We always get a chuckle when we hear people tell us that there is nothing to see or do in the Midwest. While the destinations can be spread a little farther apart, we find the drive between cities to be filled with beautiful scenery. Once we arrive at our new destination, we are amazed at just how many fantastic sights are waiting to be explored. This is certainly the case for our 2018 visit to Des Moines, Iowa. For years, Crystal and I have been traveling through this Midwest metropolis on our way to Minnesota. Our stops in Des Moines were always limited to fuel pit stops or dropping in on her family members who live in the area. When Travel Iowa asked us to feature some cities in their state, we knew this was the perfect opportunity to explore this capital city in greater detail.
We want to thank the Travel Iowa and Catch Des Moines for their hospitality. Rest assured that all opinions are our own.
Learning The Lingo
Our first step, after picking a destination, is to begin determining an itinerary. This is done with an attempt to balance our stops with lots of variety. We know that our readers cover a huge variety of demographics, so we always try to pick plenty of stops for them to choose from when planning their own get-away. One of the first things we look for are educational opportunities. We truly believe that travel is a form of continued education, and opens up plenty of chances to learn about the culture and history of our destinations. A stop at the State Historical Museum of Iowa helped pave our way to better understand how Des Moines grew to its current status. Here we learned not just about the city we were getting ready to explore, but also the state in general. This makes a great first stop for your Des Moines vacation. (Read more about the Historical Museum here.)
While I was doing the planning, I stumbled upon a lesser known museum. Inside the downtown Wells Fargo location there resides one of about a dozen Wells Fargo Museums. These small scale exhibits are chocked full of hands on displays designed to highlight the role that Iowa played in connecting an expanding nation. What surprised us the most was just how many interactive exhibits this place has assembled. It’s a great stop for families, since there are lots of activities that can be enjoyed by kids of all ages. (Even my age!) (Read more about the Wells Fargo Museum here.)
Speaking of family friendly sites, how about stopping in the Science Center of Iowa. Here we found another place that is packed with all age accessible displays. While the majority of the space is designed to educate about various scientific principles, there is a gallery filled with more local appeal. The “What On Earth?” exhibit is a good place to learn about some of the native species that you may encounter during your visit to Des Moines or Iowa in general. (Read more about the Science Center here.)
East Village Appeal
The layout of the downtown region in Des Moines is designed to be user friendly. The Des Moines River cuts a swath through the heart of the downtown and becomes a centerpiece for the design of the area. On the east side of the river, the neighborhood is called the East Village. This area is filled with a mix of commercial and residential, as well as holding the capitol building. We had the pleasure of meandering through the shops on a couple of occasions. Lots of boutiques are found in and around the area, and we even located one that we recognized form Kansas City. (RayGun has a store in the CrossRoads District of KCMO.)
We were fortunate to be lodged right in the heart of the region we were exploring. The Staybridge Suites, in the East Village, made a perfect home base for us. The room was fantastic with lots of plugins for all of our electronics. We even got the chance to try out their pool and hot tub one evening. These were welcomed after a day of walking throughout the downtown. They have a breakfast buffet every morning, but we had already made plans to explore some of the local eateries. In talking with other hotel guests, the food was described as delicious. With a dedicated covered parking lot and key card access, this place worked well for our busy schedule.
Downtown Des Moines is filled with interesting outdoor spaces to explore. From the capital hill over to the Gateway Park, you can find unique sights that are specific to this area. Each stop has its own flavor and at any time you could find a crowd. During our evening we would stroll around admiring the murals we found tucked away on the side of various businesses. (Great for selfies!) Of course, artwork is limited to this style, and a visit to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park offers tons of potential picture possibilities. Besides, it is nice to get out into the green spaces that Des Moines has reserved for its residents and visitors. (Read more about the outdoor spaces here.)
Another good spot to get in touch with nature is the Des Moines Botanical Gardens. Here we were in awe of the amazing number of species that can survive the wild weather of the Midwest. We even found a couple that we are wanting to add to our own landscape. Just down the road we visited the Robert Ray Asian Garden that holds some interesting foliage and sculptures. Its riverside location makes for a great spot to reflect and view the city skyline. (Read more about the gardens here.)
With so much to see and do in downtown Des Mines, Iowa you may want to plan a couple extra days for exploring. After all, we only had enough time to see the center city section. There are still tons of sights to be discovered on your own vacation to the Iowa capital. What are some of the places you think we should add to our next visit? Mention them in the comments section below and we will add them to our list. Thanks!