July 9, 2018

Tips For Visiting Blank Park Zoo In Des Moines

Blank Park Zoo is a hidden gem that’s a bit off the beaten path in Des Moines, Iowa. My family is most familiar with the downtown area and, of course, Adventureland; however, we decided this summer, it was time to pay this zoo a visit. I’m glad we did! I just wish we had allowed more time to explore – we visited on the last day of a great weekend in Des Moines.

Tips for visiting Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, Iowa

Disclosure: Our trip was hosted by Catch Des Moines. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

You can explore the zoo in an afternoon – there are 22 acres of exhibits and facilities to see.

The zoo in Des Moines has an indoor rainforest with a low-hanging rope bridge.

Here are some of the things we discovered at the Des Moines zoo:

Not-to-miss animal encounters

Blank Park Zoo loads their summer days with animal encounters, keeper chats, feedings and more. You can see a schedule here. They are, of course, subject to change. We caught one of the Look & Learn educational programs near the penguins. It’s held daily at 11 a.m. If you arrive to the area at 10:45, you can watch the penguins being fed and then you’re just a few steps away from the animal program.

There are other encounters for an additional fee. My kids begged and begged to ride the camel, so we forked over the $6 each for them to ride.

Des Moines Zoo Camel Ride

For an additional fee, kids can ride a camel at the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, Iowa.

A few of the other activities that are an additional fee include feeding parakeets ($2 for a feed stick, $1 for admission only), the train ride ($2.25 per person or $2 for members), and the carousel ($2.25 per person or $2 for members). They also had a face painting stand, which seemed like a sweaty mess waiting to happen.

One of my favorite add-ons was the giraffe feeding, which I thought was reasonably priced. My daughter and I also fed giraffes for $2 a treat (which was actually like several lettuce leaves). I thought it was more fun getting up close to giraffes than camels, but my daughter may have a different opinion about it.

Feeding giraffes at Blank Park Zoo was an additional fee but definitely a memorable experience.

Behind the Scenes Tours

I can’t vouch for how a one-on-one tour with a zoo keeper and animal goes, but Blank Park Zoo has several different Behind The Scenes Tours that sound awesome. Sign me up for the sea lion and penguin experience, pronto.

Note that each tour has a different age restriction, so younger kiddos might not be able to take some of the tours. Prices for non-members are $50 for kids younger than 11 and $100 for kids 12 and older.

If your family loves incredible animal encounters and small-group tours, check out Tanganyika Park in Kansas!

Most unique ways to see animals

I appreciate it when a zoo finds an interesting way to get you (safely) close to animals to observe them. Two of my favorites were at Blank Park Zoo.

There’s an underwater viewing area for the sea lion exhibit that was one of our favorites. The animals would swim past the windows frequently.

Des Moines Zoo Seal Viewing Window

The seal exhibit had above water and below water viewing areas. We especially enjoyed watching the animals swim underwater.

My kids liked crawling through the prairie dog tunnels and popping their heads into the bubble in the exhibit. Only attempt crawling through them yourselves if you don’t mind looking super awkward.

There’s also an area called the Australia Adventure. In theory, this exhibit sounds awesome – the animals, like a wallaby, roam freely as you walk the trail. However, the trail was closed the day we visited, so I’m not sure how many animals one would actually get to see in the exhibit. If you’ve visited and got to walk the trail, let me know how it was!

Best kids play area

Des Moines Zoo Kids Area

Inside the Kids Kingdom at the zoo in Des Moines, you’ll find a petting zoo and wooden playground.

Having visited many Midwest zoos, there always seems to be a playground of some sort planted somewhere within. Blank Park Zoo has a fantastic space that’s tied in with its petting zoo. Don’t skip Kids Kingdom, with plenty of room to climb and play.

The playground at the Blank Park Zoo could be a destination in itself. It keeps kids busy for a long time.

And so you don’t have disappointed kids, you’ll need a $1 per food cup so your kids can feed the goats and llamas.

How to get a discount to Blank Park Zoo

If you have a membership to a zoo that belongs to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, you may get 50 percent off or event FREE admission to the zoo. For example, Omaha zoo members receive 50% off admission, while members of the Lincoln Children’s Zoo get FREE admission. Visit this AZA Reciprocal Admission Program page for more details and to check to see if your zoo participates. It’s also a good idea to call ahead to be sure.

I’ve written about the benefits of reciprocal programs for zoos, museums and botanical gardens, so check it out!

