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10 Great Things to Do in Des Moines

Iowa's capital is known for being home to the State Fair, but Des Moines also gives artists, foodies and explorers plenty to love.

1) John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park You'll find 28 playful, surreal and modern sculptures at the park. The Des Moines Art Center curates the collection, which looks especially fabulous at night when lights illuminate the oversize sculptures. Enjoy walking through the sculptures on your own, or make a reservation for a one-hour guided tour. 

Pappajohn Sculpture Park

2) Downtown Farmers Market More than 200 vendors sell fresh produce, street food and other products along downtown streets on Saturday mornings May through October. 

3) Architecture and history tours Overlooking downtown, the gold-domed Iowa State Capitol () dazzles with ornate architecture; take a free tour. Across the Des Moines River, sits the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates  (), originally the home of the Des Moines Public Library; see the restored Beaux Arts building during free tours on Tuesdays and Saturdays. English Manor-style Salisbury House and Gardens (), completed in 1928, intrigues both architecture and art buffs. Terrace Hill (), now home to Iowa's first families, reflects the elegance of the Victorian Era with Second Empire architecture and charming gardens. 

Salisbury House

Salisbury House

4) Des Moines Art Center The outstanding collection features works by Edward Hopper, Henri Matisse and others. Large, airy galleries reflect the different styles of three architects: Eliel Saarinen, I.M. Pei and Richard Meier. Free admission. 

5) Iowa State Fair Of the 200-plus food vendors, more than 50 hawk foods on a stick. And more than 1 million people attend to see grand spectacles, including a cow sculpted from butter, giant produce and llivestock like the 1,000-pound-plus Big Boar. 

Iowa State Fair

6) Living History Farms This 500-acre living-history site taps Iowa's rural roots with its 1700 Ioway Indians village, an 1850 working pioneer farm, the 1875 town of Walnut Hill, a 1900 horse-powered farm, and agricultural exhibits. Historical interpreters in period clothing demonstrate skills such as blacksmithing and cooking over fires.  

7) Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden The recently-expanded outdoor gardens, which include a 220-foot-long alleé of maple trees, showcase a half-acre water feature with seasonal and tropical plantings. Inside the geodesic-domed conservatory, you’ll find a photographer’s paradise of tropical plants.  


Des Moines Botanical Garden

8) Food scene Des Moines has undergone a dining transformation one kitchen at a time. A leader in this food revolution, restaurateur and chef George Formaro packs in crowds downtown at Centro (), featuring contemporary Italian cuisine. Other Formaro enterprises include Zombie BurgerSouth Union Bread CafeGateway Market and Cafe and Malo—just a few of the eateries that make Des Moines one of the Midwest's top food towns.

9) State Historical Museum Listen to tapes of coal miners at work, learn about Iowa's caucus system, see a battle flag preservation lab or carry pioneer-era water buckets with a shoulder yoke. Thoughtful exhibits display a wide range of artifacts, including locks of George Washington's hair and a pair of Abraham Lincoln's glasses. Free admission. 

10) East Village At the base of Iowa's Capitol, the East Village combines stylish shopping and great dining. Browse for clothing at sweetly feminine Aimee (); shop for top-quality seasonings at Allspice (); and find witty gifts at Raygun (). Try the contemporary American food at Alba () or expertly made sushi at Miyabi 9 (). 





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