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Best Things To Do In Des Moines This Summer

As the summer season approaches, it’s time to start planning your outdoor adventures and activities in Des Moines. Whether you’re a resident of the city or just visiting for the season, there’s no shortage of exciting things to see and do. From cultural events and outdoor festivals to fun-filled parks and stunning natural landscapes, Des Moines offers a range of options for every taste and interest. In this blog post, I’ll explore some of the best and most fun things to do in Des Moines this summer, so you can make the most of your time in the city. 

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links.

Things to do outdoors in the summer

There are plenty of fun outdoor activities to enjoy in Des Moines, especially during the summer. I should know: It’s my family’s favorite time to visit Des Moines. 

A rollercoaster at Adventureland Park

Spend the day at Adventureland Park

Adventureland Park is an amusement park that features more than 100 rides, attractions, and shows. It’s a great place to spend a day with family and friends, and it’s open from April through October. While technically located in Altoona, most people refer to it as a part of Des Moines. In 2023, the park will unveil two new rides.

Adventureland Park, 305 34th Ave. NW, Altoona

Immerse yourself at Living History Farms

Living History Farms is an outdoor museum that tells the story of Iowa’s agricultural history. You can walk through farmhouses from various eras and explore shops of old. My kids love chatting with the costumed actors, though I think their favorite part of the farms are the animals.

It can get very hot at Living History Farms, since air-conditioning is a fairly recent invention. However, there are some indoor exhibits (in a building with AC), and they showcase the history of agriculture and the people who made it happen.

Living History Farms, 11121 Hickman Road, Urbandale

Explore the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

The Botanical Garden is a beautiful 7-acre garden located in the heart of downtown Des Moines. It features a wide variety of plants and flowers from around the world and offers a peaceful and relaxing outdoor experience.

Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, 909 Robert D. Ray Drive, Des Moines

Visit Gray’s Lake Park

Gray’s Lake Park is a beautiful park just minutes from downtown Des Moines. With a 2.1-mile trail loop around the lake, Gray’s Lake is a popular place for walkers and runners. The small lake is also a great location for paddling and the park offers limited boat rentals during the warmer months. 

Gray’s Lake, 2101 Fleur Drive, Des Moines

Explore Des Moines Water Works Park

Not far from Gray’s Lake Park, Des Moines Water Works Park is almost 1,500 acres of wooded trails and ample outdoor spaces. A recent renovation of the park added in a concert pavilion, art installation, playground and more. 

Des Moines Water Works Park, 2201 George Flagg Parkway, Des Moines

Take a bike ride on the Des Moines River Trail

The Des Moines River Trail is a 12.4-mile trail that runs along the Des Moines River. It’s a great place to go for a bike ride, walk, or jog and enjoy some beautiful views of the river.

A girl on the rope bridge at Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, Iowa

Greet the animals at the Blank Park Zoo

The Blank Park Zoo is a 49-acre zoo that features over 800 animals from around the world. It’s a great place to spend a day with family and friends and enjoy some outdoor fun.

Blank Park Zoo, 401 SW Ninth St., Des Moines

Play at Raccoon River Park

Raccoon River Park is a 630-acre park that offers a wide variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, fishing, and boating. There are also several playgrounds, picnic areas, and a beach for swimming.

Raccoon River Park, 2500 Grand Ave., Des Moines

Walk around Brenton Arboretum

Brenton Arboretum is a beautiful 140-acre arboretum northwest of Des Moines that features more than 2,500 trees and shrubs from around the world. It’s a great place to take a peaceful walk and enjoy some beautiful nature.

25141 260th St., Dallas Center, Iowa

Cheer on the Iowa Cubs

The Iowa Cubs are a minor league baseball team that plays at Principal Park in downtown Des Moines. It’s a fun and affordable way to enjoy some outdoor entertainment.

Principal Park, 1 Line Drive, Des Moines, Iowa

Swim at Saylorville Lake

Saylorville Reservoir is a beautiful 5,400-acre lake that offers a variety of outdoor activities, including boating, fishing, hiking, and camping. There are also several picnic areas and beaches for swimming.

