In the minds of many Americans, the state of Iowa
is the most emblematic of the Midwest; a region known for its friendly people, idyllic landscapes and hearty food servings. As the capitol city, Des Moines is the best place to visit to get a sense of the Iowan way of life, its history and what to do for fun.
Visit the Capitol building
As one of the most spectacular buildings in Des Moines, and as one of the finest capitol buildings in the US, the Iowa Capitol Building is a necessary tour to take while in town. Designed in a polished renaissance style, the dome of this building is something to behold, built of iron and brick and encrusted with 23-carat gold. Schedule a tour to learn more about this grand edifice.
Iowa Capitol Tours, 1007 E Grand Ave, Des Moines IA, USA, +1 515-281-5591
Tour the Des Moines Art Center
The architecture of the Des Moines Art Center alone reflects the changing artistic sensibilities the museum has undergone throughout the years, shifting from an original art deco right wing to a modernist design for its second addition, then towards a more natural design to maximize the flow of natural light in the third wing. This not-for-profit institution has a variety of classic works, including the likes of Edward Hopper, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet and Andy Warhol to name just a few. Stop here to catch the latest exhibition, which varies twice a year, for a relaxing afternoon in Des Moines.
Des Moines Art Center, 4700 Grand Ave, Des Moines IA, USA, +1 515-277-4405
Buy something at the Downtown Farmers Market
Consider coming to the Downtown Farmers Market on Court Avenue, between 5th and 1st Avenues during the summer, and in Kaleidoscope Mall and Capital Square in the winter. With a variety of baked goods, locally made arts and crafts and fresh produce and meat, the Downtown Farmers Market in Des Moines is the best place to support local business and do some shopping in the process.
Downtown Farmers Market, 300 Court Ave, Des Moines IA, USA, +1 515-286-4928
See a show at Hoyt Sherman Place
Originally the home of Major Hoyt Sherman, brother of Civil War hero General William Tecumseh Sherman, the Hoyt Sherman Place stands today as testament to his influence on shaping Des Moines. Today it serves as one of the city’s finest theaters, built for Sherman at the peak of his banking career. With routine performers here like Robert Cray and the Punch Brothers, come to the Hoyt Sherman Place for an intimate concert experience that’s laced with history.
Hoyt Sherman Place, 1501 Woodland Ave, Des Moines IA, USA, +1 515-244-0507
Go to the Iowa State Fair
This Iowa tradition never gets old. The Iowa State Fair, one of the largest state fairs in the country, is one of the best cultural events to attend as a visitor. All 450 acres of the fair are put to use, where livestock competitions, amusement park rides, cultural tents and food trucks rule (with more than 200 food stands, look for the unique, not-so-healthy dishes, like deep-fried snickers for something a little different). Also be on the lookout for the famous butter cow, an Iowa State Fair tradition since 1911.
Iowa State Fair, 3000 E Grand Ave, Des Moines IA, USA, +1 515-262-3111
Have a beer at El Bait Shop
El Bait Shop is the beer capital of Des Moines. With 180 beers on tap, and with the world’s largest selection of American craft beers, this bar has its bases covered for thirsty, discerning hops heads. With tasty Mexican and American food offerings, a stop here would cure most ills induced by the road, and would easily fuel another day of travel through the Hawkeye State.
El Bait Shop, 200 SW 2nd St, Des Moines IA, USA, +1 515-284-1970
Browse the Kavanaugh Art Gallery
The Kavanaugh Art Gallery is a family-owned, world-class art gallery dedicated to art from across the globe. With over 4,000 pieces in-house, this gallery has a collection expected of a bigger coastal city, with a variety of fine paintings, sculptures, and many limited edition prints. Dan and Carol Kavanaugh have been collecting since 1989 at this location, set amidst the old town of West Des Moines.
Kavanaugh Art Gallery, 131 5th St, West Des Moines IA, USA, +1 515-279-8682
Have a meal at Centro
Deli, Restaurant, Italian, Contemporary, $$$
Have a meal at Centro
Housed in a stately brick building that functioned formerly as a Masonic temple, Centro is one of the best restaurants in Des Moines – and with good cause. Chef George Formaro and company dish up some of the best Italian-inspired plates in the city, with dishes like the handmade ricotta gnocchi and the pancetta-wrapped shrimp. Be sure to indulge at least once on a trip to Des Moines, and be sure to do it here!
Centro, 1003 Locust St, Des Moines IA, USA, +1 515-248-1780