9+ Unusual Des Moines Things to Do Revealed

Step into the Salisbury House & Gardens; an era of splendor awaits. But what secret stories do its walls whisper? Discover...
Date Published
March 8, 2024

Table of Contents

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Think Des Moines is just a flyover city? Think again, my friend. This heartland gem is brimming with activities that will make you reconsider everything you thought you knew about a Midwestern getaway. Ever hugged a tree at the Brenton Arboretum or gotten lost among larger-than-life sculptures in Pappajohn Sculpture Park? No? Well, strap in, because Des Moines packs a punch with a fusion of cultural landmarks, historical sites, and urban parks that'll wheel you in faster than you can say "cornfields."

From the sheer elegance of Salisbury House & Gardens that give Downton Abbey a run for its money, to the educationally rich halls of the State Historical Museum of Iowa that tempt you with untold stories, get ready to explore Des Moines in a whole new light. You want charm? You've got it! With places like Gray's Lake Park and the East Village shops, you'll be wooed by the locale's mix of scenic splendor and urban finesse. So, eager to dive into the vibrancy of this unexpected city? Let's jet off on an adventure that'll leave your friends green with FOMO!

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Uncover the Allure of the Salisbury House & Gardens

Picture this: rolling lush green lawns, an enchanting 42-room estate that whispers tales from the 1920s, all wrapped up in the elegance and mystery of a bygone era. Welcome to the Salisbury House & Gardens, a true gem among Des Moines historical sites. If you've got a hunger for history or a craving for culture, pencil this spot right into your must-see list.

First off, what exactly makes the Salisbury House so special? Well, if you're asking about what's unique, imagine strolling through a house modeled after the King's House in Salisbury, England, surrounded by original artworks, tapestries, and a rare book collection that could make any librarian swoon.

So, who should spend their precious time here? If you fancy yourself a bit of an art historian, architecture enthusiast, or even a garden aficionado, this place is for you. It's also perfect for a dreamy date or a reflective solo adventure. Think of it as a tranquil oasis that invites you to wander, ponder, and soak in the beauty.

Nearby, there’s plenty more to see, with Des Moines' vibrant cultural scene just a stone's throw away. But here's the skinny: give yourself at least half a day to revel in the Salisbury House's splendor and sniff around the gardens. They say to stop and smell the roses for a reason, folks, and that reason is probably because they're planted right here.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get better, imagine hosting your event in a castle-like mansion that's straight out of a fairy tale. They offer that too! So if you're in it for a chill day or planning the swankiest event of the season, the Salisbury House welcomes you with open arms—and maybe a ghost or two from the past, but they're friendly, promise!

Don't just take my word for it, though. Check out the enchanting details and plan your visit at the Salisbury House & Gardens. Spoiler alert: Visiting this place is like stepping into a novel where you're the protagonist and every corner tells a new story. Happy exploring!

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Meander Through the Pappajohn Sculpture Park

Picture this: you're strolling through the heart of downtown Des Moines, the sun is setting, casting a perfect golden hue over masterpieces of modern art. Welcome to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park. It's not just a walk in the park—it's a cultural adventure; an outdoor gallery under the open sky where every piece of art has a story whispering to be heard.

Sculptures here reach for the sky and stretch your imagination! Designed to inspire and provoke, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a treasure trove of over 30 artworks by world-renowned artists. It's not only about the visual spectacle, though—the park lets you engage with the sculptures, ponder their shapes, textures, and what the artists might be whispering to your soul.

Let's talk specifics:

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  • Enjoy free admission. Because the best things in life are free, right?
  • It's great for everyone! Whether you're flying solo, on a romantic date, or playing tag with the kiddos—everyone finds their vibe here.
  • Plan for time well spent! Give yourself a good hour or two to soak in the creativity.
  • Nearby delights? Absolutely! After feeding your artistic side, why not treat your taste buds at some of the local eateries?

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And hey, before you go chasing the next gust of fresh air, make sure to snap that perfect Instagram shot. After all, if you didn't post it, did it even happen? For the perfect mix of green space, skyline, and sculpture, tip-toeing through this park is a cultural must-do that you can't skip. Grab some comfortable shoes and get ready to let the shapes and shadows of each sculpture tell you their secrets as you create your own pathways of discovery in this urban wonderland.

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Delve into Local History at the State Historical Museum of Iowa

Imagine stepping back in time, where every corner holds a tale yearning to be told. That's precisely what you'll find at the State Historical Museum of Iowa. A treasure trove for curious minds, it's as if the walls themselves whisper secrets of Iowa's vibrant past. Perfect for history buffs and knowledge seekers, this place is a history book come to life!

