There are so many cool things to do and see in Des Moines; you can’t do them all in one weekend! There’s something for everyone. And that makes a weekend in Des Moines the perfect getaway.
And if you only have two or three days, you want to make the most of your time. We’ve got you covered! Below are the top things to do and see in Des Moines. And, you must eat! So we’ll share some of the best restaurants, breweries, and coffee shops too.
It’s impossible to fit all this into one weekend, so use the options to choose your own adventure!
What to do on the weekend in Des Moines
The Best Parks
Des Moines is a nature lover’s haven. Whether you want a walk in the woods, a long biking adventure, or a quiet place to relax and have a picnic, you’ll find it here. Below are just a few of our favorite parks to check out.
Gray’s Lake Park
One of the most visited parks in the area that offers kayak and paddleboard rentals, a beach, fishing, and a nice 2-mile loop trail around the lake. And one of the best things about this 166-acre park is its proximity to downtown! Read our park guide here.
Des Moines Water Works Park
One of the largest urban parks in the United States that has over 1500(!) acres right in the heart of Des Moines. There are trails, a lake, woodlands, an amphitheater, a natural playground, and so much more! See our park guide here.
Easter Lake Park
This 469-acre park has a beautiful 172-acre lake surrounded by a paved loop trail with a covered bridge. Visitors also enjoy the beach, boat rentals, and reservable picnic shelters. Check out our park guide to learn more.
Raccoon River Park
This 632-acre park in West Des Moines has it all. Go there to relax or to have an all-day outdoor adventure. Check out the beach, boat rentals, trails, playground, picnic shelters in this scenic park. See our park guide for details.
Walnut Woods State Park
This 260-acre park on the Raccoon River is just minutes from Downtown Des Moines. Picnic in the shade of the state’s largest stand of Black Walnut trees, float the river, or go camping! To learn more, see our park guide.
One of Central Iowa’s largest and most popular outdoor destinations, Saylorville Lake, consists of 26,000 acres and a 6000-acre lake. It’s a popular spot for boating and fishing, complete with boat ramps, beautiful campgrounds, trails, and tons of picnic spots (and more!). Check out our park guide for details.
This one-of-a-kind 1660-acre park offers outdoor activities for all ages. Unique features include the Nature Center, mini-golf course, natural play area, and bison and elk herds. And the year-round cabins and seasonal campgrounds offer a relaxing retreat. See our park guide and campground guide for more.
Big Creek State Park
This 3550-acre park has an 866-acre lake and is great for year-round outdoor activities! Near the large beach is a marina with boat rentals. (And you can even rent a beach cabana!) The lake offers excellent fishing, by shore or boat. Also, there are trails, a disc golf course, cross country ski trails, and snowmobile trails to boot. For more, see our park guide.
The Best Trail System around!
The Central Iowa Trail Network has hundreds of miles of connecting paved trails in the area. So whether you’re out for an afternoon stroll or an all-day biking experience, the options are limitless. Below are a few places to start, but there are too many to cover here! See our bike trail guide for a complete list of area trails.
Enjoy a stroll on the Riverwalk, take in all the sites, and explore the area. The Riverwalk runs along the Des Moines River near the Historic East Village. The route has public art, gardens, iconic bridges, a fishing-themed playground, and more! See our article here.
Carl Voss Trail
The 4.7-mile trail starts near the confluence of the Raccoon River and Des Moines River (south of downtown) and extends to Easter Lake! It has excellent river views and a gorgeous route through the woodlands. Go here for more details.
Neal Smith Trail
This 24.7-mile paved trail stretches from Des Moines to Big Creek State Park. It passes through woods, prairie, and wetlands with views of Saylorville Lake. See our guide for a map and details on trailheads.
Great Western Trail
This 16.5-mile route stretches from Des Moines to rural Martensdale, crossing prairie, wetlands, woodlands, and farmland. The Des Moines trailhead is near Water Works Park. For details, see our article.
Clive Greenbelt Trail
This 7.9-mile paved trail winds along Walnut Creek and through woodlands, with stops at eateries along the route. It’s a fun route for anyone! Also, in Urbandale, you can connect to the 89-mile Raccoon River Valley Trail. Read more here.
