Things to do in Des Moines & Altoona

Catch yourself in Des Moines? Welcome, to the capital city of Iowa. Founded at the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers and originally named Fort Raccoon, later Fort Des Moines and then, finally, Des Moines in 1857, the year it became the state capital. 

Fun facts: 

  • Iowa became the 29th state on December 28, 1846.  
  • State tree: Oak 
  • State flower: Wild Rose 
  • State bird: Eastern Goldfinch. 
  • Iowa is #1 in egg production. Iowa ranks first in soybean, hog and corn production. 
  • Iowa was one of the first states in the U.S. to provide wireless Internet access at rest areas. 
  • Des Moines is home to Better Homes and Gardens’ test garden, which features a photography studio and serves as a testing ground for growing plants. 
  • In 2010, Adam Richman of "Man vs. Food" of the Travel Channel visited Des Moines for the Adam Emmenecker Challenge at Jethro's BBQ.  
  • Iowa is home to the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. Because of this, the city is also a hotbed of political dreams and discourse every four years when presidential candidates tour the state and have multiple debates within the city. 

Whether you call it home or you’ve just reserved your ticket to travel, here’s a round up of things to do while you are in Des Moines.

Start your engines at the Iowa Speedway, known as “The Fastest Short Track on the Planet”. Central Iowa’s home for both racing and non-racing fans that are looking for thrilling, all-American entertainment on and off the track. 

Looking for more thrills; head over to Adventureland Park, a family owned and operated theme park with over 100 rides, shows, and attractions. 

Blank Park Zoo is a 25-acre zoological park on the south side of Des Moines, Iowa near historic Fort Des Moines. In 2012, Des Moines’ Blank Park Zoo welcomed its third red panda, Razz. There are only an estimated 2,500 to 20,000 red pandas left in the wild. 

Catch hands-on discovery at the Science Center of Iowa, host to six different experience platforms and home to the only fully functional clear toilet in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Stop to smell the roses at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. 

One of the more popular state capitols to tour, the Capitol Building is easy to spot it with its sparkling 23-karat gold leaf dome and four-surrounding smaller copper-topped domes. Those wishing to see the inside from a bird's eye view will climb 298 steps before reaching the top from their start on the second floor. Historic flags, some hailing from the U.S. Civil War-era, are on display. 

Des Moines Art Center is a museum and school, with a world-class art collection housed in extraordinary architecture by three renowned architects. The Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines is an extension of the Art Center and features 25 sculptures from 19 different artists worth an estimated $40 million. 

The Salisbury House & Gardens, originally built between 1923-1928, features Tudor, Gothic, and Corolean styles all throughout its 42 rooms. Also shelters many artifacts, including objects of art, furniture, tapestries and books. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has labeled it a "national treasure" and the property has also been featured on A&E and Home And Garden Television.

Terrace Hill, also known as Hubbell Mansion, Benjamin F. Allen House, and Iowa Governor's Mansion, is the official residence of the Governor of Iowa. 

The magnificent Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates is home to the World Food Prize, known as the "Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture." Visit this beautifully restored 19th-century building and learn through art and interactive exhibits about global achievements in science, agriculture and humanitarian efforts. 

Half the fun of shopping at West End Salvage includes the people you meet there. Owner Don offers a "cute shoes discount" so be sure to wear your best pair when you visit. Be sure to say hello to Don. His genuine love of people and hilarious wit will have you giggling like a child. Or take a trek down to the basement and visit Brian and Rex, the mastermind builders. If you've seen the show on the DIY Network, you know they are a hilarious duo. 

Historic East Village is home to an array of unique experiences including shopping, dining and nightlife. It's a vibrant district in the heart of downtown Des Moines. 

Valley Junction is the gathering place that is the heart and soul of West Des Moines—a delightful mix of old and new with unique shops, vibrant events and a walkable, hometown feel. 

Hop on a B-cycle and explore all that Des Moines has to offer. 

Check out the handy resource Datebook, providing information about local shows, concerts, movie show times and releases, and restaurant reviews, released weekly. 


See you in Iowa!

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