After exploring the Downtown Farmers Market vendors' fresh produce and handmade goods, head to the shops of the East Village (Raygun, Porch Light, AllSpice) for boutique finds.
The ever-changing menu at eclectic Alba keeps lunch on the town interesting.
An afternoon is well-spent on a free guided tour of the Iowa State Capitol and exploring the 28 works from acclaimed artists at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park.
Sample high-quality microbrews and delicious pork shank in the loftlike setting of Exile Brewing Company; follow it up with a red velvet cupcake in the dessert lounge of Crème Cupcake.
The small yet luxurious Des Lux Hotel delivers rich furnishings and a solid martini menu at the bar (from $209).
Crab-cake eggs Benedict and spinach frittata are on the brunch menu at bustling Centro, known for its pizzas blistered in a coal-fired oven.
The free-admission Des Moines Arts Center contains three wings of top-notch art and an airy venue for gourmet meals.
Pickers hunt for castoffs-turned-treasures at West End Architectural Salvage, which inspired the HGTV series West End Salvage.
Shoppers find items both funky and fancy in Historic Valley Junction in nearby West Des Moines.
Downtown, French cuisine, including foie gras and frites, shines at comfortably elegant Django.
An eclectic lineup of musical acts gives the corner bar Gas Lamp a rollicking vibe.
More information: Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau; (800) 451-2625; catchdesmoines.com 
5 Great Places to Take the Kids
1 Living History Farms Tread boardwalks and dirt paths through three eras of working farms and an 1875 town with a general store, blacksmith and print shop. (515) 278-5286; livinghistoryfarms.org 
2 Science Center of Iowa Kids create enormous bubbles, build rockets and marvel at shows about the stars. Immerse yourself in a movie in the Imax Dome theater. (515) 274-6868; sciowa.org 
3 Adventureland Rent a cabana in the water park at one of Iowa’s largest tourist attractions: a theme park with thrill rides, kiddie rides and the state’s longest lazy river. Don't pass up the 100-foot-tall Ferris wheel. (800) 532-1286; adventurelandpark.com 
4 Iowa Cubs The fan-friendly games of the Chicago Cubs’ triple-A affiliate make for fun summer nights in Principal Park, where the capitol shines over the outfield wall. On Fridays, fireworks follow the games. (515) 243-6111; iowacubs.com 
5 Blank Park Zoo Catch a seal show, walk among wallabies, and see giraffes and rhinos on the African boardwalk in this midsize zoo. (515) 285-4722; blankparkzoo.com 
One Big Party
Of the 200-plus food vendors at the Iowa State Fair, more than 50 hawk foods on a stick. And more than 1 million people attend the August event to see grand spectacles including livestock like the 1,000-pound-plus Big Boar. (800) 545-3247; iowastatefair.org 
The village of Scala Coeli in Calabria, Italy, gave Cafe di Scala its name and cooking style. Dine on chicken stuffed with cheese and wrapped in prosciutto or the owner’s namesake, Cavatelli di Lemmo, studded with locally made Graziano sausage (cafediscala.com ). Through three to four productions a summer, the Des Moines Metro Opera presents classics like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and La Boheme. Look for performances from late June to mid-July (desmoinesmetroopera.org ).
Stay to Remember
The Renaissance Des Moines Savery Hotel provides luxury linens and a sleek, midcentury modern style. In the lounge of this historical downtown hotel, street-level windows make a great perch for people-watching while sipping a regional wine or local brew. From $129. (515) 244-2151; renaissancesavery.com