We’re back on the road exploring more of our Midwest neighboring cities, and next up on the list: Des Moines, Iowa!
Des Moines is a quick 2 1/2 hour drive from Omaha. We’ve driven through the city many times on our way to see family in Minnesota, but it was rare for us to make more than a short stop for grub! So, in an effort to get to know our neighbors better, we spent a Saturday checking out Iowa’s capital and found lots of great things to see (and eat)!
Here’s what you need to know when planning a family weekend trip to Des Moines!
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Getting There & Around
Road-trippable Des Moines can be reached from Omaha and Kansas City in under 3 hours, the Twin Cities in under 4 and even Chicago or Sioux Falls in about 5 hours. At the intersection of I-80 and I-35, it’s also a good natural resting point for cross-country road trips.
Like most Midwestern cities there’s just no getting around it: you’ll need a car to really explore Des Moines and see all it has to offer. Public transportation is not as widely used, though there is one exception to consider: the D-Line Downtown Shuttle is free, runs every 10 minutes Monday-Saturday until 5 or 6 PM (through October 28), and connects most of downtown from the State Capitol Building to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park.
Where to Stay in Des Moines
The most exciting part of Des Moines will unarguably be downtown, where the cities best shops, restaurants and attractions all converge. Here are a couple of our recommendations for an awesome overnight stay:
AC Hotel | This new hotel is actually a spin-off of Marriott, but it’s sleek decor and prime location in the East Village make it a great base for your Des Moines adventure.
Compare prices on Hotels.com | Booking.com
Embassy Suites | Nestled along the Des Moines River, a stay here means you’ll be steps away from both the East Village and Downtown Farmer’s Market. The hotel also features a restaurant on-site and a huge breakfast buffet, a big plus for parents dreading another meal out with tired kids.
Compare prices on Hotels.com | Booking.com
What to See & Do in Des Moines
Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market | If you’re visiting Des Moines on a summer Saturday, then you must include a trip to the Downtown Farmers Market in your itinerary.
Covering 10 square city blocks, the market has a little something for everyone with so much more than fresh produce. We spotted all kinds of yummy treats and food options (I totally want to come back for the arepas!), live music, fresh flowers, and handmade goods.
Logistically speaking if coming by car, you can park in a garage at either 2nd & Court or 4th & Locust, or park on the street a little ways out and take the D-Line Downtown Shuttle over to the market (all metered parking is free on weekends!)
Pappajohn Sculpture Park | Part of the Des Moines Art Center, this 4 1/2 acre park located in the heart of the city makes for a fun pit stop with kids. You can easily park on any of the streets surrounding the park (remember, weekends are free!), and explore the 22 sculptures within it. Just go ahead and try to keep your kids from climbing on them.
Living History Farms | Growing up on a farm myself, I was drawn to taking Evelyn to Living History Farms, an outdoor museum that blends farm life from 4 different eras across the 500-acre park. Unluckily for us, it was a dreadfully hot and humid afternoon on the day of our visit, so we didn’t get to enjoy it quite as much as we might have otherwise. There’s lots of walking (with few paths for strollers), but Evelyn enjoyed seeing the different animals on the “farms” like chickens, pigs, and horses.
Shopping in the East Village | Once a run-down part of town, the East Village has seen huge revitalization in recent years, with lots of quirky shops and restaurants added to the neighborhood. Before dinner, we enjoyed perusing Raygun, with its witty products that glorify all things Iowa and the Midwest. Other must-visit shops within a few blocks’ radius include Domestica, Reclaimed, and Porch Light.
West End Architectural Salvage | If searching for a diamond in the rough is more your style, West End Architectural Salvage makes for the perfect treasure hunt. The 4-floor warehouse building brings in inventory from all over the world, making finding that one-of-a-kind piece, be it a unique piece of furniture or an old door panel, actually quite achievable.
Adventureland | The nostalgia in me just can’t bear to leave good old Adventureland off of this list! Even though I haven’t visited since a family trip back in the 90’s, the old school amusement park has plenty to offer in terms of all-day entertainment for kids.
Where to Eat in Des Moines
Fong’s Pizza | Fong’s is a sort of legend in Des Moines for its fusion of pizza and…Chinese food? Yeah, that’s right. Don’t expect to be blown away, but we did enjoy some tasting spring rolls with our crab rangoon pizza. Bonus: Fong’s is right along the route of the Downtown Farmer’s Market, so you can stop in for lunch after perusing the market in the morning.
Zombie Burger + Drink Lab | This place is known for building outrageous burgers (you can choose to include up to 3 patties on top of the ridiculously gluttonous toppings). We chose to go the “conservative” route, splitting a burger and loaded fries, though their obnoxiously large milkshakes were quite tempting as well! Come early for dinner to avoid the long lines.
La Mie | This beloved little French bakery serves not only pastries and classic treats like tarts and macarons but also offers simple breakfast and lunch options.
Malo | A favorite for its inventive Latin cuisine, Malo is still on my list of places I can’t wait to sink my teeth into (specifically, their Sunday Brunch with all-you-can-eat tacos!)
Mars Cafe | This East Village specialty coffee shop is the perfect place to start your day. Each drink is carefully crafted via the pour-over method, leaving you with the very best cup of coffee in all of Des Moines!
Tacopacolypse | At Tacopacolypse, the tacos are cheap and creative and the burritos are hefty. You’ll find Asian influences in much of the offerings, like Korean bulgogi, sesame pork, or Wasabi brisket. And aside from the tacos and burritos, I most want to return to try their original Masa fries (featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives!)
Have you been to Des Moines? What are your favorite spots??