The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Des Moines, Iowa

Des Moines, often overshadowed by popular tourist destinations, emerges as a hidden gem with countless things to do in Des Moines, Iowa. As the heart and soul of the state, this city offers a unique blend of rich history, vibrant culture, and picturesque landscapes that beckon visitors from near and far. 

Des Moines Iowa skyline

Des Moines Iowa skyline
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For couples, families, or solo travelers, there’s always a list of fun things to do in Des Moines, Iowa awaiting your discovery.

For the lovebirds out there, the city paints a beautiful backdrop for romance. Things to do in Des Moines, Iowa for couples range from serene walks by the water to vibrant nightlife experiences. With so much to explore and discover, let’s dive into the essence of this beautiful city.

Historical Landmarks

The rich tapestry of Des Moines’ history is woven into its magnificent landmarks. One of the standout things to do in Des Moines, Iowa is to immerse yourself in its storied past. 

The Iowa State Capitol

Liberty Bell replica in front of the State Capitol Building in Des Moines, Iowa.

Liberty Bell replica in front of the State Capitol Building in Des Moines, Iowa.
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An architectural marvel, the Iowa State Capitol, with its gleaming golden dome, stands tall, narrating tales of Iowa’s glorious past. For those interested in politics and history, a guided tour offers insights into the state’s legislative processes. 

Salisbury House

Des Moines, Iowa, Salisbury House

Des Moines, Iowa, Salisbury House
Photo by Flickr

Journey back in time with a visit to the Salisbury House. Drawing inspiration from the King’s House in Salisbury, England, this manor showcases intricate designs and art pieces from a bygone era. It’s undoubtedly one of the unique things to do in Iowa, intertwining international architectural inspirations with local history.

Built in the 1920s, Salisbury House stands as a testament to the vision of Carl and Edith Weeks. Intended as a family residence for their four sons, the Weeks drew inspiration for their estate from a property they admired in England, incorporating architectural elements from the Salisbury region.

Their passion for antiquity is evident in the antique furniture and artwork they acquired, which beautifully complemented the home’s design. Their contemporary art collection also boasts pieces from renowned artists like Joseph Stella, Lillian Genth, and Leon Kroll. Remarkably, the majority of the Weeks family’s art and furnishings remain intact at the property, forming the heart of the museum’s exhibit.

While Salisbury House operates primarily as a museum, it doubles as an event venue. Available for bookings for occasions like weddings, dinners, and parties, the estate is often closed during summer due to these events. Hence, it’s recommended to verify the museum’s schedule on their website before planning a visit.

During December, the house is festively adorned for the holiday season. Additionally, visitors can relax in its exquisite English gardens, perfect for picnics or leisurely days, whenever the museum doors are open.

Natural Attractions

Nature lovers will find no shortage of things to do in Des Moines, Iowa. The city seamlessly combines urban life with natural beauty, providing a refreshing environment for visitors.

Gray’s Lake Park

Gray’s Lake Park

Gray’s Lake Park
Photo by Flickr

A haven for outdoor enthusiasts, Gray’s Lake Park promises serene vistas, walking trails, and boating opportunities. As you paddle across the tranquil waters or simply relax by the shore, you’ll understand why it tops the list of fun things to do in Des Moines, Iowa. 

Downtown Farmers’ Market

Freshness and community spirit come alive every Saturday at the Downtown Farmers’ Market. From juicy Iowa sweet corn to handcrafted souvenirs, the bustling market offers a sensory treat, making it a must-visit for anyone pondering over things to do in Des Moines, Iowa.

‘Better Homes and Gardens’ Test Garden

If you’ve ever stumbled upon a photo showcasing a pristine lawn, flawless flower beds, or an untouched patio in “Better Homes and Gardens,” there’s a high chance it was photographed at the magazine’s Test Garden located in Des Moines.

Serving as the go-to backdrop for many of its magazine spreads, Better Homes and Gardens utilizes a private display garden set on the premises of its corporate headquarters. Nestled just a stone’s throw away from downtown Des Moines, this half-block oasis boasts 22 unique sections. More than just a vibrant display of plants, the Test Garden doubles as an outdoor photography studio, a corporate entertainment venue, and even a lunch haven for the staff.

