Des Moines is finally getting a little recognition for our newly discovered “cool factor.” Whether you need a change of pace, somewhere new to take the kids, or a fabulous off-the-beaten-track place to take your out of town visitors, look no further than this guide to some of our favorite places in and around the Des Moines area.
Adventureland – With a new roller coaster (June 2016) and a super fun waterpark, you’re sure to have a “fun-filled day” at this close-to-home theme park.
Apex Athletics – Not only is Apex a place for classes and competitive teams, they have open gym (when the kids just need a place to burn off some energy) and a whole host of other things to check out as well.
Art Center – A free museum offering tours of the museum’s permanent and special exhibitions, you won’t want to miss this Des Moines gem and its outdoor extention (see Pappajohn Sculpture Park). In addition, check out the website for classes that they offer.
Art Festival – Held in Des Moines’ Western Gateway Park in June, this premier festival combines a varied selection of visual arts, live music, performing arts, interactive arts, and a film festival.
Backyard Adventures – An outdoor play set showroom that has indoor open play for children during the week and is available for birthday parties on evenings and weekends.
Bass Pro Shop – I know, I know… it’s a sporting goods store, but, rest assured you and your kids can be entertained for hours here. With over 145,000 square feet, this mega store has over 900 taxidermy specimens as well as an impressive aquarium. You can call ahead and help feed the fish or set up a guided tour! Not to mention, if you get hungry or feel the need to go bowling, stop in to Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill, a nautical themed restaurant with 12 lanes of under the sea bowling.
Big Creek State Park – Just to the north of the metro, a fun place to let the kids play on the playground, play at the beach, or take a swim. Also available: boat rental, fishing, hiking trails, and picnic shelters.
Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival – Held in February and dubbed as “The World’s Premier Baconfest,” the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival will be sure to please the bacon lover in your life… if you can manage to get tickets!
Boone Scenic Valley Railroad – With a stunning view and several special events throughout the year (like Thomas and the Santa Express), it’s a perfect day trip for the young and old.
Botanical Garden – Explore the beautiful gardens in Des Moines, no matter the season! Be sure to check out the number of events and programs that they offer.
Brenton Skating Plaza – A beautiful, outdoor ice skating rink. Come on downtown for the public skating, lessons, broomball, birthday parties, and much more.
Center Grove Orchard – Open from September to December (see website for specific dates). There is so much going on here! Check out all the farm fun they offer as well as their special events.
Chuck E. Cheese – What kid doesn’t love pizza, arcades, and earning tickets for prizes? You know your kids want to go here, and it can be a great place to burn off energy when the weather is not so great outside.
Civic Center – Des Moines’ premier venue for performing arts. Check the website for current and upcoming events.
Climb Iowa – From beginners to experts, this indoor rock climbing facility offers classes, memberships, and parties, truly offering something for everyone.
Clive Greenbelt Trail – A beautiful trail nestled in the heart of the city. With over 11 miles of paved surface and shelters and playgrounds along the way, your whole family will fall in love.
Covered Bridges of Madison County – Made famous by the movie in the 1990s, these six covered bridges have been renovated for everyone to enjoy. Take a tour and see their beauty in person — they are only a hop, skip, and a jump away!
Dam to Dam – Now an official half-marathon, this tradition of running between Saylorville Dam and Center Street Dam dates back to 1980 when the Saylorville Dam was brand-new. It has steadily grown in popularity and has grown to over 9,000 participants each year.
Des Moines Marathon – Choose from participating in a kid’s run, 5-Mile Fun Run, 5K, Half-Marathon, Marathon Relay, Full Marathon, or just cheer loudly for those crazy runners in your life. Any way you choose, you are bound to have a wonderful time. Be sure to check out the events before and after the races as well.
Des Moines Playhouse – A place for local actors to shine. Adults and children can attend classes, workshops, and even learn how to tap dance. Visit the website for showtimes and schedules.
Des Moines Social Club – I cannot even begin to explain all the things that are going on here. Slip on over to their website and prepare to be impressed!
Downtown Farmers’ Market – Head downtown to Court Avenue on Saturday mornings between May and October for all things good and home-grown or home-made. Come for breakfast and stay until lunch. There is also a Winter Market in November and December at Capital Square & Kaleidoscope at The Hub.
Drake University Athletics – Looking for a college sporting event right down the road? Head over and check out what is going on at Drake.
Easter Lake Park – A beautiful retreat offering multiple shelters and playgrounds as well as fishing, boating, hiking, and swimming all conveniently located on the south side of Des Moines.
East Village – Hit up this trendy new hot spot for shopping and dining — and don’t forget to stay and enjoy the nightlife.