Saylorville Lake is located north of Des Moines on the Des Moines River

Paddle on the Greater Des Moines Water Trails

The Greater Des Moines Water Trails are a network of waterways that offer a variety of outdoor activities, including kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. There are several access points and rental options available.

Things to do indoors 

If it’s rainy in Des Moines this summer, don’t worry! There are plenty of fun indoor places to visit. Here are some ideas:

A girl interacts with an exhibit inside the Science Center of Iowa in downtown Des Moines

Explore the Science Center of Iowa

The Science Center of Iowa is a hands-on museum in downtown Des Moines that offers a variety of interactive exhibits and demonstrations focused on science, technology, engineering, and math. It’s a great place to learn and have fun at the same time.

Science Center of Iowa, 401 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, Des Moines, Iowa

Challenge yourself in an escape room

Des Moines has several escape room venues where visitors can solve puzzles, clues, and riddles to escape a themed room within a certain time frame. It’s a fun and challenging indoor activity for groups of friends or family.

Game on at Up-Down Arcade Bar

Up-Down is a vintage arcade bar that features over 50 arcade games and pinball machines from the 80s and 90s. It’s a great 21+ place to relive your childhood and have a few drinks with friends. I went to an Up-Down location in Kansas City and had so much fun!

Up-Down Arcade Bar, 500 E. Locust St., Des Moines, Iowa

Have fun with friends at Smash Park

Smash Park is an indoor/outdoor sports bar that features a variety of games and activities, including pickleball, ping pong, shuffleboard, and cornhole. It’s a great place to socialize and have fun with friends.

Smash Park, 6625 Coachlight Drive, West Des Moines, Iowa

The interior of The Hall, a food and beer hall in West Des Moines
Photo courtesy Catch Des Moines

Unwind at The Hall

The Hall is a food and beer hall that features several local restaurants and breweries. It’s a great place to try different types of food and drinks and socialize with other patrons. Food from around the world includes German, Middle Eastern, pizza and more.

The Hall, 111 S. 11th St., West Des Moines, Iowa

Catch a show at Des Moines Playhouse

The Des Moines Playhouse is a community theater that features a variety of plays and musicals throughout the year. It’s a great place to enjoy some live entertainment and support local performers. “Native Gardens” is the summer show; the musical “Once” opens the 23-24 season in September.

Des Moines Community Playhouse, 831 42nd St., Des Moines, Iowa

Laugh (a lot) at Funny Bone Comedy Club

The Funny Bone Comedy Club is a venue that features nationally-known stand-up comedians. It’s a great place to laugh and enjoy some live entertainment. Find the Funny Bone in the West Glen Town Center.

Funny Boney Comedy Club, 560 S. Prairie View Drive, suite 100, West Des Moines, Iowa

Things to do on a summer night 

There are plenty of fun things to do in Des Moines at night in the summer. Keep reading for ideas:

Enjoy free Music Under the Stars

Music Under the Stars is a free concert series in the downtown area held at the Des Moines Civic Center’s outdoor courtyard in June and July. Visitors can bring their lawn chairs, blankets, and snacks, and enjoy live music from a variety of genres.

5817 Walnut Hill Ave., Des Moines, Iowa

Have a drink with friends

Des Moines has several bars that offer great views of the city skyline, along with drinks and food. Some popular rooftop bars include The Republic on Grand and The Rooftop. The city has a vibrant nightlife scene (even without the rooftop bar option). Some popular spots include El Bait Shop (with 250+ beers on tap) and a martini bar called The Lift

The Republic on Grand in the AC Hotel, 401 E. Grand Ave., Des Moines, Iowa

The Rooftop, 525 E. Grand Ave., Des Moines, Iowa

El Bait Shop, 200 SW Second St., Des Moines, Iowa

The Lift, 222 Fourth St., Des Moines, Iowa

Free movie night outdoors

Des Moines Parks and Recreation Department hosts free outdoor movie nights on Fridays throughout the summer at various locations around the city. Visitors can bring their lawn chairs, blankets, and snacks, and enjoy a movie under the stars. Movies run from June to August.