This is not your typical snooze-fest museum. Whether you're a local Des Moine-an or just passing through, you'll get hooked on the exciting stories from the Civil War era to the adventures of the pioneers. And guess what? It’s an educational attraction that won’t cost you a dime - that's right, admission is free!

Now, who's the perfect crowd for this goldmine of knowledge? Anyone with a thirst for learning! From school kiddos to history-loving grandparents, everyone will find something to captivate their interest. Got a couple of hours to spare? Spend them roaming the exhibits – it's worth every second.

You’ll find yourself among families on a quest for enrichment, couples wanting to dig deeper into the state's backstory, and even solo adventurers who appreciate a good ol’ story.

Just a hop, skip, and a jump from downtown, it's nestled in the perfect spot for a full day of exploration. Start with the museum and let your curiosity lead you to nearby attractions. Put on your explorer's hat and dive into the history that shaped not only a city, but a whole state. Trust me, it’s an experience that will leave you a little smarter and a whole lot more intrigued by the charming city of Des Moines.

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Relax at the Scenic Gray's Lake Park

Looking for a little slice of paradise in the middle of the city? Gray's Lake Park is your go-to spot. Picture yourself taking a leisurely stroll around a serene lake, the sun kissing your face, and a gentle breeze playing with your hair. Ah, pure bliss!

But wait, there's more than just pretty views. Gray's Lake Park is a hub for park explorations in Des Moines. You can rent a paddleboard or kayak and get your muscles working as you glide across the calm waters. Feeling more land-bound? No problem! You can also hit the two-mile trail that wraps around the lake, perfect for a run, bike ride, or a relaxed walk with your favorite furry friend.

This park isn't just any park; it's like the community's backyard—and everyone's invited. Families? Check. Fitness enthusiasts? Double-check. People who just want to lie on the grass with a good book? Absolutely. And when the sun sets, don't even think about leaving. The bridge lights up, creating a mesmerizing glow that’ll make your Instagram followers green with envy.

Spend an hour or make it a day; Gray's Lake Park is versatile. Pack a picnic, let the kids loose at the playground, or simply sit and watch the ducks doing their duck thing. It’s a refreshing escape that makes you forget you're in the city, but just a stone's throw from more urban adventures.

Whether you're a Des Moines local or just swinging through, this park is a must-visit. Let those endorphins flow and take this moment to just... relax. Trust me, you’ve earned it! Oh, and don’t forget to share the love—spread the word about this little gem so others can find their chill too.

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Explore the Vibrancy of the East Village Shops

Imagine a kaleidoscope of boutiques, eateries, and art - that's the East Village for you. Picture this: after a morning at the State Capitol, you meander through the historic streets and - bam! - you're surrounded by the rich tapestry of shopping heaven. East Village isn't just any shopping area; it's a neighborhood pulsing with life where the shops are as unique and charismatic as the people running them.

As you stroll down these bustling streets, flanked by old brick buildings that whisper stories of bygone days, each storefront invites you in with a promise of discovery. Looking for that perfect one-of-a-kind vintage jacket or a handcrafted piece of jewelry that screams 'I’m a conversation starter'? You’ll find just that and a bag of gourmet truffles too.

You could easily spend a whole afternoon here, and trust me, it will zip by faster than you can say 'retail therapy'. This is the habitat of fashionistas and collectors, but really, it has treasures for moms, pops, and kiddos alike. Need to fuel up? You’ll encounter coffee shops that serve up more personality than a barber with top hat and the food joints? chef’s kiss Will it be artisan pizza or a farm-to-table dish so fresh it practically mooed this morning? Decisions, decisions.

You're not just here for the goods; you're here for the feels. There's a whiff of nostalgia in the air, mixed with a dash of modern flair. Not to mention, the East Village is Instagram gold. Snap a picture near the artful murals or with your latest find, and let the likes roll in.

I can feel the buzz from here, and I have a hunch you’ll want to capture a bit of this energy. So clear your day, grab your most comfortable shoes, and get ready for an adventure that might just make your heart skip a beat in the East Village.

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Indulge in Culinary Delights at the Des Moines Farmer's Market

Prepare your taste buds for an adventure—they'll thank you later. An outing to the Des Moines Farmer's Market is like a treasure hunt for foodies. This isn't your run-of-the-mill farmer's market; it’s more like a festival where the locals and visitors gather to celebrate the richness of Iowan agriculture. It’s perfect for anyone and everyone—with a spread that’ll get families, singles, or even your skeptical teen to wake up early on a Saturday morning.

