Iowa is recognized predominantly as an agricultural state and probably not one of the first states you would consider visiting when traveling around USA. However, I am a strong proponent of giving every destination an opportunity to shine and following our recent weekend visit to the Hawkeye state, I can well and truly confirm that Iowa blossomed far more than I could ever have imagined. However, I want to concentrate your attention on the real focal point of Iowa – the capital city of Des Moines!
In the short time we spent in this city, we found a number of key reasons to visit Des Moines convincing us that a return trip here is a definite possibility.
Heading to Iowa, our primary goal was to reach Des Moines though of course the experiences we encountered along the way were an added bonus. Whether it’s the small town European atmosphere in the likes of Pella and Elk Horn, or perhaps the natural scenery noticeable as you drive all around the state, Iowa has a nice variety of attractive reasons for visiting this part of North America.
Expectation levels were low with regards to Des Moines because I honestly expected something comparable to Little Rock, Arkansas or Wichita, Kansas.
As we left the barren landscape of stereotypical Iowa agriculture, we were both pleasantly surprised to see a nice skyline along with a number of key landmarks dotted across the landscape. Hopefully after reading our top 5 reasons to visit Des Moines, you will be inspired to give Iowa’s capital a chance to shine!
Iowa State Capitol
Have you ever noticed when you visit the capital city of a state that the State Capitol building is really impressive? Visiting Des Moines, we immediately noticed the stunning architectural design of the Iowa State Capitol. The golden dome immediately made me think of an Indian Taj Mahal style design though on closer inspection you almost feel like the European influence is present throughout the infrastructure.
Regardless of the history behind such a design, this is one impressive building and though our initial plan was to head to the Principal Riverwalk, the towering presence of the Capitol led us to the grounds of this landmark building.
Iowa’s State Capitol is home to the governor’s office, legislature and other typical offices but it is the exterior that makes this a must-see location when visiting Des Moines. The primary gold dome that stands tall in the center of the Capitol is surrounded by four smaller domes.
I read an article that indicated the main dome typifies Iowa’s prodigious flair and culture, and I can certainly see how this is true. After visiting this landmark, you will no longer see Iowa as just a agricultural community rather this centerpiece will leave you with lasting memories of a cultural haven.
If you take the time to visit Iowa’s State Capitol, you will hopefully stumble across the variety of historic monuments and memorials that stand proudly in the grounds of the Capitol. I always enjoy wandering around these types of landmarks as they provide a true representation of the state’s heritage and patriotic remembrance of those lost in the various wars fought both on US and international soil.
As you approach the area where many of the memorials stand, the towering Soldiers and Sailors monument that stands at over 130ft tall is an eye catching visual. The Grand Army of the Republic bronze sundial dates back to 1938 yet still keeps perfect time to this day.
I think my favorite of all the memorials here is the Korean War Memorial. The memorial has a focal point with a 14 ft central obelisk structure surrounded by 6ft tall structures. Each of these plaques combine to tell the tragic story of the Korean War.
The Lincoln and Tad Memorial offers a slight variation to the other war memorials in this part of the Capitol grounds and is thought to be the only monument around with Lincoln depicted as a father figure.
After spending some time walking around the State Capitol and really getting a feel good factor about Des Moines, we headed down to the Principal Riverwalk. I didn’t think my impression of this city could get any better but after seeing this walk that runs parallel to the Des Moines River, I was well and truly sold that this city is a great place to explore.
Aside from providing a perfect spot to capture the Des Moines skyline, the extraordinary design of the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge is a highlight landmark in this part of the city. We walked along the riverwalk before crossing over the bridge directly in front of the Wells Fargo Arena.
If you are visiting Des Moines on the weekend, there are several spots on the east side of the river (opposite side to the Wells Fargo Arena) to park your car for free and explore.
The Chinese riverfront gardens are another iconic landmark along the riverfront, emphasizing Iowa’s position on diversity in the community.
Wells Fargo Arena
Before we visit any major city, we are always intrigued by what sporting events are taking place. Des Moines may not be the first city you think of when it comes to sport, but with the Wells Fargo Arena the locals have a great venue to visit. Des Moines is home of the Iowa Wild ice hockey team. The Wild play in the AHL (American Hockey League), a step down from the NHL and are actually the minor league affiliate of the Minnesota Wild.
