Top Things to Do in Des Moines

Visiting the state capitol, the Iowa State Fair and a world-class sculpture park are just a few of the things to do in Des Moines. Check out our guide for what to do, where to eat and where to stay in Iowa's capital.

Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge, Des Moines, IA
Photo: Karla Conrad

Politicians and 4-H'ers find plenty to do in Des Moines, home to both the capitol and state fair. The central Iowa city also appeals with high-end eats, fine art and the state's largest amusement park.


Adventureland Park

The park, under new management, plans to add two new rides in summer 2023—the Flying Viking, a junior roller coaster; and Draken Falls, a log ride. They join more than 100-plus rides and attractions, as well as a water park that holds Iowa's longest lazy river.

Blank Park Zoo

Almost 1,500 animals call the zoo's 22 acres home. Catch a seal show, walk among wallabies and feed giraffes. New for 2023: Alpaca Acres, a summer experience where (for an extra fee) you can spend 30 minutes getting to know eight alpacas.

Des Moines Arts Center
Rich Sander/Courtesy of The Des Moines Art Center

Des Moines Art Center

The 5,000-piece collection of the free Des Moines Art Center includes works by Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse and Georgia O'Keeffe. Galleries reflect the styles of architects Eliel Saarinen, I.M. Pei and Richard Meier.

Downtown Farmers Market

On summer Saturday mornings, join the crowds who come to this market for fresh produce, cheeses, meats, flowers, baked goods and crafts.

East Village Shopping

Between the state Capitol and the Des Moines River, the East Village is home to shops like Raygun (sassy souvenirs and clothing), Gong Fu Tea (teas and teaware), and Eden (fragrant soaps, candles and lotions).

Water Garden, Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
Ivory House Photography/Courtesy of Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

A half-acre pond with a view of the downtown skyline and a waterfall surrounded by seasonal plants anchor outdoor gardens; tropical plants and a living wall thrive in the domed conservatory. Check the event schedule at the botanical garden for frequent classes as well as live music—Music in the Garden outdoors on summer Thursday evenings; Botanical Blues indoors on winter Sunday afternoons.

High Trestle Trail Des Moines
Courtesy of Kathryn Gamble/Catch Des Moines

High Trestle Trail

The 25-mile trail runs from Ankeny (about 14 miles north of Des Moines) to Woodward. Many bikers and walkers head straight for the most dramatic part: a half-mile, 13-story bridge traversing the Des Moines River Valley. Forty-one steel frames spiral the bridge, evoking the sensation of descending into one of Iowa's historical coal mines. At night, blue LED lights glow on the bridge.

Iowa State Capitol

Take a free guided tour of the gold-capped Capitol to get the full story of this Renaissance-style structure, built between 1871 and 1886.

Iowa State Fair

Each year, more than 1 million people come to the fair looking for spectacles like the Butter Cow and the 1,000-plus-pound Big Boar (August 10–20, 2023).

John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park
John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Blaine Moats

John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park

A 12-foot-high bronze sculpture—Even Stones Have Eyes by Pakistani American artist Huma Bhabha—was added to the downtown park in 2023. In all, 32 pieces dot the two-block garden area curated by the Des Moines Art Center.

Lauridsen Skatepark

The country's biggest public skatepark, at 88,000 square feet, draws both skaters and spectators to its riverside location.

Living History Farms
Living History Farms. Jay Wilde

Living History Farms

Explore three eras of farms (1700, 1850 and 1900) and an 1875 town with a store, blacksmith shop and school at Living History Farms.

Principal Park

Home to the minor league baseball Iowa Cubs, this family-friendly ballpark keeps a slew of promotions on the schedule, like Friday night fireworks, food giveaways and baseball bingo.

Science Center of Iowa

The world comes to life in hands-on exhibits at the science center: Explore Iowa's natural habitats or learn about the night sky.

