12 top tourist attractions in Des Moines

Serving as the capital of the state of Iowa, Des Moines has taken many strides in recent decades as a vibrant cultural landscape with sculpture parks, botanical gardens, and a thriving shopping and dining district. In addition to this growing cultural scene, Iowa’s history is still in the making and is on full display at places such as the gold-domed State Capitol Building, Salisbury House and Gardens, and the Hoyt Sherman Theater. Whatever you choose to do during your visit to this friendly city, whether it’s visiting impressive art collections or catching a baseball game under the lights, don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to make Des Moines home for a while to call.

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1 State Capitol

State Capitol

The golden dome of the State Capitol can be clearly seen from many vantage points across Des Moines, and while it’s a postcard-worthy image from the outside, exploring the history inside is a great way to spend a day in Iowa. Home to the Governor’s Office and many sectors of the Iowa government, including the Iowa Senate and the Iowa House of Representatives, the interior of the State Capitol is also adorned with large artwork and a hand-carved designthat exudes the prestige of the history made within its walls. Free guided tours are available all week for groups of ten or more, and each visitor can roam the halls and independently explore the open rooms, including standing atop the glass floor that gives a sweeping view of the gold-domed interior or the regal Law Library on the second floor.

Address: 1007 E Grand Ave, Des Moines, Iowa

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2 Science Center van Iowa

Science Center of Iowa |  Photo Copyright: Brad Lane
Science Center of Iowa | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

While it’s mostly fun for kids of all ages, don’t be surprised to find adults have fun at the Science Center of Iowa, too. With dozens of hands-on exhibits that promote experiential learning and a planetarium for gazing at the stars, plus an IMAX Theater to give a better view of the world around us, the Science Center has enough attractions to keep any young researcher busy all day . In addition to the children’s exhibits on display, the Science Center of Iowa also offers adult-oriented programsthat promote socialization through science. To see some science in action and to learn a little about how the world works, the Science Center of Iowa is a must-see attraction on your next visit to Des Moines.

Address: 401 W Martin Luther King Jr Pkwy, Des Moines, Iowa

Official site: https://www.sciowa.org/

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3 John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park

John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park |  Photo copyright: Brad Lane
John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park | Photo copyright: Brad Lane

Centrally located in downtown Des Moines Gateway Park , the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a 10-acre landscaped space featuring more than 20 works of sculpture . The park has been entertaining Des Moines urbanites with beautiful sculptures since 2009 and is a great place for families, tourists, and anyone on their lunch break to get a quick look at the artwork. The Sculpture Garden and surrounding Gateway Park are fun places to visit any time of year, but in the summer, these celebrated spaces serve as venues for several community gatherings, including the Des Moines Art Festival and the 80/35 Music Festival that this urban park in the center of the city really shows.

Address: 1330 Grand Ave, Des Moines, Iowa

Official Site: https://www.desmoinesartcenter.org/visit/pappajohn-sculpture-park

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4 Editor’s Choice Salisbury House & Gardens

Salisbury House & Gardens |  Photo Copyright: Brad Lane
Salisbury House & Gardens | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Salisbury House and Gardens sits quietly in the neighborhoods south of Grand Avenue, and while no one has officially occupied this 42-room estate in more than six decades, there’s still plenty of life and culture to explore. Whether you are a history buff or an antiques enthusiast, even a casual explorer, the Salisbury House and Gardens and the history it holds can interest any member of the family. For a small admission fee that goes to the Salisbury House Foundation , any visitor to the house is encouraged to explore the preserved parts of the house and gardens on a self-guided tour. However, it is worth joining a guided tour, which allows patrons to visit otherwise off-limits areas, including a decadent library and study , and provides much of the story of how this house, resembling a royal mansion, came to live in Des Moines.

