Adventures in Iowa: Des Moines

My husband recently spent a month in Des Moines for work. Since my kids and I hadn’t had much of a chance to explore over there, we decided to use this opportunity and check out all of the fun stuff the city had to offer. Our adventure was spread out over a few weekends and we still missed out on so many fun places to visit.

The Iowa State Fair

The main event we wanted to see was the Iowa State Fair. Ever since moving to Iowa, all we have heard about is this amazing fair that basically shuts down the state so that everyone can go eat all of the fried food their bellies can hold and see all of the cute baby animals. (I mean what other fair offers a text message alert system to tell you when a baby animal is about to be born?!?) And of course the Butter Cow.

We went on a Saturday. That probably wasn’t the best choice, because it was shoulder to shoulder bodies, and we spent about five hours there. A little tip: buy your tickets in advance online and you will save a few dollars. The parking situation is interesting. We parked in someone’s front yard for $5 and then walked across the street to the fairgrounds. I didn’t see the actual fair parking area, but we didn’t drive around the entire grounds. We spent most of the morning scoping out the different food trucks and trying to decide what we were going to eat for lunch. We also visited every animal barn to say hello to all the animals.

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My kids’ favorites were the pigs. We found a barn full of model trains and had to stop.

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My boys were in heaven! The basket of fries they had for lunch helped the boys to stay happy. The princess wanted a walking taco, so of course we had to hunt her down one of those. After lunch we split up, and some of us went on the tractor ride that takes you all around the fairgrounds (this is free and was the perfect break in the shade that still allowed us to feel like we were a part of the action), and some went on the sky ride. We met up at the Agriculture Building to get our egg on a stick and see the Butter Cow.

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This year the theme was Star Trek, so there was also a butter Captain Kirk and Enterprise. I’m curious to hear what happens to the butter after the fair. I bet it would make a few buckets of popcorn. We let our kids each pick one ride to go on, and my youngest kids went on their first roller coaster.

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It was an awesome day and we had a blast! We can check that off of our “Must Do In Iowa List”.

Pappajohn Sculpture Garden

One of our smaller adventures in Des Moines was the Pappajohn Sculpture Garden. It is a nice park full of huge sculptures that is a part of the Des Moines Art Center. We walked around, and the kids described what they thought was going on with each art piece. It was like being in an art museum that the kids were allowed to run through.

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State Capital Building

Have you ever seen the State Capital Building?

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What about from the inside? We went to check out the grounds of the Capital Building one morning, because when we were driving into Des Moines my kids saw the beautiful gold dome and wanted to see what the building was. I had no intention of going inside the building (I didn’t even know it was an option) until we walked around to a side door and my daughter read a sign that said free tours.

We went inside and the information desk gave us a few different options for the tour. You can go with a tour guide, go on a cell phone-guided tour, or go on a self-lead tour using a map they give you.

The building inside is beautiful and has lots of neat exhibits and artwork to see. There is a model of the USS Iowa and a case full of porcelain dolls created to look like each First Lady of Iowa in their inaugural gown. There are a few murals in the building that are huge. One is even a mosaic. There is a giant marble staircase that is so beautiful. Even the floor is beautiful in this building.

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We were able to see the rooms that the members of Congress and the members of the Senate meet.

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We went into part of the governor’s suite (He has 4 rooms in all), and we checked out the library.des mones 3

It looks like something Belle from Beauty and the Beast would have loved. Floor-to-ceiling books, four stories high, with matching cast iron spiral staircases on either side of the room.

The grounds around the capital building have beautiful fountains and statutes and old cannons. It also offers an awesome view of downtown from the top steps.

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Blank Park Zoo

On another beautiful day we went to the Blank Park Zoo. This zoo is just the right size and is full of animals. We also loved how close we could get to the animals. We spent two hours and were able to see all of the animals, including the sea lion show.

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We also rode the train.

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My kids loved the playground and all of the fun things they could climb on and explore throughout the day. You can crawl through a tunnel and pretend to be a meerkat by popping up in the middle of their enclosure.

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There is a drinking fountain that looks like a hippo, and an elephant that sprays water out of its trunk. There is a jeep by the leopards and a bunch of other fun things to climb on. We loved the zoo and just can’t wait to go back.

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Gray’s Lake

Finally, we had one last adventure at Gray’s Lake.

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It’s a nice lake that has a running trail all the way around it, including a bridge that goes over part of the lake – my kids favorite part. There’s a small playground and a beach with a swimming area. While we were at Gray’s Lake, we rented a canoe (they have great prices for boat rentals too!) and spent an hour taking turns going around the lake.

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I may have made the kids sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” when I was in the boat. Because of our trip to Gray’s Lake, we now have a kayak or a canoe on our wish list.

We can’t wait to head back to Des Moines for more adventures soon! If you want more ideas of places to visit in Iowa, you should definitely check out Elizabeth’s post.


Ashley Breinholt
Ashley is an Iowa transplant from Arizona and a busy mom of 4. She spends most of her day chasing around her little herd and hoping to catch a glimpse of her main squeeze when he gets a break from the hospital. She has a bachelor's degree in Communication from Arizona State University and is currently the Vice President of Iowa Medical Partners where she helps plan events and service projects and runs the blog. In her free time, Ashley enjoys running, reading, cooking, and decorating (and redecorating) the house. She loves everything about Iowa! She and her family like to explore everything that Iowa has to offer in every season. Life may be crazy but she loves every minute of it!


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