Posted on: January 30, 2024 Posted by: Niru Sherman Comments: 0
Things to do in des moines this weekend

As Iowa’s capital and largest city, Des Moines offers a surprisingly diverse array of attractions and activities. From exploring living history at the gold-domed capitol building to strolling through public gardens bursting with botanical wonders, Des Moines entices visitors to immerse themselves in culture, nature, and good old Midwestern hospitality.

Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a local looking for a new adventure, this travel guide covers can’t-miss things to do in Des Moines. You’ll discover the city’s top sights, hidden gems, family-friendly attractions, performing arts scenes, and things to do in Des Moines.

Explore the Iowa State Capitol

No trip to Des Moines is complete without visiting the Iowa State Capitol, an architectural wonder and the only five-domed capitol in the United States. Completed in 1886, this National Historic Landmark encompasses sparkling marble and 23-karat gold leaf accents.

Join a free guided tour to admire the building’s fine details and learn about Iowa’s legislative process. Don’t miss the breathtaking Law Library with its spiral staircase and intricate tile mosaics. After exploring the capitol’s many nooks and crannies, relax under the picturesque dome and take in panoramic city views.

Insider tip: For magnificent sunset views, visit the capitol observation deck on the weekends.

Get Immersed in Nature at Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

Des Moines Botanical Garden

Spanning nearly 16 acres, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden dazzles nature lovers with thousands of plant varieties. Within its lush grounds, you’ll find gorgeous specialty gardens like the Rose Garden’s 450+ specimens and the Woodland Garden’s trillium-lined trails.

For tropical flair, visit the Madagascar Biome filled with exotic palms, orchids, and passion flowers. Don’t miss the hands-on Stick Tight Frog Pond and colorful Children’s Garden, perfect for little explorers. Make sure to wander through the English Cottage-style Hubbell Arboretum too.

Insider tip: Time your visit for a special event like live music performances or educational lectures. Check the garden’s event calendar online.

Discover Pioneer History at Living History Farms

Delve into Iowa’s rural heritage at Living History Farms, an immersive open-air museum just 10 minutes outside Des Moines. Spanning 500 acres, this one-of-a-kind attraction brings 300 years of Midwestern history to life through authentically restored homes and farmsteads.

Meet costumed interpreters demonstrating traditional skills like cooking over a hearth fire or blacksmithing. See heritage-breed farm animals and stroll through heirloom gardens filled with heritage crops. Living History Farms offers an incredible opportunity to experience what pioneer life was like in this region. Don’t miss special events like the All-Iowa Rodeo.

Insider tip: Visit on a weekend to tour all the homesteads and participate in more activities.

View Endangered Species at Blank Park Zoo

Home to over 1,300 animals, Blank Park Zoo gives visitors memorable wildlife encounters just three miles from downtown Des Moines. This beautifully landscaped zoo houses endangered species like Amur tigers, red pandas, Mexican gray wolves, and rhinoceros.

Don’t miss the Henderson Rhino Ridge exhibit to see massive rhinos up close. The Simmons Aviary’s free-flying tropical birds and Aquatic Wing’s penguins and stingrays also delight. Blank Park is very family-friendly with a jungle-gym playground, splash pads, and even camel rides. Stop by the butterfly garden in summer and don’t forget to feed the giraffes!

Insider tip: Purchase tickets online to save money and skip ticket booth lines.

Tour the Historic East Village

Tour the Historic East Village

For a unique look at Des Moines history, spend time exploring the brick-lined East Village neighborhood. Set against a backdrop of Victorian-era architecture, East Village boasts an eclectic mix of shopping, dining, and cultural attractions.

Browse the Des Moines Heritage Center exhibits highlighting regional history, from prehistoric mammoths to pioneering aviators. Check out the Zachary Scott Theater, Temple for Performing Arts, and other historic venues hosting live productions. Don’t miss the Downtown Farmers’ Market with 200+ vendors held on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Insider tip: Time your East Village visit for one of its many festivals, like the Latino Heritage Festival or Harvest Festival.

See Rare Treasures at the State Historical Museum

Iowa’s history springs to life at the engaging State Historical Museum next to the capitol complex. This family-friendly attraction houses thousands of artifacts spanning Iowa’s past, from Native American tools to a WWII-era submarine.

Interactive exhibits let you experience old-time farming, touch fossils excavated from mammoth remains, and more. Art aficionados will appreciate galleries displaying magnificent landscape paintings of Iowa’s natural beauty. Take time to view the glass atrium’s elaborate story quilts chronicling pivotal events and innovations.

Insider tip: Ask for an activity guide at the front desk to enhance kids’ museum visits with puzzles and learning opportunities.

Catch Performing Arts at Civic Center

As central Iowa’s premier performing arts venue, Des Moines Civic Center hosts Broadway musicals, concerts, and other exciting events year-round. Its main 2,744-seat hall features perfect acoustics for dazzling symphony, opera, and ballet performances by touring companies.

Catch a Tony Award-winning musical straight from Broadway or a hilarious comedy revue. Family-friendly Civic Center events include “Disney on Ice” skating spectaculars. This visually stunning venue is worth seeing even if just to admire its starry night-inspired ceiling mural.

Insider tip: Sign up online for ticket giveaway contests when popular touring productions come to town.

Explore Downtown Des Moines

Downtown Des Moines delights visitors with hip restaurants, shops, and nightlife venues. Start your exploration at the downtown Des Moines Farmers’ Market under the colorful Pappajohn Sculpture Park canopy. Then check out the Des Moines Arts Festival or free live music at Simon Estes Amphitheater.

For urban flair, walk along the buzzing Court Avenue Entertainment District lined with bars and eateries. Don’t miss the namesake Court Avenue itself – a picturesque brick street flanked by Victorian-style storefronts. Stop for Instagram-worthy photos at the downtown marquee sign and near the ornate Polk County Courthouse.