Want to explore more of Des Moines?

My son liked the interactive exhibits at Living History Farms in West Des Moines.

This is the second time we’ve visited Des Moines with the kids. If you’re interested in seeing what there is to do in West Des Moines (like the Living History Farms), check out this post. To learn more about downtown Des Moines attractions, read this post.

To plan your own Des Moines family getaway, start with the Des Moines Bucket List.

Get travel inspiration in your inbox

Get more posts like this delivered straight to your inbox twice a month. Subscribe to the FREE e-newsletter here.

June 20, 2018

Where To Stay Near Adventureland

Our long weekend in Des Moines, Iowa this summer included a day at Adventureland. Since the theme park was the main reason we were making this trip, it made sense to stay at a place nearby like Fairfield Inn & Suites. If you’re looking for a hotel near Adventureland, here’s what our stay was like.

Disclosure: Our weekend in Des Moines was hosted by Catch Des Moines. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Fairfield Inn & Suites Near Adventureland

This Fairfield Inn & Suites is technically in Altoona, Iowa, but simplicity’s sake, we’ll say it’s in Des Moines, since most of us out-of-towners think Adventureland is in Des Moines. The important thing is that it’s super close to Adventureland, right?

If you’ve stayed at a Fairfield Inn & Suites before, you are familiar with this Marriott brand hotel. It’s comfy and family-friendly and affordable. The bonus with this particular location is that it’s new, so everything is pristine and fresh.

The lobby of the Fairfield Inn and Suite near Adventureland.

The amenities I expect from a Fairfield are consistent the Marriott brand line of hotels: Complimentary hot breakfast, comfortable beds, small pool, and a hip, modern-looking lobby. This location also had a hot tub and a lake view. There’s an outdoor patio by the lake that will be nice eventually, but since this is such a new hotel, there still is some landscaping to do. There’s a door to the patio from the pool area.

This hotel had a nice touch for those who’ve spent a day outdoors in the summer: Cucumber-infused ice water in the lobby. If you’ve sweated your way through Adventureland in June, this is a refreshing and pleasant surprise to arrive to.

What I liked about the hotel

As a parent, I liked the convenience of walking down to the lobby for a hot breakfast, as well as having a variety of food to choose from. Fresh fruit is always a welcomed option at these breakfasts.

The view from the dining area in the Fairfield Inn & Suites.

I also liked the proximity to Adventureland. It wasn’t as near our other destinations that weekend, like Blank Park Zoo or downtown Des Moines, though. We’ve stayed at a hotel in West Des Moines on our last visit, and if you know the area, that’s even further from Adventureland. Anyway, after a long day at Adventureland, it was great to drive just about a mile to get back to our room.

The rooms themselves are great for families, spacious enough for a family of four. We had two queen beds, plus a pull-out couch. The “suite” area of the room consisted of that couch, plus a desk and TV.

This is what happens when your 6-year-old art directs the photo of a hotel room. You can see the suite area with the pull-out bed couch in the background.

There’s a small toiletry and snack store located in the lobby, in case you forgot necessities. I opted to head to the nearby Target, though, for things I had forgotten.

What the kids liked

As usual, the pool was the biggest hit with the kids. It’s not very deep, so it was good for my little ones. The hot tub was their second favorite area.

What’s near the hotel

The Fairfield Inn & Suites is in a new commercial development in Altoona. It includes the Outlets of Des Moines and the Bass Pro Shop, plus a few restaurants. You could feasibly walk to all of them, but we did not. It looked like there could be a walking path constructed down the road, connecting the hotel to the nearest restaurant, Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse.

If you’re wondering about nearby restaurants, I was more satisfied with the variety and unique dining experiences in downtown Des Moines. The restaurants closest to this hotel are all chains, which may or may not be what you’re looking for. We tried to go to Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse one night since they had provided some coupons to hotel guests, but the wait was too long for our kids to stand patiently.

Here are some distances to note:

Outlets of Des Moines – Walkable

Adventureland – Less than 2 miles

Target – Less than 2 miles

Nearest movie theater (Cinemark) – 2 miles

Downtown Des Moines (includes Science Center of Iowa, Fongs Pizza, Des Moines Farmers Market, Pappajohn Sculpture Park, Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, state capitol building and more attractions) – About 10 miles

Blank Park Zoo – About 16 miles

Living History Farms – 18 miles


If you go

Fairfield Inn & Suites Altoona


Where: 460 Bass Pro Drive NW, Altoona, Iowa



Get travel inspiration in your inbox

Get more posts like this delivered straight to your inbox twice a month. Subscribe to the FREE e-newsletter here.

