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10 Insanely Fun Things to Do in Des Moines Iowa That Will Blow Your Mind

Iowa State Capitol
Photo Credit: Canva

As a long-time resident of Iowa's capital and largest city, I'm often asked by visitors"What are the fun things to do in Des Moines?” Well, let me tell you, there’s no shortage of family-friendly attractions, tasty restaurants, outdoor adventures, and unique local shops to discover across this vibrant Midwest city!

In this blog post, you’ll find my hand-picked list of the 10 most entertaining, amusing, and enjoyable activities for visitors of all ages when spending time in Des Moines (referred to by locals as “Des Moines Iowa"). From fascinating museums and historic sites to amusement parks and shops, I guarantee there’s something for everyone on this list!

A Quick Overview of Des Moines, Iowa

Before diving into the things to do, let me give you a quick lay of the land. Centrally located in Iowa, sprawling Des Moines is home to over 200,000 residents in the metro area. As the capital and most populous city in the Hawkeye State, Des Moines serves as a major business hub in the region.

At the same time, it retains a pleasant small-town vibe with a stunning downtown district dotted with trendy shops, atmospheric restaurants, and cultural attractions. The Des Moines River and multiple parks add plenty of scenic outdoor recreation throughout the city.

Just like in other growing cities, living in Des Moines Iowa also has its pros and cons. But with so much to experience here, it continues gaining accolades as one of the Midwest’s best places to live and visit!

Why Kids & Families Love Des Moines

Aside from the low cost of living and a promising developing Metro, there are many reasons why people would love to move to this vibrant city. One of the biggest reasons I recommend Des Moines Iowa as a top family-friendly getawaythere are tons of kid-approved things to do! Interactive museums, rides, and shows at Adventureland Park, hands-on science experiments at the Science Center, and adorable farm animals to pet at the Blank Park Zoo just scratch the surface.

Several playgrounds, splash pads, recreation centers, and pools offer year-round fun. The local ice cream, candy store, and farmers market treats make every day feel like a holiday for young visitors! If you're looking for amusement with children of any age in tow, Des Moines Iowa should be at the top of your destination list!

10 Fun Things To Do in Des Moines, Iowa

Now onto the main eventhere’s the ultimate list of fun things to do in Des Moines Iowa!

1. Spend Hours at Adventureland Park 

This beloved Iowa amusement park is jam-packed with over 100 attractions promising unforgettable family fun. You'll find free shows, strolling magicians, snuggly souvenirs, and regular fireworks displays. With rides and activities ideal for adrenaline junkies, young children, parents, grandparents - there's something absolutely everyone will love at Adventureland. If you’re going with your family, you’ll love that look of pure joy on your kids' faces as you create magical memories together.

There are basically two different parks here. There is the water park and the amusement park, both are the best in Iowa without argument from most. My kids, at the age they were under 7 years old, loved the amusement rides and water park equally. But we’ve found, as parents, NOT to go to these places on the same day because it can be too much for them.

The water park has activities for all ages from a water park and playground for toddlers to the swim-up bar for adults and float around the waterpark on a tube for folks young and old.  Personally, my kids love the water slides, the perfect amount of fear and fun that those slides create for kids!

2. Visit the Iowa State Capitol

The Iowa State Capitol, commonly called the Iowa Statehouse, is the seat of the state government and one of the most iconic landmarks in Des Moines, Iowa. The building was completed in 1886, and it features a striking dome covered with 23-karat gold leaf. The capitol is open to the public, and you can take a guided tour to see the impressive architecture, art, and history of the building. You can also explore the grounds, which include monuments, statues, and gardens.

Arguably the most beautiful building in the state of Iowa or possibly the Midwest.  In Iowa, elementary kids typically take a school field trip to the capital every year and hear the history of it along with what it means to the folks of Iowa.   Our kids are too young to appreciate the beauty, but my wife and I have still taken them to the rotunda to advocate for different legislative bills.  They love the echoing and HUGE stairs to play on if that is any constellation of the beauty. 

