic growth and remains the most populous city in the state today.

There are a few theories on how Des Moines got its name. The popular version is the French Colonist translation, meaning “of monks,” which referred to the Trappist monks in neighboring areas. Though some linguists think the name derives from the Native American word “moingona.” The word may have meant portage or road referring to the rivers as a passageway for trade.

Des Moines is a hub for insurance and finance companies, and more businesses are looking to put down roots in the city. The midwestern area is drawing more tourism into the state as economic growth increases, with the annual Iowa State Fair bringing in almost 1 million visitors alone. Right now, this city is still an affordable Midwestern gem, so visit Des Moines and check it off your bucket list before it gets too expensive!

You may be asking what there is to do in Des Moines exactly. In spite of what you’ve heard, there are plenty of tourist attractions and fun things to do in Des Moines, Iowa, that don’t involve insurance or corn!

The city and neighboring areas have sports, nightlife, history, and culture-packed activities. Take time to enjoy the natural beauty of Iowa with the various river walks and hiking trails. Buy some local goodies from the downtown farmers market, or stop and smell the flowers at the indoor botanical gardens. Let Des Moines, Iowa show you what all it has to offer!

Baymont by Wyndham Image
1. Baymont by Wyndham Top Recommendation

Close to the airport, the Baymont by Wyndham hotel has comfortable suites with kitchenettes. Amenities include a pool, sauna, free parking, free daily breakfast, and a shuttle to and from the airport!

La Quinta by Wyndham Image
2. La Quinta by Wyndham

The Des Moines La Quinta by Wyndham is pet-friendly and comes with a fitness center, self-service laundry, a pool, free parking, and free breakfast. It’s next to Interstate 80 for easy access, and there is a Cinemark theater next door.

Hyatt Place image
3. Hyatt Place

The Hyatt Place hotel is within walking distance of the Des Moines Civic Center, World Food Prize Hall, Science Center of Iowa, great restaurants, and more! Amenities include a pool, fitness center, free airport shuttle, and free continental breakfast. It is pet friendly, but there is an $18/day self-parking fee.


  • Most significant landmark – Iowa State Capitol Building
  • Best park – Adventureland Resort
  • Best free activity – Des Moines Art Center
  • Best activity for kids – Science Center of Iowa
  • Best activity for adults – Up-Down Des Moines
  • Best food – Iowa State Fair
  • Best entertainment – Des Moines Performing Arts Center
  • Best all-around accommodation – Des Lux

Best Things to Do in Des Moines

1. Downtown Farmers Market

Address: Downtown Historic Court District, Des Moines, Iowa (300 Court Ave.)

When the snow melts and crops have a chance to flourish, Iowans know the downtown farmers market is just around the corner. Farmers bring their produce from all over the state to showcase their gardening skills.

Artists and other vendors set up tents to entice customers to buy that unique painting or trinket for their homes. The downtown farmers market is a popular one for the city and runs from May through October.

The market has been a fun-family event since 1975 and has gained national recognition as one of the best farmer’s markets to see in America. If you have ever been to one, then you know going early is when you get all the best produce and baked goodies. Join the early birds at 7 am (8 am in October) for the ringing of the bell to signify the official opening of the market!

See Related: Best Things to do in Iowa City, Iowa

2. Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
Image by Iowahwyman/ CC BY-SA 3.0

Address: 909 Robert D. Ray Dr, Des Moines, IA 50309

Visit the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden year-round and check out what they have in bloom each month. The gardening professionals take time to lovingly curate a peaceful and beautiful experience for their guests. There are several gardens to enjoy, like the Gardeners Show House, where you can admire vibrant tropical plants. Enjoy the city skyline against the lilypads floating in the Water Garden.

Members get in free, but if you are visiting, then Adults are $10, children are $7 (ages 4-17), and toddlers are free (3 and under). Book a free guided tour (with the purchase of an admissions ticket), which follows the first-come-first-serve policy up to a group of 12.

The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden offers events like the summer series “Music in the Garden,” where local and national music artists come to play for guests. If riding a bike to the event, you can get 10% off to attend “Music in the Garden” during their scheduled Bike Nights!

