Des Moines is a hidden gem in the Midwest that boasts a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. Whether you’re a resident or a visitor, there are plenty of things to see and do in the city that will leave you with unforgettable memories. From exploring the iconic state capitol building to indulging in delicious local cuisine, Des Moines offers a diverse range of experiences that should be on everyone’s bucket list. In this blog post, we’ve put together a list of must-try things in Des Moines that will help you discover the best of what this vibrant city has to offer.
Disclosure: This blog post originally appeared on Oh My! Omaha and is republished here with permission and with minor edits. This blog post may contain affiliate links.
Eat at the reality TV darlings
I’m a sucker for a good restaurant, 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”).
1. Fong’s Pizza, 223 Fourth St., Des Moines
2. Zombie Burger + Drink Lab, 300 E. Grand Ave, Des Moines, and Zombie Burger + Shake Lab at the Jordan Creek Mall Food Court, 101 Jordan Creek Parkway, suite 12514, West Des Moines
Find the Internet’s favorite restaurants in Des Moines
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 Flying Mango or the ultimate comfort food found at The Machine Shed.
3. Flying Mango, 4345 Hickman Road, Des Moines
4. The Machine Shed, 11151 Hickman Road, Urbandale, Iowa (there are 5 other locations outside metro Des Moines, too)
Related post: 40 more must-try Des Moines restaurants
Visit nostalgic attractions
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. It’s close enough though! We also might check out the Heritage Carousel and rocket slide at Union Park. Living History Farms is another metro Des Moines staple that I cannot believe I’ve never been to.
5. Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad, 225 10th St., Boone, Iowa
Tip: Rail Explorers USA recently opened an experience along the railroad in Boone! This one uses pedal carts (with a motor) to ride along the rails.
6. Heritage Carouse, 1801 Pennsylvania Ave., Des Moines
7. Rocket Slide at Union Park, 2009 Saylor Road, Des Moines
8. Living History Farms, 11121 Hickman Road, Urbandale, Iowa
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 festivals 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.
9. Des Moines Summer Arts Festival, held one weekend in June, in and around Pappajohn Sculpture Park
10. Pappajohn Sculpture Park, 1330 Grand Ave., Des Moines
Walk (or bike) 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?).
11. High Trestle Trail Bridge, 2.6 miles west of Madrid. The trailhead is located near The Flat Tire Lounge’s 800-square-foot deck.
Play at the science center
Most trips, you’ll find the Oh My! Omaha family stopping at a museum of some sort. 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!
12. Science Center of Iowa, 401 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, Des Moines
Have a day of amusement park 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?
In 2023, the park will open two near rides, too!
13. Adventureland Park, 305 34th Ave. NW, Altoona, Iowa
Des Moines is a city that offers something for everyone, from history buffs to foodies, nature lovers to art enthusiasts. Whether you’re looking to immerse yourself in the local culture, explore the great outdoors, or simply relax and enjoy the city’s laid-back vibe, Des Moines has plenty of options to suit your interests. We hope this Des Moines bucket list has inspired you to try something new in the city and discover all that this unique city has to offer.