For years our friends in Iowa have told us about how cool Des Moines is. How the restaurant scene is unparalleled, how their Farmer’s Market is unlike any other, how quickly the downtown scene is changing and growing… They would go on and on. And it wasn’t that we didn’t believe them, we just didn’t have a good excuse to come and see Des Moines for ourselves. Until this Spring, when we decided to roadtrip cross-country, and made Des Moines our final destination. Des Moines had big shoes to fill - our expectations were high, and we were really hoping to end our month-long adventure on the road with a bang. Well folks, we did just that and our friends were right.
Des Moines is everything we hoped it would be - and more.
Let’s start with the obvious. Being the capital city of Iowa, we knew Des Moines would be relatively cosmopolitan, with a busy downtown and a handful of sophisticated hotels. What we didn’t expect to see is such a hip, quirky, and playful city - with chic cocktail bars, modern cafes, trendy boutiques, sculpture gardens, and so much more! It’s midwest charm meets big city perks - and we’re officially obsessed.
Des Moines culinary scene is incredibly advanced, with sleek, stylish restaurants like St. Kilda Surf & Turf - that boasts a fresh and creative menu that’s as visually stunning as it is delicious, unusual and offbeat restaurants like El Bait Shop - that serves tater tots and pizza pockets alongside their 260+ beers on draft, and posh, elevated restaurants like Centro Trattoria & Bar - an urban and posh Italian eatery that specializes in fresh, homemade pizza and pasta.
While we were only in Des Moine for two nights, it’s safe to say that we ate our way through the city, and we have a loooong list of places we plan to hit up next time we’re in town. But onto the next category...
From specialty coffee shops to family-owned microbreweries and eclectic cocktail bars, you won’t go thirsty when you’re in Des Moines. Neighborhood coffee shops like Horizon Line Coffee and Mars Coffee Bar are exactly the kind of places we’d frequent if we were locals - they’re cool and friendly and are experts at crafting a good cup of joe.
Hello, Marjorie is a creative (and super Instagrammable) craft cocktail bar in the heart of downtown Des Moines that quickly became one of the highlights of our trip. Their signature cocktail, The Marjorie, made with Absolut Pear, sloe gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup, is perfectly smooth and refreshing. If you’re more of a beer connoisseur, head to Confluence Brewing! Their dog friendly deck and beer garden sits right along the Gray’s Lake Bike Trail, making it the perfect place to spend the afternoon when the weather is warm!
In 2018 Des Moines was named the “#4 Best Places to Live in the US” by U.S. News, and after spending a few days in downtown Des Moines, we totally get it. The city is clean and inviting, and it seems as though fun concerts and events are always happening. The Saturday night we in town, there was a baseball game and a Kenny Chesney concert happening blocks away from each other - and the city was buzzing!
Located right in the middle of downtown Des Moines is the Pappajohn Sculpture Park - a 4.4 acre park that features artwork by 22 celebrated and iconic artists. It’s one of the most unique and well maintained parks we’ve seen, and the sculptures are incredible! While we didn’t have time to visit the adjoining Des Moines Art Center, that’s high on our list for next time.
THE FARMERS MARKET
We’re big farmers market people. If we happen to be in a town that has one, we make sure to hit it up. You can learn a lot about a place by their farmers market - what’s grown locally, who the farmers are, the goods that area is known for… some of our best souvenirs have been bought from local vendors at farmers markets!
That being said, we had no idea what we were in for when we decided to check out the famous Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market! Over 300 vendors come from across the state of Iowa to take part in the Downtown Farmers Market, and over 25,000 visitors attend each Saturday - from May through October! You’ll find everything from Iowa raised meat, to fresh flowers and seasonal candles… and it’s quite the sight to see! (Make sure you try a Thelma’s Treats Ice Cream Sandwich - SO GOOD!)
Our time in Des Moines may have been short, but it sure was sweet. If there’s anything that we learned, it’s that this city is on the rise - and we can’t wait to come back!