Escape Chambers – You have 60 minutes to escape. Can you and your friends (or complete strangers) solve the clues and get out in time? Choose from five different rooms with different scenarios and get ready to put your thinking caps on to earn the coveted bumper sticker proving you’ve made it out.
Exile Brewing Co. – A super quaint old warehouse turned into a microbrewery and a restaurant, perfect for a date night or a group outing.
Farmers’ Markets – In addition to the Downtown Farmers’ Market, check out this list of farmers’ markets in surrounding areas.
Flix Brewhouse – New to Des Moines, this new theater/microbrewery/restaurant combination has really been a hit. Now it’s easy to hit dinner and a movie without running around town and spending a fortune on a sitter.
Flying Mango – A truly unique Des Moines favorite, once featured in Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives on The Food Network, you will want to see what all the hype is about.
Fong’s Pizza – Now with two locations (downtown and Ankeny), you will have no excuse not to get there more often. If you haven’t ever been, three words: Crab Rangoon Pizza. You’re welcome.
Fort Des Moines Park – Another beautiful park and arboretum on Des Moines’ south side.
Funny Bone Comedy Club – A 19 and older comedy club featuring acts and headliners from all over the world. Check out their website for upcoming performers.
Glow Golf – Kids and adults love this indoor, glow-in-the-dark version of miniature golf. Perfect activity for a date, group outing, or a birthday party.
Grandview University Athletics – Another fun, close option for college level sporting events. Check the website for schedules.
Gray’s Lake – A fun, clean retreat right in the heart of Des Moines with a 1.9-mile paved trail encircling the lake. Rent a bike, swim, or learn to sail, paddleboat, or paddleboard just minutes from downtown.
Gung Fu Tea – A fun place to check out teas from around the world and attend tea tastings when available.
High Trestle Trail – You are sure to be impressed with this breathtaking view of the Des Moines River Valley. Altogether, the trail runs 25 miles from Ankeny to Woodward. Fear not, you can park by the bridge and use as much (or as little) of the trail as you wish. The lights on the bridge are especially impressive in the evening.
Hoyt Sherman Place – Take a tour or take in a performance at this gorgeous, historic venue.
IMAX – The Science Center boasts a six-story dome-shaped screen that surrounds your field of view, front-to-back and top-to-bottom. Every seat in the house is a great one. Truly a must see experience, check out the website for films and showtimes.
Iowa Cubs – Have some serious fun rooting for the home team at one (or more) of their over 80 home games. Be sure to check out their open house where you can score some free food and get a chance to see the locker room, press box, and play catch down on the field.
Iowa Events Center – Encompassing the Wells Fargo Arena, Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center, Hy-Vee Hall, and the Iowa Hall of Pride, this multi-venue has a lot to offer for entertainment in the Des Moines area. Check out the teams that call this their home: the Iowa Barnstormers, Iowa Energy, and Iowa Wild.
Iowa Speedway – Rev up the excitement with some professional races only a short distance away in Newton. Head over to the website to check out the schedule of events.
Iowa State Capitol – With such a beautiful building that holds so much history right down the road, why not tour it? Best of all? It’s free!
Iowa State Fair – What can I say about the Iowa State Fair? So much fun, so much food, so much great people-watching. A must-attend event each and every year! See website for dates and a list of free concerts and Grandstand performances.
Jasper Winery – An estate style winery just minutes from downtown, stop by for a wine tasting or enjoy a special event like yoga, wine & canvas, jewelry class, or their summer concert series.
Jester Park Equestrian Center – Come out for a trail ride, wagon ride (or sleigh ride in the winter), lessons, Therapeutic Horsemanship Program, or many more activities. You’ll be glad you did!
Jordan House – A truly amazing piece of history right here in West Des Moines. The Jordan House, a beautiful Victorian home, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a member of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program. Tours are available every Friday and the first Saturday of the month, or you can schedule a private tour by visiting the website.
Kate Goldman Children’s Theater – Check out what is on the schedule for kid-friendly plays the whole family will enjoy.
KidsFest – Held over one weekend in March, this kid-centered festival with activities, games, and entertainment will be a hit for kids and families of all ages and helps at-risk families and children of Iowa.
Last Laugh Comedy Club – Looking for a fun adult night out? Check out the calendar of events Wednesdays through Saturdays for improv, stand-up, and more. If you have ever considered taking classes in improv or are looking to improve your public speaking skills, you may want to check this place out.
Ledges State Park – Such a great place to feel like you have “gotten away from it all” only a half hour away from the metro. Enjoy over four miles of challenging hiking up and down the steep ledges, but also know there is a fully accessible hike to Lost Lake. Wade through the beautiful Peas Creek that cuts in and out of Canyon Road.
Living History Farms – There is no other place quite like Living History Farms. Experience authentic simulations of typical historical farm sites from different eras gone by. Join in for special events and programming as well.
