Every four years, the nation's political spotlight turns to Iowa and its capital, Des Moines. Here are some of the city's favorite gathering places—whenever you happen to visit!

By Ginger Crichton
February 03, 2020
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East Village shopping Between the state capitol and the Des Moines River, browse Raygun for sassy souvenirs, Gong Fu Tea for teas and teaware, and Domestica for playful cards, posters and jewelry. eastvillagedesmoines.com

Hello, Marjorie Sip cocktails like the Editor's Note (bourbon, apricot liqueur, smoked apple bitters, fresh apple) in a colorful space on the first floor of the old Des Moines Register building. hellomarjorie.com

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.   legis.iowa.gov

Iowa State Capitol

John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park One of Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculptures was added to the downtown park in 2019, its 10th anniversary. In all, 31 pieces dot the two-block garden area curated by the Des Moines Art Center. desmoinesartcenter.org

John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park

State Historical Museum of Iowa Iowa has been the first U.S. state to pick presidential candidates for nearly 50 years. In a new exhibit, First in the Nation, 300-plus campaign pins, a film and a 2020 candidate selfies station highlight the evolution of Iowa's sway in presidential bids.  iowaculture.gov

Campaign pins
Courtesy of The State Historical Society of Iowa

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.  801chophouse.com

Alba The happy hour to 6:30 p.m. (plus $6 burgers on Mondays) makes this a great choice, as do the New American plates of fare like pork belly rillettes. albadsm.com

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

Cheese Bar of Des Moines The star dish of the Ingersoll Avenue hot spot is a luscious three-cheese fondue, but elaborate boards, toasts, sandwiches and baked macaroni tempt as well. cheesebardsm.com

Cheese Bar of Des Moines
Jason Donnelly

Eatery A The open kitchen turns out wood-fired pizzas and Mediterranean food such as fattoush. eateryadsm.com

El Bait Shop Choices, choices: 250-plus beers on tap and retro foods (Velvet Elvis Dip, Spam Egg and Cheese) from the menu of its neighbor, The High Life Lounge. elbaitshop.com

Exile Brewing Company Sample high-quality microbrews and delicious fried chicken tender salad in a loftlike setting. And don't forget to snap a selfie in front of the fun mural outside. exilebrewing.com

Harbinger New American and Asian flavors infuse the small plates at this eatery west of downtown. Savory sweet-potato pancakes arrive on stoneware with a side of fennel-citrus salad. harbingerdsm.com

St. Kilda The family of restaurants from Australian-raised restaurateur Alexander Hall now includes St. Kilda Surf and Turf in the East Village, St. Kilda Cafe and Bakery in the heart of downtown, and the original St. Kilda in a renovated 111-year-old building. All offer variations on healthy modern cuisine. stkildadsm.com

St. Kilda's

AC Hotel The Marriott property in the East Village features sleek, contemporary rooms with hardwood floors. A rooftop bar serves craft cocktails and small plates; guests will enjoy great downtown views. marriott.com