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The 7 Best Things To Do In Des Moines


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Odella Cardwell



Welcome to Des Moines, the vibrant capital city of Iowa. Nestled in the heart of the Midwest, Des Moines offers a myriad of exciting activities and attractions for both locals and visitors alike. From its bustling downtown to its charming neighborhoods, this city is a treasure trove of arts and culture, making it the perfect destination for art enthusiasts and history buffs.


Des Moines has a rich cultural heritage that is proudly showcased through its numerous museums, galleries, and performing arts venues. Whether you’re interested in exploring the local art scene, immersing yourself in history, or indulging in delicious cuisine, Des Moines has something for everyone.


In this article, we will delve into the top 7 things to do in Des Moines, highlighting the best attractions that are sure to captivate your senses and make your visit unforgettable. So grab your walking shoes, camera, and an open mind, and get ready to immerse yourself in the arts and culture of Des Moines.


Explore the Downtown Farmers’ Market

If you’re a food lover or simply enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of a bustling market, the Downtown Farmers’ Market is a must-visit when in Des Moines. Held every Saturday from May to October, it is one of the largest farmers’ markets in the United States, attracting thousands of visitors each week.


Located in the heart of downtown Des Moines, the market stretches along several blocks, offering a wide array of locally grown produce, artisanal products, handcrafted goods, and delectable food options. From farm-fresh fruits and vegetables to artisanal cheeses, baked goods, and more, you’ll find an abundance of items to tantalize your taste buds and support local farmers and vendors.


Aside from the delicious offerings, the Downtown Farmers’ Market also provides a vibrant and lively experience. The air is filled with the scent of freshly brewed coffee, sizzling food from food trucks, and the sounds of live music performances. Local artists and craftsmen display their unique creations, and street performers add an extra touch of entertainment.


As you wander through the market, take the opportunity to engage with the friendly vendors, learn about their products, and savor samples of their offerings. It’s a great chance to discover new flavors, try farm-to-table dishes, and learn more about sustainable farming practices.


Whether you’re a foodie looking to stock up on fresh ingredients or simply want to soak up the lively atmosphere, the Downtown Farmers’ Market offers a vibrant and enjoyable experience for all. So come rain or shine, be sure to add this iconic Des Moines attraction to your itinerary.


Visit the Iowa State Capitol

A visit to the Iowa State Capitol building is a must for history buffs and those interested in architectural marvels. Located in downtown Des Moines, this iconic structure stands as a symbol of the state’s rich history and political heritage.


The Iowa State Capitol, completed in 1886, features a stunning blend of classical and Renaissance architectural styles. Its impressive dome, made of 23-karat gold leaf, can be spotted from miles away and is one of the tallest state capitols in the United States.


Upon entering the Capitol, you’ll be greeted by a grand marble staircase and elaborate artwork that adorns the interior. The rotunda, with its magnificent stained glass dome, is a sight to behold and serves as the centerpiece of the building.


Guided tours are available, providing visitors with an in-depth look into the history, art, and architecture of the building. Knowledgeable tour guides will regale you with stories about Iowa’s government, notable events that have taken place within the Capitol’s walls, and the significance of the artwork displayed throughout.


Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the legislative chambers, where laws are debated and decisions are made. The House and Senate chambers are adorned with ornate woodwork, intricate plaster details, and historical artifacts.


After your tour, take a stroll around the Capitol grounds, which are beautifully landscaped and offer panoramic views of the city. You’ll also find monuments dedicated to Iowa’s veterans and historical figures that played a significant role in the state’s development.


Whether you’re interested in politics, history, or architecture, a visit to the Iowa State Capitol is a fascinating experience that allows you to immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of Des Moines and the entire state of Iowa.


Discover the Des Moines Art Center

The Des Moines Art Center is a haven for art enthusiasts and a must-visit destination for those seeking to explore the world of contemporary and modern art. Located in the vibrant downtown area, this renowned cultural institution boasts an impressive collection of artworks from both established and emerging artists.


The museum itself is a work of art, with its sleek and modern design. Designed by renowned architect Eliel Saarinen, the Des Moines Art Center features galleries filled with a diverse range of artworks, including paintings, sculptures, prints, photography, and mixed media installations.


One of the highlights of the museum is its collection of works by prominent artists such as Jackson Pollock, Edward Hopper, Grant Wood, and Georgia O’Keeffe. The center also hosts rotating exhibits, ensuring that there’s always something new and exciting to see.


