No matter where you are in Iowa, Des Moines is no farther than 200 miles away. That drive brings you to one of the strongest concentrations of culture—arts, history, sports, dining or otherwise—in the state. Child, teen or grown-up, there is something for everyone in the center of Iowa.
And Downtown Des Moines is the center of the activity. West of the river, downtown stretches to the Western Gateway Park where world-class sculptures command attention.
What to Do
Overlooking the Des Moines River, The World Food Prize Hall of Laureates educates visitors on agricultural history through stunning artwork. Sculptures of wheat, soy, corn and rice anchor the two-story rotunda. Knowledgeable docents answer questions during Saturdays’ self-guided tours.
No need for anyone to lead you through the Science Center of Iowa. Your kids will dash from exhibit to exhibit. They are sure to stop to construct a paper rocket and see how far it flies or design a waterway. The hands-on exhibits are fun and teach a little science along the way. I-max movies play throughout the day.
There is a little more reverence in the halls of the Iowa Hall of Pride, which honors Iowa’s great athletes, like Dan Gable, Nile Kinnick and Shawn Johnson. Admission is free for kids.
For a dose of fresh air, wander amongst 27 works of art from internationally acclaimed artists at the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park just west of downtown. The park is free and open from sunrise to sunset.
Education continues in an entirely different vein at West End Architectural Salvage, located next to a downtown bridge. The owner and staff love sharing ideas about how their treasures can become your home accents. Get inspired by the way they repurpose vintage items, such as advertising signs, doorknobs, dressers and tables, even typewriter keys (they become necklaces and bracelets).
Where to Eat
Chicken fingers are on Court Avenue Brewing Company kid’s menu, but so are mini corn dogs, fancy fish sticks, sloppy joes and more. Besides selecting a handcrafted brew, parents can choose from standard pub fare or kick it up a notch and order fresh fish, seafood or juicy steak. If you don’t mind a little noise from the open-kitchen, Centro delivers solid Italian food. They’re known for coal-fired pizza like you’d find in New York City. Sunday brunch brings a bloody Mary bar.
Where to Stay
If you’re looking for a convenient to almost anywhere downtown hotel, the recently renovated Marriott works. City views and high floors command higher prices, except on weekends.
OUTSIDE OF DOWNTOWN, BUT WORTH THE DRIVE
While the governor’s residence on the third floor of Terrace Hill is off limits, visitors can tour two floors and the carriage house of this grand home. Built in the 1860s on the highest point in town, the mansion is a National Historic Landmark.
Less than two miles west, the Des Moines Art Center’s three wings (each designed by world-renowned architects) house modern and contemporary art and sculpture. To help children experience art, the center offers eight activities for visiting families. Pick up a brochure in the lobby.
Teens and adults can go behind the scenes at Blank Park Zoo (reservations required) or drop in and see lions, tigers and rhinos over the winter. Due to the cold, some exhibits close.
Ahoy, matey! Slip ’n slide through a pirate ship at Ramada Tropics Resort, Des Moines' only indoor water park. Kids can play water basketball and volleyball and splash in three pools at this hotel in Urbandale, 10 minutes north of Des Moines.
Itinerary compiled by
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