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.
Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge, Des Moines, IA
Credit: Karla Conrad

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.


Adventureland Park

The Dragon Slayer, a 4D Free Spin roller coaster, recently joined 100-plus rides and attractions. 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.

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.

Downtown Farmers Market

On summer Saturday mornings, come for fresh produce, cheeses, meats, flowers, baked goods and crafts.

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 Eden for fragrant soaps, candles and lotions.

Water Garden, Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
| Credit: Ivory House Photography/Courtesy of Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

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.

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 11–21, 2022).

John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park
John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park
| Credit: Blaine Moats

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
Living History Farms
| Credit: Jay Wilde

Living History Farms

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

Science Center of Iowa

The world comes to life in hands-on exhibits: Explore Iowa's natural habitats or learn about the night sky.

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

Eat + Drink


The daily happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. (with $8 burger and fries) makes this a great choice, as do the New American plates of fare, like pork belly rillettes.


Southern favorites—fried chicken, shrimp and grits, pimento mac 'n'cheese—sparkle under regionally inspired decor.

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
Eatery A
| Credit: Blaine Moats

Eatery A

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

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

Food sales (burgers, pizza, pub fare) support a culinary job training program for the disadvantaged. Also: Find 54 drinks on tap at the railcar building in Valley Junction.


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.

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.

St. Kilda

The family of restaurants from Australian-raised restaurateur Alexander Hall now includes St. Kilda Collective in Valley Junction with variations on healthy modern cuisine such as avocado toast with radish sprouts. Hall replaced East Village's St. Kilda Surf and Turf with Franka Pizzeria in late 2020 and opened a St. Kilda Cafe and Bakery as well as a second Franka Pizzeria in the Des Moines suburb of Clive in 2022.

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.


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.

Surety Hotel

Mid-mod decor blends with Beaux Arts architecture in this 1913 downtown building, which recently underwent a top-to-bottom renovation.

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.