Aside from the impressive permanent collection and temporary exhibits, the Des Moines Art Center offers educational programs, workshops, lectures, and interactive activities for visitors of all ages. Whether you’re a seasoned art connoisseur or a novice, there’s something for everyone to enjoy and learn from.


After exploring the galleries, take a moment to relax in the tranquil John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, located adjacent to the museum. This outdoor art space features a stunning collection of sculptures by internationally acclaimed artists, set amidst beautifully landscaped grounds.


Before leaving, be sure to visit the museum’s gift shop, which offers a curated selection of art-related books, unique gifts, and souvenirs. It’s the perfect place to find a memento to remember your visit to the Des Moines Art Center.


Whether you’re an art enthusiast or simply someone who appreciates creativity and expression, a visit to the Des Moines Art Center is a delightful and enriching experience that will leave you inspired and with a deeper appreciation for the arts.


Experience the Blank Park Zoo

For a fun and educational day out with the family, head to the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines. This beloved zoo is home to a wide variety of animal species from all around the world, providing visitors with a unique opportunity to learn about and appreciate the wonders of wildlife.


Spread across 49 acres, the Blank Park Zoo offers a captivating experience for both children and adults alike. As you explore the various exhibits, you’ll encounter animals such as giraffes, lions, tigers, zebras, elephants, and many more. With over 1,000 individual animals representing more than 100 species, there’s always something exciting to see at every turn.


One of the highlights of the zoo is the Australian Outback exhibit, where you can get up close and personal with kangaroos, wallabies, and emus. The Discovery Center is another must-visit, featuring interactive displays and hands-on learning experiences that will engage visitors of all ages.


Throughout the day, make sure to catch the daily animal feedings and educational presentations conducted by the passionate and knowledgeable zookeepers. These sessions provide fascinating insights into the behavior, diet, and conservation efforts dedicated to each species.


For an extra special experience, consider booking a behind-the-scenes tour or participating in one of the zoo’s animal encounters. These opportunities allow you to get even closer to the animals and learn more about their care and conservation.


Aside from its animal exhibits, the Blank Park Zoo also offers various amenities such as playgrounds, picnic areas, and a train ride that will delight younger visitors. Plus, with its commitment to conservation and sustainability, you can feel good knowing that your visit to the zoo supports vital conservation efforts both locally and globally.


Whether you’re a wildlife enthusiast, an animal lover, or just looking for a fun day out, the Blank Park Zoo is an experience that will leave you with lasting memories and a deeper appreciation for the diverse creatures that share our planet.


Enjoy the scenic Water Works Park

If you’re craving a peaceful escape from the bustling city life, look no further than Water Works Park in Des Moines. This expansive urban park offers a serene oasis for nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and those seeking a tranquil retreat.


Spanning over 1,500 acres, Water Works Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States. It is situated along the Raccoon River, providing picturesque views and a variety of recreational opportunities for visitors of all ages.


One of the main attractions of the park is its extensive trail system, which offers miles of scenic hiking, jogging, and biking paths. As you wander along the trails, you’ll traverse through lush greenery, meadows, and wooded areas, immersing yourself in the beauty of nature.


For nature enthusiasts, the park is a haven for birdwatching, with over 200 bird species known to frequent the area. Keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles, herons, and other fascinating feathered creatures as you explore the park’s diverse ecosystems.


Water Works Park is also a popular destination for water-based activities. The spacious riverfront provides ample opportunities for fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. Bring your own equipment or rent from one of the local outfitters, and embark on a peaceful adventure along the river.


If you’re in need of a break, find a cozy spot and indulge in a picnic amidst the park’s natural beauty. Spread out a blanket, savor a delicious meal, and take in the calming sounds of the river flowing nearby.


Throughout the year, Water Works Park hosts a variety of events, including outdoor concerts, festivals, and nature-themed educational programs. These events are a great way to connect with the local community and immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of Des Moines.


Whether you’re seeking solitude, outdoor activities, or simply a breath of fresh air, Water Works Park is the perfect destination. It allows you to escape the urban hustle and bustle and reconnect with nature in a serene and picturesque setting.


Take a stroll through the Pappajohn Sculpture Park

The Pappajohn Sculpture Park, located in the heart of downtown Des Moines, is a must-visit destination for art enthusiasts and those who appreciate the beauty and creativity of outdoor sculptures. Spanning 4.4 acres, this urban oasis showcases a stunning collection of contemporary artwork by renowned artists from around the world.