Insider tip: Ride Des Moines’ free Downtown Shuttle for easy access to attractions and parking lots.

Admire Masterpieces at Des Moines Art Center

Admire Masterpieces at Des Moines Art Center

Showcasing innovative architecture and artwork, Des Moines Art Center stands as one of the nation’s most critically acclaimed museums. The complex incorporates three progressive gallery spaces: the stately Principal Building, the angular Pappajohn Sculpture Park, and the minimalist Richard Meier Building.

Tour expansive collections from famed artists like Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Don’t miss special exhibitions spotlighting avant-garde mediums and Iowa-based creatives. Interactive family spaces offer hands-on art experiences for kids. End your visit at the museum store filled with unique handcrafted gifts.

Insider tip: Enjoy free admission and special programs during community events like Family Free Days.

Golf at Beautiful Area Courses

With Iowa’s naturally rolling terrain, the Des Moines area offers fantastic spots for teeing off. For a scenic round overlooking the Raccoon River, play Waveland Golf Course’s renovated links featuring elevation changes and mature trees. Golf Digest awarded this par 72 course its prestigious “Best Places to Play” title.

For old-world Scottish Links charm, try the challenging par 71 Willow Creek Golf Course accented with pot bunkers, grassy dunes, and rock outcroppings. Other top local courses like Ankeny’s The Legacy and Beaver Creek Golf Club await nearby.

Insider tip: Sign up for emails from TPC Deere Run to get special stay-and-play golf package deals.

Savor the Beer Scene on Ale Trail

Beer enthusiasts will love exploring Des Moines’ ever-growing craft brewery scene along the catchy Des Moines Ale Trail. Sample creative concoctions at downtown’s elegant Court Avenue Brewing or Historic East Village’s laidback Peace Tree Brewing.

For family-friendly options, head to Big Grove Brewery or Confluence Brewing with outdoor play areas. Don’t miss Exile Brewing, named “Brewery of the Year” with small-batch ales and lagers. Many breweries host live music nights too.

Insider tip: Download the Ale Trail app to track your check-ins and unlock prizes like beer glasses.

Pedal Through Nature on Trails

With over 50 miles of paved recreational trails, things to do in Des Moines make bicycling easy for all ages. Pedal along the serene Des Moines River on the Neal Smith Trail accented with public art installations.

For urban riding, cruise down Grand Avenue’s on-street lanes and protected bike paths. Mountain bikers can challenge the fast singletrack at Ewing Park Bike Trails. Escape to Gray’s Lake Park trails encircling a glistening reservoir with marshes and woodlands.

Insider tip: Rent bikes conveniently from downtown hubs like Des Moines Bicycle Collective.

Dine at Creative Eateries

Dine at Creative Eateries

Beyond its Midwestern charm, Des Moines impresses foodies with an ever-evolving culinary scene. Tantalize your taste buds with the original wood-fired pizzas at Gusto Pizza Co. or juicy burgers at B-Bop’s.

For fine dining, savor fresh seafood creations at Simon’s downtown or locally sourced New American cuisine at Harbinger. Don’t miss the city’s vibrant Latino restaurants like authentic taqueria Los Laureles III. Treat yourself to rainbow gelato at Fresh off the Cob or cupcakes from the nostalgic Hurts Donut Co.

Insider tip: Make dinner reservations for popular eateries through OpenTable to ensure you can get a table.

Experience the Iowa State Fair

Each August, the iconic Iowa State Fair draws over 1 million attendees for food, rides, livestock shows, concerts, and endless exhibits. Indulge in classic fair fare like corn dogs and funnel cakes. Catch butter carving contests and marvel at giant pumpkins.

Let kids burn off energy at thrill rides like the Midway Sky Eye Ferris Wheel. Peruse livestock barns showcasing champion cows and pigs. Don’t miss the fair’s amazing butter cow sculpture carved from 600 pounds of butter! Buy creative gifts handcrafted by Iowa artists at one of 700+ vendor booths.

Insider tip: Purchase advance discounted tickets online to avoid the ticket booth lines.


With its rich heritage, vibrant culture, diverse neighborhoods, and wealth of outdoor adventures, Des Moines offers an incredibly welcoming and accessible getaway. From its gilded capitol dome to local craft breweries, this Midwest escape rewards travelers with hidden gems around every corner. Whether you’re looking for performing arts, trendy eateries, or outdoor recreation, you’re sure to be charmed by Iowa’s capital city. Use this travel guide on things to do in Des Moines to maximize your time exploring all the fantastic things to do in Des Moines!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best time of year to visit Des Moines?

Late spring through early fall is ideal for enjoying Des Moines’ many outdoor attractions. Summers can be hot and humid, but winter activities like ice skating keep visitors entertained year-round.

What is there to do in Des Moines when it rains?

On rainy days, visit indoor attractions like the Capitol complex, State Historical Museum, Des Moines Art Center, and Blank Park Zoo. Catch a show at the Civic Center or explore the East Village’s unique shops and eateries.

What attractions are good for families?

Top family-friendly activities include Blank Park Zoo, Living History Farms, Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, Science Center of Iowa, and Adventureland Park. The downtown skywalk system also makes exploring fun for little legs.

What is there to do in Des Moines at night?

At night, check out East Village’s bars and comedy clubs or Court Avenue’s lively nightlife scene. Catch concerts at Wells Fargo Arena, Civic Center performances, or Iowa Cubs minor league baseball games. There are also clubs hosting karaoke and live music.

Is Des Moines safe for travelers?

Yes, Des Moines is generally very safe, especially in popular downtown areas and tourist sites. Basic precautions like avoiding unlit areas at night and concealing valuables in vehicles still apply.