Des Moines is quickly becoming one of the hottest cities in the Midwest, with an abundance of unique restaurants, exciting entertainment venues, and a variety of outdoor activities to enjoy. If you find yourself in the Des Moines region for a week or a weekend, you’ll have plenty of opportunities for fun.
Whether you are visiting Iowa’s capital city by yourself or with a group of friends, you may just decide — as so many have — that Des Moines is one of the hidden gems of the Midwest.
Get a head start planning your Des Moines trip with these seven fun things to do.
Fun Activities in Des Moines
1. Visit the East Village
In the heart of Des Moines, not far from the Capitol, is a neighborhood known as the East Village. This thriving area has everything you need for a full day of fun, food, and entertainment.
Sitting between the Iowa State Capitol and the Des Moines River, the East Village is easy to reach by foot or bicycle. There are bus routes that can drop you there, of course. But bumming a ride makes it an easy destination for those who prefer to avoid the parking hassle. And sometimes, it’s best to leave the after-party driving to Uber.
There are numerous attractions to enjoy during a visit to the East Village. Highlights include Wooly’s, a concert venue that hosts a wide variety of music genres, and Up-Down. This arcade bar serves alcohol and offers arcade games from the ’80s and ’90s for only a quarter per play!
2. Visit the Iowa Capitol Building
While visiting the East Village, you can walk to the Iowa State Capitol, one of the most impressive works of architecture in the entire state. This has been the central hub for Iowa’s state government since its completion in 1886. It holds many significant features, most notably the ornate golden dome at the top of the building.
While visiting the Capitol, you may see some good old-fashioned American protesting. Numerous political groups flock to this site to raise recognition for their cause or sound off on current events. Recent protests include rallies against laws that would limit teaching gender and sexual orientation issues to elementary students and a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender students. No matter how you lean, seeing the American tradition of vocal dissent in action is always healthy.
3. West Des Moines Nightlife
Hanging out in the suburbs may not seem, on its face, like the best way to enjoy an exciting, vibrant evening. But the suburb of West Des Moines offers a thriving nightlife that many feel is the best in the entire region.
This city is adjacent to Des Moines and can be a short drive. If you stay in the heart of Des Moines, an Uber or rideshare can drop you off in West Des Moines in about 15 minutes, depending on traffic. The city has a thriving nightlife, including Wellman’s Pub and Rooftop, which has all the drinks and dancing you can enjoy. West Des Moines party-goers also love Smash Park, a bar with arcade games, darts, shuffleboard, bocce, and more.
4. See the Iowa Cubs
If you love baseball, you’ll definitely want to check out the Iowa Cubs at Principal Park. The I-Cubs are the AAA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. While it’s part of the Minor Leagues, the team boasts some of the top talent outside of the Majors. Players in AAA ball are on the cusp of the big leagues; fans can see up-and-coming players, rehabbing major league stars, and veteran baseball players all in one spot.
Even if you’re not a baseball fan, the experience at Principal Park is excellent. They offer a beer selection worthy of any bar in the downtown area, and they have a wide selection of food, including Chicago dogs, pork sandwiches, ice cream, and pizza.
5. Des Moines Art Center
If your group prefers something a little more refined than beer, hot dogs, and baseball, the Des Moines Arts Center is a perfect alternative. Home to modern and contemporary art, the center has numerous exhibitions and displays a variety of collections. One of the highlights is the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, which has stunning (and massive) sculptures from some of the world’s most famous artists.
Visiting the Art Center is completely free, and their doors are open during most regular business hours. Guided and self-guided tours are available for visitors. On Saturdays and Sundays, they are open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, providing plenty of time to visit the center on a weekend visit to Des Moines.
6. Watch the Iowa Wild
If you have never seen a hockey game in person, especially a high-level game with elite professionals, you don’t know what you’re missing. The Iowa Wild, who are affiliates of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, bring rapid hockey action to the Des Moines area. They play in the Wells Fargo Arena, a venue that has hosted NCAA basketball tournaments, arena football, and big-name rock concerts.
With a full beer selection and rowdy fans, visiting an Iowa Wild game just may turn you into a hockey fanatic — at least for one evening! Not a hockey fan? That’s okay, as the games bring a vibrant, high-energy atmosphere that will keep you entertained from start to finish.
7. Prairie Meadows Casino and Racetrack
Located in Altoona, on the east end of the metro area, Prairie Meadows is a popular casino and racetrack providing a weekend of entertainment and excitement. Known as one of the best casinos in the Midwest, it has a hotel and restaurant, delivering an all-in-one getaway experience.
Between April and October, you can also visit the racetrack. Horse racing is exciting for gambling and a fast-paced, thunderous sport featuring some of the most elegant animals on the planet.
These are just seven excellent options for anyone who visits Des Moines. With bars, nightclubs, entertainment, and arts, Des Moines is quickly gaining a reputation as a world-class Midwest city.
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