What To Do In Des Moines? Explore 17+ Top Places To Visit!

Escape Cadet Staff

Welcome to Des Moines!

Did you know that Des Moines is much more than just Iowa’s capital? In this article, we’re going to discover the delights of this city together. We’ll unearth its rich agricultural history, vibrant cultural scene, and robust political landscape. And that’s not all! We’ve also got the low-down on the best outdoor recreational activities it has to offer.

Ever wondered what it feels like to be a part of a tight-knit community in a city that has the feels of a small-town, while also housing young professionals? Curious about the diverse food scene, the pulsating sports scene, the top-notch educational institutions and healthcare services, and the charming neighborhoods of Des Moines? Stay tuned, as we explore these aspects and more.

Whether you’re considering moving to the area, planning a visit, or simply interested in learning more about what makes this city tick, this article has got you covered. So sit back, relax, and join us on this journey through the heart of Iowa.

The Highlights of Des Moines

Des Moines, the heart of Iowa, is known for its vibrant community, rich history, and unique cultural experiences. Let’s explore what makes this city truly special.

Agricultural Excellence

One aspect that sets Des Moines apart is its thriving and influential agribusiness scene. As the home to the World Food Prize, our city is at the forefront of global food production and agricultural science.

Political prominence

Des Moines also plays a significant role in U.S politics. Known as the starting point for the U.S Presidential Primary Cycle, the Iowa caucuses can make or break a candidate’s campaign. The city is buzzing with political activity every election cycle, highlighting its crucial role in national politics.

Arts and Culture

The vibrant cultural scene is another world renowned aspect of Des Moines. The renowned Des Moines Art Center and the annual Des Moines Arts Festival showcase stunning works of art and have made the city a cultural hub in the Midwest.

Des Moines Art CenterA renowned museum and school that seeks to engage diverse local and international audiences with the art of today through their museum’s collection and exhibitions, art classes, and community events.
Des Moines Arts FestivalAn annual event that fills the downtown area with visual and performing arts. Includes activities for kids, food booths, and live music.

Outdoor Recreation

Des Moines is also loved for its opportunities for outdoor exploration. The city offers an extensive network of parks and trails, and its prime location by two rivers allows for a myriad of water-related activities.

  • Trail systems: With over 800 miles of trails, both within the city and extending out into rural areas, there’s plenty of room for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
  • River activities: Situated at the junction of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers, visitors can enjoy canoeing, rowing, and leisurely river walks.

Strong Sense of Community

Lastly, Des Moines is known for its tight-knit, friendly community. Voted one of the best places for young professionals, the city offers a mix of big-city benefits with a small-town feel. Its lively festivals, farmers’ markets, and community events bring people together and create a welcoming atmosphere.

More Gems of Des Moines

an aerial view of a city at sunset

Now that we’ve established the prominent cultural experiences, agricultural influence, fruitful political landscape, and extensive outdoor activities in Des Moines, let’s delve into some of the other noteworthy highlights that warrant a visit to this inviting city.

Culinary Delights

One of the underrated aspects of Des Moines is its thriving food scene. The city offers a variety of dining experiences, ranging from traditional Midwestern fare to international cuisine.

  • Downtown Farmer’s Market: Known as one of the top farmers’ markets in the US, this bustling marketplace offers fresh produce, delectable baked goods, and unique local products. It’s the perfect spot for food lovers.
  • Multi-cultural Cuisine: African, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Asian—the list goes on. Des Moines’ diverse food scene caters to the taste buds of everyone.
  • Craft Beer: With numerous award-winning breweries, Des Moines is fast becoming a destination for craft beer enthusiasts. Several breweries even offer tours.

Pulsating Sports Scene

Des Moines also offers plenty for the sports fan. From Minor League Baseball and hockey to college wrestling, the city provides a variety of spectator sports.

  • Iowa Cubs: Catch a game of Minor League Baseball at the iconic Principal Park and enjoy breathtaking views of the Des Moines skyline.
  • Iowa Wild: A night out at an Iowa Wild game offers not just hockey, but high-energy entertainment for the whole family.
  • Wrestling: As the host of numerous NCAA Wrestling Championships, Des Moines has a deeply-rooted wrestling culture. The National Wrestling Hall of Fame’s Dan Gable Museum is a must-visit for wrestling fans.

Engaging Educational Institutions

For those interested in educational activities, Des Moines homes outstanding institutions that engage visitors of all ages.

Science Center of IowaA place where families and individuals can explore and learn about science through interactive exhibits and live programs.
Living History FarmsThis interactive outdoor history museum educates visitors about Iowa’s rich agricultural history from different eras. A fun and educational experience for the whole family.

While the aforementioned aspects shed light on Des Moines’ appeal, the true essence of Des Moines can only be fully appreciated through visiting and immersing oneself in the welcoming, vibrant, and diverse city.