3. Meet Sea Creatures at the Blank Park Zoo

The Blank Park Zoo is a 49-acre zoo that houses over 1,000 animals from around the world. The zoo is divided into several themed areas, such as the Discovery Center, the African Boardwalk, the Australia Adventure, and the Kids' Kingdom. You can see animals such as lions, giraffes, rhinos, kangaroos, penguins, and more. You can also enjoy interactive exhibits, shows, and activities, such as feeding the giraffes, riding the train, and playing in the water park. From tropical birds to roaring lions, playful monkeys, and more, Iowa’s only AZA-accredited zoo will steal your heart. Say hello to the adorable baby zebra and grizzly bears!

While Adventureland is a two-day event for littles, the zoo is something that we can tackle in one day, bring a snack and a drink and enjoy the wildlife.  Sit down for a picnic and let the kids play.  Typically we will get there, jump on the train first to see a bunch at one time, and then look for the different daily activities posted for us to make sure there is entertainment for the kids.

For adults, the zoo does Zoo Brew and music, and some large events are even able to block off the zoo entirely. They also have company parties or client appreciation events, which are always a great time, and will make you feel the “zoo” wildlife experience!

Gray's Lake
Photo Credit: Canva

4. Relax at Gray’s Lake 

If you are looking for a relaxing and scenic escape from the city, Gray's Lake Park is the perfect place for you. Gray's Lake Park is a 166-acre park that surrounds a 100-acre lake in the heart of Des Moines, Iowa. The park offers a variety of activities and amenities that will make your visit enjoyable and memorable. You can rent a kayak, canoe, paddle boat, or stand-up paddle board from the concession stand and explore the lake at your own pace.

You can also take relaxing strolls along the waterfront trail, which is a 2-mile loop that circles the lake and offers stunning views of the downtown skyline and the river. You can also enjoy a picnic in the grass or catch a free movie screening under the stars on summer weekends at the park's amphitheater. Gray's Lake Park is a beautiful and peaceful oasis that will refresh your mind and body.

Gray’s Lake has a special place in our hearts, we moved to Des Moines in 2006 and that lake has been a place for me to exercise, release stress, and bond with my family.  We have lived within walking distance of Gray’s Lake for 10 years and made it part of our family activity. We take the pups for a nice stroll and let them sniff around and get some exercise. Then the kids join in on the fun.

We all love soaking up the nice weather, waving hello to the friendly neighbors enjoying the day, and taking in the beautiful scenery. It's such a wonderful spot and an amazing green space to spend quality time together as a family in the City of Des Moines!

5. See Stars at the Science Center 

The Science Center of Iowa (SCI), located in Des Moines, offers engaging exhibits, unique programming, and educational outreach. Visitors can explore hands-on exhibits, and special-format theaters, and learn about space and astronomy. While SCI doesn’t have an observatory, it sparks curiosity about the cosmos and serves as a community hub. Whether you’re a science enthusiast or a curious learner, SCI invites you to step into a world where science comes alive and wonder knows no bounds. 

I think this is one of the most underrated activities in Des Moines.  It changes a couple of times per year, has multiple exhibits, and entertains the kids for hours.  It's one of those places, where getting a membership for a year or two at certain ages for the kids is a wonderful investment for their learning.  Our kids are homeschooled and it adds another learning experience for them outside of their standard studies.

6. Explore Living History Farms 

Living History Farms, located in Urbandale, Iowa, is an interactive 500-acre outdoor museum that vividly tells the remarkable 300+ year story of how Iowans transformed the fertile prairies of the Midwest into the most productive farmland in the world.

Visitors can explore three historical farms spanning different eras: the 1700 Ioway Farm, the 1850 Pioneer Farm, and the 1900 Horse-Powered Farm. Additionally, the 1876 Town of Walnut Hill re-creates a bustling frontier community. With on-site interpreters, educational programs, and seasonal activities, Living History Farms invites you to immerse yourself in the past and discover the rich tapestry of Iowa’s transformation!

