Des Moines is not only the capital of Iowa, but it also the largest city, making it a prime spot for tourists to visit. Because of its large size, you can find plenty of great things to do in Des Moines, from fairs to museums to parks. There are family-friendly attractions and those perfect for adults or young adults traveling alone or with a group of friends. When trying to narrow down your list of places to see in Des Moines, be sure to include these top 10 attractions.
If you can, try to plan your visit to Des Moines to fall during the Iowa State Fair, which takes place every August. Even if you can't make it the State Fair, there is a Fair Tour that features occasionally fair-related events in the months leading up to it, and they are spread around the area. The fair itself has everything you could want. There is a parade, live concerts from top names, livestock and agriculture shows and concerts, rides, food, and more. Some things are free, but expect the headlining concerts to have an admission fee.
The idea for the Greater Des Moines Botanical Center began in spring 1929, but the stock market crash got in the way. The botanical center officially opened its doors in December 1979 and for the first 25 years, it was run by the Parks and Recreation Department. Since January 2004, the Des Moines Water Works has been in charge and now the full name of the facility is the Des Moines Botanical and Environmental Center. The gardens are open every day except holidays and is made up of three indoor gardens and 11 outdoor gardens with a wide range of plants.
Address: 909 Robert D. Ray Dr,
Des Moines, IA 50309
This Sculpture Park has been open since September 2009 and has art by 22 famous artists within a 4.4 acre space. Many pedestrians choose to enter Downtown Des Moines through the park and it is named after the Pappajohns, who contributed 28 pieces of art for the park. This donation marked the largest artwork donation ever received by the Des Moines Art Center. You can visit the park any day between sunrise and midnight and if you visit between April and October you can schedule a guided tour to learn more about the sculptures and park.
Address: 1400 Grand Ave, Between 13th St and 15th Street on Grand, Des Moines, IA 50309
Blank Park Zoo is open every day between 10am and 4pm between October and April and 9am to 5pm the rest of the year, providing a top attraction for families with children of all ages. You can see a wide range of animals at the zoo, including ostriches, penguins, rhinos, bald eagles, and Amur tigers. There is also a Kid's Kingdom that is geared particularly to entertain and educate children and parakeet, ostrich, and giraffe feedings depending on the time of the year.
Salisbury House & Gardens is one of the many historic sites in Des Moines. Construction in the home began in 1923 and it cost about $1.5 million to build and the same amount to furnish. When originally built, this mansion had 17 bedrooms and 16 bathrooms with a total of 42 rooms. The expensive interior furnishings include imported English oak floors and paneling dating to the 16th century and global antiques amounting to a collection of around 10,000 pieces. Restoration of the building began in 2005 and later that year, it opened to the public, offering a glimpse into the past.
If you choose to visit the Iowa State Capitol, do so between Monday and Saturday. You can either take a free self-guided tour or go on a formal tour if you would like to learn more. There is also a gift shop on site and the tours run most of the day, giving you flexibility when planning your visit. If you can't make it to this top attraction, you can also take a virtual tour online.
The Downtown Farmers' Market in Des Moines is often considered one of the best in the country. There is a Saturday market during most of the year and a winter market during the off season. Starting in May, you can visit the regular Saturday market right in the middle of the Historic Court District, meaning that this attraction can fit in perfectly with your time spent exploring downtown or historic Des Moines.
The Des Moines Art Center is a large building with mostly works from the 20th and 21st centuries in the permanent exhibit. There are also smaller collections and groupings of work from other time periods, including Japanese woodblock prints from the 19th century and the Renaissance. In total, there are over 4,000 works done on paper and more than 4,800 works of art. There are also special exhibits and admission to the museum is completely free.
Adventureland Park is truly one of the top Des Moines attractions for families with children. This amusement park has more than 100 attractions, shows, and rides. Here you can find some of the most adventurous roller coasters in the country as well as calmer rides for those who prefer a bit less excitement. There are also children's rides throughout the park and fun water rides. When your family wants a break from all the rides, watch a magic show, listen to some live music, or find somewhere to dance.
The Science Center of Iowa is a must-visit attraction for families with children as it teaches them about science while having fun. The museum is closed on Mondays between Labor Day and Memorial Day, but other than that, it is open year-round with the exception of certain holidays. There are special educational programs, daily events, and fun, educational films in the Blank IMAX Dome Theater. Each exhibit is unique, and one entire section even focuses on showing your children how they use science in their daily lives.
Address: 401 W Martin Luther King Jr Pkwy,
Des Moines, IA 50309