Des Moines, Iowa, is one of those cities that I take for granted that it’s so near. We’ve visited the city just a handful of times since I started this blog, and each time, we discover something new and exciting. It’s probably time I compile some of the greatest hits of our DSM adventures for you!
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Des Moines Attractions
Discover Des Moines attractions, museums, and restaurants to visit on your next weekend getaway. Here are a few of my favorites, as well as a few that are on my to-visit list for our next trip.
Adventureland is an amusement park (with a connected water park) just outside of Des Moines. It appeals to families, especially with little ones, as there are quite a few rides perfect for youngsters.
We visited on a ridiculously hot summer day, so read on if you want to know how to stay cool there!
Science Center of Iowa
I love a good science center, since it has things that my kids will love but also things that I can enjoy. It's like my whole family can be kids here. Plan on spending a few hours at the Science Center of Iowa in downtown Des Moines. Read on for details on what to see and do.
Blank Park Zoo
Blank Park Zoo is a bit off-the-beaten-path compared to other Des Moines attractions, but it's a lovely place to spend an afternoon. There are animal encounters, a fun playground, and of course, a lot of animals.
Living History Farms
Living History Farms is a unique place in the heartland, offering you the chance to explore farm life through the centuries. I'm a sucker for historical re-enactors, so I loved our visit.
Technically, this open-air museum is in Urbandale, but I still count it as Des Moines.
Iowa State Capitol
Here's a freebie to add to your list of things to do in Des Moines: VIsit the state capitol building. Tours are free, and you get the chance to see the breath-taking library. We did take our little ones on the tour and they did OK, but would definitely appeal to an older age demographic more.
Pappajohn Sculpture Park
Our first introduction to the magnificent sculpture garden in downtown Des Moines was during the Des Moines Summer Art Festival (an even worthy of its own trip to the city). Since then, we've returned again and again.
The Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a free park to visit with more than 30 sculptures. While I admire a lot of the artwork there, I'd be lying if I didn't say all that green space is excellent for kids to get some energy released.
Must-Try Restaurants in Des Moines
No weekend getaway is complete without visiting some of the most popular restaurants in a city. I asked a local to share her favorites, and the list is top-notch.
My Des Moines Bucket List
There is a lot more in Des Moines that I've yet to visit, so I have this handy list as a reminder. Check out my Des Moines Bucket List to see what you can add to your vacation plans.
Tours that highlight some of these attractions
If time is limited, you can opt for a guided tour to see and learn more about Des Moines. Here are a few available:
True Crimes Des Moines History Walking Tour
Downtown Bites & Beer Walking Tour
Sample weekend itinerary for Des Moines
We’ve “done” Des Moines in two different ways: As an extended pitstop on a longer road trip through Iowa, and as a dedicated weekend ‘o fun.
Based on both experiences, and on my experience of always stopping at a particular restaurant in Des Moines every.single.chance. I get, here is my suggested itinerary.
Day 1 – Downtown Des Moines
Spend the day in downtown Des Moines. If it’s a Saturday and it’s summer, stroll through the farmer’s market. Sample a few foods as you make your way down the street to your first destination: The Science Center of Iowa.
After a few hours there, you’ll be hungry. Lucky for you, Fong’s Pizza is on the same block. Get the crab rangoon pizza. Just trust me.
If your kids are, somehow, still full of energy, have them run it out at the Pappajohn Sculpture Garden. If you’d rather be indoors, head to the state capitol building for a tour.
End the night with a crazy huge burger at Zombie Burger in the Historic East Village or choose one of these restaurants with a nice patio.
Day 2 – Outdoor fun
Hope you’re rested. Today you can choose between thrills at Adventureland or history and cows at the Living History Farms. Either way, you’ll be walking a lot and probably really hot by the end of the day.
If you’re at Adventureland, just plan on eating in the park for lunch.
At the Living History Farms, you’re not farm from the Machine Shed. The servings are huge, so I hope you’re hungry.
For dinner, pick something off Megan’s list of the best restaurants in Des Moines. And, um, take a shower before you go.
You earned ice cream, if you didn’t already get dessert at dinner, so choose from one of these great Des Moines ice cream shops.
Discounts in Des Moines
One of the easiest ways to save money is to go in the off-season, but that’s not practical if, for instance, you want to go to Adventureland. So, here are my tips for saving money:
Love it or hate it, you can score some great deals on restaurants and activity centers on Groupon. Browse the Des Moines restaurant section and the Des Moines things to do section before your trip. Or even while you’re there!
When I last checked, there were discount tickets to a AAA Cubs baseball game, go carts and a trampoline park available.
The most frequent question I get how to get discounted tickets to places…like Adventureland. Here’s where to look:
- Des Moines Area Association of Realtors: You can say $10 off regular day passes or season passes for adults, or $5 off for children through their corporate partner program. Orders come with a coupon for up to $30 off a stay at Adventureland Inn.
- Iowa State Bank Des Moines: You can say $10 off regular day passes or season passes for adults, or $5 off for children through their corporate partner program.
Hy-Vee Grocery stores used to have discount tickets but from what I can tell, they aren’t doing it this year.
Science Center discount
If you have a family membership to Omaha Children’s Museum, you benefit from the ASTC reciprocal membership discount program…meaning you get admission for up to four people into the museum! It’s a great deal, so learn more about it in this post explaining the reciprocal program.
Where to stay in Des Moines
To be honest, I don’t have a favorite hotel in Des Moines, but I can recommend a few that are near some attractions, and maybe that will be enough of a deciding factor.
If you are planning to spend a day or two at Adventureland, I wrote about the hotel that’s super close to the amusement park.
If your plans take you to West Des Moines (or further), we stayed at the Wildwood Lodge in Clive. This one had a pretty cool lodge theme to it and the kids loved the pool.