3. Living History Farms

Address: 11121 Hickman Rd, Urbandale, IA 50322

Hate the thought of being stuck inside a museum all day, but still interested in Des Moines’ history? Living History Farms creates an interactive environment where visitors can learn about rural midwest life from 1700 to 1900. Adult tickets are $17, and children’s tickets are $10.

There are three farms from each century for you to explore and see how life and culture changed throughout the years. Afterward, step back in time to 1876 and explore the quaint Walnut Hilltown. The town features merchants, a church, and homesteads from that era. Your young kids will love the “Barnyard Readers” series. It includes a children’s book reading, crafts, and a chance to explore the “1700 Ioway Indian Farm.”

Sign up for classes to learn 19th Century trades during those times, like blacksmithing. Other events include interactive period dinners and teas. Who doesn’t want to dress up and experience an authentic 19th Century farm meal and play parlor games for fun?

If you travel with your dogs like me, then this is one stop you can make together! Leashed, behaved dogs are allowed, but there is livestock on the property, and dogs cannot go inside the buildings.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Muscatine, Iowa

4. Music and Culture Festivals

Music and Culture Festivals

Des Moines hosts different festivals throughout the warmer months to celebrate the different cultures and art, and to have an overall good time! The city has a music festival for all different styles, like 515Alive, where you can get your hip-hop, rap, and electronic dance music fix. Camping is encouraged to get the full experience. The 80/35 festival is for the pop and alternative music crowd, where they include interactive art and exercise classes to keep you entertained for two days.

Hinterland combines country, pop, and indie rock artists, and large names like Willie Nelson and CHVRCHES have graced the stage in the past. Norwalk Music Fest will give you a glimpse into the local music scene and is free.

Bring the family to tour the world’s cuisine at the World Food and Music Festival. The festival is free, and blankets and chairs are encouraged to enjoy the entertainment. Try tasty treats from countries like Bosnia, Laos, and Ukraine, just to name a few!

Des Moines puts on other internationally inspired events to educate and celebrate different ethnicities. Learn about Bollywood dancing at the CelebrAsian festival or take part in grape stomping at the Ciao! Des Moines: Italian American Heritage Festival. The Latino Heritage Festival will have your kids making their own piñatas!

Free Things to Do in Des Moines

5. World Food Prize Hall of Laureates

Address: 100 Locust St, Des Moines, IA 50309

With Iowa being a top crop producer for the United States, it is only fitting they have a museum dedicated to agriculture and learning about food security. The World Food Prize Foundation was started in 1986 by Iowan Dr. Norman Baulag.

Dr. Norman Baulag dedicated his life to fighting global hunger and won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. Today, the foundation provides awards to nominees who have made a significant impact in addressing global food security issues.

The World Food Prize Foundation revamped the aging Des Moines Public Library and turned it into an educational museum to teach others about the dangers of world hunger and how we can help. Take a tour to explore the different historic rooms and enjoy the peacefulness of The Garden, which includes a statue of Dr. Norman Baulag.

Tours are each Tuesday and are free, but the museum doesn’t allow self-guided tours. Private and group tours can be reserved for Wednesdays and Thursdays.

See Related: Best Things to Do in Ankeny, Iowa

6. Des Moines Art Center

Address: 4700 Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50312 (Art Center); 1330 Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50309 (Pappajohn Sculpture Park)

The Des Moines Art Center features 19th Century and contemporary art. You can see exhibits featuring works by Georgia O’Keefe, Francis Bacon, and more. The best part is admission is free!

The Art Center also offers art classes for kids and adults where you can do things like learn how to make jewelry or practice your calligraphy skills. The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park features eclectic outdoor sculptures and is an extension of the Art Center.

Located at the Western Gateway Park, I recommend packing a picnic to spend some time admiring the installations. Take a peek at the black and white snowmen or the trippy pumpkin by famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (known for the Infinity Mirror Rooms). While the sculptures look like a fun place to climb and jump, the Art Center asks guests not to touch the artwork to preserve them for others to enjoy.

