Every day, my Facebook updates show friends, acquaintances, family, and old co-workers all looking for something to do around the Des Moines area. With two active little boys and a tag-along little girl, we make our way around the city constantly and have our favorite things to do in all seasons. We’ve had so much fun the last year exploring (there’s nothing better than seeing it through your child’s eyes) and creating our “adventure days” that we’ve started To-Do Lists for each season. Here are our top 105 things to do in and around the metro area (and several places out of the city) that we’ve experienced in the last year and are looking forward to experiencing in the coming months:
1.) Go to a movie. Several theaters around the metro have mid-morning showings for parents with small kids (think 10 am) and special family time movies.
2.) Science Center.
3.) Historical Museum.
4.) Jester Park. Hiking trails of all types and be sure to check out the buffalo and playscape.
5.) Ledges State Park. Not in Des Moines, but in central Iowa and is an easy drive from Des Moines.
6.) Ashby Park. Toddler playground, tennis courts, playground and swings for older children, and an awesome wadding pool. One of our favorite places in the summer.
7.) Raccoon River Park. A paved trail to walk along, playgrounds, spray pad, and a beach. This is my kids favorite park.
8.) Union Park carousel.
9.) Roller skating.
11.) Skywalk. On those cold winter weekends, we head downtown and let the kids run their energy out in almost 4 miles of heated skywalk.
12.) Flix Brewhouse. Located in Merle Hay Mall, you can order food and beverages (adult beverages even) while you watch a movie. Also, one Saturday a month they have family movie mornings where kids can come in pj’s. Great way to watch a movie with little ones!
13.) The Blank Park Zoo. Whether it’s to just see the animals or to attend one of the zoo’s many extra activities they have throughout the year, the zoo is one of our favorite places. Make no mistake, it is no Henry Doorly Zoo (Omaha, NE) but we’ve come to be very fond of our little zoo here in DM.
14.) Bike trails. Miles upon miles of paved trails in central Iowa. For some exercise and exploration, we set foot on the many trails around.
15.) Butterfly garden at Saylorville.
16.) Saylorville visitors center.
18.) Monkey Joe’s. While it’s not my favorite place to take the kiddies, it’s fun every now and then and the kids enjoy it (as long as it’s not too crowded).
19.) Happy Apple Orchard. I recommend apple picking in September or early October.
20.) Pammel Park. Another place not exactly in Des Moines, but Winterset is an easy drive from DM.
21.) Bridges of Madison County (Winterset, Ia).
22.) Ashworth Pool.
23.) The Art Center.
24.) The Botanical Center.
25.) Reiman Gardens (Ames, Ia).
26.) Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad. Take one of their many train rides and check out the railroad museum while there.
27.) Gray’s Lake. Walk two miles around the lake, rent paddle boats, play on the playground, swim, or take in a Saturday morning yoga class during the summer.
28.) Snookies Ice Cream shop. Legendary ice cream in Beaverdale, Ia. This place is rockin’ the minute it opens April 1st every year until it closes every September.
29.) Christopher’s Restaurant. If you’re looking for a nice dinner and want SUPER kid friendly I highly recommend this place in Beaverdale.
30.) Franklin Library. Story times during the week and numerous other activities for toddlers, preschoolers, and students during the week and on the weekends.
31.) South Des Moines Sculpture Park.
32.) The Sculpture Park
33.) Iowa Cubs game.
34.) Downtown Farmer’s Market.
35.) Winter Market.
36.) Greenwood Park.
37.) Colby Park.
38.) Berry picking. I recommend the Berry Patch in Nevada, Ia.
39.) Feeding ducks. Resthaven Cemetery (WDM) has actual ducks, Glendale Cemetery (DM) has geese. They attack….just an fyi from our most recent experience.
40.) Sledding at Waveland Golf Course. Best. Sledding. Hills. EVER.
41.) Breakfast at Hy-Vee. Kid friendly, cheap, and gives no excuses for putting off grocery shopping.
42.) A play at the Des Moines Playhouse.
43.) Backyard Adventures.
44.) Trainland U.S.A. (Colfax, Ia.)
45.) The Iowa Children’s Museum. So this is in Iowa City, but sooo worth the two hour drive. Better than the science center in Des Moines.
46.) The Learning Post and/or Brilliant Sky Toy Store. Both places have amazingly cool and educational toys and products to choose from.
47.) Living History Farms.
48.) Zombie Burger.
49.) The State Capitol Building.
50.) Mini golf.
51.) Iowa State Fair.
52.) St. Patrick’s Day parade.
53.) Art Festival.
54.) Principal Riverwalk.
55.) Neal Smith Wild Life Refuge (Prairie City, Ia). I recommend walking the 2 miles loop to see the buffalo instead of driving the buffalo enclosure. It’s such a large space that there’s very little chance of seeing the buffalo from the car. The trail can get you much closer.
56.) Ashby Dr. during Christmas time.
57.) Garage sales. Take a walk around pretty much any neighborhood in the spring and there’s garage sales galore. Pick through people’s junk to find your next treasure. My kids and I have a blast doing this each year.
59.) Beaverdale Fall Festival.
60.) 4th of July parades. There are numerous parades to choose from around the 4th of July holiday.