MB2 Raceway – Race around a challenging indoor track right here in Grimes with your friends or with your kiddos 48″ or taller. Check out all they have to offer!
Meals from the Heartland – If you are looking for an unforgettable way to volunteer with your whole family (or friends, or coworkers, etc.), look no further. Meals from the Heartland’s mission to package meals to deliver to starving people all over the world needs people like you to help.
Miracle Playground – A wonderful playground built on the premise of including everyone. Families with special needs will find this park especially refreshing.
Monkey Joe’s – The ultimate inflatables playground for the kids in your life who just need to get their energy out. Also a big hit when you are thinking about where to have your child’s birthday party.
National Balloon Classic – This nine-day event in late July/early August has a lot to offer! Head down to Indianola for food, music, kids activities, and, of course, hot air balloons.
Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge and Prairie Learning & Visitor Center – Truly a gem of the Midwest, this wildlife refuge is a home to bison, birds, pollinators, and more. With 5,600 acres to hunt, hike, even snowshoe, you will want to check out all that they offer.
Octagon Center for the Arts – Known as the cultural arts cornerstone in Ames for almost 50 years, you will find plenty to do here. Take a class, view the rotating exhibits, visit the gallery shop, or visit the annual festival.
Old Town Historic District – If historic architecture is your thing, be sure to check out these wonderful exhibits sprinkled throughout a 12-block area in Ames, Iowa, and showcased in the brochure linked in the title.
The Outside Scoop – This little ice cream shop is an ice cream connoisseur’s dream. Homemade ice cream flavors include goat cheese with roasted cherries, snickerdoodle, salty caramel with toffee, and much, much more. This must-hit seasonal spot in Indianola also has a mobile truck that can be spotted in downtown Des Moines and at wineries and orchards across the metro. Like their Facebook page to stay in the loop.
Pappajohn Sculpture Park – You and your kids will love wandering through the larger than life art displays in the heart of downtown.
Pinot’s Palette – Bring your friends, a date, or your kids for a session and take the finished masterpiece home when you are done! Always a fun experience, check out the paintings and availability on the website.
Pirate Cove Park – A cozy gem of a park in Altoona with a pirate ship structure, a sea monster, and an Easter Island head statue to spark the little one’s imagination.
Prairie Meadows – A bit of gambling, a little racing, concerts, restaurants, and much, much more. Venture out of your comfort zone for a little entertainment here.
Quiet times at the library – Cultivate your and your child’s love of books by visiting your local library. Grab your library card and check out much more than books, or participate in story times or activities for all ages. Visit one of the six Des Moines locations, or try one of the surrounding suburbs: Altoona, Ankeny, Johnston, Norwalk, Pleasant Hill, Urbandale, Waukee, or West Des Moines.
Quilting Connections – Offering classes and events, this quilting store has over 10,000 bolts of fabric in-store and has all your sewing and quilting needs covered.
Raygun – Located in the East Village, this T-shirt company is heavy on the hilarity and such a fun place to find a gift for that hard to buy for friend or family member.
Reiman Gardens – A short drive up to Ames, you will see a different garden each time you go. Constantly changing with the seasons, there is always something new. Visit their website to see what events and classes are coming up.
Raccoon River Excursions – If tubing down the Raccoon River sounds like fun to you, check out the services that Raccoon River Excursions offers!
Raccoon River Park – This park in West Des Moines has it all: swimming beach, fishing pier, multi-use trail, dog park, archery facility, nature lodge, reservable shelters, playgrounds, boat ramp, sports complex, and more.
Raccoon River Valley Trail – This 89-mile trail through 14 communities is perfect for your long runs, bike rides, or snowmobiling excursions. Home to the Market to Market relay in the spring, it starts in Jefferson, Iowa, and connects to many other trails in Des Moines.
Rustique Flea & Vintage Marketplace – If you like “junking” you’ll want to check out this unique combination of vintage marketplace, antique show, and flea market.
Salisbury House – Take a guided or self-guided tour of this stately house from the 1920s. Enjoy an event, gallery showing, or performance. See the calendar on their website for more information.
Saylorville – In addition to providing flood control, this 26,000 acre man-made lake is a host to dozens of outdoor recreation activities. Bring your own boat or rent one at the marina, and spend the weekend camping close to home. A visit to the spillway is always a highlight as well.
Science Center – A popular spot to visit, this place has so much to offer for kids and adults of all ages. Home of the Blank IMAX Dome Theatre, interactive exhibits, story times, a variety of programming, Mixology (for adults), and much, much more, you’ll want to consider a membership so you can come back and do all the things the Science Center has to offer.
