What to do in Des Moines

Diane Weber 01.6.2021

Even during a global pandemic, there are some pretty amazing things to do in and around Des Moines. Whether you are new to town or a local native, by yourself or with a small group of friends, Des Moines has plenty of activities to offer. Don’t just sit at home, get your shoes on and explore…safely!

Des Moines has an amazing sculpture park that is right downtown and within walking distance to fantastic restaurants, coffee and the library. There are 30+ beautiful pieces to walk around and interact with, and Starbucks, Northern Vessel Coffee, and Horizon Line Coffee to stop by and grab a warm beverage before the tour. After which you are, of course, going to need a bite to eat and could pop by Americano, Proof or Django for fine dining and Grumpy Goat and Exile Brewery for drinks and fantastic food to go with. After all this, there is the Des Moines Art Center, which is located next to the gorgeous Rose Garden. There are classes to attend, exhibits to see, and ways to volunteer to be part of the Des Moines art community. Something to be aware of, though, is that the Art Center does require tickets (free of charge) to be reserved beforehand during the pandemic. They do have availability to pop in unannounced, but there may be a wait if you are visiting on an evening or weekend.

Especially in the winter, we need a little extra time around plants, and Des Moines has the perfect solution: Des Moines Botanical Gardens. Hundreds of beautiful plants in addition to hosting events such as concerts, weddings, and virtual learning weekend classes. They even have a wonderful little cafe right at the center of the gardens with a plant based, locally sourced menu that changes depending on the season.

Other fun winter activities include Brenton Skating Plaza, Sleepy Hollow (though they are closed this year due to the pandemic, they have lovely warm weather activities such as go kart racing, haunted forest, and a renaissance faire that feels like you’re stepping right into A Knight’s Tale), as well as attending basketball and hockey games from Iowa’s own minor league teams! There is even a snowman building contest going on until the end of January. Come next Christmas, there is an annual Christkindl Market with traditional shops and goodies, an arts and crafts fair that fills up almost every school in Ankeny, and a holiday promenade through East Village.

Once things start warming up, there are a myriad of bike trails that weave in and out of Central Iowa including the High Trestle Trail that begins in Ankeny and ends at a beautiful bridge in Boone County. Principal Park is home to our minor league baseball team and is fun for the whole family. After every game fireworks are shot off and a win is (almost always) celebrated. Staying in Polk County, Jester Park Equestrian Center has fun for all ages including lessons and summer camps. Other camp opportunities include Hantesa, which has events and retreats all year long, YMCA camp, and Girl Scout Camp, just to name a few. Downtown Des Moines hosts a music festival called 80/35 that world famous musicians come and perform as well as local legends, an arts festival with artists from all over the country, and a global food festival with authentic dishes from anywhere and everywhere.

This list is just scratching the surface of all the fun things Central Iowa has to offer, and they are only adding more every year!

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