Extraordinary Des Moines Neighborhoods

Exploring Des Moines is not complete without visiting its charming neighborhoods; each presenting its unique charm and character.

East Village

This eclectic neighborhood radiates an energetic atmosphere with its selection of trendy boutiques, specialty shops, eateries, and nightlife establishments. The Historic East Village is a favorite among both locals and visitors, known for its interesting blend of old and new – historic structures housing innovative businesses.

Sherman Hill

Carrying a rich history, Sherman Hill draws attention with its beautifully restored Victorian homes, adding a sense of elegance to Des Moines’ cityscape. This neighborhood is also home to the nationally-recognised Hoyt Sherman Place, a venue for musical performances and art exhibits.

Drake Neighborhood

The Drake Neighborhood is teeming with student life being home to Drake University – a prestigious private university. This ensures a variety of fun hangout spots, including coffee houses, bookshops, and unique eateries.

East VillageA vibrant district mixing historic structures and modern businesses, acclaimed for its boutiques and nightlife.
Sherman HillNoted for its historical Victorian homes and the cultural venue of Hoyt Sherman Place.
Drake NeighborhoodTeeming with student life and cultural hangout spots, thanks to the famous Drake University.

Music and Entertainment

Des Moines is known for its music scene that appeals to lovers of all genres. The city offers a variety of venues showcasing everything from local bands to internationally-known artists.

  • Wooly’s: With a regular lineup of local and touring bands, Wooly’s is a go-to live music venue.
  • Des Moines Civic Center: Home to Broadway shows and concerts, the Des Moines Civic Center is a fantastic place for high-quality entertainment.
  • 80/35 Music Festival: This annual summer festival invites national and local musicians for two days of non-stop music in the heart of downtown Des Moines.

Exemplary Healthcare Services

Des Moines takes pride in its state-of-the-art healthcare facilities. These institutions provide quality medical services, contributing to the overall quality of life in the city.

  • MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center: This highly-ranked hospital offers comprehensive healthcare services and specialized care.
  • UnityPoint Health – Iowa Methodist Medical Center: Known for its pioneering work in cardiac care and surgery, this medical center provides a wide range of health services.

Being aware of the diverse facets of Des Moines fosters a deeper appreciation for this delightful city. From political engagements to cultural pursuits, sporting events to culinary delights, and from healthcare to vibrant neighborhoods, Des Moines is treasure-trove of experiences, and is indeed, very nice.

An In-Depth Look at Des Moines’ Museums

brown and white concrete building during daytime

While we’ve discussed the artistic prowess of the Iowa city and mentioned some of its attractions, there’s more to the city’s museum culture than meets the eye.

Des Moines Historical Museum

Des Moines Historical Museum offers insight into Des Moines’ historical and cultural landscape from its settlement to present-day transformations. With an expansive collection of artifacts, photographs, and interactive displays, this museum is a favorite amongst history buffs.

Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden isn’t just for plant enthusiasts. It’s a living museum where visitors can explore a host of tropical and temperate plants, learn about different plant species, and even participate in botanical workshops.

State Historical Museum of Iowa

The State Historical Museum of Iowa is known for its exceptional exhibits that detail Iowa’s rich history. From its natural history and previous inhabitants to the key events and notable personalities that have shaped Iowa, this museum offers an engaging journey through time.

  • The Des Moines Historical Museum: Perfect for history enthusiasts, offering detailed insights into the city’s history and cultural transformations.
  • Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden: A living museum featuring a vast range of plant species and offers botanical workshops.
  • State Historical Museum of Iowa: Showcases a comprehensive view of Iowa’s history, detailing key events, prominent characters, and the state’s natural history.

Shopping Enthusiast? Des Moines Has You Covered

In addition to its rich cultural and entertainment offerings, Des Moines also provides a formidable shopping experience, catering to a wide array of tastes and budget preferences.

Historic East Village Shops

The shops at Historic East Village present an unmatched shopping experience with its numerous boutiques offering everything from clothing, locally made goods, and home decor. The area’s unique shops are located in restored historic buildings, adding to its appeal.

Valley Junction

Valley Junction, reminiscent of a bygone era, is an outdoor shopping district featuring over 150 retail businesses. From antique and collectible stores to modern boutiques and eateries, this district has something for everyone.

Jordan Creek Town Center

As the largest shopping mall in Iowa, the Jordan Creek Town Center boasts various national and international brands, high-end retail stores, dining, and entertainment options. The mall’s adjoining 3.5-acre lake and boardwalk offer a fantastic outdoor shopping experience.

  • Historic East Village Shops: Wide selection of unique shops located in restored historical buildings, offering a diverse array of products.
  • Valley Junction: An outdoor shopping district with a vintage feel, housing over 150 retail businesses.
  • Jordan Creek Town Center: Iowa’s largest mall featuring a wide range of shops, dining options, and an outdoor area with a lake and boardwalk.