Picture it: You're wandering down the streets, sun peeking through the vendor tents, music playing, and the smell of fresh pastries teasing your senses. This market, my friend, is where you’ll find more than just the staples. From succulent fruits to artisan bread, to that spicy kimchi that kicks your taste up a notch—everything here is a flavor parade. Don’t even get me started on the breakfast burritos; they’re a must-taste that will skyrocket you to culinary nirvana.

The market sprawls over multiple blocks, and you'll want to set aside several hours to fully experience it. Peruse the stalls of fresh vegetables, handmade crafts, and unique local treats. You can hang out with cheesemongers, chat with the bakers, or grab a fresh cup of Joe from the coffee connoisseurs. And yes, this is the spot to rub elbows with friendly Iowans and soak in that heartland hospitality.

Not sure where to begin? Simply follow your nose or chase the sounds of local musicians serenading the crowd. With your arms full of goodies, take a break near the capitol building, admire its grandeur, or join a spontaneous dance-off—if your feet are itching after all the walking.

Tack on the Des Moines Farmer's Market to your Des Moines to-do list. You’ll mix and mingle, support local farmers, and come away with bags bursting with the freshest Iowa has to offer. It's not just shopping; it’s experiencing the vibrant heart of the city. Who knew kale could be this exciting?

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Discover the Elegance of the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden

Guess what? You can find one of Des Moines's hidden gems nestled right in the heart of the city. The Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden is your go-to spot for free activities that blend beauty, tranquility, and inspiration. Now, why should you, a discerning explorer, even think twice about this garden oasis? Because it's not every day you get to stroll through the same green spaces where new gardening trends take root!

As your personal pathfinder to all things cool and lush, I'm urging you to grab your walking shoes and your curiosity. Picture this: you're wandering through meticulously designed beds blooming with the latest flower varieties that haven't even hit your local garden center! It's like having a VIP pass to Mother Nature's secret runway show.

Whether you're a green thumb hunting for gardening inspo or just someone who appreciates the finer things in life, The Test Garden's got you covered. And here's a hot tip - they're only open to the public on Fridays from May through September, so plan your visit accordingly!

Families, garden enthusiasts, or solo adventurers – all are welcome to gaze and meander. Imagine spending an hour or two surrounded by the creative handiwork of professional horticulturists. It’s downright therapeutic. And if you've got little ones in tow, watch their wonder ignite as they marvel at beautiful butterflies flitting from flower to flower.

While there, feel the buzz of downtown Des Moines just a stone's throw away. After soaking in all that floral elegance, hit up the local cafés and boutiques for a full day of adventure. So what's the crowd verdict? The Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden is a must-visit for an enchanting and educational jaunt. Seriously, your Insta followers won’t know what hit 'em when they see your snaps from this beaut!

For more details, do yourself a favor and check out their official page. Your senses (and your social media) will thank you!

So there you have it. The Test Garden is not just dirt and petals, it's an experience that wows your socks off — making it the perfect addition to your Des Moines adventure list.

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Experience Tranquility at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

Picture this: You're surrounded by a symphony of flowers, each petal a note that calms your heartbeat. The air smells as green as a freshly mowed lawn on a summer morning. Birds are gossiping about which berry bush is the juiciest this season. Kids are spellbound by butterflies playing tag, and their laughter bubbles up like a fountain. This, my friend, is where you can truly relax and get that green thumb inspired. The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden isn't your typical walk in the park; it's a vibrant oasis in the heart of the city.

First off, why just amble when you can explore the exotic plant collections here? Let's talk about variety – they've got tropical and temperate plants that have more personality than your average houseplant. And if you've got kiddos with you, they'll love the outdoor gardens where they can find a nook and let their imagination run wild. The place is literally buzzing with life – from the bees to the people.

Need to get away from the noise for a little bit? The serene water garden is your spot. Trust me, even the most energetic kid will be mesmerized by the soothing sound of water features.

The Botanical Garden is perfect for:

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  • Family outings – there's enough wonder here to enthrall every age.
  • A solo retreat – carve out some 'me time' among the blooms.
  • A romantic stroll – flowers and love? Classic combo.

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Make sure to give yourself a good 2 to 3 hours to soak in the tranquility. It's nestled conveniently close to downtown, so you can hop on over to grab a bite or continue your city exploration afterward. And hey, it doesn't matter if your thumbs are green, blue, or polka-dotted. You'll leave here feeling a little more in sync with Mother Nature.

So, ready to plant yourself among the wonders of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden? Take a look and let your heart bloom.

