What to Expect at Iowa State Historical Building


iowa state historical buildingHave you been to the Iowa State Historical Building in Des Moines’ East Village? If not, add it to your list of places to take your kids. You won’t be disappointed! 


My first impression upon entering is one of space: high-ceilinged, sun-filled, blessed space. 

Then I see the giant mammoth display, a ginormous globe, and ancient airplanes hanging from the rafters. 

When we’re greeted by the museum’s friendly staff, I encounter my favorite exhibit: the free admission. The joy of this is matched only by a rare East Village exhibit: the museum’s free parking in the garage across the street. 

Iowa State Historical BuildingUpper Level

After oohing and ahhing at these opening highlights, I (safely and reverently) race the kids up the centrally-located massive staircase seemingly designed to burn off excess energy. (There is also an elevator that offers equal delight with its button-pushing opportunities.) 

We start at the museum’s top floor of exhibits, where I get to see Iowa’s connection to film history and the kids enjoy the old cars on display and the replica theater seats. While I don’t have time to read the many captions on the exhibits, I can appreciate the kids’ enthusiasm in exploring the floor’s many caverns.

We see old toys and tools from Iowa’s history, described and easily navigated on an interactive tablet the kids inherently know how to use. There are wedding dresses from the ages and presidential histories rooted in Iowa caucuses. The bicycles hanging from the ceiling inspired what I suspect won’t be my son’s only request to join RAGBRAI this year.  

Main Floor

When we make it back to the first floor, a volunteer is waiting for us. Dressed in a Civil War uniform. Filled with facts to supplement the displays of war and battle and Iowa’s connections to it. Though the history is violent and extensive, our soldier-come-to-life tells us memorable stories as we move through the weaponry exhibits.

The rest of the floor features an Iowa timeline, twisting and turning from one end of the floor to another. There’s a longhouse to run – I mean respectfully walk – through, and you can gawk at life-sized animal displays. You can count the rings on the trunk of a 267-year old spruce tree from Washington state that was bound for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. 

When we’re filled with all the knowledge, we find our way to the hands-on room, home to the greatest train table in the state. It’s a map of the state that features many Iowa cities and cut-outs for your kid to explore. Read books, do art, and rest without worrying your kid will get lost. There’s also an amazing LEGO creation to check out.

Friendly tip: don’t start in the hands-on room. You might not see anything else.

// RELATED CONTENT: What to Expect at the Iowa State Capitol //

And More

There are bathrooms on both floors and no gift shop or concession stand to distract or unexpectedly add to your day’s intended budget. The museum’s free Goldie’s Kids Club offers its youngest visitors easy ways to engage with the museum’s displays both in person and at home. The museum also offers special programming throughout the year.

Whether you spend hours here or cater to a crowd with a shorter attention span, this is a trip worth taking. I see something new every time we go and the staff is always willing to offer extra information. 

Even the museum’s exterior offers more stairs to race and lovely views from the rooftop. If your littles still have wiggles, the Capitol building hill is a short hop across the street. A hike worthy of even the most energetic of toddlers. 

So come for the light-filled space during the neverending winter, stay for the fun facts, and leave well-spent and ready for an afternoon nap. Not a bad way to spend the day with your family in Iowa’s capital city.

Have you been to the Iowa State Historical Building? 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here