If you've ever driven through Des Moines, you've probably noticed the state Capitol, its gold dome glimmering like a torch on sunny days. It's a strikingly ornate structure, and you can get a great view of it from Interstate-235. Seeing the capitol from a distance (or even from the outside) doesn't compare to exploring its interior though, so we recommend taking time for a free guided tour. In summer, there’s a regular tour schedule, but during the school year, you might have to tag along with a group of kids. Call first, and they'll tell you when an older, less rowdy class is coming through.
The docents know their stuff and pack their narration with interesting history and architectural trivia. You'll see a Civil War battle flag, a hand-carved Supreme Court bench (look for an adorable wise owl in the details), a geometric error in the tiled floor, a collection of dolls wearing the First Ladies' inaugural gowns, the spectacular law library with elegant spiral staircases and—if you dare—the knee-knocking view from high up inside the dome. Our favorite factoid? If you took all the gold leaf from the roof and crushed it into a ball in your hand, it would be about the size of a softball. Amazing!