As you enter the park, you’ll be immediately greeted by an array of captivating sculptures, each with its own unique style and message. From towering abstract pieces to whimsical figurative works, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park offers a diverse range of artistic expressions that are sure to captivate and inspire.


One of the park’s most iconic sculptures is “Nomade” by renowned artist Jaume Plensa. This giant figure made of gleaming stainless steel is a focal point of the park, inviting visitors to engage with its mesmerizing presence. Other notable sculptures include works by Louise Bourgeois, Antony Gormley, and Mark di Suvero, among many others.


As you stroll through the park, take the time to appreciate the seamless integration of art and nature. The sculptures are strategically placed within beautifully landscaped areas, creating a harmonious blend of art and surroundings. The park’s pathways are well-maintained, making it easy to explore and appreciate each sculpture from various angles.


One of the unique aspects of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park is its accessibility. The park is free to the public and open year-round, allowing visitors to enjoy the artwork in any season. Additionally, the park offers educational programs and guided tours, providing further insight into the artists, their works, and the overall significance of the sculptures.


Whether you’re an art enthusiast, a photography enthusiast looking for captivating backdrops, or simply someone who enjoys taking in the beauty of outdoor spaces, a visit to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a delightful and enriching experience. It offers a wonderful opportunity to engage with contemporary art in a serene and visually stunning setting.


Indulge in local cuisine at the East Village

When it comes to culinary experiences, the East Village neighborhood in Des Moines is a food lover’s paradise. This vibrant and eclectic district is known for its diverse eateries, charming cafes, and innovative restaurants that showcase the best of local and international cuisines.


As you wander through the streets of the East Village, you’ll be enticed by the tantalizing aromas wafting from the many restaurants and eateries. From farm-to-table bistros to ethnic eateries, there’s something to satisfy every palate and craving.


One of the highlights of the East Village is its thriving local food scene. Many of the restaurants source their ingredients locally, showcasing the flavors of Iowa’s bountiful produce. Indulge in dishes made with fresh, seasonal ingredients that will delight your taste buds while supporting local farmers and producers.


For those craving international flavors, the East Village offers a variety of options. Explore the culinary traditions of different countries with a visit to a Thai restaurant, a Mexican taqueria, or a sushi bar. Whether you’re in the mood for spicy and flavorful dishes or a comforting bowl of noodles, the East Village has you covered.


In addition to the diverse dining options, the East Village is also home to charming cafes and bakeries that are perfect for a leisurely brunch or a sweet treat. Sip on a freshly brewed coffee as you soak in the neighborhood’s unique atmosphere or indulge in a decadent pastry that will satisfy your cravings.


As you explore the East Village, take the opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture. The neighborhood is also known for its vibrant arts scene, with numerous galleries, boutique shops, and street art adding to its charm. Take a break from your culinary adventures and explore the artistic side of the East Village.


Whether you’re a food connoisseur or simply someone who appreciates good food and a lively atmosphere, a visit to the East Village is a must when in Des Moines. So grab a seat at a sidewalk cafe, savor the flavors of the local cuisine, and indulge in a culinary experience that will leave you craving more.



Des Moines is a city that seamlessly blends vibrant arts and culture with a Midwest charm. From the bustling Downtown Farmers’ Market to the architectural marvel of the Iowa State Capitol, there is no shortage of exciting things to see and do in this thriving capital city.


If you’re an art enthusiast, the Des Moines Art Center and the Pappajohn Sculpture Park offer captivating collections of contemporary artworks that will ignite your creativity and inspire your imagination. For those seeking a more interactive experience, the Blank Park Zoo provides a chance to get up close and personal with a diverse range of animal species.


The city also boasts serene oases, such as Water Works Park, where you can escape the urban hustle and bustle and immerse yourself in the beauty of nature. And when it comes to satisfying your taste buds, the East Village will spoil you with its diverse array of local and international culinary delights.


Whether you’re a local looking to explore your own city or a visitor discovering Des Moines for the first time, the arts and culture scene is sure to leave a lasting impression. With its vibrant energy, rich history, and creative spirit, Des Moines continues to evolve as a thriving hub for arts, culture, and culinary experiences.


So, lace up your walking shoes, grab your camera, and embark on a journey filled with artistic marvels, natural beauty, and mouthwatering cuisine. Des Moines awaits, ready to captivate your senses and provide a truly memorable experience.