If it’s hiking (or mountain biking) you’re after, Des Moines has that too! Here are a few trails to check out. And for a complete list, see our hiking page.
- Sycamore Trails
- Center Trails and Denman’s Woods
- Brown’s Woods Forest Preserve
- Raccoon River Park Trail
As you can see, outdoor activities abound in the Des Moines area. But there’s more! For some more fun and adventure during your weekend in Des Moines, check out the top area attractions!
Adventureland has amusement park rides, shows, and a water park. There’s something for all ages, from the Dragon Slayer roller coaster to the teacups to Shipwreck Shores. And you can stay at the Adventureland Inn hotel or campground. Check out the Adventureland website for ticket prices and more.
Science Center of Iowa
Over 300,000 visitors go to the science center each year! Join in the fun and see interactive exhibits, a planetarium, and programs. Even the adults will enjoy exploring and learning. See the Science Center website for pricing, exhibits, and programming details.
Blank Park Zoo
Watch the otters, flamingos, gibbons, rhinos, and other fascinating animals at the zoo! It’s open year-round, though some exhibits get closed during the winter. See our article for more details.
Living History Farms
This 500-acre interactive outdoor museum features working farms and a historic town. Visitors learn, hands-on, about 300 years of Iowa farm history through exhibits, interpreters, demonstrations, and programming. For details and ticket info, see their website.
Downtown Farmer’s Market
Des Moines’ award-winning farmer’s market has fresh local produce, meats, cheeses, and delicious prepared foods. Go for the food and stay for the entertainment, art, and ambiance. The Summer Market runs each Saturday from May through October in the Historic Court District.
Prairie Meadows Casino
This 85,000-square-foot casino (and hotel) has table games, slots, live racing, and more. It’s just east of Des Moines in Altoona, near Adventureland Park and the Outlets of Des Moines. Check out their website for details.
Iowa State Fair
In mid to late August, visit the well-known Iowa State Fair if you’re in the Des Moines area. Join the million+ visitors each year to eat fried food on a stick, see free shows, view the butter cow, and have an all-around good Midwestern experience. See the Iowa State Fair website for more information.
Looking for more things to do?
- Climb Iowa. Whether you’re an expert climber or want to give it a try, this is the place to go! They have a range of routes, with equipment rentals and newbie orientations.
- Mini-golf! Check out the fun mini-golf courses in the Des Moines area.
- Go swimming at one of the pools or aquatic centers!
- Escape Rooms. Solve the puzzles and escape! There are a few escape rooms in Des Moines, like The Escape Rooms, Breakout Games, and Escape Chambers.
- Trampoline Parks. Skyzone and Get Air Des Moines have super-fun attractions for burning off some energy!
- Up-Down Arcade Bar. Features arcade games, pinball, skeeball, and cocktails – inspired by the 1980s and 1990s! They serve pizza too.
Spend part of your weekend in Des Moines seeing local museums, taking tours, and enjoying the art, history, and beauty each has to offer.
Pappajohn Sculpture Park
Stroll through the sculptures and relax in the green space of this one-of-a-kind outdoor art exhibit. And learn more about each piece of art on a self-guided audio tour. See our article for more details.
Des Moines Botanical Garden
The Des Moines Botanical Garden is a living museum with lush indoor and outdoor gardens that are a must-see for anyone, gardener or not. They’re open year-round, and you can visit no matter the weather! See our article for more information. And be sure to stop by the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens while you’re there.
The Des Moines Art Center
The Art Center has FREE admission, with guided and self-guided tours available. Explore the galleries and see an array of art collections and special exhibits. Virtual tours are also available! Check out the Art Center website for visitor information. And if you’re visiting in the summer, be sure to stop at the rose garden in Greenwood Park.
Iowa State Capitol
Not a museum, per se, but you can take a tour of the beautiful historic capitol building. Self-guided and guided tours are available, and the building is open on Fridays and Saturdays. See the Iowa Capitol Visitor brochure for more details. And be sure to check out the virtual tour for a sneak peek.
Salisbury House and Gardens
This historic mansion was built in the 1920s by entrepreneur and philanthropist Carl Weeks. Its design took inspiration from the King’s House in Salisbury, England. Stop in for a self-guided tour to learn more about its unique architecture, and experience the beautiful gardens. See the website here.
