On Saturdays, the Downtown Farmers Market floods the streets with vendors selling fresh produce and handmade goods.
The shops of the East Village (Raygun, Allspice) provide trendy shopping, and the ever-changing menu items at hip and urban Alba keep lunch on the town interesting.
An afternoon is well-spent on a free guided tour of the Iowa State Capitol or exploring the 27 works from acclaimed artists at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park.
Sample high-quality microbrews and delicious veal schnitzel 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 private courtyard (from $149).
Crab-cake eggs Benedict and spinach frittata fill the brunch menu at downtown Centro.
The free-admission Des Moines Arts Center contains three wings of top-notch art and an airy venue for gourmet meals.
West End Architectural Salvage inspired the HGTV series by the same name; pickers hunt for the perfect castoff turned treasure.
Historic Valley Junction, in nearby West Des Moines, welcomes shoppers into both funky and fancy stores.
Back near downtown, French cuisine, including escargot and steak frites, and a great wine list shine at comfortably elegant Bistro Montage.
An eclectic lineup of musical acts gives 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 and kiddie rides, plus the state’s longest lazy river. Opening in June: The Storm Chaser, a towering swing ride. (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 state 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. Grand spectacles include livestock like the 1,000-pound-plus Big Boar and Grandstand shows and concerts. Set for August 7–17, 2014. (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, in-room workout packages and a sleek, midcentury modern style. The lounge serves regional wines and beers and makes a great perch for people-watching through street-level windows. From $129. (515) 244-2151; renaissancesavery.com