June 7, 2018

Best Family Getaway To Des Moines

A weekend in Des Moines, Iowa, was the perfect way to start summer for my family this year. Over the course of three days, our getaway to Des Moines included thrill rides, feeding giraffes, and visiting a few downtown attractions. Here’s how you can have an affordable and fun weekend in Des Moines.

Disclosure: Our trip was hosted by Catch Des Moines. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Things to do in Des Moines with kids

Adventureland – We arrived first thing in the morning to Adventureland and enjoyed super short waits for the roller coasters and other rides. It turns out, having near 100-degree weather was a benefit, and meant we had close to no waits all day.

We arrived at Adventureland right when it opened to enjoy no waits for rides like The Dragon. Adventureland is in Altoona, Iowa, and near Des Moines.

We didn’t go to the waterpark attached to Adentureland—it wasn’t open. But, what’s good for you to know is that it’s included with admission and looks like the oasis you need on a crazy hot summer day.

Top rides for the kids were the Galleon and the Dragon. Top show was the magic show. I rather liked the magic show, too, but more because the A/C was full blast.

Blank Park Zoo – This charming zoo isn’t near any of the others on this list, but will be a highlight for your family, especially if you have little ones. It’s easy to fit in a visit under three hours. There is a lot of shade there, and plenty of opportunities to get up close to animals. They also had frequent animal feedings and keeper talks. There are some extras that you can add to make the visit extra special. We fed giraffes and rode a camel.

Feeding giraffes at Blank Park Zoo was an additional fee but definitely a memorable experience.

Science Center of Iowa – In the heart of downtown Des Moines, the Science Center of Iowa is a wonderful, indoor place to explore. It was a rainy morning, making it a perfect spot for us to retreat to. My kids are at the ideal age to really begin to dive into activities at the science center.

The science center is located in downtown Des Moines. Families can easily spend several hours there.

Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market – We timed our visit to the science center to coincide with the Saturday morning farmers market (it’s pretty much right in front of the science center). This is a giant farmers market, and we didn’t see it all. We sampled some food (and wine), as well as tried fresh watermelon.

The Des Moines Farmers Market in downtown Des Moines was the largest I’d ever been to. There were vendors selling produce, clothing, wine and more.

Pappajohn Sculpture Garden – We first visited this sculpture garden during the Des Moines Summer Arts Festival a few years ago. It was nice to return without the crowd. My kids enjoyed the wide open space to run, and I liked seeing some impressive works of art. It’s fairly close to the Science Center of Iowa. We walked it, but it wasn’t without a fair amount of complaining, so I’d recommend driving.

Not far from the sculpture garden are some water features that kids enjoy dipping their feet in. It’s good to know about if you’re there on a hot summer day.

Playing in the water feature in downtown Des Moines is not a bad idea when it’s nearing 100 degrees.

Additional ideas: We visited Des Moines two years ago, and enjoyed visiting Living History Farms. It wasn’t near our hotel this time around. If you’re looking for a FREE option with the kids, the Iowa capitol building is a good one. The law library is impressive, with spiral staircases you’ll want to get a picture of.

An interactive exhibit at Living History Farms in Des Moines.

Kid-friendly restaurants in Des Moines

Fong’s Pizza – This was, by far, the star restaurant for our family. Try their legendary crab rangoon pizza. The kids ordered from the kid’s menu and stuck to the familiar. Parents, there are some tasty mixed drinks served in kitchy glasses.

Fongs Pizza’s most well-known pie is the crab rangoon pizza. It’s delicious and lives up to the hype.

Zombie Burger – This is one we went to on our last visit. The food is also delicious the menu is funny, and you can pretty much expect a wait. The only drawback is that the zombies may not appeal to some younger kids.

I tried the Dead Moines Burger from Zombie Burger in Des Moines, Iowa.

Iowa Tap Room – I wanted to like this place more than I did, but I’m chalking it up to bad timing on a busy Friday night. It is kid-friendly, though, and there was one bartender who was phenomenal with our kids while we waited to be seated.

Drake Diner – On this trip, we enjoyed the hot, complimentary breakfast at our hotel. But on our last visit, the Drake Diner was a great breakfast spot.

