Des Moines Trip Guide | Midwest Living

Des Moines Trip Guide

Visiting the state capitol, the Iowa State Fair, Adventureland Park and a world-class sculpture park are just a few of the things to do in Des Moines. Check out our guide for what to do, where to eat and where to stay in Iowa's capital.

Politicians and 4-H'ers find plenty to do in Des Moines, home to both the capitol and state fair. The central Iowa city also appeals with high-end eats, fine art and the state's largest amusement park.

John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park

John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park


Adventureland Park The $9 million Monster steel roller coaster joined 100-plus rides and attractions last year. Cool off at Iowa’s longest lazy river.

Blank Park Zoo Almost 1,500 animals call the zoo’s 25 acres home. Catch a seal show, walk among wallabies, and, on the African boardwalk, see giraffes and rhinos.

Brenton Skating Plaza Open seasonally, the outdoor rink along the Des Moines River stays busy with visitors eager to skate with the city skyline as their backdrop.

Des Moines Art Center The 5,000-piece collection includes works by Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse, Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe. Large, airy galleries reflect the styles of architects Eliel Saarinen, I.M. Pei and Richard Meier.

Des Moines Symphony Masterworks concerts hit the stage each season; the free outdoor Yankee Doodle Pops concert is a local favorite.

Downtown Farmers Market On Saturday mornings, blocked-off streets burst with fresh produce and products from 58 surrounding counties.

Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden A half-acre pond with seasonal plantings anchors outdoor gardens; tropical plants thrive in the renovated domed conservatory.

High Trestle Trail The 25-mile trail starting in Ankeny, 12 miles north of Des Moines, stars a ½-mile-long, 13-story bridge over the Des Moines River Valley. To evoke the sense of traveling through one of Iowa’s historical coal mines, 43 steel frames spiral along the bridge. Blue LED lights on these “cribs” glow at night.

High Trestle Trail

High Trestle Trail

Historic Valley Junction The west-suburban antiquing and crafting district with more than 150 businesses is an appealing antique itself.

Iowa Cubs The Chicago Cubs’ triple-A affiliate plays in downtown’s Principal Park.

Iowa State Capitol Take a free guided tour of the gold-capped capitol to get the full story of this Renaissance-style structure, built between 1871 and 1886.

Iowa State Fair Each year, more than 1 million people come looking for spectacles like the Butter Cow and the 1,000-plus-pound Big Boar (August 10–20, 2017).

John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park Twenty-eight modern sculptures valued at more than $40 million scatter across a two-block downtown park. View on your own or request a tour from The Des Moines Art Center, which curates the collection.

Living History Farms Tread boardwalks and dirt paths to three eras of farms (1700, 1850 and 1900) and an 1875 town with a store, blacksmith and school.

Living History Farms

Living History Farms

Salisbury House and Gardens Rare and first-edition books join acclaimed art at this 1920s Tudor-style estate.

Science Center of Iowa The world comes to life in hands-on exhibits: Make robots and rockets, race cars or to the stars, and watch a newscast or an Imax movie.

Science Center of Iowa

Science Center of Iowa

State Historical Museum of Iowa Travel from the past—carry pioneer-era water buckets and listen to tapes of coal miners—into the future by learning about the caucus.

West End Architectural Salvage Castoffs-turned-treasures fill four floors in the shop that inspired the HGTV series West End Salvage.


801 Chophouse Savor USDA-prime steaks, potatoes with Iowa's Maytag blue cheese, and great wine in a restaurant known as a clubby enclave for politicos.

Alba A 1950s Art Moderne exterior gives way to an elegant wood-and-glass interior. Duck breast with risotto, chorizo fries and lava cake with sea salt all score.

Bubba Southern favorites—fried chicken, shrimp and grits, pimento mac and cheese—sparkle under regionally inspired decor like chandeliers, magnolia paintings and a bowtie collection.

Centro Crowds come in for contemporary Italian. If you want room for steak, pasta, panini or thin-crust pizza, beware the basket of addictive fresh focaccia.

The Cheese Shop of Des Moines More than 100 specialty cheeses from around the world melt into sandwiches, fondue and macaroni at the tiny, well-stocked shop and cafe.

Crème Cupcake and Dessert Daily flavors might include Peanut Butter Passion and Strawberry Angel. The Dessert Lounge sells treats paired with cocktails in the evening.

Eatery A The open kitchen turns out wood-fired pizzas and Mediterranean food like Moroccan carrots and fattoush. Inventive cocktails enhance a casually upscale experience.

Eatery A

Eatery A

Exile Brewing Company Sample high-quality microbrews and delicious braised pork shank in a loftlike setting with tables made from reclaimed barnwood.

The High Life Lounge The 1960s come to life in this downtown dive bar. Try inexpensive classics like the chicken pot pie, goulash or meat loaf dinner.

Miyabi 9 In downtown's East Village, sit at the sushi bar to watch chefs roll creations like the Miami Heat (salmon, tuna, yellowtail, cream cheese) and Dragon Rolls (tempura shrimp and spicy tuna).

Palmer’s Deli and Market  Parking is tough here at lunchtime for good reason: fresh-made sandwiches, soups, salads and jumbo cookies.

Tursi’s Latin King A family-owned favorite, it has served Italian fare for more than 60 years on the East Side. Try the toasted ravioli or charbroiled chicken spiedini.

Where to stay

Butler House on Grand Local interior designers decorated the seven bedrooms in this 1923 Tudor-style B&B across the street from the Des Moines Art Center.

Des Lux Hotel Check into a room or suite with a fireplace and whirlpool, then unwind over a martini in the wood-paneled bar in this downtown hotel.

For information: Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau

Add Your Comment