7 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Des Moines
For a state capitol, Des Moines is a relatively small city that is easy to navigate and get around, but still offers plenty of great attractions and all kinds of things to see and do. Visitors can take in a show, tour the state capitol, stop by the zoo, explore the Science Center or the Des Moines Art Center, or spend some time wandering through the boutiques for some interesting shopping. In summer the city hosts the Iowa State Fair and the bustling Saturday morning Farmers' Market.
See also: Where to Stay in Des Moines
1 State Capitol
The Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines was built between 1871 and 1886. It features different types and colors of marble, works of art, fixtures and carvings in both wood and stone. Copper-covered domes are located on every corner of the building, with smaller golden lanterns attached to all four domes. Paintings, statues, and a collection of war flags are exhibited inside the building.
Address: 1007 East Grand Avenue
2 Greater Des Moines Botanical Center
The Greater Des Moines Botanical Center is housed within a geodesic dome that features free-flying birds and huge variety of species of plants that include a bonsai collection, orchids and other tropical plants. The outdoor gardens are also impressive as they change with the seasons.
Address: 909 Robert D. Ray Drive, Des Moines, IA 50316-2854, United States
3 Iowa State Fair
One of the highlights of summer in Des Moines is the State Fair, which runs for 10 days in August offering. It offers a good variety of entertaining shows, along with a midway, games, contests, daily events, and hundreds of food stands. The fairgrounds offer camping facilities, picnic shelters, indoor and outdoor show rings, and a half-mile dirt track.
Address: 3000 East Grand Avenue
4 Des Moines Art Center
The Des Moines Art Center features an impressive collection of 20th and 21th century modern and contemporary art, as well as pieces from various style and cultures around the world. Temporary Exhibitions showcase a variety of themes.
Address: 4700 Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50312-2002, United States
5 Salisbury House & Gardens
The a 42-room Salisbury House was built by Iowans Carl and Edith Weeks between 1923 and 1928. It is modeled after the King's House in Salisbury, England. The house is filled with the Weeks' original furnishings and collection of rare objects of art, paintings, tapestries, books, and letters.
Address: 4025 Tonawanda Drive, Des Moines, IA 50312-2909, United States
6 Blank Park Zoo
Blank Park Zoo is home to a wide variety of exotic and domestic animals, from big cats to seals and sea lions. Other favorites includes giraffes, ostriches, emus, and sloths.
Address: 7401 SW 9th Street, Des Moines, IA 50315, United States
7 Science Center of Iowa
The Science Center has hands-on exhibits that include physical and life sciences, a planetarium and laser light shows. Also on site is an IMAX Dome Theater. Interactive exhibits and live programs offer a fun and education approach to discovering the wonderful world of science. The Center is designed for all ages and is particularly entertaining for children.
Address: 401 W Martin Luther King Jr Parkway, Des Moines, IA 50309, United States
Where to Stay in Des Moines for Sightseeing
To be close to some of the major attractions, including 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 rooms with beautiful city views and is conveniently located near some of the city's key attractions. Embassy Suites by Hilton is an all-suite option in the East Village area, close to the State Capitol. Room rates include a cooked-to-order breakfast and an evening reception with appetizers. Des Moines' newest hotel, the Residence Inn, features a lovely courtyard area with a fire pit and is just a short stroll from restaurants in the Court Avenue District.
- Mid-Range Hotels: The Hampton Inn and Suites is a great choice for families, with rooms offering microwaves and mini fridges and an indoor pool. It is also just steps away from some of the city's trendiest restaurants. The recently renovated Des Lux Hotel offers oversized rooms in a building dating from 1912, within walking distance of nearby attractions. Connected via 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 decent budget options can be found near the airport, a 10-minute drive away, and include the Days Inn & Suites, featuring an indoor pool, and the Baymont Des Moines - Airport Conference Center also with an indoor pool and rooms at an attractive price.