  • June 9, “Luca,” Northwest Aquatic Center, 4915 Madison Ave., Des Moines, Iowa
  • June 23, “Lightyear,” Pioneer Park, 1650 E. Pioneer Road, Des Moines, Iowa
  • July 7, “DC League of Super Pets, Grandview Park, 3230 Easton Blvd., Des Moines, Iowa
  • July 14, “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” Frisbee Park, 6101 Muskogee Ave., Des Moines, Iowa
  • July 21, “Black Panter: Wakanda Forever,” Beaverdale Park, 3333 Adams Ave., Des Moines, Iowa
  • Aug. 12, “Finding Nemo,” Birdland Pool, 300 Holcomb Ave., Des Moines, Iowa
  • Aug. 18, “Monster’s University,” Brody Middle School Park, 2501 Park Ave., Des Moines, Iowa 

Get tickets to a great concert

Interior of Noce Jazz Club
Photo courtesy Eva Lewin

Des Moines has a thriving music scene with a variety of venues that cater to different genres and tastes. Here are some of the most popular music venues in Des Moines:

  • Wells Fargo Arena (holds up to 16,000 people) – A large venue that hosts some of the biggest names in music, including pop, rock, and country artists. Wells Fargo Arena, 233 Center St., Des Moines, Iowa
  • Hoyt Sherman Place (holds up to 1,200 people) – A historic theater that hosts a variety of concerts, plays, and other performances. Hoyt Sherman Place, 1501 Woodland Ave., Des Moines, Iowa
  • Wooly’s (holds about 900 people) – A popular live music venue that features local and national acts in a variety of genres, including rock, indie, and alternative. Wooly’s, 504 E. Locust St., Des Moines, Iowa
  • Val Air Ballroom (holds about 2,500 people) – A historic venue with a dance floor and balcony seating that has been hosting live music since the 1930s. One of my favorite concerts (Wilco) was at the Val Air. Val Air Ballroom, 301 Ashworth Road, West Des Moines, Iowa
  • Lefty’s Live Music (holds bout 200 people) – An intimate venue that features local and regional acts in a variety of genres, including punk, metal, and rock. Lefty’s Live Music, 2307 University Ave., Des Moines, Iowa
  • Noce Jazz Club (holds about 100 people) – A cozy venue that features live jazz music, as well as other genres like soul and R&B. Noce Jazz Club, 1326 Walnut St., suite 100, Des Moines, Iowa

Free things to do in Des Moines

There are many free and budget-friendly things to do in Des Moines during the summer months.

Two women walk in a gallery at Des Moines Art Center, where admission is free
Photo courtesy Catch Des Moines

Des Moines Art Center

The Des Moines Art Center is a free museum that features a collection of modern and contemporary art from around the world. This world-class museum features traveling exhibitions as well as an impressive permanent collection of art by some of the biggest names in the art world.

The three distinct buildings that make up the Art Center are just as much centerpiece as the art that hangs on their walls. Architecture buffs will enjoy wandering the halls designed by Eliel Saarinen, I. M. Pei and Richard Meier as they take in the art on view. 

Des Moines Art Center, 4700 Grand Ave., Des Moines

Downtown Farmers’ Market

The Downtown Farmers’ Market is a popular event that takes place every Saturday morning from May to October. Visitors can browse through stalls selling fresh produce, baked goods, and artisanal products, and enjoy live music and other entertainment. The market draws thousands of residents and visitors alike to the streets of downtown to browse, eat and experience what Iowa growers and producers have to offer. 

Downtown Farmers’ Market, Downtown Des Moines’ Historic Court District 

The Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines
Photo courtesy Catch Des Moines

Visit the Pappajohn Sculpture Park

The Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a large, free park in the heart of downtown that showcases more than 30 sculptures by world-renowned artists. From iconic pieces like Jaume Plensa’s “Nomade” to a large bronze pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama, the park is one of the city’s true gems. Even if you aren’t an art lover, a visit to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park is an essential part of any visit to Des Moines. It’s a great place to take a walk, relax, and enjoy some beautiful art. 

Pappajohn Sculpture Park, 1330 Grand Ave., Des Moines 

Tour the Iowa State Capitol

If you’re looking to learn a bit about local history, look no further than the beautiful, gold-domed Iowa State Capitol. The Capitol building is open to the public to visit and tour for free Monday through Saturday each week. Explore the monuments around the grounds and then head inside for a closer look at the dome and the jaw-dropping State Law Library. 

