Des Moines Attractions and Activities
The City of Des Moines is a cultural center for Iowa and home to several art and history museums and performing arts groups. The Des Moines Performing Arts routinely hosts Broadway shows and other live professional theater. Its president and CEO, Jeff Chelsvig, is a member of the League of American Theatres and Producers, Inc. The Temple for Performing Arts and Des Moines Playhouse are other venues for live theatre, comedy, and performance arts.
The Des Moines Metro Opera has been a cultural resource in Des Moines since 1973. The Opera offers educational and outreach programs and is one of the largest performing arts organizations in the state. Ballet Des Moines was established in 2002. Performing three productions each year, the Ballet also provides opportunities for education and outreach.
The Des Moines Symphony performs frequently at different venues. In addition to performing seven pairs of classical concerts each season, the Symphony also entertains with New Year’s Eve Pops and its annual Yankee Doodle Pops concerts.
The Metro Arts Alliance produces Jazz in July every year, that offers free jazz shows daily at various venues throughout the city during the entire month of July.
Wells Fargo Arena is the Des Moines area’s primary venue for sporting events and concerts since its opening in 2005. Named for title sponsor Wells Fargo Financial Services, Wells Fargo Arena holds 16,980 and books large, national touring acts for arena concert performances, while several smaller venues host local, regional, and national bands. It is the home of the Iowa Wolves of the NBA G League, the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League, and the Iowa Barnstormers of the Indoor Football League.
The Simon Estes Riverfront Amphitheater is an outdoor concert venue on the east bank of the Des Moines River which hosts music events such as the Alive Concert Series.
The Des Moines Art Center, with a wing designed by architect I. M. Pei, presents art exhibitions and educational programs as well as studio art classes. The Center houses a collection of artwork from the 19th century to the present. An extension of the art center is downtown in an urban museum space, featuring three or four exhibitions each year.
The Pappajohn Sculpture Park in the Downtown’s Western Gateway Park plays host to the Des Moines Arts Festival.
The Pappajohn Sculpture Park was established in 2009. It showcases a collection of 24 sculptures donated by Des Moines philanthropists John and Mary Pappajohn. Nearby is the Temple for Performing Arts, a cultural center for the city. Next to the Temple is the 117,000-square-foot (10,900 m2) Central Library, designed by renowned English architect David Chipperfield.
Salisbury House and Gardens is a 42-room historic house museum on 10 acres (4 ha) of woodlands in the South of Grand neighborhood of Des Moines. It is named after—and loosely inspired by—King’s House in Salisbury, England. Built in the 1920s by cosmetics magnate Carl Weeks and his wife, Edith, the Salisbury House contains authentic 16th-century English oak and rafters dating to Shakespeare’s days, numerous other architectural features re-purposed from other historic English homes, and an internationally significant collection of original fine art, tapestries, decorative art, furniture, musical instruments, and rare books and documents. The Salisbury House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been featured on A&E’s America’s Castles and PBS’s Antiques Roadshow.
Prominent artists in the Salisbury House collection include Joseph Stella, Lillian Genth, Anthony van Dyck and Lawrence Alma-Tadema.
Built in 1877 by prominent pioneer businessman Hoyt Sherman, Hoyt Sherman Place mansion was Des Moines’ first public art gallery and houses a distinctive collection of 19th and 20th century artwork. Its restored 1,250-seat theater features an intricate rococo plaster ceiling and excellent acoustics and is used for a variety of cultural performances and entertainment.
Arising in the east and facing westward toward downtown, the Iowa State Capitol building with its 275-foot (84 m), 23-karat gold leafed dome towering above the city is a favorite of sightseers. Four smaller domes flank the main dome. The Capitol houses the governor’s offices, legislature, and the old Supreme Court Chambers. The ornate interior also features a grand staircase, mural “Westward”, five-story law library, scale model of the USS Iowa, and collection of first lady dolls. Guided tours are available.
The Capitol grounds include a World War II memorial with sculpture and Wall of Memories, the 1894 Soldiers and Sailors Monument of the Civil War and memorials honoring those who served in the Spanish–American, Korean, and Vietnam Wars. The West Capitol Terrace provides a stunning entrance from the west to the state’s grandest building, the State Capitol Building. With its picturesque views, the lush, 10-acre (4 ha) “people’s park” at the foot of the Capitol complex includes a promenade and landscaped gardens, in addition to providing public space for rallies and special events. A granite map of Iowa depicting all 99 counties rests at the base of the terrace and has become a popular attraction for in-state visitors, many of whom walk over the map to find their home county.