Address: 4025 Tonawanda Dr, Des Moines, Iowa

Official site: https://salisburyhouse.org/

5 Des Moines Art Center

Des Moines Art Center Mike Linksvayer / photo modified
Des Moines Art Center Mike Linksvayer / photo modified

The Des Moines Art Center has exhibited visual arts since 1948, and thanks to his tenure, this critical cultural attraction has seen some expansion in floor space, exhibitions, and the community around it. With constantly rotating exhibits from locally and nationally renowned artists, plus permanent pieces from artists such as Matisse, Monet, and O’Keeffe (to name a few), the Des Moines Arts Center offers plenty to see. To provide an enriched experience of the entire center, participating in one of the many educational programs or guided tours offered by the facility can shed a little light on the artists behind the work you are looking at, and theChef’s palette cafe can leave you completely satisfied.

Address: 4700 Grand Ave, Des Moines, Iowa

Official Site: https://www.desmoinesartcenter.org/

6 Principal Park

Principal Park |  Photo Copyright: Brad Lane
Principal Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Once known as Sec Taylor Stadium, Principal Park is located at the scenic confluence of the Iowa and Racoon Rivers in downtown Des Moines. Home to Iowa’s own Triple-A minor league baseball team, the Iowa Cubs , Principal Park was renovated in 1992 and has since been noted as one of the top minor league stadiums in the nation. It’s not just the scenic stadium that fills the stands in Principal Park, it’s something less tangible that grabs all the attention.

It could be the summer smells of freshly cut grass and hot dogs, or the sound of a stadium cheering for their home team, maybe even the sharp crack of a bat from a well-timed swing, whatever it is, Principal Park has all the right ingredients for America’s favorite pastime. Add in the extra-inning and special events found in Principal Park, including fireworks on the 4th of July and community events like car shows throughout the season, and you don’t even have to be a fan of baseball to see why Principal Park is one of the biggest attractions in Des Moines.

Address: 50 309, 1 Line Dr, Des Moines, Iowa

Official site: https://www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t451

7 East Village

Raygun on Grand Avenue and East 5th in the East Village |  Photo copyright: Brad Lane
Raygun on Grand Avenue and East 5th in the East Village | Photo copyright: Brad Lane

Over the decades, Des Moines has grown into a cultural center and a capital of new tastes and styles. No better example of this cultural emergence can be found than on the streets of the commercial and residential East Village. East Village features unique eateries east of the Des Moines River such as Tacopocalypse, with one of the best burritos you’ll find in Iowa; fashion influencers like the always trending Raygun; and discover many galleries and specialty shops . Every day the buzz of the Des Moines East Village seems to grow, and whether it’s food, fashion, or entertainment, you’ll find something fun to explore here.

Official Site: https://eastvillagedesmoines.com/

8 Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

With plants ranging from temperate to tropical, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden takes you in and out as you stroll through the city’s carefully planted collections . There’s always something in bloom here and whether your visit is part of an adult gardening lesson, or you’re attending a tastefully decorated event in the rentable venue space , or you find yourself getting lost in the gardens on a self-guided tour , you will see some of the beauty found in the dirt beneath your feet. If you happen to visit the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden during the lunch hour, the Trellis Café located within the gardens can make your visit here extra special.

Address: 909 Robert D. Ray Dr, Des Moines, Iowa

Official Site: https://www.dmbotanicalgarden.com/

9 Water Works Park

Gray's Lake |  Photo Copyright: Brad Lane
Gray’s Lake | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Water Works Park contains nearly 15,000 acres of green space near the streets of downtown Des Moines, providing ample space for running, biking, birding, fishing, intramural athletics, and special events year-round. There are many ways to enjoy all that Water Works Park has to offer, and simply laying out a blanket to relax in the sun counts as one. To extend your adventure from the park, a bike path leads the way under Fleur Drive to connect to the waters of Gray’s Lake and its scenic hiking trail. During the winter months you can drive through the dazzling display of Jolly Holidays Lightsin the park between holiday festivities, making this attractive all year round.