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Enjoy a Day of Creativity at the Des Moines Art Center

Picture yourself standing in front of a grand, contemporary masterpiece, the colors and shapes talking to you in a language only art can speak. That's a slice of what awaits you at the Des Moines Art Center. This is a place where creativity reigns supreme and you're gonna love soaking up every bit of it!

The Art Center isn't just your typical gallery with hushed hallways. Who wants silence when you could have the sound of inspiration hitting you like a refreshing breeze? Trust me, your inner artist is ready to high-five you just thinking about it. And hey, whether you're flying solo, dragging your better half for a dose of culture, or wrangling a gaggle of kids who think art is just messy hands and paper, the Des Moines Art Center delivers for all. It's a melting pot of wonder for singles, families, and yes, even toddlers can dig it.

Now, let's talk logistics. You've got masterpieces to see, so carve out a good chunk of your day to wander through the collections. Nearby, you've got the enchanting Greenwood Park for when you need some fresh air and a moment with nature. A hop, skip, and a jump away, you’ll find some delicious eateries to fuel up for more art immersion.

Oh, and did I mention the Art Center is designed by world-renowned architects? It’s like getting a two-for-one deal: incredible art wrapped up in architectural genius. This isn't just a feast for your eyes – it's a full-on banquet for your soul.

With free admission (yeah, you heard that right – free!), you’ve got zero excuses to skip this cultural jewel. Make your mark on your calendar, because this, my friends, is the heart-beat of Des Moines creativity. Get ready to unlock your imagination in a big way at the Des Moines Art Center.

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Take a Stroll on the Captivating High Trestle Trail

Step right onto the High Trestle Trail, where your feet hit the path, your heart soars, and nature feels like it's giving you a big ol' hug. See that incredible, sky-touching bridge up ahead? That, my friends, is no regular bridge. As you march your way across the 13-story High Bridge, you're walking through one of the largest public art installations in the United States. Now let that sink in for a moment. It's like strolling through a colossal canvas that blends art, adventure, and a breath of fresh air!

The bridge transforms as dusk falls. Imagine this: a corridor of geometric frames that light up the night sky! It’s like the stars decided to chill out right above you, creating a blue-green aurora that reflects the flowing river below. So, whether you're an early bird catching the sunrise or a night owl gazing at the glowing art, this trail’s magic is not to be missed.

Now, who's this for, you ask? Well, whether you're flying solo or coming with your favorite crew, cycling enthusiasts, or seeking solace on foot, High Trestle Trail welcomes you with open trails. You'll find families, joggers, and nature photographers, so expect a sweet mix of friendly faces. And remember to wave hello – it’s the Midwest after all!

You're not just getting a walk here; you're soaking in outdoor recreation at its finest. The trail spans about 25 miles – yes, miles! – so, lace-up for a lengthy adventure or just take it one mile at a time. And here's a tip: nearby towns are peppered with little eateries and shops, making those pit stops as joyous as the journey itself.

Got a whole day to spare? Why not! Spend it unwrapping the layers of this local gem. But hey, if you're tight on time, even a short visit will fill your nature-loving cup to the brim. In short, it's the open-air experience that packs a wallop whether you’ve got hours or just a moment to breathe in the beauty of it all.

Pumped to map out this jaunt? I bet you are! Just click right here, and let the trail take it from there. So, get ready, because the High Trestle Trail is all set to etch some unforgettable sights and feels onto your memory reel. Happy trails to you!

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Engage with Nature at the Brenton Arboretum

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Get ready to immerse yourself in the splendor of lush greenery and stunning landscapes at the Brenton Arboretum. It's not just a park; it's an interactive experience with Mother Nature herself! And guess what? The trees are not the only stars here; they've got a cast of wildflowers, birds, and little critters, all playing their part in this natural symphony.

Ever wonder if you can walk through a prairie without bumping into a shopping mall? At the Brenton Arboretum, you absolutely can. Spread across 141 acres of prairie and woodlands, this nature hub is perfect for:

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  • Bird watching
  • Exploring diverse plant species
  • Leisurely picnics

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Soak in the vibrant colors, listen to the whisper of the leaves, and let's be real, we could all use a good, deep breath of that fresh, pollen-filled air. Got allergies? Take a second to sneeze, and then keep marveling at the beauty!

It's a hit with families, but let’s not leave out the couples seeking a romantic stroll or the solo adventurers craving some tranquility. Regardless of your squad, you'll find your zen here. And, let's not overlook the Insta-worthy photo ops—your feed will never look greener.