See Related: Reasons to Visit Franconia Sculpture Park

7. Iowa State Capitol Building

Iowa State Capitol Building

Address: 1007 E Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50319

The impressive Iowa State Capitol is the only five-domed capitol in the United States. The main dome is gilded in gold leaf with four corner domes and 19th Century architecture. It was finished being built in 1886 and took 15 years, but it was severely damaged in a 1904 fire.

The interior comprises several types of wood made in Iowa, and you can find 24 fireplaces and 109 unique rooms. The State Capitol has undergone a few restoration projects over the years and is still used today for Iowa state business.

You can explore this gorgeous building year-round with a free guided or self-tour on most days. My recommendation is to try going on a Saturday when you can see more rooms you may not see during the work week.

See Related: Historical Landmarks in Iowa You’ll Want to Know

Des Moines Attractions for a Rainy Day

8. Terrace Hill

Terrace Hill
Image source: TripAdvisor

Address: 2300 Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50312

A listed National Historic Landmark, the Victorian house known as Terrace Hill was built in 1869 as a private residence. The descendants of the grand home’s owners donated it to the state in 1971, so it could be restored to its former glory. It now serves as the Governor’s home and as a museum.

Take a guided tour from March – December (closed Sundays and Mondays) and walk up the grand staircase as you envision Victorian life in this glorious space. Tours last about an hour, and reservations are required. Tickets are affordable at $5 for adults and only $2 for children (ages 6-17). Children under five get in for free!

The home itself is 18,000 square feet and sits on eight acres of land. While you can’t peek into the private areas of the Governor’s family, the first couple of floors are open to the public and for events. If you are in Des Moines during the Easter holiday, then register your kids for the “Egg Hunt on the Hill!” Kids up to 10 can partake in an easter egg hunt, pictures with the Easter Bunny, and other fun activities.

See Related: Best Gifts for Tour Guides

9. Iowa State Historical Museum

Address: 600 E Locust St, Des Moines, IA 50319

Located in west Des Moines, the Iowa State Historical Museum educates visitors about the state’s history and culture. The museum also houses a library and archive research center that is open to the public.

Learn all about the impact of the American Civil War on residents of Iowa or what movies feature the Hawkeye state, like the popular Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams. They even have mammoth bones on display that were discovered in the Des Moines’ Raccoon River.

The museum also hosts several film festivals around the state throughout the year to get locals and visitors excited about Iowan film and media. See how creative filmmakers get when they have only 48 hours to create a movie and enter it in the “Des Moines 48 Hour Film Project” competition. The Latino Film Festival aims to celebrate Latino creatives in film, and the event has Latino food, live music, performances, and more!

Free parking is available at the State Capitol Complex parking garage, and admission is free as well. The Iowa State Historical Museum is only open during “banking” hours Tuesday – Friday, so 9:00 am – 4:30 pm.

See Related: Best Midwest Festivals Worth Traveling To

10. Salisbury House and Gardens

Address: 4025 Tonawanda Dr, Des Moines, IA 50312

Inspired by a visit to England, the Weeks family took their fortune and modeled the Salisbury House after a centuries-old English manor and stunning outdoor gardens. The Salisbury House has been around since the 1920s, but it includes architectural elements dating back to the 16th Century. The size of the house is impressive, featuring 42 rooms and 16 bathrooms in this 22,500 square feet home.

Who exactly are the Weeks? Carl Weeks formed a cosmetics company with his brother and created the first foundation, which remains a key makeup product today. Carl and his family moved into the Salisbury House in 1926 and lived there until 1954. Today, you can visit the house and gardens and enjoy the fine art collections placed around the rooms.

You can reserve a tour with a guide or do a self-guided tour during open public hours. The house is sometimes closed for private events, so check their calendar for the latest open times. The museum also does fun events around the holidays like the “Ghoulish Gala” or “Tea at The Castle,” so check if there is anything extra fun going on on their events page!

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Spirit Lake, Iowa

Things to Do in Des Moines with Kids

11. Iowa State Fair

Address: 3000 East Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50317

There are state fairs that can pull in over a million visitors each year, and the annual Iowa State Fair is one of them. It is one of the top Des Moines things to do you need to add to your list. The fair is held in August and lasts for several days to allow visitors to fully experience the event.