Iowa’s history lives on in the State of Iowa Historical Museum. This modern granite and glass structure at the foot of the State Capitol Building houses permanent and temporary exhibits exploring the people, places, events, and issues of Iowa’s past. The showcase includes native wildlife, American Indian and pioneer artifacts, and political and military items. The museum features a genealogy and Iowa history library, museum gift shop, and cafe.
Terrace Hill, a National Historic Landmark and Iowa Governor’s Residence, is among the best examples of American Victorian Second Empire architecture. This opulent 1869 home was built by Iowa’s first millionaire, Benjamin F. Allen, and restored to the late 19th century period. It overlooks downtown Des Moines and is situated on 8 acres (3.2 ha) with a re-created Victorian formal garden. Tours are conducted Tuesdays through Saturdays from March through December.
The 110,000-square-foot (10,000 m2) Science Center of Iowa and Blank IMAX Dome Theater offers seven interactive learning areas, live programs, and hands-on activities encouraging learning and fun for all ages. Among its three theaters include the 216-seat Blank IMAX Dome Theater, 175-seat John Deere Adventure Theater featuring live performances, and a 50-foot (15 m) domed Star Theater.
The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, an indoor conservatory of over 15,000 exotic plants, is one of the largest collections of tropical, subtropical, and desert-growing plants in the Midwest. The Center blooms with thousands of flowers year-round. Beautiful and extensive exterior gardens are also here. Nearby are the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens and Pavilion, named in honor of the former governor whose influence helped relocate thousands of Vietnamese refugees to Iowa homes in the 1970s and 1980s. Developed by the city’s Asian community, the Gardens include a three-story Chinese pavilion, bonsai landscaping, and granite sculptures to highlight the importance of diversity and recognize Asian American contributions in Iowa.
Blank Park Zoo is a beautifully landscaped 22-acre (8.9 ha) zoological park on the south side. Among the exhibits include a tropical rain forest, Australian Outback, and Africa. The Zoo offers education classes, tours, and rental facilities.
The Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary was established as a scientific research facility with a 230-acre (93 ha) campus housing bonobos and orangutans for the noninvasive interdisciplinary study of their cognitive and communicative capabilities.
The East Village, on the east side of the Des Moines River, begins at the river and extends about five blocks east to the State Capitol Building, offering an eclectic blend of historic buildings, hip eateries, boutiques, art galleries, and a wide variety of other retail establishments mixed with residences.
Adventureland Park is an amusement park in neighboring Altoona, just northeast of Des Moines. The park boasts more than 100 rides, shows, and attractions, including four roller coasters. A hotel and campground are just outside the park. Also, in Altoona is Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino, a popular entertainment venue for gambling and horse racing. Open 24 hours a day, year-round, the racetrack and casino features live racing, plus over 1,750 slot machines, table games, and concert and show entertainment.
Living History Farms in suburban Urbandale tells the story of Midwestern agriculture and rural life in a 500-acre (2.0 km2) open-air museum with interpreters dressed in period costume who recreate the daily routines of early Iowans. Open daily from May through October, the Living History Farms include a 1700 Ioway Indian village, 1850 pioneer farm, 1875 frontier town, 1900 horse-powered farm, and a modern crop center.
Wallace House was the home of the first Henry Wallace, a national leader in agriculture and conservation and the first editor of Wallaces’ Farmer farm journal. This restored 1883 Italianate Victorian houses exhibits, artifacts, and information covering four generations of Henry Wallaces and other family members.
Historic Jordan House in West Des Moines is a stately Victorian home built in 1850 and added to in 1870 by the first white settler in West Des Moines, James C. Jordan. Completely refurbished, this mansion was part of the Underground Railroad and today houses 16 period rooms, a railroad museum, West Des Moines community history, and a museum dedicated to the Underground Railroad in Iowa. In 1893 Jordan’s daughter Eda was sliding down the banister when she fell off and broke her neck. She died two days later, and her ghost is reputed to haunt the house.
The Chicago Tribune wrote that Iowa’s capital city has “walker-friendly downtown streets and enough outdoor sculpture, sleek buildings, storefronts and cafes to delight the most jaded stroller”.
Major Highway Systems of Des Moines