The Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens sit on 1.7-acres along the Des Moines River in downtown Des Moines. The gardens are a symbol of diversity and appreciation for the contribution of Asian Americans in Iowa.
You’ll want to stop at the gardens as part of any visit to downtown Des Moines! You can’t miss the beautiful Asian pavilion along the Principal Riverwalk, north of the Women of Achievement Bridge (and south of the Botanical Center).
About the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens
The gardens feature Asian sculptures, lanterns, and beautiful landscaping.
At the south entrance to the gardens, pass through the Gateway for Diversity and come to the Diversity Circle.
Next, you’ll cross the Bridge for Prosperity as you enter the iconic 37-foot tall Chinese pavilion. As you exit the pavilion’s north side, you’ll cross the Bridge for Friendship and follow the Path for Harmony into the Character Garden.
In the Character Garden, six granite boulders form a circle. Each boulder is inscribed with Chinese characters that symbolize the morals of trustworthiness, caring, respect, fairness, citizenship, and responsibility.
History of the Gardens
The gardens’ namesake, Robert D. Ray, was governor of Iowa from 1969-1983. Governor Ray’s humanitarian efforts and welcoming policies opened the doors to people from Asian countries. He welcomed refugees, sent aid, and helped forge a bond with Japan, China, and other Asian countries.
Initially, the gardens were part of a Chinese Cultural Center of America (CCCA) project. Fundraising for the project was complete in 2007, with public and private funding. Several local corporate sponsors provided support. In 2009, the gardens opened to the public.
The Friends of the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens recently raised money for upkeep, renovations, and expansion of the gardens.
Visit the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens Today!
The Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens are at Robert D. Ray Dr, Des Moines, IA 50309.
- Some street parking is along Robert D. Ray Drive.
- A city parking ramp is at 402 East 2nd Street, a block south of Brenton, for $1 per hour ($10 max). Parking is free on Sundays.
- Metered parking at $1.25/hour is along East Grand Avenue and other city streets. Parking is free on Sundays.
- See the city’s parking page and the Des Moines Partnership Parking Map for more.
- Park and ride the D-Line around downtown. The D-Line has free shuttles every 10-15 minutes from the East Village to the Western Gateway. Hours are limited – check the DART website for the latest info.
Other Things to Do Nearby
The gardens are along the Principal Riverwalk. It’s a 1.2-mile trail loop connecting the east and west sides of downtown via two pedestrian bridges. There are many things to see and do on the Riverwalk, including the 6-mile Downtown Des Moines Art Route. You can also connect to miles and miles of trails from the Riverwalk!
The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden is just north of the gardens. Explore and learn as you wander about the wide variety of indoor and outdoor gardens.
Kids and adults alike will love Rotary Riverwalk Park! It’s a fishing-themed playground on the other side of the river via the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge. You can’t miss the 65-foot fishing pole and 12-foot bobber that light up at night!
Downtown Des Moines is known for its excellent selection of restaurants, bars, and breweries. And don’t miss the museums while you’re downtown. The State Historical Museum, Iowa Hall of Pride, and Wells Fargo History Museum are all nearby.