What makes the Iowa State Fair special over New York’s or Indiana’s, you say? Two words: Butter Cow. Starting in 1911, a butter sculptor (apparently, it’s a thing) will use Iowan butter to sculpt the 600-pound cow each year.

The sculptor also creates an accompanying sculpture, and in past years, there was a sculpture of Harry Potter, Elvis Pressley, and Snow White – all made out of butter! There have only been five sculptors for the Iowa State Fair, and Sarah Pratt holds that title today.

The Iowa State Fair is also known for its “food on a stick.” Sure, you have eaten a corn dog. But have you had a Snickers bar wrapped in a waffle on a stick, fried cherry pie on a stick, or peanut butter and jelly on a stick? There are at least 60+ foods on a stick you can try here if you have the stomach for it!

While the fair does have campgrounds, some people have been on the waiting list for years due to its popularity, so I recommend booking a hotel close by or trying to get into the Sleepy Hollow campsite. Tickets are affordable at $14 for adults and $8 for children (ages 6-11), but some events are an additional cost.

See Related: What is Iowa known for? Facts about the Hawkeye State

12. Science Center of Iowa

Address: 401 W Martin Luther King Jr Pkwy, Des Moines, IA 50309

The Science Center of Iowa is a popular spot for kids to get a hands-on learning experience in STEM. The museum tackles subjects like meteorology, zoology, geology, and astronomy. They have a planetarium where kids can listen to stories under the stars or learn about black holes. Learn how builders do it in the real world with Lego-themed challenges.

What’s cool about the Science Center of Iowa is they will allow sensory-friendly hours on select days for children with sensory-processing challenges. They even offer specialized backpacks you can rent. The backpacks include noise-reducing headphones, sunglasses, a stuffed animal, and distraction tools.

Tickets are $11 for adults and children, but those under 2 are free. The parking garage next to the discovery center is paid to park, but you can find some free lots a few blocks away, like at Court and 2nd Avenue.

See Related: Best Road Trip Games For Couples

13. Adventureland Resort

Adventureland Resort
Image source: TripAdvisor

Address: 3200 Adventureland Dr, Altoona, IA 50009

Also, speaking of other fun things to do in Des Moines, a short drive outside the proper city limits, there is an amusement park with water slides, roller coasters, a water park, and more! Let the kids spend a day splashing around and running around to all the cool attractions. They didn’t forget about the adults. You can buy alcohol in the park and listen to live music from local and national artists, like Everclear or Sean Kingston!

Each year the park continues to expand the features it offers and season passes are an option if you find yourself in Iowa often. Parking is an extra cost and can range from $15-$25 depending on the size of your vehicle.

The amusement park has events throughout the year, like Oktoberfest and Phantom Fall Fest, so check out their events page for the latest fun! If you’re making a family vacation out of it, then consider booking rooms at the Adventureland Inn or their campgrounds. See the Where to Stay section for more information.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Clear Lake, Iowa

14. Blank Park Zoo

Address: 7401 SW 9th St, Des Moines, IA 50315

There are a lot of things to do with kids in Des Moines, and Blank Park Zoo is another great spot that will keep the children happy and occupied. Some of the animal exhibits included are the Free Range Aviary, the Meredith Alpine Exhibit, and the David Kruidenier Australia Adventure.

In the Free Range Aviary, you will find brightly colored tropical birds to admire. Located at the entrance of the Discovery Center, you can watch the cute red pandas at the Meredith Alpine Exhibit. The David Kruidenier Australia Adventure includes special animals from Australia you don’t typically see, like wallabies and kookaburras!

It’s open daily, and tickets are $16 for adults and $10 for children. For an extra cost, your family can have one-on-one time with the zookeepers and certain animals. Such as feeding a giraffe or learning all about the black rhino.

It is the only accredited zoo in Iowa, so they are required to adhere to a strict standard when it comes to animal care. If you want to learn more about Blank Park Zoo’s conservation efforts, then tune into their podcast, “Saving Animals with Blank Park Zoo.”

Fun Things to Do in Des Moines

15. Wells Fargo Arena

Address: 233 Center St, Des Moines, IA 50309

The Wells Fargo Arena opened in 2005 and can seat up to 17,000 people. Since it can do larger events, this is where big names come to play their concerts. Country music reigns in this area, with Garth Brooks and George Strait holding the largest concerts in the arena in 2014 and 2016.