Seven Oaks Recreation – Open all seasons, choose from tubing, canoeing, kayaking down the river, grab some friends for paintball or mountain biking in the summer, or enjoy some skiing, tubing, or snowboarding in the winter.
SkyZone – With trampolines from wall to wall, get your jump on during open jump, a birthday party, or one of their other options like Toddler Time, Ultimate Dodgeball, or Sky Slam.
Sleepy Hollow Sports Park – Just south of the fairgrounds in Des Moines, this place has got a lot going on in either winter or summer. Home to the Des Moines Renaissance Faire and the Haunted Scream Park, it’s more than just tubing and skiing.
Snookies – Easily the most famous ice cream shop in Des Moines. Located in the Beaverdale area, enjoy amazing ice cream treats and bring along your dog for a free pup cone!
State Historical Museum – The State Historical Museum celebrates Iowans, their ambitions, accomplishments, disappointments, and their contributions. Open seven days a week but closed on official state holidays, admission is free.
Tasty Tacos – Family owned and operated for over 50 years, this taco joint that has grown to five locations is truly a Des Moines treasure.
Terrace Hill – Come tour “Iowa’s Home,” an 18,000-square foot building that serves the dual purpose of the official governor’s residence and a National Historic Landmark.
Thelma’s -Satisfy your sweet tooth with one (or twenty) of Thelma’s freshly baked cookies or handmade ice cream sandwiches.
Three Chicks Bakery – If cookies, cakes, cupcakes, and cake pops are what you are looking for, this Polk City bakery is sure to impress your taste buds as well as your artistic eye.
Trader Joe’s – Known for their different approach to groceries, low prices on specialty items, and unique finds.
Tulip Time – A must-see in the springtime. Visit Pella’s Dutch heritage and enjoy crafts, recitals, food, shows, and parades all while basking in the beauty of the many varieties of tulips planted just for this event.
Union Park – Home of the Heritage Carousel of Des Moines (a 50-cent ride), a super fun antique “rocket slide,” and a splash pad, this is one of Des Moines’ first five original parks established in 1892.
Up-Down – If you are looking for something different, this unique bar features more than 40 arcade games from the ‘80s and ‘90s, pinball machines, three classic skee-ball alleys, Nintendo and Sega console gaming, and life-size Jenga and Connect Four. Release your inner child for fun while indulging in unique adult beverages. Visit the website for daily specials and activities.
Urbandale Indoor Public Swimming Pool – A public pool that is open all year round for lessons, activities, and birthday parties.
Valle Drive-In Theatre – A short trip away in Newton, Iowa, this is the only spot around to catch an outdoor double feature. Remember to bring cash, and visit the website to check for season dates and showings.
Valley Community Center – A place to let the children play, grab a coffee, take a class, or hold an event, this gift to the community from Valley Church is a popular spot for play dates.
Valley Junction – With over 150 specialty shops, restaurants, and services, this mix of small town charm and big city shopping may become a favorite place to frequent. Make sure to stop by for one of the many festivals, gallery showings, and much, much more.
Walker Johnston Park – A beautiful park featuring ball fields, playgrounds, and a skate park.
Water Works Park – Located near downtown, this wooded park with almost 1,500 acres running along the Raccoon River is a beautiful spot to bike, jog, picnic, fish, and hike.
West Grand Golf – Whether you fancy trying out the mini-golf, driving range, lessons, clinics, or camps, check out this facility and you won’t be disappointed.
Whole Foods – A premier spot to grab wholesome groceries with high-quality standards.
World Food Prize Hall of Laureates – Located in the former Des Moines Public Library, this tribute to tell the story of the men and women who have made vital contributions to improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food throughout the world is sure to have you thinking differently about your food.
X marks the spot (Geocaching) – Geocaching is a popular activity that involves hiding a geocache container from public view for others to locate. Once located, the participants can take an item from the geocache and replace it with one that they contribute. Participants may sign and date the logbook found inside as well!
YMCA – So much going on at your local YMCA! Check the website for the location nearest you and all the different classes and activities they offer for you and your children.
Yoga in the Park – Get out and enjoy some fresh air and yoga with others in the Des Moines area. Most sessions are at Gray’s Lake, but check the schedule online because some sessions are held in other parks around Des Moines.
Z’mariks – Parents and kids alike love this noodle café. Plus, kids eat free on Saturday! Check out all the locations in the Des Moines area to find the one nearest you.
Zombie Burger – This über cool burger joint with zombie themed burgers, shakes “to die for,” and weekly specials is sure to leave an impression. Now with two locations to enjoy… although, the original in East Village is the place to go for the atmosphere and decor.
Zoo (Blank Park Zoo) – This zoo keeps getting better and better. With experiences like giraffe, ostrich, or parakeet feeding, and train, camel, or carousel rides, you will have plenty to do on your visit here.