What can I do in Des Moines, Iowa?

Sheri Cyprus

Des Moines, Iowa offers the traveler a wide variety of fun and educational things to do. In addition to many historical museums, Des Moines has popular outdoor attractions and a popular science center. Iowa Gold Star Museum, Living History Farms, Blank Park Zoo, the Des Moines Botanical Center and the Science Center of Iowa will give you plenty of great things to do during your stay in Des Moines.

Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines has over 1000 animals.
Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines has over 1000 animals.

The Science Center of Iowa (SCI) provides plenty of interactive exhibits as well as areas for toddlers and children of all ages. Although some of the exhibits may change, SCI has offered "experience platforms" focused on everyday science, the sky above, and the earth below. The Science Center includes three theaters, including one for live presentations and demonstrations, one for planetarium shows, and an IMAX theater.

The Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines offers giraffe watching.
The Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines offers giraffe watching.

The Des Moines Botanical Center has a large collection of plants native to the Midwestern United States and more than 1,000 exotic plants from around the globe. The gardens range from bonsai to herb and exotic birds add even more beauty. The Center is located downtown beside the Des Moines river and is operated by the Des Moines Water Works.

Blank Park Zoo has over 1,000 animals, birds and sea creatures. The Zoo features natural habitats such as Australian and African areas and includes snow leopards and giraffes. The Blank Park Zoo is said to be one of the best zoos in Iowa and offers conservation and zoological education programs. It's not overwhelmingly large, so it's perfect for a few hours of fun during your visit to Des Moines.

Living History Farms, in the Urbanville area of Des Moines, is an outdoor museum that is divided into five different time periods that form a total of 300 years. Each time period is recreated by costumed interpreters in each area of the Museum. The focus is on how Iowa farmers first settled the lands into fertile farmland. Living History Farms also gives visitors an informative look at the history of the progress made in farming methods.

Iowa Gold Star Museum is a military museum that recognizes Iowa veterans. The Museum includes Civil War memorabilia and displays that date from the beginning of World War 1 in 1917 through 1846's Mexican War to the present day military activities of Iowa citizens. The Museum has uniforms and equipment used in different wars as well as a military reference library with information about Iowa veterans.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@LisaLou-- There is also the CityView Des Moines, it's another weekly news print for Central Iowa. I'm a foodie, and I love reading the food section of CityView, because every week, they review restaurants in Des Moines. I have discovered some great places through there. My favorite is the Tokyo Steakhouse.

They also have monthly updates about the shows and plays that will be shown at the Huff theater and Des Moines Playhouse that month. I heard that a play based on an Alfred Hitchcock film will be on this month. Oh and of course, there is a section for parties as well.

CityView is a great way for residents to keep up to date, but I imagine that it can be a great resource for tourists as well.


I went to school in Iowa and would drive to Des Moines with my friends from time to time.

When we were in Des Moines, we generally went to the malls for shopping, ate at restaurants in Downtown Des Moines and also went to the clubs at night. Des Moines has a fun night life and there are plenty of places to hang out with friends or dance. There are also a lot of people from other nationalities, so it's possible to find various cuisines and even international grocery stores.

I think Des Moines is a fun city. It's not really a place I would travel particularly for, but if you're passing by, you can definitely find plenty to do while you're there.


I have been to the city of Des Moines twice. Once to run in a race they have every spring called Dam to Dam. The other time was in the winter to attend a conference.

Visiting in the spring was nice as it was warm and I remember it being very green. Going for a few days in the middle of February was a different story. It was extremely cold and windy and I felt like I was freezing all the time.

Both times I visited I felt like the people were very friendly. Even though you are in the middle of farm country, the city is not all that bad for being a small Midwestern city.

Their capital building really stands out as it has a gold top that really glistens in the sunlight.

When I went for the marathon, I also went bike riding on some of the bike trails. They really have an extensive route of connecting trails and the scenery was nice with a mixture of suburban and rural settings.

I wouldn't want to live there because I don't think I could take the winters, but it was a friendly place to visit.

I know a lot of people live there because they feel it is a nice place to raise a family.


One of my best friends lives in Des Moines, and I have visited her many times. We have attended some performances downtown and took our kids to the Science Center.

They have an IMAX theater inside their science center which our kids enjoyed. I was impressed with a huge pendulum that was suspended from the ceiling which demonstrated the Earth's rotation.

The downtown Des Moines skywalk system is also very nice. You can park your car in one spot and get just about anywhere you need to go downtown by walking the skywalk. This is especially nice when the weather is bad.

I always enjoy my visits to Des Moines and find the city easy to get around in. You can go from one side to the other in about 20 minutes. There isn't a ton of traffic, so you can get from one place to the other in a short amount of time.

This would be wonderful, as it usually takes me 45 minutes just to get to work where I live.


I have lived in Des Moines for many years, and even though it is not a huge city, there are quite a few nice attractions.

My kids were really excited when the Jordan Creek Town Center opened in West Des Moines several years ago.

This brought most of the popular and well known stores they loved to shop at. Before this opened, they would have to travel to Minneapolis or Chicago to shop at these places.

The city of West Des Moines has grown substantially and you can find everything you need here. Not only are there many of the well recognized stores, but many quaint shops as well.

Valley Junction is an area where they have all kinds of antiques and unique shops. In the summer they have an active farmers market there every week.

Every Thursday the Datebook Des Moines is published, which describes all the coming attractions for the week. This comes right before the weekend, so you can easily make plans for the weekend and the week ahead.

Post your comments
Forgot password?