Where to stay in Des Moines

Fairfield Inn & Suites – We stayed at a new Fairfield Inn & Suites in Altoona, very near Adventureland and the Des Moines Outlets. It also put us within about 10 minutes of downtown Des Moines.

The view from the dining area in the Fairfield Inn & Suites. The hotel is near Adventureland and Des Moines Outlets, as well as the interstate.

As mentioned earlier, it had a hot, complimentary breakfast each morning, so it’s a good option for families. There’s a pool, workout center, and it’s facing a nice pond. The area is still be developed, and I imagine the pond is going to eventually have a walking path around it.

Des Moines family vacation

* * * * *

Driving to Des Moines? Plan stops along the way! Here’s my Pinterest board with things to do in Des Moines with kids:

Get Travel Inspiration Directly In Your Inbox

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.

July 15, 2016

Family-Friendly Des Moines Hotel, Wildwood Lodge

Des Moines, Iowa, is a city with attractions spread throughout the metro area, so choosing a hotel for a home base can be tough. It’s an easy-to-navigate city, but knowing what you want to do there will help narrow down your options.

I was set on seeing the Living History Farms for the first time, so being hosted to the city by Catch Des Moines, I was hooked up with the Wildwood Lodge, located in Clive, a suburb of West Des Moines.

What to expect at Wildwood Lodge

The fireplace in the lobby of Wildwood Lodge in Clive, Iowa.

The fireplace in the rustically decorated lobby of Wildwood Lodge, a West Des Moines hotel located in the suburb of Clive, Iowa.

The location of Wildwood Lodge isn’t exactly what I typically look for – it’s nestled among chain restaurants like Chili’s and Applebee’s. But it’s also near the Living History Farms, as well as Clive Aquatic Center, Jordan Creek Town Center and the interstate. Its convenience could not be beat.

The front lobby of Wildwood was my favorite thing of the entire hotel. It has a cabin theme throughout.

A close eye for detail was maintained throughout the Wildwood Lobby.

A close eye for detail was maintained throughout the Wildwood Lobby.

I spent one afternoon reading by the fireplace while everyone in my family napped. If I squinted real hard, I could imagine the parking lot was a lake.

If you’re traveling with little ones, you know the pool is a make or break thing. Here, the pool was large enough for play, plus there was a great hot tub.

The pool at Wildwood Lodge went up to 6 feet. The hot tub is behind the fake boulders.

The pool at Wildwood Lodge went up to 6 feet. The hot tub is behind the fake boulders.

If you aren’t traveling with kids, you’ll be happy to know they kick them out after 9:30 p.m. (which is plenty late for my kiddos, so I wasn’t put out).

The hotel offers a couple extras for guests, including a complimentary happy hour appetizer during the week and breakfast every day. During the week, that breakfast includes some hot elements. One day it was scrambled eggs for us, the next biscuits and gravy. Guests arriving Sunday through Thursday receive a cookie, too.

Complimentary breakfast is served in the lobby of Wildwood Lodge seven days a week.

Complimentary breakfast is served daily in the lobby of Wildwood Lodge.

The hotel also has free wi-fi, which I love.

The rooms carried some of the cabin theme into them. Our first room overlooked the pool area, which is cool in theory, but in reality, it made the room reek of chlorine. The front desk staff promptly helped us change rooms.

A room with two queen size beds was enough space for my family of four.

A room with two queen size beds was enough space for my family of four.

The rooms are pretty standard for mid-range hotel – there weren’t a whole lot of frills to it, but it was comfortable.

Dining near Wildwood Lodge

There are several restaurants within walking distance of the hotel. They’re all national chains, which you might want the familiarity.

I like to find local restaurants near hotels I’m staying at. One of the most well-known Des Moines Restaurant is about a five-minute drive: The Machine Shed. Go with a big appetite!

You'll be stuffed after eating a meal at the Machine Shed, but how can you not save room for dessert?

You’ll be stuffed after eating a meal at the Machine Shed, but how can you not save room for dessert?

And a camera, because we had a lot of fun taking pictures in front of the restaurant.

I asked the clerk at the front desk what she’d recommend and she recommended the Waterfront Seafood Market. She said they had the best clam chowder (she added that she’s a Boston native with a nod of authority).

Attractions near Wildwood Lodge

The 1900 Horse-Powered Farm at the Living History Farms in Urbandale, Iowa, was my kids' favorite because there were so many animals there.

