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Des Moines, Iowa is home to so many fun things to see and do all year round, but when the weather warms up it really comes alive! Since growing up in Des Moines, Iowa I have grown to love some specific areas and places to play which I am excited to share with you. If you are heading through Des Moines make sure you include a few of these must-dos in your itinerary!
Adventureland is nostalgia for most who have grown up in Iowa. This theme park, just outside of Des Moines, has fun rides and a water park, it’s not too big, and it’s great for all ages. Plan to spend an entire day riding rides, swimming in the wave pool, and catching one of many shows. If you decide to head to Adventureland, take a look at this guide to visiting before you go.
If you love nature, Jester Park located in Granger, Iowa is the best place to explore the outdoors. You can even camp there too! Jester Park offers hiking, a natural playscape near the bison and elk, a miniature golf course, and more. Rainy, cold day? Head indoors to their fun nature center which offers hands-on activities. Right next door is the Outdoor Recreation buildings which offer archery and boulder climbing.
Before you go take a look at the Jester Park Nature Center event calendar. They are always offering free or low-cost events and activities!
One of my favorite day outings in Des Moines is to the Gray’s Park and Water Works Park area. Both of these parks are located just outside of downtown Des Moines and can be accessed via a bike trail under Fleur Drive.
Gray’s Lake offers a beach for swimming, kayak and paddle boat rental, and bike paths. Water Works Park offers a natural playscape, a large amphitheater (catch a concert!), bike paths, fishing, and more. Pack a picnic and plan your day outdoors.
Just across the way is Jasper Winery, a local Des Moines winery. Every Thursday evening they offer a Summer Concert Series which is free to attend. You can buy wine, beer, pop, and some food items. Bring your chairs and blankets and listen to local bands outdoors!
The Downtown Des Moines Farmers’ Market is one of the biggest farmers’ markets in Iowa. Des Moines tends to plan its days around visiting the market early Saturday mornings. You will find local farmers, artisans, activities, live music, and more. It is located on Court Avenue which has several amazing restaurants nearby to hang out and people watch. In addition, it is right on the Des Moines River so enjoy a stroll on the Des Moines Riverwalk. The Des Moines Farmers’ Market is held every Saturday starting in May through October.
Historic Valley Junction is located in West Des Moines and has recently taken on a second life. You will find plenty of places to shop, and fun places to do arts and crafts including Candle Bar DSM, The Knotty Nail, and Five Monkey’s Inc. Their food scene is pretty amazing too! If you love local craft brews, head across the railroad tracks to The Hall for some great beers and food.
The Summer is a popular night for Historic Valley Junction. They offer a farmers’ market on the streets and live music, and many shops are open late.
East Village of Des Moines is located just east of the Iowa Capitol Building (plan a tour if you have time!). East Village consists of local shops, yummy places to grab a place to eat, murals, ad more. Some of my favorite spots to visit are Storyhouse Bookpub, Raygun, KIN DSM, NOSH, and Zombie Burger.
The Historical Museum of Iowa is also located in the East Village and offers free admission. This is a fun museum to walk through that consists of exhibits and things to do for all ages.
Union Park is a 51-acre park in Des Moines and includes the Heritage Carousel, rocket ship park, splash pad, formal gardens, and more. There is so much fun available! Just down the hill from Union Park is Captain Roy’s. A fun restaurant located right on the Des Moines River that offers food, live music, and kayak rentals.
Des Moines is home to Lauridsen Skatepark, the largest open, skatepark in the nation. You do not need to be a pro-skateboarder or skateboarder at all to have fun at this skatepark. Bring a scooter, bike, or skateboard (make sure you wear a helmet!) to roll around. Everyone is super welcoming at this park no matter your skill level.
Lauridsen Skatepark is also located on the Des Moines River. After you have fun playing at the skatepark, head over The Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge to Robert Dr. Ray Asian Gardens. Take it a bit further and enjoy some time at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens too!
This is just the beginning of all the fun Des Moines has to offer! Make sure you take a look at this free event calendar full of fun, family-friendly things to do in and around Des Moines, and give Des Moines Parent a follow on social media to stay up to date with even more ideas.
Erin Huiatt is the owner of Des Moines Parent an online community for parents and families throughout central Iowa and the Midwest. This resource provides tips, ideas, events, activities, travel ideas, and suggestions to get fellow parents through the day. Erin loves to stay connected with families and explore fun things to do all over. Make sure you are following all the adventures on social media!