Des Moines, Iowa, is home to one of the most famous state fairs, a historic 19th-century capitol, numerous annual festivals and an engaging downtown.
Perhaps the most impressive site in Des Moines is the Iowa State Capitol building, built between 1871 and 1886 of different types of marble, art works, and fixtures and carvings in both wood and stone. The towering dome, constructed of steel and brick, is externally gilded with 23-karat gold leaf. Near the capitol building is the Iowa State Historical Museum, which is housed in a modern granite-and-glass structure. The museum explores the people, places, events and issues of Iowa’s past, and also has a history library devoted to the state’s history and genealogy, a museum store and an open atrium area.
The National Balloon Museum provides an understanding of ballooning and its history through exhibitions and collections. The museum archives more than 200 years of ballooning, hosts 24,000 visitors a year (with 20 countries in attendance) and operates on more than 2,000 volunteer hours annually. It’s located in the Greater Des Moines area. The Science Center of Iowa & Blank IMAX Dome Theater is an 110,000-square-foot facility with six interactive learning areas, live programs, hands-on activities and three theaters, including an IMAX.
Des Moines is easy to navigate. It boasts the largest skywalk system—when calculated per capita—in the world. The four-mile skywalk system connects meeting facilities, shopping, hotels, restaurants and entertainment. The D-Line is a free downtown shuttle service on a new, old-time trolley. Visitors can hop on at stops designated by the red D-Line signs. The shuttle runs every 10 minutes. The Greater Des Moines area has more than 10,000 guestrooms, including hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfast inns.
Des Moines offers plenty of options for keeping active. The city boasts hundreds of miles of trails for walking, biking, jogging and cross-country skiing. The Downtown Farmers’ Market is open rain or shine every Saturday from early May through late October. The market presents Iowa producers from 51 counties who offer fresh fruit, vegetables, fresh herbs, flowers, farm-fresh eggs, goat cheese, baked goods and many varieties of Iowa-raised meat.
The Des Moines Arts Festival is held annually in the Western Gateway Park in Downtown Des Moines. It features visual art, live music, performing arts and activities along with the Interrobang Film Festival, Jazz and Wine Pavilion and food booths. Western Gateway Park also is home to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park. It showcases a collection of 25 sculptures worth an estimated $40 million donated by philanthropists John and Mary Pappajohn.
For some immersion in Iowa’s agricultural history, visit the 500-acre Living History Farms, which includes three working farms, an exhibit center, an 1875 town with 14 shops, and two homes, including the historic Flynn House and Barn. Living History Farms, located in Urbandale, attracts more than 130,000 visitors annually, including visitors from every state and more than 60 foreign countries.
Des Moines’ average high temperature in summer is 86; the average low in winter is 32.