When the arena is not hosting concerts or other events, the local minor league sports teams use the space. Reserve a seat to go support the Iowa Wolves (basketball), Iowa Wild (hockey), or Iowa Barnstormers (football).

There is plenty of parking around, but the lots around the arena are generally paid to park, and vehicles cannot stay overnight. Other options are paid street parking, garage parking, taking the skywalk paths, or the D-Line shuttle that runs between the downtown area and the historic East Village district.

See Related: Best Iowa Family Vacations to Take This Year

16. Principal Park (formerly Sec Taylor Stadium)

While there aren’t any national sports teams, watching the Iowa Cubs at Principal Park is one of those attractions in Des Moines, where you and your friends can enjoy a fun game with some good, midwestern people. Plus, you can’t beat a summer ball game when the stadium is set along the Des Moines River with the city looming in the background. Grab some peanuts and cheer on the Iowa Cubs, a minor league baseball team and an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.

The stadium started as the Pioneer Memorial Stadium and opened in 1947, but by 1959 it was renamed the Sec Taylor Stadium after local sports editor Garner “Sec” Taylor. Following the fate of many aging stadiums and arenas, the Principal Financial Group purchased the building to do another renovation. The field itself is still called Sec Taylor Field as a nod to its former name.

The organization will do themed games to make things more exciting. Some past events included $1 Hot Dogs and Dog Days, where you could bring your pup or let kids have a chance to run the bases after the game!

17. Des Moines Performing Arts at Des Moines Civic Center

Address: 221 Walnut St, Des Moines, IA 50309

The Des Moines Performing Arts are the epicenter of entertainment for the city. The theater company is located in the Des Moines Civic Center and next to the World Food Prize Hall so you can hit both spots in one day!

The theater company puts on several events throughout the year, from musicals to symphonies, to concerts, and more! Not one to be left out, the theater also brings a handful of New York Broadway shows to the Iowan stage. Ticket prices vary based on the show, so check out their website for the latest pricing and shows.

A focus on an arts education is also a key goal for the organization. They offer events like the “Applause Series,” which gives kids a chance to experience live theater for only $1. High school students even get a chance to win awards for their participation in high school musicals.

See Related: Best Things to do in Iowa & Places to Visit

Things to do at Night in Des Moines

18. Noce

Live performance at Noce
Image source: TripAdvisor

Address: 1326 Walnut St #100, Des Moines, IA 50309

Get dressed up and head over to the Noce for some soulful live music. Described as a jazz club and cabaret, the stage welcomes local and national artists.

This one is for adults as the shows are for 21 and up only. While cocktails are offered aplenty, the club recommends eating at one of the local restaurants before the show, as they only serve light snacks. If you want to go all out, then check out nearby restaurants like Proof or Django. The club streams the Saturday shows, so you can still listen to some great music to remember Des Moines once you have returned home!

See Related: Strange Foods in America You Should Try

19. Hello, Marjorie

Hello, Marjorie
Image Source: TripAdvisor

Address: 717 Locust St, Des Moines, IA 50309

In the heart of Des Moines, there are some classy joints, and Hello, Marjorie is one of them. The themed cocktail bar is decorated with eclectic 70s vibes. Neon pink signs brighten the room with the saying, “The prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines.”

While the fun decor can provide photos worthy of Instagram, the focus is really on the cocktails. You can tell the owners take pride in their menu. Who wouldn’t want to sip on an Earl Grey vodka cocktail called “Daydream” while admiring the trippy paintings?

If cocktails aren’t your thing, they also have prosecco and rose on tap. That’s one reason right there for me to go. Beer, seltzer, and wine are also available if you must. The bartenders put as much love and care into their non-alcoholic beverages as well. Try the April Showers or a Rosy Paloma for the perfect summer drink!

