Des Moines, Iowa: There’s More Here Than You Might Think

Last Updated on March 17, 2017 by Jody Halsted

I recently spent the weekend in Nashville meeting bloggers from across the country (and even a few from Canada). It was an amazing experience but I was surprised at the “What can you do in Des Moines” questions.

A Great Place to Live and Work
First I want to let you in on a little secret: Des Moines is the #1 spot for US insurance companies to do business and is home to ING Group, Aviva, Principal Financial Group, Nationwide, Holmes Murphy and others. Banking is also big here with Wells Fargo recently building a 176 acre, $250 million campus in West Des Moines. In fact, Meredith Publishing (Better Homes & Gardens, American Baby, Parents, Family Circle & many more) is headquartered right downtown. So we are very popular with businesses.

Des Moines is also becoming quite the popular place to live as noted by Kiplinger #9; #6; and Forbes . And the suburb of Ankeny (my home) was touted as one of the 10 Best Towns for Families by Family Circle.

But what good are jobs and great communities if there’s nothing to do? Well, as Des Moines has grown in business it has grown in substance. Take a look at these offerings:

It wasn’t long ago that downtown Des Moines seemed to roll up its sidewalks at night. The revitalization of downtown has changed that. With new condos and lofts replacing vacant buildings the downtown area has responded with great restaurants and activities.

If you’re looking for funky charm the East Village, which sits just below the state capitol, provides an eclectic atmosphere for retail therapy and amazing dining.

For night life and more food head over to Court Avenue and take your pick from dozens of amusements. A family friendly atmosphere can be found at Spaghetti Works, Court Avenue Brewing Company and the Royal Mile (best fish & chips in town).

For dining and gaming fun head to AllPlay, formerly InPlay, for food, mini bowling and two floors of games for the whole family.

Des Moines has culture, too. The Civic Center features Broadway plays and musicals, Hoyt Sherman Place and the Temple of Performing Arts host more intimate performances. Des Moines even has a ballet, a symphony and a Dance Theater. You can also explore a couple of art galleries and every summer brings the Des Moines Arts Festival which is quickly becoming a “must do” for artists from all over the world.

For sports fans we have the Barnstormers minor league arena football, the Iowa Cubs minor league baseball, the Iowa Chops AHL hockey, the Des Moines Buccaneers US Hockey League, and the Iowa Energy NBA Developmental League basketball. Want to get out and be active yourself? Explore the Riverwalk or the Gray’s Lake area.

More kid friendly activities include the wonderful Science Center with play and learn displays and the Blank Park Zoo, which isn’t really downtown but is mighty close.

If you happen to be in Des Moines on a Saturday between May and September Court Avenue closes to traffic and is filled with vendors for the Downtown Farmer’s Market. Fresh produce, food stalls and crafts line the street. The months of November and December bring an indoor version just in time for the holidays.

Out from Downtown
If you’re searching for history you’ll want to head west out of downtown on Grand Avenue. As you crest the hill you can’t miss our governor’s mansion, Terrace Hill, overlooking the city. Terrace Hill was given to the state in 1971 and has been home to our governors, who live on the 3rd floor, since that time. Tours are available Tuesday- Saturday from March thru December.

As you continue west watch for the signs for Salisbury House, modeled after the King’s House in Salisbury, England. Built from 1923-1928 this majestic building was a family home and now houses amazing collections of swords, art and books. The house is available to tour March through December, Tuesday through Friday and Sunday. Many events also take place here including weddings, classical concerts, teas, Shakespeare of the Lawn and the Salisbury Classic Auto Show.

Historic Valley Junction is just a bit farther west and offers dining, unique shops, art galleries and a look back at Des Moines history.

If you want to take a “step back in time” be sure to visit Living History Farms in the suburb of Urbandale. See how life was “in the olden days” from the native Indians to the settlers that farmed the rich soil.

The Suburbs
For upscale shopping and dining head to West Des Moines’ Jordan Creek and West Glen areas. Jordan Creek Town Center houses stores like Sephora, Godiva, Barnes & Noble, Build-a-Bear and many others. It also has a large theater and dining at restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory, Champps and Panera.

Surrounding the mall is the Lake District and the Village, home to more shops (like DSW and Ulta as well as the new Aveda school) and restaurants like Joe’s Crab Shack, Fleming’s Steak House and PF Chang’s.

The West Glen Town Center, just off Interstate 35, brings exclusive shops, scrumptious dining and urban living together with a small town feel.

In Altoona you’ll find Adventureland, an amusement park for all ages. Nearby is Prairie Meadows for more adult entertainments like horse racing, casino gaming and live music.

Though it’s not really a suburb I must mention Newton, a bit farther to the west, and the Iowa Speedway for NASCAR enthusiasts.

The remaining suburbs- Ankeny, Waukee, Norwalk, Grimes, Johnston and others- provide parks, pools, libraries, golf, summer festivals and other year round amusements.

Iowa State Fair
I can’t really talk about Des Moines without at least mentioning our great state fair . The setting for movies, songs and Broadway musicals the fairgrounds sit on Des Moines’ east side. The Iowa State Fair runs for 10 days in mid-August and brings people from absolutely everywhere in the world.

How to Get Here
Des Moines is located in the center of the great state of Iowa. It is serviced by the Des Moines International Airport. Des Moines is also the meeting place of two main interstates- I-80 & I-35, making it an easy destination to get to.

Where to Stay
Des Moines and it’s suburbs have hundreds of hotels. Choose your favorite; chances are it’s here.

It’s funny how I can say I’m from Iowa and practically everyone has an Iowa story. Come make your own. And be sure to let me know. I may be able to take you to a real farm with live animals. And, a big thanks to reader Melody (who commented) who supplied this link to Agritourism Farms in Iowa.


Things To Do
Des Moines

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  1. Thanks for this. I’m in Ames and agree: Iowa totally rocks. But in the Dumb Question category, where exactly would you go to see a real live farm with real live animals? We’d love to take a farm outing this spring to, oh, anywhere in central Iowa, just not sure where to go.

  2. Hmmm…still don’t think that Des Moines will make the list of cities I would consider living in.

    But then, Portsmouth, VA never was even near the radar and look at me now!

  3. My mom lives just outside of Ames and when I come up to visit her I am struck by 2 things. One, how much there is to do in Des Moines (I love their big Art Museum). Two, how incredibly NICE everybody is up there. There really is a marked difference in their behavior, they are more polite, they drive nicer and they are just kind! Des Moines Rocks!

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