The 1900 Horse-Powered Farm at the Living History Farms in Urbandale, Iowa, was my kids’ favorite because there were so many animals there.

One of the biggest draws to this West Des Moines area is The Living History Farms, which depict Iowa farm life over three centuries. It’s about 2 miles from the hotel – a very quick drive!

Even a shorter distance from the hotel is the Clive Aquatic Center. Cool off at this outdoor water park (not in the “big water park sense,” but one with a couple slides, a cute kids pool area and a huge pool).

About 3 miles in the other direction is the huge mall and shopping center, Jordan Creek Town Center. We found a lot of families walking around the lake, looking at the cute ducklings and loud geese. There are several higher-end chain restaurants around the lake with outdoor seating to enjoy the view. The mall has a movie theater, as well.

The walking path around the Jordan Creek Town Center is stroller-friendly and short enough for little legs to manage.

The walking path around the Jordan Creek Town Center is stroller-friendly and short enough for little legs to manage.

The drive to downtown Des Moines from the hotel is about 10 miles – very manageable if you plan on visiting any of the attractions there.


If you go

Wildwood Lodge

Where: 11431 Forest Ave, Clive, Iowa (being an out-of-towner who doesn’t know better, I still consider this a Des Moines hotel)

Get more hotel information here!

* * * * *

Plan your own Great Iowa Road Trip!

Iowa Collage

To learn more about some of the destinations on this trip, visit the blog over the next few weeks. I can’t wait to tell you about these places:

A room with a view at South Shore Inn in Clear Lake, Iowa

Adventure in a Yurt in Clear Lake, Iowa

Fun on the rails with Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad

Get even more inspiration from The Great Iowa Road Trip Post, plus my bucket lists for Des Moines and Clear Lake!

June 17, 2016

My Des Moines Bucket List

This summer, my family’s taking a road trip through central Iowa, exploring a big city and many small towns. Our first stop is Des Moines, the capital of Iowa. 

My kids have never been there, and the last time I spent quality time there, “Friends” was a new TV show. Time to explore the city again, right?

The open road will be calling before I can check everything off the list, but here’s my Des Moines Bucket List, for future visits too. Start planning your Des Moines bucket list with help from Catch Des Moines!

Des Moines bucket list


Eat at the TV Reality Show Darlings – I’m a sucker for a good restaurants, so if some television personality tells me a place is worth a visit, I’m so there. I think we need to venture into Fong’s Pizza (seen on “Food Paradise” and “Sandra Lee’s Taverns, Lounges & Clubs”) for perhaps a crab rangoon pizza or try a massive burger at Zombie Burger + Drink Lab (featured on “Today Show” and “United States of Bacon”).

Just about every foodie friend and blogger who passes through Des Moines shares a picture from Zombie Burger on Instagram. Must be good! photo courtesy Catch Des Moines

In addition to TV hosts, just about every foodie friend and blogger who passes through Des Moines shares a picture from Zombie Burger on Instagram. Must be good! Photo courtesy Catch Des Moines


Keep Eating, This Time At Online Reviewers’ Faves – If I can’t find a show about it, I read what others loved while browsing online forums. Of the restaurants that stood out to me, the ones that might have a remote chance of appealing to my kids too, are barbecue hot spots like Woody’s Smoke Shack or Flying Mango, or the ultimate comfort food found at The Machine Shed.

Time Travel – This area in Iowa is full of unique activities that are throwbacks to different eras. I’m certain a favorite will be the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad, though technically, this isn’t a Des Moines attraction, I’m tacking it on since on our road trip route. We also might check out the Heritage Carousel and rocket slide at Union Park. Living History Farms is another Des Moines staple that I cannot believe I’ve never been to.

The Heritage Carousel is one of those rare wooden carousels. It was made to feel and sound like a traditional one.

The Heritage Carousel is one of those rare wooden carousels. It was made to feel and sound like a traditional one. It made not be an old carousel but it looks pretty, so I don’t care. Photo courtesy Catch Des Moines


Admire the art – Des Moines has one of the Midwest’s biggest summer arts festivals, and it even gets international attention (International Festivals & Events Association awarded the Des Moines Summer Arts Festival with a Gold Grand Pinnacle Award in 2014 and 2015 as one of the “best festival in the world”). A permanent fixture on the downtown Des Moines scene is the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. I’ve seen so many cute photos taken there, I need to take a few of my own while we’re there. Doesn’t hurt the vacation budget to visit either of these, too! They’re free.