See Related: Best Things to do in Ames, Iowa

20. Up-Down Des Moines

Up-Down Des Moines
Image source: TripAdvisor

Address: 500 E Locust St, Des Moines, IA 50309

Adult arcade bars are becoming increasingly popular in metro areas. Maybe it’s the playful nostalgia that Millenials and Gen Xers are feeling these days now that we are “adults” *shudder*. We can’t get enough of Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, and even Dance Revolution. I am definitely guilty of having this game in the early 2000s. I was a maniac on the floor – well, pad.

So come on down and challenge your friends to a Mortal Kombat 3 battle, all while sipping a local brew! Up-Down has plenty of arcade games, pinball machines, Nintendo 64s, and life-size family games like Jenga and skeeball. This is the perfect place for you to let your inner child have some fun while still being old enough to drink! Check out their other locations if you visit Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Kansas City, St. Louis, Nashville, or Oklahoma City!

Best Places to Eat in Des Moines

21. Hessen Haus

Hessen Haus
Image source: TripAdvisor

Address: 101 SW 4th St, Des Moines, IA 50309

After a long day of sightseeing, head over to Hessen Haus for a boot of delicious German beer. The bier hall serves traditional German comfort food like currywurst, giant pretzels, and schnitzel. If you dare, order the Knock-out Currywurst Burger, which is a three-meat behemoth of two beef patties, bacon, and knockwurst. Of course, you can’t forget the cheese, onions, and curry sauce to go on top of it!

Hessen Haus serves over 50 German “biers” on tap and is known for its two-liter boots. Go with a group of friends and participate in Hessen Haus’ drinking tradition, the “Passing of The Boot.” A two-liter boot gets passed around, and there are certain rules to follow, or you’re buying the next round!

The beer hall is the perfect place to make new friends, as everyone joins in on the polka band’s drinking song. You will feel like you’re right there in Munich during Oktoberfest!

See Related: Best German Food to Try | Traditional Types of Food

22. Zombie Burger + Drink Lab

Address: 300 E Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50309

Order a burger and shake at this local joint while life-size zombie mannequins keep an eye on you! Zombie Burger + Drink Lab likes to have a little gory fun with its menu, and it’s a good spot downtown for a quick bite to eat and drink.

The restaurant focuses on gourmet burgers and shakes but does have salads and other menu items. Adult beverages are also available. Try combinations like the “The Walking Ched” burger and “Human Centipeach” shake – yum, yum!

See Related: Ways To Avoid the Fast Food Trap!

23. Coffee Cats Cafe

Coffee Cats Cafe
Image source: Pexels

Address: 312 5th St, West Des Moines, IA 50265

From the traditional to the outright weird, there’s the perfect eatery for everyone in Des Moines, even for those obsessed with all things feline. If you’re looking for a cuddle with your coffee, head down to Valley Junction in West Des Moines and pop into Coffee Cats Cafe – the ONLY cat cafe in Iowa!

Apart from the standard coffee and tea fare you’d expect to find at any cafe, there is also a bounty of fresh, homemade cakes, cookies, pastries, and doughnuts to be enjoyed here. They also specialize in delicious Italian sodas. Obviously, the food and drinks are not what this place is all about – despite how good they are.

This joint is the place to go if you are cat crazy or you’re interested in bringing home a new member to your family. Did I forget to mention that? Yep! All of the kitties you can meet and cuddle with at the cafe are shelter kitties looking for new homes! For Adoption info and reservations (which are necessary) check out their website.

Outdoor Activities in Des Moines

24. Rent a Kayak, Paddleboard, or Raft a River

Image of a man kayaking

Address: John R Grubb Ln, Des Moines, IA 50315 (Gray’s Lake Park); 2500 Grand Avenue, West Des Moines, IA 50265 (Raccoon River Park)

Des Moines comes alive in summer, and there are some great outdoor activities for all ages. Rent a kayak or canoe and check out the local lakes where you can also admire the city skyline.

Once a part of the Raccoon River, Gray’s Lake Park became a recreation park for downtown Des Moines in 1970, and a million people visit it each year. Work up an appetite with kayaks or paddleboards before enjoying a picnic on the beach, where families also enjoy swimming. If you stay until after sunset, you can see the bright lights of the Kruidenier Trail that loops around the lake.

