Things To Do

While Des Moines doesn’t typically top the lists of hot vacation destinations, there is still plenty of vacation fun to be had if you have a free moment. Whether you’re looking for something free to fill a morning or a fun-filled day of adventure out on the town, there are plenty of options.

Downtown Events & Things To Do (All Free!)

One of Des Moines most photographed locations, the John & Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park located in the Western Gateway is a great place to take a stroll and get some great team pictures. One of the sculptures was even based on gymnastic’s pike position (although the sculptural interpretation is, shall we say, abstract). Dine at one of the Western Gateway’s nearby restaurants and take a post meal stroll. Or, if you can get there in the afternoon, stop by Black Cat Ice Cream to get some of the best homemade ice cream you’ve ever had (located across the street from the NW corner of the sculpture park). An audio tour of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park is available online or by dialing 515.657.8264. This is a beautiful experience during the day and is enchanted and illuminated by night!

You are in the heart of Farm County… so visit one of the biggest and the best farmers markets in the country! The Market takes over the Court District on Saturday morning from 7 am to noon with nearly 300 vendors from across the state. While you’ll find fresh, organic produce and meats, you’ll also find arts, crafts, as well as live bands and entertainment. Note: Most all roads through the Court District are closed to vehicle traffic during The Market, so if you are driving or taking a ride-share to the competition venue Saturday morning allow for extra travel time!

Constructed between 1871 and 1886, the Iowa Statehouse is the nation’s only five-domed capitol building, with the main/center dome plated in tissue-paper thin, 23-karat gold. Tour the beauty of the building’s interior and stroll the grounds and take some great team pictures along the Downtown Des Moines skyline. Free tours are available weekdays 8 am – 5 pm (closed on Fourth of July) and 9 am – 4 pm on Saturday. Take the free D-Line shuttle to capitol Wednesday night, July 3, 2019, for the free Yankee Doodle Pops concert and the city’s best fireworks show (prelude concert at 6:30 pm / concert & fireworks at 8:30 pm.) on the Capitol’s West Terrace. Located across the street from the Capitol’s West Terrace, you’ll also find the free State Historical Museum featuring the mammoth skeleton above and exhibits on famous Iowans and historical events.

  1. Get your picture with Olympic Gold Medalist Shawn Johnson! 
    Well, a bronzed statue of her anyway…
    ALL USA GYMNASTICS CHAMPIONSHIPS ATHLETES can visit the Iowa Hall of Pride interactive sports museum, LOCATED RIGHT INSIDE THE CONVENTION CENTER, FREE OF CHARGE by showing their athlete credentials. (Sorry parents, coaches, judges and fans, you’ll have to pay the $10 admission fee.)
    Visit the museum Mon-Fri between 9:00 am and 4:00 pm.
    Shawn Johnson Statue Shawn Medals Chow

  2. Take unique team pictures in front of the Des Moines skyline!
    Head out the east doors of Hy-Vee Hall or Wells Fargo Arena and step into Rotary Riverwalk Park, where you can swing from a giant finishing pole statue on the banks of the Des Moines River. Then cross the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge and take a stroll around the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens. Weather pending, this might be one of the best 20-30 minute breaks you’ll take from the competition venue all day!



  3. Cowles Commons & World Food Prize Hall of Laureates Garden
    Two blocks south of the competition venues, you’ll find the recently renovated Cowles Commons, where you can cool off in the splash pad, get some photos with some public art, or even partake in a free yoga class on Wellness Wednesday, July 3, 2019, at noon. On your walk, head one block east and get some photos in the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates gardens.

Check out a complete list here.

Yankee Doodle Pops – Iowa State Capitol
Wednesday, July 3, 2019 – Concert @ 6:30 pm | Fireworks @ 8:30 pm
Join the Des Moines Symphony for a free patriotic concert at 6:30 pm on the west lawn of Iowa State Capitol, followed by Des Moines’ best fireworks show at 8:30 pm over the five state capitol domes. Find complete details on street closures, free transportation shuttles, maps and vendor locations here. The state capitol is located in the East Villiage, across the river from the competition venues.

Iowa Cubs Baseball Post-Game Fireworks – Principal Park
Thursday, July 4, 2019 & Friday, July 5, 2019 – Following Baseball
If you can’t make the big bang at the capitol on Wednesday, there is still time to see some downtown fireworks after Thursday and Friday night’s gymnastics competition has concluded. The Iowa Cubs will shoot off fireworks following the conclusion of their games against the Memphis Redbirds at Principal Park on both Thursday and Friday evenings. First pitch for these games is at 7:05 pm with fireworks at approximately 10 pm. Principal Park is located directly south of the competition venues, south of the Court District.

Suburban Options
If you’re looking to get out of downtown on the 4th, you can head to the suburbs and check out Urbandale’s Fourth of July celebration, which includes a huge parade and fireworks show. There are also many celebrations and fireworks displays in many of the neighboring suburbs and small towns.