Des Moines' free sculpture park, the Pappajohn. Photo courtesy Catch Des Moines

Des Moines’ free sculpture park, the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Photo courtesy Catch Des Moines


Walk the High Trestle Trail Bridge – Another freebie adventure for the family is to walk the High Trestle Trail Bridge. We’re an active family, so something like this appeals to us. If you’re going to take a hike or bike ride, do it somewhere scenic, right? This 13-story high bridge is found on a much larger trail north of Des Moines. Look for the bridge spanning the Des Moines River along the trail between Madrid and Woodward, Iowa (OK, you got me again, it’s not technically IN Des Moines, but at least it’s closer than Boone, right?).

The High Trestle Bridge at night in Des Moines. Photo courtesy Catch Des Moines

The High Trestle Bridge at night in Des Moines. Photo courtesy Catch Des Moines


Sneak some learning in while on vacation – Most trips, you’ll find the Oh My! Omaha family stopping at a museum of some sort. The Science Center of Iowa looks like it’d be a hit with the kids and the grownups on the trip (we’re just big kids, after all). I can see us spending a lot of time in the Small Discoveries area catering to the 7 and younger crowd, but there are two stories to explore there, so no doubt we’d attempt to explore it all on our trip!

The Science Center of Des Moines. Photo courtesy Catch Des Moines

The Science Center of Iowa. Photo courtesy Catch Des Moines


Have a day of thrills – My kids would love Adventureland. What kid wouldn’t love a huge theme park? I haven’t been there in ages, so pretty much everything there would be new to me. What I’m thinking would be my favorite if we were to visit on a hot summer day? Adventure Bay. Looks fun, doesn’t it?

Adventure Bay at Adventureland is Iowa's newest water park. Photo courtesy Catch Des Moines

Cooling off at Adventure Bay at Adventureland, Iowa’s newest water park. Photo courtesy Catch Des Moines

There’s so much more I could add here! The city has a baseball team for sports fans. Love theater? Des Moines Civic Center has a great Broadway season coming up, and in 2017, they’re bringing two recent Broadway shows I’d love to see: “Fun Home” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time.”


Your turn:

Please add in the comment section places you think should be on this list! What restaurants, attractions, and photo opps do you recomment?

July 28, 2014

Insider’s Guide To The Iowa State Fair

UPDATED: Aug. 9, 2018

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by the funny Bolton Carley, a blogger out of Bellevue, Neb., who’s made the trip to the Iowa State Fair more times than she’ll admit. She even has her own guide on her blog for the 2018 Iowa State Fair.

Day trip alert!  Day trip alert!

Where do you need to go?  Only one of the 1,000 places you should see before you die:  the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa!  


school and state fair 480

If there was ever a place to see, and a place that offered something for everyone, it would be the Iowa State Fair.  I don’t know another place that provides carnival rides, different flower hybrids, parades, giant sand sculptures, 2,000-pound bulls, gorgeous photography in tribute of Ansel Adams, a sky jack ride, free concerts, fried Snickers, and massaging chairs all in the same place! So where should you be August 9-19?  The Iowa State Fair.

Why? Because as the theme for this year states:  Nothing Compares!


Okay, so maybe I’m bias, but I love the Iowa State Fair and I kinda consider myself an expert.  My parents started taking me when I was born, and although we’ll not mention how many years ago that was, sufficed to say, I know my way around the fairgrounds especially after years of showing cattle there.  So here’s what I can tell you:

*Go hungry!  Actually, go starving, but not so much that you pass out before you make it in the gates!  Also, it might be best to take a break from your diet, too.  The Iowa State Fair is legendary for its corn dogs.  Needless to say, you don’t want to miss out on a footlong!  Yum.  Of course, there are also turkey legs, funnel cakes, snow cones, fresh lemonade shake-ups, fried pickles, malts made from dairy cows milked on the fairgrounds, and my personal fave, fried Oreos.

This is a fried Oreo. You know you want to try it.

This is a fried Oreo. You know you want to try it. Photo courtesy BC Productions

Crazy, huh?  I never thought I’d like them, but O. M. G!  To. Die. For!  The fair prides itself on adding new stuff every year.  Among the newbies this year:  bacon mac ‘n cheese, caprese salad on a stick, and funnel cake sticks.  Eat up, my friends!  And don’t forget to swing by the barrel stands for root beer, a long-standing tradition at the fair.  (But if you’re looking for adult beverages, no worries.  They have a craft beer booth for you to try all Iowa’s new flavors or if you want to chat with the local livestock crowd, find your way to Stockman’s Bar!)