Check out the Blue Heron Lake at River Raccoon Park in West Des Moines. Many people come here to fish, bike, swim, kayak, and more. The lake is a no-wake zone, so it’s perfect for paddleboarding and kayaking.

Lower Pigeon River is known for its rafting fun, and even kids can come along because this section typically has calmer waters. If you have never done water rafting before, then this is a good spot to get your feet wet!

25. Hiking Trails

Mountain for hiking

Address: 4640 NW 66th Ave, Johnston, IA 50131 (Sycamore Trail); E. University Ave./John Pat Dorrian Trail just west of E. Sixth St. (Neal Smith Trail); 7200 SE 5th St, Des Moines, IA 50315 (Fort Des Moines Park),

Isn’t Iowa too flat to have good hiking? Nonsense! While there may not be peaks like the Rocky Mountain range, the state does have rolling hills and tons of walking/hiking trails. You don’t have to travel far to feel like you stepped out of the city and immersed yourself in nature.

If you want a decent route where you can bring your dog and only takes a couple of hours, then check out the Sycamore Trail (7-mile roundtrip). This one is shaded in many spots for those hot summer days. The Neal Smith network of trails will give you views of the river, city, wildflower meadows, and forested areas. There are some hills and elevations if you are looking for something with a bit of a challenge.

Near the Blank Park Zoo, there is a park called Fort Des Moines Park, where you can explore a few short hiking trails (around 1.5 miles). There is a 14-acre pond in the middle of the park, so visitors come to fish, kayak, and paddleboard here as well.

See Related: Best Family Road Trips in the US

26. Holiday Winter Activities

Brenton Skating Plaza
Image source: TripAdvisor

Address: 520 Robert D. Ray Drive | Des Moines, IA 50309 (Brenton Skating Plaza)

The winter in Des Moines is cold, with December through February as the coldest months. Yet, locals don’t let the frigid temperatures stop them from having a little bit of fun outside.

From November to March, lace up those ice skates and take a spin at the Brenton Skating Plaza along the Principal River Walk. The outdoor rink can only hold up to 220 people, so reservations are recommended!

Starting after Thanksgiving, the historic Valley Junction district in West Des Moines decorates the shops and streets with over 125,000 lights for the holidays. During this time, the stores will extend their hours on Thursdays to give customers more time to find that perfect gift. Shop local and buy something unique your loved one can treasure forever.

The Beaverdale neighborhood of Des Moines knows how to get into the holiday spirit. Their annual holiday lights competition features over 50 homes, and some are interactive for extra entertainment. Pack up the kids and enjoy how creative each home gets to win the monetary prize and neighborhood bragging rights! Other events include the lighting of a central Christmas Tree, a festive bike ride, and a costumed bar crawl!

The Waterbury neighborhood also hosts its own lights competition, with about 120 homes participating. Check out both for an extra dose of festive fun!

See Related: Cheapest Shopping Destinations in the World

Where to Stay in Des Moines

Budget Hotels

Baymont by Wyndham

Baymont by Wyndham
Image source: TripAdvisor

Address: 4685 NE 14th St, Des Moines, IA 50313

Close to the airport, the Baymont by Wyndham hotel has comfortable suites with kitchenettes. Amenities include a pool, sauna, free parking, free daily breakfast, and a shuttle to and from the airport!

La Quinta by Wyndham

La Quinta by Wyndham
Image source: TripAdvisor

Address: 1785 11th St NW, Altoona, IA 50009

The Des Moines La Quinta by Wyndham is pet-friendly and comes with a fitness center, self-service laundry, a pool, free parking, and free breakfast. It’s next to Interstate 80 for easy access, and there is a Cinemark theater next door.

See Related: Proven Ways to Get Free Hotel Rooms

Mid Range Hotels

Hyatt Place

Hyatt Place
Image source: TripAdvisor

Address: 418 6th Avenue, Des Moines, IA, 50309

The Hyatt Place hotel is within walking distance of the Des Moines Civic Center, World Food Prize Hall, Science Center of Iowa, great restaurants, and more! Amenities include a pool, fitness center, free airport shuttle, and free continental breakfast. It is pet friendly, but there is an $18/day self-parking fee.

