The state's capital city, Des Moines has evolved into a sophisticated weekend destination with reasonable prices. Parks and trails round out boutique shops and independent gastronomy gems.
Water Garden, Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
| Credit: Ivory House Photography/Courtesy of Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

Day 1

After exploring the Downtown Farmers Market vendors' fresh produce and handmade goods (on Saturday mornings), head to the shops of the East Village (Raygun, AllSpice) for boutique finds.

Also in the East Village area, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden continues to expand its outdoor gardens adjoining the original domed conservatory, opening two new gardens in 2022. Its Trellis Cafe is the perfect place for lunch, with seasonal soups, salads, sandwiches and pastas.

John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. You can spot horse figures by Deborah Butterfield in at least seven Midwest parks; this one is her largest piece.

An afternoon is well-spent on a free tour of the Iowa State Capitol and exploring more than two dozen works from acclaimed artists at the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park.

Sample high-quality microbrews and delicious pork shank in the loftlike setting of Exile Brewing Company or enjoy the view from The Republic on Grand, a rooftop bar that crowns the AC Hotel Des Moines East Village. Near The Republic on Grand, the ever-changing menu at eclectic Alba keeps dinner on the town interesting.

Stay at the AC Hotel Des Moines East Village, the small yet luxurious Des Lux Hotel downtown, or the recently renovated Surety Hotel, where mid-mod decor blends with Beaux Arts architecture.

Day 2

The free-admission Des Moines Arts Center contains three wings of top-notch art. Guided and self-guided tours are available.

Shoppers find items both funky and fancy in Historic Valley Junction in nearby West Des Moines—plus St. Kilda Collective, one of the family of area restaurants from Australian-raised restaurateur Alexander Hall. Have a lunch or brunch of avocado toast, seared salmon and eggs or housemade crumpets.

For the afternoon, visit the 1920s Salisbury House for a window into the life and collections of cosmetics magnate Carl Weeks and his wife Edith. Or if you're with the kids, choose from among the family-friendly activities below.

Living History Farms
Living History Farms
| Credit: Jay Wilde

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. 

2. Science Center of Iowa

Kids create enormous bubbles, build rockets and marvel at shows about the stars at the downtown science center.

3. Adventureland

Rent a cabana in the water park at one of Iowa's largest tourist attractions: a theme park with thrill rides, kiddie rides and the state's longest lazy river.

4. Iowa Cubs

The fan-friendly games of the Chicago Cubs' triple-A affiliate make for fun summer nights in Principal Park, where the capitol shines over the outfield wall. On Fridays, fireworks follow the games.

5. Blank Park Zoo

Catch a seal show, walk among wallabies, and see giraffes and rhinos on the African boardwalk in this midsize zoo.

Save the Date

Of the 200-plus food vendors at the Iowa State Fair, more than 50 hawk foods on a stick. And more than 1 million people attend the August event to see grand spectacles including livestock like the 1,000-pound-plus Big Boar.