Its urban setting belies its versatility; the garden is designed to mimic various individual backyards, each flowing seamlessly into the next. Every corner offers a fresh scene, seemingly detached from its surroundings. This layout allows the magazine to demonstrate DIY sequences, evaluate new plant growth, and offer readers landscaping and patio inspirations.

For those eager to catch a glimpse, the Test Garden welcomes visitors every Friday afternoon from noon to 2 p.m., between May and September. Outside these hours, it’s hard at work, serving as the ideal backyard many only dream of having.

Pappajohn Sculpture Park

Nomade at the Pappajohn Sculpture park

Nomade at the Pappajohn Sculpture park
Photo by Flickr

Located centrally in downtown Des Moines, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park stands out with its eclectic and bold modern sculptures.

Spanning four acres of the twenty-seven acre Western Gateway Park, this public art installation is the brainchild of venture capitalists, John and Mary Pappajohn. Their generous donation, which exceeds $40 million in sculpture value, was gifted to the location via an independent arts center.

Inaugurated in 2009, the park initially showcased 24 masterpieces from renowned artists like Willem de Kooning and Richard Serra, all available for the public and casual onlookers to appreciate. Over time, the collection has expanded, and the park now boasts 27 remarkable sculptures. This evolving artistic landscape has added a touch of uniqueness to an otherwise standard urban setting.

Cultural Highlights

For the culturally curious, Des Moines presents a vibrant scene. The city’s artistic pulse is evident in its museums, theaters, and local boutiques.

Des Moines Art Center

Des Moines Art Center

Photo by Flickr

This isn’t just an art museum—it’s a cultural pilgrimage. With a blend of contemporary and modern artworks, it’s a place where art communicates, provokes, and mesmerizes. Wondering about fun things to do in Des Moines, Iowa on a rainy day? This center is your answer.

East Village’s boutiques and eateries

Dive into Des Moines’ contemporary scene at East Village. With quirky boutiques, artisanal cafes, and a lively ambiance, it stands out among things to do in Des Moines, Iowa for couples. From shopping sprees to intimate dinners, East Village promises memories in the making.

Festivals and Events

Des Moines knows how to celebrate, and its festivals stand testimony to this spirit. No matter when you visit, the city ensures a gala time.

The Des Moines Arts Festival

Art transcends boundaries at the Des Moines Arts Festival. Artists from various corners showcase their creations, turning the city into a vibrant canvas. For art enthusiasts, this festival is a unique thing to do in Iowa.

Iowa State Fair

Legendary in its own right, the Iowa State Fair is a cultural phenomenon. With concerts, livestock shows, and gastronomical delights (ever tried fried butter on a stick?), it’s a carnival that defines the essence of Iowa.

Planning on Moving To Des Moines

Moving to Des Moines is a decision that promises a blend of urban amenities and a touch of Midwest charm. As the capital city of Iowa, Des Moines offers its residents a rich tapestry of cultural, recreational, and educational experiences. 

From its buzzing downtown area with thriving businesses and a vibrant nightlife to serene neighborhoods perfect for raising a family, moving to Des Moines ensures a balanced lifestyle. The city’s continuous growth, combined with its affordable living and friendly community, has made moving to Des Moines an attractive option for many in recent years.

However, as with any relocation, the process can be daunting. The myriad of tasks, from packing up your belongings, ensuring they reach your new home safely, to navigating the unfamiliar streets of a new city, can be overwhelming. 

This is where the expertise of Des Moines moving companies comes into play. With professional assistance, the intricate details of the relocation process become manageable. Relying on their experience, resources, and local knowledge, these companies can transform what might have been a stressful experience into a seamless transition.

There’s a compelling argument to be made for the benefits of hiring a moving company when relocating. Not only do they take the physical burden off your shoulders, but they also provide peace of mind. 

Whether it’s packing your fragile items with expert care, handling heavy furniture, or ensuring the timely and safe delivery of your possessions, Des Moines moving companies stand as a testament to making relocation a breeze. Why shoulder the stress when you can lean on professionals to guide you through?


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