State Historical Museum of Iowa

Travel from the past—see a Native American wickiup and a Conestoga wagon—into the present. Admission is free; the museum is undergoing renovations in 2023 but most exhibits should be accessible.

West End Architectural Salvage

Castoffs-turned-treasures fill four floors in the shop that inspired the HGTV series West End Salvage.

Cheese Bar Des Moines restaurant
Cheese Bar of Des Moines. Jason Donnelly

Eat + Drink


The daily happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. (with $8 burger and fries plus drink specials) makes Alba this a great choice, as do the New American plates of fare, like pork belly rillettes.


Southern favorites—fried chicken, shrimp and grits, pimento mac 'n'cheese—sparkle under regionally inspired decor at Bubba.

Cheese Bar of Des Moines

The star dish of the Ingersoll Avenue hot spot is a luscious three-cheese fondue, but elaborate boards, toasts, sandwiches and baked macaroni tempt as well.

clydes fine diner des moines
Clyde's Fine Diner. Jason Donnelly

Clyde's Fine Diner

Slide into turquoise bar seats at this East Village spot for upgraded diner food like The Caesar Sprouts (Caesar salad-inspired Brussels) and the Hot Bird with fried chicken in Sichuan sauce.


At this Asian-inspired bakery, have a cocktail with your cupcake—and pick up Japanese milk bread for the road.

Eatery A

The open kitchen at Eatery A turns out wood-fired pizzas and Mediterranean food, such as fattoush and hummus.

El Bait Shop

Choices, choices: 251 beers on tap and retro foods (spicy Velvet Elvis Dip, Spam Egg and Cheese sandwiches) from the menu of its neighbor, The High Life Lounge.

Exile Brewing Company

Sample high-quality microbrews and delicious fried chicken tender salad in a loft-like setting. And don't forget to snap a selfie in front of the fun mural outside.


Chef Joe Tripp, a Des Moines native, has earned seven James Beard nominations for Best Chef Midwest. You'll find out why when you sample the vegetable-focused small plates at this eatery just west of downtown. The menu changes frequently but might include options like a duck egg omelet or reticulated sweet potato black garlic tartlet.

Hello, Marjorie

Sip cocktails like the Editor's Note (bourbon, apricot liqueur, smoked apple bitters) in a colorful space on the first floor of the old Des Moines Register building.

The Latin King

This family favorite has served Italian fare since 1947 on the East Side. Try the toasted ravioli.

St. Kilda

The family of restaurants from Australian-raised restaurateur Alexander Hall now includes St. Kilda Collective in Valley Junction with variations on healthy modern cuisine such as avocado toast with radish sprouts. Hall replaced East Village's St. Kilda Surf and Turf with Franka Pizzeria and opened a St. Kilda Cafe and Bakery as well as a second pizzeria in the Des Moines suburb of Clive.

Surety Hotel, Des Moines, IA
Surety Hotel


AC Hotel

The Marriott property in the East Village features sleek, contemporary rooms with hardwood floors. The rooftop Republic on Grand serves craft cocktails and small plates; guests enjoy great downtown views.

Des Lux Hotel

Check into a room or suite with a fireplace and whirlpool at the Des Lux, then unwind over a martini in the wood-paneled bar.

Embassy Suites by Hilton

The all-suite hotel in the East Village, popular with families, overlooks the Des Moines River.

Hotel Fort Des Moines

The newly renovated hotel feels big-city sleek with dramatic chandeliers in a large lobby and an outstanding fine-dining restaurant named for the historic building's architects—Proudfoot and Bird.

Surety Hotel

Mid-mod decor blends with Beaux Arts architecture in this 1913 downtown building, which recently underwent a top-to-bottom renovation.

Boone Bridge Girls, Rail Explorers USA
Rail Explorers USA

More to Explore

Des Moines makes a great base for exploring other attractions less than an hour's drive away, including the covered bridges of Madison County, the Iowa Arboretum, Ledges State Park, the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, Rail Explorers and the Dutch-influenced town of Pella.

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