Embassy Suites by Hilton

Embassy Suites by Hilton
Image source: TripAdvisor

Address: 101 E Locust St, Des Moines, IA 50309

On the historic East Village side, stay at the pet-friendly Embassy Suites to get city and river views, plus it’s a great spot to see the Iowa State Capitol lit up at night. Spacious rooms with a kitchenette and a daily happy hour with drinks and snacks. Amenities include a pool, fitness center, free hot breakfast, and an additional restaurant.

Luxury Hotels

Surety Hotel

Surety Hotel
Image source: TripAdvisor

Address: 206 6th Ave, Des Moines, IA 50309

If you are looking for a luxurious spot for your vacation or special event, then check into the Surety Hotel with its rich jewel tones and corn whiskey vibes. They have an indoor restaurant, coffee bar, and courtyard patio bar for the summer months. For some lively fun, the hotel brings in music artists to perform in the courtyard, offers yoga sessions, and does a dog-friendly cocktail hour called “yappy hour.”

Des Lux

Des Lux Hotel
Image Source: TripAdvisor

Address: 800 Locust St, Des Moines, IA, 50309

If you are wanting some of that old-world glam with fireplaces, then Des Lux may be for you. The hotel offers a free airport shuttle and free continental breakfast. Get your hair cut at their onsite salon, or relax with a spa massage.

See Related: Where to Stay in Des Moines: Best Areas & Neighborhoods

Rentals (Airbnb, VRBO)

North of grand Tiny Home

For couples wanting to try something different and cozy, then check out this modern Airbnb tiny home with its own rooftop hangout! Located in the Des Moines neighborhood North of Grand, you can still walk to some great restaurants like Cheese Bar and Harbinger. Garage parking is available for one vehicle.

North of Grand House

This Des Moines house is still close to downtown but can sleep up to seven people and has 2.5 baths. There is a sauna to enjoy, especially if you are braving those Iowa winters! There’s a local spot to rent bikes close by, and there are restaurants you can get to pretty easily by bike or walking.

Camping and RVs

Camping and RVs

Des Moines and the surrounding areas have a plethora of Camping and RV parks to relax in for a night or two.

Walnut Woods State Park

Address: 3155 SE Walnut Woods Dr., West Des Moines, IA 50265

Located near West Des Moines, there are RV water and electric hookups, a dumping station, and vault toilets. This camp is pet-friendly, so bring your furry friends along for the ride. There are no spots for tent camping.

Sleepy Hollow Sports Park

Address: 4051 Dean Ave, Des Moines, IA 50317

Since the fair campgrounds are hard to come by, then I recommend trying to get a spot at Sleepy Hollow as the next option. It is a mile from the Iowa State Fairgrounds, and Sleepy Hollow offers free shuttles to and from the fair. Amenities include power, water, hot showers, restrooms, and free mini-golf!

See Related: Best State Parks in Iowa to Visit

Getting Around

Des Moines is a walkable city, so renting a car or RV would be better suited to see other areas of the state. If staying downtown, then I recommend renting a bike from Des Moines BCycle to get around or taking the free public transportation!

Free Public Transportation

The Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) has 150 buses to help visitors and locals get around the Greater Des Moines area. The D-Line shuttle hits all the popular Des Moines attractions on Locust Street and Grant Avenue and runs every 15 minutes Monday – Saturday. The LINK shuttle travels mostly north to south in the downtown area and runs every 15 minutes Monday – Friday.

See Related: Best Bike-Friendly Cities in the World


Is Des Moines dog friendly?

Yes! There are several outdoor spots where you can take your friendly furbaby, like Living History Farms, Gray’s Lake Park, and the Downtown Farmers Market, to name a few. Stay at the Surety Hotel, where they do dog happy hours when the weather is nice!

How easy is it to get around Des Moines, IA?

The downtown area is very walkable, but there are many transportation options to get around downtown Des Moines like free shuttles, buses, and bikes.

What sports teams are in Des Moines, IA?

Des Moines is home to the minor league teams, the Iowa Wolves (basketball), Iowa Wolves (hockey), Iowa Barnstormers (football), and Iowa Cubs (baseball). Buy tickets to see them at the Wells Fargo Arena or Principal Park!

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