State Historical Building
This FREE museum has fascinating exhibits on Iowa’s history, people, and land—thousands of objects are on display. It’s in the historic East Village, near the Iowa State Capitol. But hours are limited, and it’s currently only open Tuesday – Friday, so if you’re here for the weekend, Friday’s your best bet! Check the website for updated visitor information and hours.
Favorite Des Moines restaurants
There’s no doubt Des Moines has an array of excellent restaurants, breweries, and coffee shops! But there are too many to list them all here. So we’re highlighting favorite spots for you to choose from (in no particular order) during your weekend in Des Moines. We know it’s a tough decision, but the good news is, there’s really no wrong decision!
Favorite downtown restaurants
- Fong’s Pizza
- The Royal Mile
- Buzzard Billy’s
- A Dong Restaurant
- Zombie Burger + Drink Lab
- Miyabi 9
- Hessen Haus
- Eatery A
- St. Kilda
- Akebono 515
- Panka Peruvian Restaurant
- Ted’s Coney Island
- Manhattan Deli
Other favorite restaurants in the area
- Waveland Cafe
- Mi Patria Ecquadorian Restaurant
- Jethro’s BBQ ‘n Bacon Bacon
- Gilroy’s Kitchen + Pub + Patio
- The Machine Shed
- Cool Basil
- Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano
- Mi Mexico
- Firebirds Wood Fired Grill
- Cosi Cucina Italian Grill
- Smoky D’s BBQ
- The Cheesecake Factory
- El Barco Mexican Restaurant
- Smitty’s Tenderloin Shop
- The Chicken
Popular breweries/bars & grills (and a winery!)
- Exile Brewing Co.
- Peacetree Brewing Co.
- 515 Brewing Co.
- Confluence Brewing Co.
- The Iowa Taproom
- Court Avenue Restaurant & Brewing
- The High Life
- Firetrucker Brewery
- Lua Brewing
- Urban Cellar Wine Bar, Grille, & Market
- Barntown Brewing
- Global Brew Taphouse
- Jasper Winery
The Best Coffee Shops
- Ritual Cafe
- Freedom Blend Coffee
- Horizon Line Coffee
- Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure
- Smokey Row Coffee
- Mars Cafe
- Scenic Route Bakery
- La Barista Coffee
- Twisted Bean Coffee Co.
- Mahalo’s Coffee & Mini Donuts
Where to shop
Below are a few of the top shopping places in the Des Moines area:
- East Village
- Valley Junction
- Jordan Creek Town Center
- West Glen Town Center
- The Outlets of Des Moines
- West End Architectural Salvage
Find concerts, sports, and other events.
To find concerts and other events in Des Moines, check out the following:
Places to stay for a weekend in Des Moines
Whether you’re looking for a hotel, Airbnb, cabin, or campground, there are a ton of great places to stay around Des Moines! Below are just a few of the excellent options.
- Renaissance Des Moines Savery Hotel (downtown)
- Hampton Inn & Suites, Downtown
- Embassy Suites by Hilton Downtown
- Des Lux Hotel (downtown)
- Des Moines Marriott Downtown
- AC Hotel by Marriott Des Moines East Village
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Des Moines Airport
- Wildwood Lodge Clive
- Hotel Renovo (Urbandale)
- Element West Des Moines
- Hampton Inn West Des Moines
- West Des Moines Marriott
- Drury Inn & Suites West Des Moines
- Stoney Creek Hotel Des Moines – Johnston
- Hilton Garden Inn Des Moines/Urbandale
- Hyatt Place Altoona
- Hampton Inn Ankeny
Cabins and Campgrounds
If cabins and campgrounds are more your style, check out our guides to local options:
Visiting in the winter? Here are some articles to check out:
- 5 of the Best Iowa Winter Getaways & Vacation Ideas
- 10+ Fun Winter Date Ideas for the Des Moines Area
- Things to Do In Des Moines: Winter Edition
- 10 Fun Winter Weekend Getaways Near Des Moines
- Fun Things to Do Over Winter Break in Des Moines