Is This Heaven? No, It’s Iowa! 9 Things to Do in Downtown Des Moines

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9 Fun Things to Do in Downtown Des Moines, Iowa

I spent a lot of my life in Des Moines, Iowa, and was recently back in town for a quick visit. Des Moines is a city unlike any other. Here you’ll find small-town charm mixed with big city vibes, the friendliest people, and tons of unique cultural experiences. These 9 things to do in downtown Des Moines are some of my favorites, and you’re sure to fall in love with them too.

1. Wander Pappajohn Sculpture Park

In this 4.4 acre park, you can enjoy viewing the works of some of the world’s most celebrated artists. But people also come to Pappajohn Sculpture Park for more than just art. Here you can also take in a view of the downtown Des Moines skyline or have a relaxing picnic with your significant other, friends, or family.

Location: 1330 Grand Ave, Des Moines
Hours: sunrise-sunset, daily
Cost: FREE

Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Des Moines, Iowa
Pappajohn Sculpture Park

2. Explore Science Center of Iowa & Watch A Movie at the IMAX Dome Theater

Live to be a lifelong learner? Explore the many mysteries of science and technology at the Science Center of Iowa exhibits including force and motion, a planetarium, zoology, meteorology, and other interactive activities. But something else that makes this place special is the six-story IMAX Dome Theater that is usually showing one current hit and a few other documentary-style films related to science or nature. Regardless of your experience here, it’s fun for all ages!

Location: 401 W Martin Luther King Jr Pkwy, Downtown Des Moines
Hours: Sunday: 12pm-5pm, Tuesday-Saturday: 10am-5pm, Closed Mondays
Cost: $18/adult, $14/child, $14/seniors (Prices based on full experience tickets which include science center admission and IMAX)

Things to do in Des Moines - Science Center of Iowa

3. Shop Historic Valley Junction

While Valley Junction isn’t located in downtown Des Moines, it is definitely something worth venturing a little further out for. This charming renovated railroad district in Downtown West Des Moines is full of charming boutiques, art galleries, antique shops, restaurants, and other specialty shops.

On Thursdays in the summertime, you can visit the Valley Junction Farmers Market where vendors come from all around to sell fresh produce, baked goods, beautiful fresh cut flowers, and unique crafts or jewelry.

Location: 137 5th St, West Des Moines
Hours: Monday-Friday: 9am-5pm, Closed Saturday & Sunday

Historic Valley Junction in Des Moines, Iowa

4. Head to the Downtown Farmers Market

Support local farmers and businesses with this one-of-a-kind farmers market in downtown Des Moines. The farmer’s market is one of the top things to do in downtown Des Moines and offers a variety of locally grown produce, Iowa fresh cut meats, live music, and more. Sip on a fresh-squeezed lemonade while browsing through the many unique goods and food stands.

Location: Capital Square, 400 Locust St, Downtown Des Moines
Hours: Saturdays from 7am-12pm (Changes seasonally)

Fruit at the Downtown Farmer's Market in Des Moines, Iowa.

5. Take A Relaxing Walk Through the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens

The Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens and the Chinese cultural center of downtown Des Moines offer a stunning Asian pavilion, lush gardens, a tranquil pond, and several small waterfalls to walk through in downtown Des Moines.

The Character Garden displays six granite boulders arranged in a circle and is carved with the Chinese characters representing citizenship, responsibility, fairness, respect, caring, and trustworthiness. Escape the downtown hustle to this small place of solitude.

Location: Robert D. Ray Dr, Des Moines
Hours: Open 24 Hours

Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens in downtown Des Moines, Iowa.

6. Take A Tour of the Iowa State Capitol Building

The Iowa State Capitol Building may not be something that would normally intrigue most travelers, but it has wildly beautiful architecture on the outside and inside. On the outside you’ll the 23-carat gold dome can be seen from many places in downtown Des Moines as it glistens in the sunlight.

If you enjoy history, you can also schedule a guided tour of The Capitol and see the governor’s office, legislative areas, and the old Supreme Courtroom.

Location: 1007 E Grand Ave, Des Moines
Hours: Monday-Friday: 7am-5pm, Saturday: 9am-4pm, Closed Sundays

Iowa State Capitol Building

7. Try A Unique Twist on Pizza at Fong’s Pizza

Before Fong’s Pizza was Fongs, it was King-Ying-Low, the oldest Chinese restaurant in downtown Des Moines since 1908. After King-Ying-Low closed, Fongs was born.

Inspired by the Asian decor, the local owners decided to preserve it and thus creating a unique pizza joint complete with Asian-inspired pizza like the Crab Rangoon or Sweet & Sour Chicken, and appetizers like the Chinese Cheesesticks, which are mozzarella sticks wrapped in egg roll wrappers.

Location: 223 4th St, Des Moines
Hours: Sunday-Saturday: 11am-2am

Crab rangoon pizza at Fong's Pizza in Des Moines, Iowa
Crab Rangoon Pizza

8. Grab Some Apocalyptic Grub from Zombie Burger + Drink Lab

Zombie Burger is a “post-apocalyptic chic” restaurant in downtown Des Moines’ East Village that offers intriguing combinations of burgers, including vegan options; and hand-mixed shakes (spiked or not!). Try out The Walking Ched, which includes a bun made of fried mac & cheese or They’re Coming To Get You Barbara, which has a bun made with grilled cheese sandwiches.

Location: 300 E Grand Ave, Des Moines
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11am-12am, Friday & Saturday: 11am-2am

Mac & Cheese Vegan Burger at Zombie Burger in Des Moines, Iowa

9. Go Shopping at RAYGUN

Looking for a one-of-a-kind souvenir cause you’ve been blessed by the Midwest? Check out RAYGUN. Also in downtown Des Moines’ East Village, RAYGUN offers hilarious, sarcastic, and at times, thought-provoking designs on t-shirts, coasters, cards, sweatpants, glasses, mugs, and SO much more.

Location: 505 East Grand Ave, Des Moines
Hours: Sunday: 11am-5pm, Monday-Friday: 10am-7pm, Saturday: 9am-8pm

Signs at RAYGUN in downtown Des Moines

READ MORE: Budget-Friendly Road Trips in the Midwest U.S.A.

So, are you ready to see that Iowa is more than “just cornfields?” If so, make one of your next stops these fun things to do in downtown Des Moines!

Des Moines is a city unlike any other. Here you'll find small-town charm mixed with big city vibes, the friendliest people, and tons of unique cultural experiences. You're sure to fall in love with these 9 places around or near downtown Des Moines.

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