With tickets available for only $10, we decided that this was too good of an opportunity to turn down so we headed to the Wild vs Charlotte Checkers match up. Even if you are not a hockey fan and don’t really understand all of the intricate rules such as ‘icing’ and ‘hooking’, I can attest that this sport provides an evening of high value entertainment. You may even be fortunate enough to see one or two fights on the ice! And trust me, those boys are passionate sportsmen!
Ok, so our time in Des Moines only allowed us to experience the aforementioned landmarks and venues! However, if there is one other attraction I would have loved to experience, that would be the famous farmers markets here. We all know by now that Iowa is famous for agriculture. With that comes the opportunity for these local farmers to market their products, hence the reason why Des Moines offers a number of farmers markets on Saturday mornings.
Forget the reputation that Iowa is just a bunch of flat farmland…in fact, why not reap the benefits of this rich farming community by taking a trip to one of the local farmers markets. I know we intend to on our next trip to Des Moines!
The Downtown Farmers Market on Court Avenue is a perfect location to visit if you are experiencing all the above attractions! Open every Saturday morning from 7 A.M. to Noon, this provides the rural locals the opportunity to connect with the urbanized part of Des Moines and also offer visitors to the area the chance to sample their finest produce.
Wow, the capital is a lot more ornate than I would have imagined of Iowa.
I’ve always thought about going to Iowa ever since I saw the movie Field of Dreams. Des Moines has its share of historic sites. A big farmer’s market is always our first stop in a town we visit, like the one you describe. Thanks for the info.
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I want my kids to go to all 50 states. will make this post part of the family dinner discussion (we already went through all East Coast states+ Ohio, CA and Nevada. Time for Midwest!
Guys, feel like i am traveling the United States with you. So much to learn and to see in this country. Never imagined Des Moines like this.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from Iowa – definitely not some skylines and elegant capitol building. Also surprise to see the Chinese pagoda – cultural diversity is also something i didn’t expect the city would have. Thanks for giving us a glimpse of Des Moines; it’s certainly educational.
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I actually really enjoyed Des Moines! I road tripped there a few years ago, and had a great time. People were nice, and the downtown area was beautiful! Great post and photos as usual!
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I’ve never been to Iowa, but thank you for letting your readers know what it looks like, and what is worth seeing. I’m surprised to see that the city has a Chinese Garden. How interesting! And those stairs leading to the capitol? Wow, that’s one intensive workout!
Color me impressed! I have been wanting to visit about 8 of the less popular states for quite some time and I am just very pleased with what you’ve shown me about Iowa. I am so shocked about the Chinese riverfront gardens, what a surprise! The capitol building is lovely. Well done and thanks for pointing out something beautiful in a place that often goes unnoticed.
Love the Capitol Building. And what fun to catch a hockey game. We have a WHL team near where I live and it’s always exciting to watch them before they turn pro!
Wow the state capital building is stunning! It really does look European. Reminds of me Vienna or Budapest
great article about iowa I had only seen the town briefly on the bachelor and it seems it has a lot to offer
Thanks for sharing your take on middle America. I admit that this area isn’t first on my list, but I need to go and your insights have made it so much easier.
I love the sounds of the river walk – exploring a city by foot is my fav, and it looks like there’s great scenery to admire! Sometimes you can find the best places on road trips and it’s always wonderful when you stumble into something amazing.
That capitol building is spectacular. I’ve only been to Des Moines once while visiting a friend and I didn’t get to see any of this cool stuff! I would also really enjoy the farmers market.
Hopefully you will find time to head back to Des Moines and experience all of the really cool stuff there is to see there!! We would love to head back there sometime in the future even if it is just to revisit some of the same attractions because I don’t think they would ever get old. And of course those awesome farmers markets which would be really cool!!
Besides some navy ships, and it being the birthplace of fictional James Kirk, I really don’t know what else Iowa is world-famous for – oh yes, lots of nuclear silos. Thanks for sharing.
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The details about this agricultural state Iowa found to be interesting and thanks for taking time to discuss things associated with this place. I usually read articles from your blog as they contain pretty good info about the places you visit. Keep it up and keep sharing!
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Although the city proper, is that of 200,000, the metro is 600,00 0+, well over a half a million people. In light of the population figures, the growing skyline and downtown amenities should not come as too much of a surprise. The skyline at night is quite impressive – particularly in summer – and I would suggest an Iowa Cubs game at Principal Park or perhaps a concert at the elegant Des Moines Civic Center.