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.

By The editors of
April 05, 2013

Due to possible coronavirus-related travel restrictions, please check destinations' websites for the current status of attractions, events, restaurants and lodgings.

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


Adventureland Park A $6 million spinning roller coaster, The Phoenix, 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 22 acres home. Catch a seal show, walk among wallabies and feed giraffes.

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 and Georgia O’Keeffe. 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, streets burst with fresh produce, crafts and products from 50 surrounding counties.

East Village shopping Between the state Capitol and the Des Moines River, browse Raygun for sassy souvenirs and clothing, Gong Fu Tea for teas and teaware, and Domestica for playful cards, posters and jewelry.

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

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

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

Historic Valley Junction The west-suburban antiquing and crafting district with dozens of 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 12–22, 2021).

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.

Living History Farms Explore three eras of farms (1700, 1850 and 1900) and an 1875 town with a store, blacksmith shop and school.

Living History Farms

Salisbury House and Gardens See acclaimed art and restored rooms at this 1920s Tudor-style estate.

Science Center of Iowa The world comes to life in hands-on exhibits: Make robots and rockets, watch a newscast, or build an arch.

Science Center of Iowa

State Historical Museum of Iowa Travel from the past—see a Native American wickiup and a Conestoga wagon—into the present.

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 The happy hour from 5 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.

Bubba Southern favorites-fried chicken, shrimp and grits, pimento mac and cheese-sparkle under regionally inspired decor like 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.

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.

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

Eatery A

El Bait Shop Choices, choices: 262 beers on tap and retro foods (spicy Velvet Elvis Dip, Spam Egg and Cheese sandwiches) from the menu of its neighbor, The High Life Lounge.

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

The Hall More than 50 beers on tap, dishes from a rotating selection of food trucks and special events, such as trivia night, star at a refurbished railcar building in Valley Junction.

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 Sit at the sushi bar to watch chefs make rolls like the Miami Heat (salmon, tuna, cream cheese).

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

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.

Tursi's Latin King A family-owned favorite, it has served Italian fare for more than 70 years on the East Side. Try the toasted ravioli.

Where to stay

AC Hotel The Marriott property in the East Village features sleek, contemporary rooms with hardwood floors. The rooftop Republic on Grand serves craft cocktails and small plates; guests enjoy great downtown views.

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

Embassy Suites by Hilton The all-suite hotel in the East Village overlooks the Des Moines River.

For information: Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau

More to explore

Des Moines makes a great base for exploring other attractions less than an hour's drive away, including the covered bridges of Madison County, the Iowa Arboretum, Ledges State Park, the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad and the Dutch-influenced town of Pella.