*Okay, it’s hard to top the food, but you also have to see something made of food:  butter!  You must, and I mean MUST, see the butter cow while you’re there.  If you haven’t been living under a rock, you probably already know that’s a major hot spot. Plus, in addition to the butter cow, there will also be a tribute to the “Field of Dreams” this year made solely of butter!  And while you’re in the building, check out the amazing flowers and produce Iowa farmers grow.

Photo courtesy BC Productions

Photo courtesy BC Productions

Let’s just say you’ll be proud to be from the Midwest.

*Need another can’t-miss spot?  The Ye Old Mill.

Behold, Ye Old Mill.

Behold, Ye Old Mill. Photo courtesy BC Productions

It was actually the original water ride at the fairgrounds.  There may, or may not have been, a LOT of first kisses in the darkly lit, canoe ride. Lol.  You might want to hit the big slide, too.  But for those seeking a little more adventure, pack your cash and get shot up in the air like a rocket as seen below.


The thrill-seeker’s kind of ride. Photo courtesy BC Productions


*Who’s not up for free stuff?  You’ll have enough pens, pencils, magnets, and rulers to start school off if you head to the varied industries and the Iowa tourism buildings.  Oh, and they give away great stuff under the grandstand, too.  You can be temporarily-tattooed up in no time at all!

*Of course, if you’re a person after my own heart, you can’t go to the fair without seeing some livestock!  You’ve gotta see the big bull (and yes, all parts of him are big)!  Every year, cattlemen bring in their bulls to fight for the title of largest bull.

Photo courtesy BC Productions

Can’t go to the state fair without seeing livestock. Photo courtesy BC Productions

They do the same with hogs or as we call it The Big Pig. Plus, 4-Hers show farm animals from rabbits to broilers to horses to llamas over the course of the 10-day fair.  And speaking of 4-Hers, you need to check out the 4-H Exhibit building, it’s like real-life Pinterest!  Thousands of great ideas on display to get your creativity going!  (And if you see a pretty girl with a sash that says East Pottawattamie Fair Queen – say “hi” to my niece for me!)

Truthfully, I could go on and on about what you need to see while you visit the fair, but that’s really up to you.  Be sure to check out the Iowa State Fair website for the schedule of events that most interest you and ways to get discount entry into the fair.


Beyond that, my best tip is to park outside the gates.  If you go back off the main streets, you can get cheaper parking in people’s yards and it’s much easier to get out at the end of the day (you can ride the Dart, too, but I’ve never done that).  Also, go early.  It gets crowded later in the day.  I love to people-watch so that’s okay by me, but it will be chaotic and possibly hot!  Finally, take your camera!  You never know when you’ll see that ostrich on a tricycle or the bearded yak lady!

Happy Fair, y’all!

– As a self-proclaimed herder of cattle, kids, and words, Bolton Carley is a blogger, writer, photographer, and farmer’s daughter living in Bellevue, Neb.  Check out her humorous life lessons blog, follow her on Twitter, enjoy her photography, or for all things funny, go to her Facebook page. 


If you go

Iowa State Fair

When: Aug. 9-19, 2018; grounds open 7 a.m. to 1 a.m., buildings from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Midway from 10 a.m. to midnight

Where: 3000 East Grand Ave., Des Moines, Iowa Map

Admission: Adults, $12; children (6-11), $6; children 5 and younger, FREE

Discounts: Enter between 5 and 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and adults are $6 and children (6-11) are $3. On opening day, tickets are  $6 adult and $3 child from 5 a.m. to noon with a coupon from the Aug. 3 Des Moines Sunday RegisterOn Aug. 11, active and retired members of the military and their spouses are admitted for $8 at the gate (7 a.m. to 5 p.m.) with a military ID. On Aug. 12, get $3 off regular admission (7 a.m. to 5 p.m.) with a donation of at least two canned food items. Limit one discount per donation. On Aug. 13, fairgoers ages 60 and up get in for $8 at the gate until 5 p.m. On Aug. 17, get $5 off regular adult admission and $2 off admission for children (6-11) until 9 p.m.

Guide to things to do, food to eat, and what not to miss at the Iowa State Fair #thisisiowa #desmoines #statefair #ISF