Address: 2201 George Flagg Pkwy, Des Moines, Iowa

Official Site: https://www.dmww.com/parks-events/water-works-park/

10 Iowa State Fair

Iowa State Fair Phil Roeder / photo modified
Iowa State Fair Phil Roeder / photo modified

A tribute to the agricultural spirit that the state of Iowa supports, the Iowa State Fair is a nearly two-week long celebration that happens every August at the fairgrounds in Des Moines. It offers community members and tourists the opportunity to experience the many facets of the industry that define the state. However, you don’t have to be a farmer or be active in the agricultural industry to enjoy the Iowa State Fair. Some of the many different ways to experience it include fairs, exhibitions, art galleries, amusement rides, live music , and more food standsthen one can shake a stick. The eleven days of the Iowa State Fair are jam-packed with entertainment and things to do, and the summer days leading up to it go by quickly and make it a Des Moines attraction worth planning for.

Adres: E University Ave & E 30th St, Des Moines, Iowa

Official Site: https://www.iowastatefair.org/

11 Hoyt Sherman Place

Hoyt Sherman Place |  Photo Copyright: Brad Lane
Hoyt Sherman Place | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Originally built in 1877, Hoyt Sherman Place has been an Iowa cultural icon for over a century. It’s not just a sense of nostalgia that has held this single-family home as an important aspect of the Des Moines community for so long. Rather, it’s the beautiful auditorium and top-notch talent found on stage that keeps seats full and tickets sell out quickly. Hoyt Sherman Place has had its share of renovations and maintenance over the past century, including a notable upgrade in 2003 that has restored the space to its original grandeur. These days you can expect a long list of shows, performances , and special eventsto choose from when visiting this historic site.

Adres: 1501 Woodland Ave, Des Moines, Iowa

Official Site: https://hoytsherman.org/

12 Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens

Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens |  Photo Copyright: Brad Lane
Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

On the east bank of the Des Moines River The Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens is located just a few blocks from the Greater Des Moines Botanical Center and offers a uniquely landscaped outdoor space from which to explore the rich diversity of the city of Des Moines. Featuring a striking Asian pavilion atop a cascading stream and ornamental garden, the 4 acres here are punctuated by stone pagodas and sculptural rock formations . Robert D. Ray’s Asian Gardens are just a minor attraction, but don’t be surprised if you take a moment to check it out every time you look at Des, with its eye-pleasing atmosphere and excellent views of the city on the background. Moines.

Address: Dr. Robert D. Ray, Des Moines, Iowa

Official site: https://www.cccaiowa.org/files/riverfront.htm

Where to stay in Des Moines for sightseeing

To be close to some of the major attractions, such as the State Capitol and the Science Center, it’s best to stay in downtown Des Moines. The city center is compact, with a variety of good restaurants and interesting shops in the Court Avenue District. Those with children may want to consider staying in the southern part of downtown near the Blank Park Zoo. Below are some highly rated hotels in central locations:

  • Luxury Hotels: The recently renovated Hyatt Place Des Moines Downtown features guestrooms with sweeping views of the city and is conveniently located near some of the city’s major attractions. Embassy Suites by Hilton is a suite located in the East Village area, close to the State Capitol. Room rates include a cooked-to-order breakfast and an evening reception with canapés. Des Moines’ newest hotel, the Residence Inn features a lovely courtyard with a fire pit and is just a short walk from restaurants in the Court Avenue District.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: The Hampton Inn and Suites is a great choice for families, with rooms equipped with microwaves and mini-fridges and an indoor pool. It’s also just steps away from some of the city’s trendiest restaurants. The recently renovated Des Lux Hotel offers oversized rooms in a 1912 building, within walking distance of nearby attractions. Connected by skyway to the Iowa Events Center and Wells Fargo Area is the Renaissance Des Moines Savery Hotel.
  • Budget Hotels: The Quality Inn & Suites Event Center is a pet-friendly property right next to the Wells Fargo Arena. Other good budget options can be found near the airport, a 10-minute drive away, and include the Days Inn & Suites, which has an indoor pool, and the Baymont Des Moines – Airport Conference Center also with an indoor pool and rooms on an attractive price.

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