City Spotlight: Des Moines

November 21, 2019
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Frontdesk welcomes you to Des Moines, IA! The “Hartford of the West” is the most populous city and the state capital of Iowa. Des Moines (DSM) is most well known for hosting the Iowa State Fair and the country’s first caucuses during election season. This city has a lot to offer to both locals and visitors alike. Keep reading to learn more about what to do, where to eat, and how to get around Des Moines.

Things to do in Des Moines

There are many fun things to see and do in Des Moines. Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, there is a wide variety of indoor and outdoor activities to enjoy.

Iowa State Capitol

Iowa State Capitol Building

The iconic gold dome is a symbol of the city, but nothing compares to visiting it in-person. Free tours are available Monday through Saturday, where you can see the house of representatives, admire the amazing architecture of the dome, and explore the huge five-story law library, which houses more than 100,000 volumes!

Des Moines Botanical Garden

Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden is home to thousands of plants and flowers, with a greenhouse dome, plus seven acres of outdoor gardens. They are known for their Bonsai collection but have more uncommon plant species as well. The Botanical Garden hosts many events, from blues concerts to yoga and more.

Downtown Farmer's Market in Des Moines Iowa

Downtown Farmer’s Market

This isn’t your average farmer’s market. From May to October, between 25,000 to 40,000 visitors come each Saturday for great food, fresh produce, flowers, handmade crafts, and more! The Downtown Farmer’s Market even hosts events year-round, so you can join in the fun no matter what time of year you visit!

Des Moines Art Center

Des Moines Art Center

Des Moines Art Center has an extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, modern art, and mixed media by the likes of Grant Wood, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frank Hopper, and more. It also includes the famous Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Even better? It’s completely free!

Best Restaurants and Bars in Des Moines

Breakfast/Brunch
If you want to sit down to a large, hearty brunch, Mullets Restaurant is the place to go. They serve up three-egg omelets, breakfast burritos, meatloaf hashbrowns, and much more. All in a location overlooking the downtown skyline. There is usually a bit of a wait, so if you need a more on-the-go breakfast, pop into Scenic Route Bakery for a quick cup of coffee and breakfast pastry.

Lunch
What do you get when you cross Asian fusion with pizza? Fong’s. It may not sound like it goes together, but trust us, it does. Fong’s Pizza is a Des Moines staple that even Food Network star Alton Brown has raved about. We recommend trying their most popular dish, the Crab Rangoon Pizza.

Dinner
For dinner, head to Zombie Burger, one of the most popular restaurants in Des Moines. On their menu, you’ll find more than 25 inventive “gore-met” burger creations, plus more than a dozen milkshakes that can be spiked with alcohol on request. Vegans will be happy to hear that there are a few plant-based options on the menu (although you’ll have to skip the shakes). Great burgers + boozy milkshakes = sign us up!

Bars
For beer lovers, check out Confluence Brewing. The taproom has more than 30 beers on tap and there is also an outdoor beer garden for when the weather is nice. The laid-back establishment even has board games you can play while you drink. Or, head to Hello, Marjorie for some great craft cocktails.

Hidden Gems in Des Moines

  • The Hall – a cafeteria-style food hall with beer and different food trucks daily
  • Iowa Beef Steakhouse – pick out your own cut of steak and grill it up yourself over charcoal
  • Flying Mango – barbeque restaurant that also features Carribean and Cajun flavors
  • RAYGUN – a t-shirt symposium known for its quirky, witty sayings on shirts
  • High Trestle Trail Bridge & Gray’s Lake Park pedestrian bridge – public art pieces with LED and colored lights
  • Salisbury House – historical Tudor mansion that offers tours
High Trestle Trail Bridge in Des Moines Iowa

Des Moines Neighborhoods

East Village in Des Moines Iowa

Downtown
The bustling Downtown Des Moines area is made up of several smaller districts. It is home to great attractions like Pappajohn Sculpture Park, the Science Center, and the Des Moines Civic Center where you can catch a Broadway show.

East Village
East Village, technically considered part of Downtown, is a trendy historic neighborhood located just east of Downtown. The area features historic buildings, boutique shopping like RAYGUN, music venues, and award-winning restaurants and bars.

Historic Court District
The Historic Court District is Downtown’s pedestrian-friendly entertainment district. Here you will find lots of cultural and entertainment attractions, plus the Downtown Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.

West Des Moines
West Des Moines has several shopping districts with a blend of boutique shops and big-box retailers, plus great dining options such as The Hall. Here you will also find lots of parks and trails, including the 631-acre Raccoon River Park.

Fort Des Moines
The Historic Fort Des Moines area, located to the south, is home to the 117-acre Fort Des Moines Park and lake, as well as Blank Park Zoo, which is the only accredited zoo in Iowa.

Historic Court District in Des Moines Iowa

Our Favorite Suites

Best Way to Get Around Des Moines

Des Moines is a very bike-friendly city, with miles of bike trails and a bike-sharing program. You can also opt to use the DART shuttle service, which has many free routes. Downtown Des Moines also has four miles of climate-controlled Skywalks. Plus, there is always the option to take a taxi or Uber/Lyft.

Frequently Asked Questions About Des Moines

The city was incorporated in 1851 as “Fort Des Moines,” which was shortened to just “Des Moines” in 1857.

The city was named after the Des Moines River, which likely was adapted from the early French name, Rivière des Moines, which means “River of the Monks.”

The Iowa State Fair is held every August in Des Moines, where you can eat anything you can imagine deep-fried on a stick, plus see the famous 600-pound butter sculpture of a cow. The dates for the 2020 fair are August 13-23.

Des Moines summers are warm, humid, and wet with temperatures in the 70-80° range. Winters are freezing, dry, and windy with temperatures between 20-40°. The most popular time of year to visit Des Moines is from early June to mid-September.