Things To Do By Category

  • Science Center of Iowa (Downtown – Court District):
    Great for kids and adults alike. There is a nice Legos exhibit, planetarium and kids can be part of the live broadcast of the Chanel 13 mid-day weather report. There is an IMAX, but it is currently closed due to storm damage.
    Open: Monday-Saturday – 9 am – 5 pm, Sunday –  Noon – 5 pm.
    Admission: $9-$13

  • Adventureland Theme Park & Water Park (Altoona | 15-20 min. by car):
    A quality regional amusement park featuring five roller coasters, various shows and many other thrill rides for both kids and adults. Admission also includes Adventure Bay waterpark, featuring a lazy river, wave pool and numerous waterslides. Not at the level of Disney or Universal, but similar to a Six Flags.
    Open daily at 10 am. Water Park closes at 7 pm and the theme park closes between 9-10 pm.
    Admission: $40-$45

  • Living History Farms (Urbandale | 20 min. by car):
    Living History Farms is a 500 acre, interactive, outdoor history museum. Travel back in time to visit three working farm sites: the 1700 Iowa Farm, 1850 Pioneer Farm, and 1900 Horse-Powered Farm. Then explore the homes, shops, and businesses of 1875 Town of Walnut Hill, including a Blacksmith,
    General Store, Print Shop, and the Flynn Mansion and Barn, which are both on the National Register of Historic Places.
    Open:  Monday-Saturday – 9 am – 4 pm, Sunday – 12 pm – 4 pm.
    Admission: $9.50-$16

  • Blank Park Zoo (Des Moines):
    A very small yet delightful zoo featuring a new baby rhino, lions, tigers, giraffes, penguins, sea lions and tamarin monkeys.
    Open Daily: 9 am – 5 pm
    Admission: $7-$14
  • Downtown Boutique Shopping (East Village):
    Many boutique shops (jewelry, art, antiques, clothing, tea, stationary and more) and the original and hilarious RAYGUN t-shirt shop. RAYGUN promotes itself as “The Greatest Store in the Universe,” and it doesn’t disappoint. RAYGUN shirts have been worn by the likes of Ed Sheeran, Hillary Clinton, Carrie Fisher, Whoopie Goldberg, Kal Penn, Adam Scott and more.

  • Valley Junction (West Des Moines):
    Boutique shopping and dining with live music and festivals.

  • Jordan Creek Town Center (West Des Moines | 20-25 mins by car):
    Des Moines’s largest mall and surrounding retail center. There are many chain restaurants including The Cheesecake Factory, PF Changs, On the Border, Joe’s Crab Shack and more. There is also a movie theatre and outdoor fountains.

  • Outlet Shopping (Altoona | 15-20 mins by car):
    A new regional outlet mall situated next to The Bass Pro Shop, restaurants and new movie theatre. Adjacent to Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino and Adventureland theme and water park.
  • Gray’s Lake (Downtown):
    Just outside of downtown on the way to the airport, Gray’s Lake is surrounded by two miles of paved bike/walk/running trails that connect directly to downtown. Pedal boats, kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddle boards are available to rent. Check before going, as this area is prone to flooding and has been closed multiple times this season due to flooding.

  • Climb Iowa (Downtown & Grimes):
    The downtown location located in the East Village focuses on boulder rock climbing and the Grimes location offers full boulder rock and rope climbing.

  • Smash Park (West Des Moines): 
    This is more than a sports bar, it’s a family sports experience featuring indoor and outdoor pickleball courts, bags courts, arcade games and more. (10% Off Coupon Here)

  • Hatchet Throwing:
  • Escape Rooms:

Major Attractions

Living History Farms (Urbandale | 20 min. by car):
Living History Farms is a 500 acre, interactive, outdoor history museum. Travel back in time to visit three working farm sites: the 1700 Iowa Farm, 1850 Pioneer Farm, and 1900 Horse-Powered Farm. Then explore the homes, shops, and businesses of 1875 Town of Walnut Hill, including a Blacksmith, General Store, Print Shop, and the Flynn Mansion and Barn, which are both on the National Register of Historic Places.
Open:  Monday-Saturday – 9 am – 4 pm, Sunday – 12 pm – 4 pm.
Admission: $9.50-$16

Blank Park Zoo (Des Moines):
A very small yet delightful zoo featuring a new baby rhino, lions, tigers, giraffes, penguins, sea lions and tamarin monkeys.
Open Daily: 9 am – 5 pm
Admission: $7-$14

Adventureland Theme Park & Water Park (Altoona | 15-20 min. by car):
A quality regional amusement park featuring five roller coasters, various shows and many other thrill rides for both kids and adults. Admission also includes Adventure Bay waterpark, featuring a lazy river, wave pool and numerous waterslides. Not at the level of Disney or Universal, but similar to a Six Flags.
Open daily at 10 am. Water Park closes at 7 pm and the theme park closes between 9-10 pm.
Admission: $40-$45

For a more comprehensive list of Events and Things To Do, visit Catch Des Moines (CVB).

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