A getaway doesn't have to break the bank. Experience these fun, free and affordable places for the whole family in Des Moines.
The Iowa State Capitol is an architectural masterpiece. Constructed in 1871, it is the only five-domed capitol in the United States. A commanding central dome is coated in 23-carat gold leafing and includes a lookout lantern that rises 275 feet above the ground floor. Take a tour of the building’s beautiful law library, see a built-to-scale model of Battleship Iowa and enjoy a collection of porcelain dolls representing 41 Iowa first ladies and replicas of their inaugural gowns. Free self-guided and formal tours are offered Monday through Saturday.
The main gallery features changing exhibitions throughout the year, while the rest of the Des Moines Art Center highlights a permanent collection that includes works from world-famous artists like Claude Monet, Georgia O’Keeffe and Andy Warhol. The collections consist of photography shows and video galleries, while the outdoor grounds are comprised of several sculptures, a rose garden and a reflecting pool. Admission is free for all.
The first computer and a mechanism to slice bread are just a few of the interesting inventions Iowans discovered. The State Historical Museum’s permanent collection contains more than 80,000 artifacts that tell the story of Iowa’s impressive history. Discover Iowa’s role in the Civil War, learn about its presidential past and explore the history of RAGBRAI, the world’s largest, oldest and longest recreational bike ride. Admission is free for all.
Nestled beneath high rises, shops and restaurants in downtown Des Moines, the four-acre Pappajohn Sculpture Park is an outdoor display of 28 contemporary pieces from some of the world’s most revered artists. Wander the park by foot, or rent a bike from the Des Moines bike share program, B-Cycle. Or view it from your favorite asana when the park hosts summer yoga classes.
Step into the pages of Des Moines-based Better Homes and Gardens magazine in their downtown test garden where hundreds of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals create a colorful and ever-changing outdoor experience. The garden is designed to resemble a backyard, or several backyards, with 22 distinct sections, each completely different from the next. The garden was created to function as an outdoor photography studio for the magazine but now doubles as employee meeting space and is open for free public tours on Fridays from 12 to 2 p.m., May through September.
This century-old former Des Moines Public Library building on the banks of the Des Moines River now serves as a museum to recognize great achievements in agriculture. The museum celebrates Iowan Norman Borlaug's work to feed the world, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Free tours of the museum are offered on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
The Iowa Gold Star Military Museum at Camp Dodge in Johnston honors the military experience of Iowans. This museum has several exhibits and artifacts from wars past to present that demonstrate the patriotism of Iowa veterans and active military members. Bricks are available for purchase to honor an Iowa veteran and can be engraved and added to the memorial wall outside the museum. Admission to the museum is free.