Speaking of a special place in our family’s hearts, the Living History Farms accepted the donation of a few of my wife’s family’s Belgium horses.  You know the Budweiser-style Belgium horses?  Yes, her father was so kind as to donate them to the Living History Farms experience. Up to this day, we take our kids there and talk about the kind heart of their Grandfather and my wife's memories of those large horses!

7. Shop & Dine in the Historic East Village

Located on the east side of the Des Moines River, the East Village is home to over 100 shops and services, ranging from trendy boutiques and art galleries to specialty stores and professional offices. You can find everything from clothing and accessories to books and antiques, as well as unique gifts and souvenirs. It is also a food lover’s paradise, with more than 40 restaurants, cafes, and bars to choose from. Many of the shops are housed in historic buildings that date back to the 1870s and 1880s, adding to the charm and character of the neighborhood.

8. See Priceless Art at the Des Moines Art Center 

Are you an art lover or a curious explorer? If so, you should not miss the opportunity to visit the Des Moines Art Center, one of the nation’s first major public art museums located right downtown. The Art Center is a treasure trove of priceless art from various periods, styles, and regions, featuring stunning pieces by Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol, Henry Moore, and other renowned creators in the exceptional collection.

The Art Center also offers a variety of programs and events for visitors of all ages and interests, such as guided tours, lectures, workshops, film screenings, and family activities. You can also enjoy the museum’s library, cafe, and gift shop, or explore the outdoor sculpture park, which features more than two dozen sculptures by acclaimed artists such as Auguste Rodin, Louise Bourgeois, and Jaume Plensa.

9. Catch a Show at Hoyt Sherman Place 

If you are looking for a place to enjoy live entertainment in Des Moines, you should check out Hoyt Sherman Place, a historic theater that opened in 1877. Hoyt Sherman Place offers outstanding plays, concerts, dance performances, family programming, and more on its pedigree mainstage, as well as a beautiful art gallery and a museum in the former family home of Hoyt Sherman, a prominent figure in Iowa’s history. 

Botanical Garden in Des Moines
Photo Credit: Canva

10. Enjoy the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden is a 14-acre botanical garden that showcases a variety of plants, flowers, and trees. The garden features a large geodesic dome that houses a tropical conservatory, where you can see exotic plants such as orchids, palms, and bromeliads. The garden also has several outdoor gardens, such as the rose garden, the herb garden, and the water garden. You can also attend educational programs, workshops, and events, such as yoga, gardening, and art classes here.

Plan Your Des Moines Adventure!

As you can see, when it comes to fun, fabulous, and family-friendly things to do - Des Moines Iowa delivers big time with incredible attractions! The diversity of entertainment options, friendly local vibe, exciting events calendar, and affordability make Iowa’s largest city the perfect all-American travel destination. 

To help customize your ideal Des Moines Iowa getaway whether you seek exciting adventures, fun-filled weekends, or a family vacation that makes memories for years, I encourage you to book a free consultation with me. As a knowledgeable area expert and realtor, I can provide insider tips, trip-planning advice, and recommendations catered precisely to your travel party’s interests. Reach out today to start planning the best Des Moines trip ever! 


I hope this post has shown you how much there is to enjoy across my beloved hometown of Des Moines Iowa for visitors of all ages and interests – from amusement rides to historic sites, hands-on science, encounters with wild creatures, shopping sprees, and much more. With its friendly Midwestern hospitality, thriving cultural scene, and variety of recreational opportunities, Des Moines Iowa has cemented itself as a premier Midwest destination.

And if you’re considering a move to central Iowa, contact me to learn insider insights about the best Des Moines neighborhoods, recreation opportunities, school rankings jobs outlook, and why so many families are choosing Des Moines Iowa as their new home base!

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