Iowa State Capitol, 1007 E. Grand Ave., Des Moines

Venture to the State Historical Museum

Not far from the Capitol, the free State Historical Museum of Iowa has a variety of permanent and temporary exhibits that highlight history from across the state including everything from information about early settlers to famous Iowans in Hollywood. 

State Historical Museum, 600 E. Locust St., Des Moines

A colorful mural in Historic East Village

Stroll Historic East Village

Historic East Village is a charming neighborhood located in downtown Des Moines that features a variety of shops, restaurants, and galleries. Visitors can stroll through the streets and enjoy the architecture and ambiance of the area.

Historic East Village, between East Fourth Street to East Sixth Street and East Locust Street, Des Moines, Iowa

Things to do in Des Moines in June

Visiting Des Moines in June? Here are some annual events that occur each June in Des Moines.

Four people hold plastic cups of beer at a beer festival

Iowa Craft Brew Festival

The Iowa Craft Brew Festival takes place in early June at Principal Park, home of the Iowa Cubs. The festival features a variety of craft beers from local and regional breweries, as well as food vendors and live music.

World Pork Expo

The World Pork Expo is an annual event that takes place at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in early June. The expo features a variety of exhibits, seminars, and events related to the pork industry.

Pride Fest

Pride Fest is a two-day event that takes place in early June in downtown Des Moines. The festival celebrates the LGBTQ+ community with a variety of events, including a parade, live music, and family-friendly activities.

Des Moines Greek Festival

The Des Moines Greek Festival is a three-day event that takes place in mid-August at the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George. The festival features traditional Greek food, live music, and dance performances.

Des Moines Arts Festival

The Des Moines Arts Festival is a three-day event held in late June that showcases art from around the country. It also includes live music, food vendors, and a variety of activities for visitors of all ages.

Things to do in Des Moines in July

There’s a lot of music and fireworks in July. Here are some annual events that occur each July in Des Moines.

80/35 Music Festival

80/35 Music Festival is a two-day event that takes place in downtown Des Moines in early July. The festival features a diverse lineup of national and local musicians, as well as food vendors and art exhibits.

Yankee Doodle Pops

Yankee Doodle Pops is a free outdoor concert that takes place on the lawn of the Iowa State Capitol on July 3. The concert features the Des Moines Symphony performing patriotic music, and is followed by a fireworks display over the Capitol.

Photo courtesy Catch Des Moines

Urbandale 4th of July Celebration

Home to one of the best Independence Day celebrations in the Des Moines area, Urbandale 4th of July Celebration’s events take place over two days. Festival-goers can expect carnival rides, music, a street dance, food, vendors, and more. With the parade taking place at 10 a.m. July 4, beginning at the Old City Hall, Independence Day gets an early start. 

Vendors will be lined up along Prairie Avenue between 71st and 72nd streets for people to enjoy comfort food and grab a quick meal with the family as they enjoy the day’s events. The holiday celebration ends with one of the area’s top fireworks shows on July 4.

Clive Festival

Clive Festival is a two-day event that takes place in mid-July in the suburb of Clive. The festival features live music, food vendors, a carnival, and a parade.

Ankeny SummerFest

Ankeny SummerFest is a three-day event that takes place in early July in the suburb of Ankeny. The festival features live music, a car show, food vendors, and a fireworks display.

Things to do in Des Moines in August

Summer isn’t over in August. Here’s what to look forward to each August in Des Moines.

Rides at the midway at the Iowa State Fair, held every August in Des Moines
Photo courtesy Iowa Tourism

Iowa State Fair

The Iowa State Fair is one of the largest and most popular state fairs in the country. It runs for 11 days in August and offers a wide range of activities and entertainment, including concerts, food, carnival rides, animal exhibits, and more.

Des Moines is a summer destination that truly has something for everyone. From free outdoor concerts to fun-filled festivals and recreational activities, the city has a vibrant and diverse summer events calendar. Whether you are a local resident or a visitor, you will find no shortage of opportunities to soak up the sun and enjoy the warm weather.

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