Need to stretch those legs? The trails here are calling your name, with just the right amount of gentle slopes to make you feel like you've worked out without actually having to hit the gym. Genius, right?

Plan to spend, I'd say, a solid two hours here. It's enough time to explore without rushing—after all, you can't rush beauty. You'll find it a short drive from Des Moines, making it a chill escape from city hustle.

Bottom line: fancy a day reconnecting with nature? Then the Brenton Arboretum is your ticket to peace, quiet, and the most charming oaks this side of Iowa.

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Picture this: You're surrounded by the astounding creativity of local and national artists, feeling the buzz of Des Moines' vibrant art scene at the Moberg Gallery. Yes, this is the place where art lovers and novice appreciators alike come to get their culture fix!

Moberg Gallery is not your typical art space. Here, you don't just view art; you experience it. The gallery showcases an eclectic mix of contemporary artworks that will have your eyes dancing from one piece to the next. It's perfect for those daring enough to delve into the realm of artistic expression without leaving the comfort of the Midwest.

It is a wonderland for adults, but kids with a budding interest in art will find it equally enthralling. Set aside a good hour or two; you'll want to take your time here. The gallery's ever-changing exhibitions mean there's always something new and provocative to stir the soul.

Nestled in the cultural heartbeat of the city, Moberg Gallery is a stone's throw from charming cafes and buzzing bistros, ideal for debriefing on the artworks over a steaming latte or a hearty meal. It's a nurturing environment for both the aficionado and the curious tourist, providing a perfect balance of inspiration and reflection.

Whether you're here for the solo journey through vibrant palettes and bold sculptures or as part of a squad hungry for a dose of culture, Moberg has got you covered. It's a spot that caters to all - singles looking for creative sparks, families craving an enriching afternoon, and couples seeking that perfect backdrop for deep, artful conversation.

Before you know it, you'll be leaving with a heightened appreciation for the arts and perhaps, a newfound favorite artist. Don't forget to check out their events and exhibitions online before visiting!

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FAQ

Q: What are some activities for young adults in Des Moines?

A: You're in luck! Des Moines has a vibrant scene with cool bars, live music venues, and plenty of food festivals that young adults love.

Q: What can I do in Des Moines this weekend?

A: Mix things up with farmers' markets, check out a concert, or get artsy at local galleries. Des Moines is never boring on weekends!

Q: Are there any free activities in Des Moines today?

A: Oh, yes! Stroll through one of the beautiful parks, visit a free museum, or catch a complimentary outdoor movie screening.

Q: What things are there to do for adults in Des Moines?

A: Treat yourself to culinary delights, sip on crafted brews at a local brewery, or enjoy a show at the Des Moines Performing Arts center.

Q: What's happening in Des Moines today?

A: Des Moines is always buzzing! From art exhibits to sporting events, you'll find something exciting any day you pop in.

Q: What family-friendly activities can I find in Des Moines, Iowa?

A: Des Moines has loads of fun for families! Explore the zoo, hit the Science Center of Iowa, or enjoy a picnic at Gray’s Lake Park.

Q: How do I spend a day in Des Moines Iowa?

A: Start with a delicious brunch, hit the East Village for shopping, lounge in a park, and end with dinner and a show downtown. Perfect day!

Q: Is Des Moines Iowa worth visiting?

A: Absolutely! From arts and culture to tasty bites, Des Moines offers a surprising array of activities to charm any visitor.

Q: What is Des Moines known for?

A: Des Moines is a hidden gem, famous for its Iowa State Fair, arts scene, and booming job market. Plus, it's got a pretty rad capitol building!

Q: What does Des Moines have to offer?

A: So much! Fab food, cool art, buzzing nightlife, and family fun. Des Moines is like a treasure box of good times waiting to be opened.

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Final Words

You've just had a whirlwind tour of some pretty amazing spots, diving into history, art, and nature, plus you've had a peek at where to find some killer eats and treats. From the Salisbury House & Gardens to the High Trestle Trail, and all the captivating stops in between, you've got your itinerary bursting with the best Des Moines things to do.

Remember, whether you're in the mood for a peaceful stroll through the Botanical Garden or a creative day at the Art Center, Des Moines has got your back, ready to serve up a slice of magic for everyone. So, head on out there and soak up every moment of fun and discovery!

Meet the Author
Isabella Kai
Isabella Kai, the Instagram wordsmith, crafts tales that captivate hearts worldwide. A dedicated foodie, she whips up culinary delights and pairs them with stories that make your taste buds dance. Beyond the screen, she's on a mission to visit every artisan bakery in town.
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