Uniquely Des Moines: The Iowa State Fair

Des Moines’ cultural tapestry is incomplete without mentioning one of its signature annual events – the Iowa State Fair. This 11-day event, held in August, is noted for its agricultural displays, thrilling rides, live entertainment, and unique food offerings (like the famous butter cow sculpture).

Farming Innovations and Showcases

This event is a fantastic place to learn about Iowa’s farming industry, its developments, and its impact. Visitors get to see thousands of exhibits from livestock to machinery and ones that showcase the latest in farming innovations.

Amusements and Attractions

The Iowa State Fair is filled with amusements and attractions. From thrilling fairground rides to engaging games, there is entertainment for all ages. It also boasts a robust line-up of live music featuring both local and nationally recognized musicians.

Culinary Delights

At the Iowa State Fair, food is one of the main attractions. Unusual, exciting fair food is a major reason why many people attend the fair. From classic corn dogs and turkey legs to bizarre food combinations, it’s a culinary adventure for the brave.

  • Farming Innovations and Showcases: An avenue to learn about Iowa’s farming industry, its impacts, and advancements.
  • Amusements and Attractions: Offers thrilling rides, games, and live music performances for all ages.
  • Culinary Delights: Serves as a platform for trying out classic and unique fair food.

Des Moines’ Accomplished Public Transit System

Traveling around Des Moines, whether you’re a resident or a tourist, is simple thanks to the city’s excellent public transit system.

DART: Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority

DART operates throughout Des Moines and 19 surrounding areas. The system’s buses are modern, efficient, and safe, traversing numerous routes that connect various city locations.


For those who prefer a more active commute, Des Moines’ B-Cycle program is a bike-sharing system with numerous stations across the city, allowing for easy pick-up and drop-off.

  • DART: Provides efficient and user-friendly public transit across Des Moines and surrounding areas.
  • B-Cycle: A comprehensive bike-sharing system with stations strategically positioned throughout the city.

Des Moines – An Eco Conscious City

Standing at the forefront of sustainability efforts, Des Moines has countless initiatives aimed at reducing its carbon footprint and promoting eco-friendly practices.

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Sources

Des Moines is proactive in its efforts to improve the city’s energy efficiency and use of renewable resources. The city transforms waste into renewable energy through a methane recovery system at its wastewater reclamation facility.

Recycling and Composting

The city promotes extensive recycling and waste-reduction programs. Des Moines also supports a massive composting operation that transforms yard and organic waste into nutrient-rich compost.

Water Conservation

Water conservation is another pillar of Des Moines’ eco-conscious initiatives. The city focuses on responsible water usage, implementing metering, leakage management, and water-efficiency incentives.

  • Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Sources: The city is very active in improving energy efficiency and promoting the use of renewable energy.
  • Recycling and Composting: City-wide programs are in place for extensive recycling and composting.
  • Water Conservation: Impeccable practices for responsible water usage are implemented, including metering, leakage management, and incentivizing water-efficient practices.

Each facet mentioned contributes to an overall picture of Des Moines as a city with something for everyone. All these aspects make it a fantastic place to visit and an even better place to live.

Wrapping Up Des Moines

From its vibrant arts scene and rich agricultural heritage to its prominent role in U.S politics and outdoor recreational activities, Des Moines offers a multitude of experiences that make it a standout city. With its thriving food scene, pulsating sports culture, and educational institutions, the capital of Iowa ensures varied interests are catered for.

The city’s charming neighborhoods, lively music scene, state-of-the-art healthcare, and a host of museums provide a well-rounded look at the city’s offerings. Add in Des Moines’ impressive shopping options and the annual spectacle of the Iowa State Fair, and you’ve got a city that’s a must-visit destination. Remarkably, the city also shines in its efforts towards sustainability and its efficient public transit system.

What makes Des Moines unique?

Des Moines is unique due to its combination of influential agribusiness, political prominence, rich arts and cultural scene, and recreational activities. Additionally, it offers a thriving food scene, pulsating sports culture, and educational institutions. The city also boasts historical neighborhoods and shopping districts, a lively music scene, annual attractions like the Iowa State Fair, and efficient public transit.

What are some highlights of Des Moines?

Some highlights include the Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines Arts Festival, the Iowa State Fair, the Des Moines Historical Museum, Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, State Historical Museum of Iowa, and the Jordan Creek Town Center. The city’s healthcare services and commitment to sustainability are also noteworthy.

What cultural experiences does Des Moines offer?

Des Moines offers a rich cultural experience with its vibrant arts scene, historical museums, culinary delights, diverse neighborhoods, and robust music and entertainment. The city is home to the renowned Des Moines Art Center, hosts the annual Des Moines Arts Festival, and has a variety of diverse food offerings. Neighborhoods like East Village, Sherman Hill, and Drake Neighborhood represent the city’s cultural diversity.

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