A Summer Day in Des Moines


This time of year just beckons for adventure. Often that means hopping in the car for a road trip to new and faraway places for our family. Who doesn’t love a little road trip?  

However, a couple of summers ago we decided to add a new adventure to our summer bucket list, explore Downtown Des Moines. It’s amazing you can live somewhere for years and never really explore it. We had so much fun, it’s now one of the first things the kids add to our bucket list!  

If you are interested in exploring Des Moines, let me share a fun day trip itinerary with you!

family in front of the Iowa State Capitol 

Day in Des Moines

Start your day at the Iowa State Capitol.  

Park right out in front and either take one of the guided tours that depart throughout the day or take a self-guided tour (both are FREE!). Make sure to visit the law library, the governor’s office, and the senate and house floors.  

For a little more fun, head out to the park area in front of the capital for a picture. You can even find a geocache treasure. If you have never tried geocaching before, it’s like treasure hunting with an app on your phone. 

Walk down to the East Village and visit Iowa State Historical Museum. It’s also free and has several great exhibits for kids. Then stop by Molly’s Cupcakes to sit on the swings and eat cupcakes. It’s never too early for a cupcake especially when you are exploring. You have to keep your strength up!

girl jumping on stomp rocket at Des Moines art sculpture park

Next up, head west to the  Pappajohn Sculpture Park.

We especially love to go downtwon during the work week because it’s busy and full of life. It also means food trucks line up on the west side of the sculpture park around noon and everyone in the family can find something delicious for lunch. You can always pack a picnic too. If it’s Friday, you can head over to the Better Homes and Gardens test gardens right across the street or you can find a shady spot under a tree to set up camp. 

Pack bubbles, a football, or a stomp rocket, and let the kids enjoy the park while you relax (in theory!). Visit all the different sculptures, chat about which one is your favorite, and then run up and down the hills.  

When you are finished, head east to the Des Moines Public Library and stop in for a story or play in the stream water feature right out in front off of Locust Street. Pack a boat and let your kids sail it down the stream or play with some water toys. The stream has a rough bottom so swim shoes would be a nice addition too. It’s hard to stay dry, so a change of clothes might be necessary!

If you aren’t wet and water-logged at this point, you can circle back to the Des Moines River and check out the play area by the pedestrian bridge and then walk across to visit the Chinese Riverside Gardens. On your way to dinner, stop by Cowles Commons to cool off in the Lauridsen Fountain before finding a bite to eat on Court Avenue. 

Get ready for a day of family fun and adventure in downtown Des Moines! Get to know the city you call home and fall in love with it even more. Your day downtown will be a highlight of your summer. And the best part is the kids won’t even have time to say “are we there yet?” on the way!  

Have you explored Des Moines?  What are your favorite places to visit?  


  1. The World Food Prize building (former Des Moines public library) – free guided tours on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
    Leave your car and ride the D-Line! Free shuttle public transportation that runs the downtown loop Monday – Saturday. Or rent bikes from the bike share stations and do a riding tour along the river walk.
    Polk County Heritage Gallery – free art! Inside the Polk Count building.
    Smoothies from the Ritual Cafe.
    So much to do! Love downtown Des Moines.


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