61.) Big Creek State Park. Play on the all wooden playground (if you’re not allergic to bees that is), swim at the beach, or rent boats at the marina.
62.) High Trestle Trail bridge. Feel free to bike/walk/run the entire trail OR if you just want to see the bridge (it is very cool), drive to Madrid. There’s a gravel parking lot near the trail. Then head west and walk over 3 miles from one end of the bridge to the other.
63.) Mall Play areas. The play areas open when the malls open for walkers (typically around 8 am). During the weekdays, you can find many unshowered mom’s with their little ones. The earlier you go on the weekends, the less busy the play areas actually are.
64.) Bass Pro shop. So much to do and see.
65.) Barnes and Noble book stores. Look at books, pick out books, a small play area, and a café.
66.) Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium (Dubuque, Ia). Another one not quite in Des Moines, but has some good and fun stuff for kids to see. If you have a zoo pass, you can get in for half of the cost.
67.) Iowa Energy, Iowa Wild, or Iowa Barnstormers game.
68.) Ice skating.
69.) Jolly Holiday Lights.
71.) National Night Out. This is the perfect opportunity to talk to your kids about the importance of police officers and firefighters in your community and the role they play.
72.) The Grotto. Not the most fun for young kids (trust me–there’s a no touching anything policy…that was fun), but would be good for older kids.
73.) Free fishing weekend.
74.) The Central Library.
75.) Tulip Time Festival (Pella, Ia).
76.) Java Joe’s. Seriously, this place. There’s a hidden kids clubhouse/play area thingy. Enjoy coffee and let the kids play.
77.) Maquoketa Caves State Park (Maquoketa, Ia.)
78.) Walker-Johnson Park.
79.) Monte Burr Memorial Garden (Urbandale, Ia).
80.) Star Observation at night. The science center goes to metro area parks occasionally (typically in the fall) and has a telescope available for children and adults to take a look.
81.) Meals from the Heartland.
81.) Indoor waterpark. The only one in Des Moines (that I know of, if you know of another one please do share!) is in the Ramada Inn on Merle Hay Rd. Get a room for a night and have some water slide fun.
82.) Honey Creek Resort.
83.) Fly a kite on a windy day. Since I was little, we go to Perkins Academy’s open field to fly kites. Last time we went, the adults had more fun than the minis, but the minis thoroughly enjoyed running around and throwing the kite in the air.
84.) Pumpkin patch’s. There are MANY to choose from just outside of the metro. We’ve been happiest with Howell’s (Cumming, Ia) or Patch’s (Adel, Ia. Fantastic for young kids). Center Grove Orchard (Cambridge, Ia) is extremely popular, but it overly crowded for our liking.
85.) Saylorville spillway at night. So I may have gone there to make out in high school, but it’s the perfect place to star gaze on a clear summer night.
86.) Camping. Try it out in your backyard or head to one of the many camping grounds outside of the city.
87.) Grimes Park and Rec. They have a slew of different children’s recreational activities all year round and at an excellent price. Different pricing for Grimes residents and non-residents.
88.) Drake Relays.
89.) Iowa Gold Star museum.
90.) Valley Junction. Whether it’s just walking the street and admiring the quaint shops, shopping, or partaking in one of the seasonal festivals, take time to enjoy the old West Des Moines.
91.) Valley Junction Farmer’s Market. Every Thursday evening starting in May. Smaller version of the downtown farmer’s market, but has grown a lot in the past several years.
92.) Horseback riding.
93.) Movies after dark in the park. Check local parks around the metro for dates, times, and showings starting in June.
94.) Valle Drive-In Movie Theater (Newton, Ia).
95.) Topped Donuts (Ankeny, Ia). What kid doesn’t love donuts?? And what adult wouldn’t love a maple bacon donut?? Walk it off with on one of the many walking/biking/hiking trails in Ankeny.
96.) Chocolate Storybook (West Des Moines). The kids will be talking about their chocolate factory experience for weeks (or months if they’re like mine) afterwards.
97.) Spray pad (Legion Park, West Des Moines).
98.) Summer concert series. There’s numerous concerts to choose from in the summer months.
99.) Climb Iowa (Grimes).
100.) National Balloon Classic (Indianola). Also, check out the Balloon Museum while in Indianola.
101.) Kidsfest. Benefits Children and Families of Iowa.
102.) The circus. There’s a few that roll through town a couple of times a year. Keep an eye on Wells Fargo Arena and/or Iowa State Fairgrounds Event calendar for details.
103.) JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes. Get involved in one (or all!) of the many walks/runs/or fundraisers benefiting a good cause that go on in the metro throughout the year.
104.) Skate boarding.
105.) Family Fun Night (Valley West Mall). Be prepared–it can get insanely crowded in the winter months.
About the Author
Ashlen Sheaffer is a proud Des Moines resident who was born and raised here. Ashlen wears many hats: mom, wife, daycare provider at her in-home daycare, blogger and co-owner at The Kidsperts, children’s book author, and co-director and producer for the upcoming play Expressing Motherhood play. In her free time Ashlen enjoys exploring all Des Moines has to offer, road trips, and adventuring all with the kids in tow. Ashlen is super excited to be able to share some of her family’s adventuring with other Iowans and get other families out into the community.