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. Des Moines, Iowa is a great place to live and play. It is loaded with fun things to do every day! Whether you are planning a day of fun for the whole family, a girl’s night out, or a road trip to the capital city, you will always fund something to do.
Here are our top 105 things to do in and around the capital of Iowa:
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.) The Science Center of Iowa is always a popular spot.
3.) Water Works Park including the new Reichardt Family Natural Play Area.
4.) Jester Park. Hiking trails of all types, buffalo, natural playscape, and the nature center are free admission with educational programs.
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, a spray pad, and a beach. This is my kid’s 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 the heated skywalk.
12.) Head to B&B Theatres in Ankey for a movie in their ScreenPlay movie theater. Playgrounds + movies!
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 have come to be very fond of our little zoo here in Des Moines, Iowa.
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.) Urban Air Ankeny is one of our favorite places to jump and burn off some steam.
19.) Center Grove Orchard. Apple picking, strawberry picking, farm fun, animals, and more!
20.) Pammel Park. Another place not exactly in Des Moines, but Winterset is an easy drive from Des Moines.
21.) Bridges of Madison County (Winterset, IA). Check out this fun day trip!
22.) Ashworth Pool
23.) The Des Moines Art Center
24.) The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden is a beautiful place for all seasons. Take a walk through the botanical gardens and feel like you are in paradise. Jump on the bike path right outside for a stroll along the Des Moines River.
25.) Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa.
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 Park. 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. Storytimes 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 is home to the Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Hours of fun for everyone.
33.) Iowa Cubs game
34.) Downtown Farmers’ Market is not just a place to pick up fresh produce. Grab breakfast and some live music while wandering downtown.
35.) Winter Market
36.) Greenwood Park
37.) Colby Park
38.) Berry picking. There are so many locations to berry pick in early summer!
39.) Feeding ducks. Resthaven Cemetery (West Des Moines) has actual ducks, Glendale Cemetery (Des Moines) has geese.
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.) Fox Creek Splash Park in Waukee, Iowa
44.) Trainland U.S.A. in Colfax, Iowa.
45.) The Iowa Children’s Museum. This is in Iowa City, but so worth the two-hour drive which includes a ton of interactive exhibits for all ages.
46.) The Learning Post. This place has amazingly cool and educational toys and products to choose from.
47.) Living History Farms
48.) Zombie Burger
49.) Make a visit to The Iowa State Capitol Building full of spiral staircases. Then wander through the Historic East Village nearby.
51.) Iowa State Fair
52.) St. Patrick’s Day Parade
53.) Art Festival
54.) Principal Riverwalk will take you to Principal Park where you can catch an Iowa Cubs game!
55.) Neal Smith Wild Life Refuge in Prairie City, Iowa. 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 Drive during Christmas time.
57.) Garage sales. Take a walk around pretty much any neighborhood in the spring and there are garage sales galore. Pick through people’s junk to find your next treasure. My kids and I have a blast doing this each year.
58.) Adventureland Park is filled with amusement rides, water fun, and more!
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 moms 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 is 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
70.) Festival of Trees and 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
78.) Walker-Johnston Park
79.) The Des Moines Children’s Museum located in Valley West Mall
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 at.
81.) Meals from the Heartland
81.) Indoor waterpark. There are several within driving distance of Des Moines.
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 patches. There are MANY to choose from just outside of the metro.
85.) Saylorville spillway at night. So I may have gone there to make out in high school, but it’s the perfect place to stargaze 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.) Visit and play with some furry animals around the Des Moines area. Here is a giant list!
88.) Drake Relays
89.) The State Historical Museum. Free admission.
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. A 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 in Newton, Iowa
95.) Hurts Donuts in West Des Moines. Donuts that are WAY over the top!
96.) Chocolate Storybook (West Des Moines). The kids will be talking about their chocolate factory experience for weeks (or months if they are like mine) afterward.
97.) Splash and play at one of these natural playscapes in the Des Moines area.
98.) Summer concert series. There are numerous concerts to choose from in the summer months. Live music is the best!
99.) Climb Iowa in Grimes, Iowa.
100.) National Balloon Classic in Indianola. Also, check out the Balloon Museum while there!
101.) Kinship Brewery in Waukee, Iowa. Has a dog park for your furry friends.
102.) Smash Park is fun for the entire family. Fun drinks, great food, and yard games indoors and outdoors.
103.) Storytimes outdoors in the park. Check your local library. Here are some common ones!
104.) Skateboarding. Lauridsen Skatepark in Downtown Des Moines along the Des Moines River.
105.) The Valley Community Center. FREE indoor play and fun kids classes.
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.