The Ultimate Des Moines Travel Guide | Broke Girl Abroad

Des Moines took my breath away. My fault for underestimating it. 

This city is every bit as charming, fun and quirky as other cities with a larger profile. (Think Austin, Portland and Seattle.) Where it differs is that it hasn’t been overrun by traffic, hipsters and a giant company HQ pricing people out of the city. It’s much more chill and laid back.

I’d visit soon though, if I were you. Des Moines is growing. Fast. Once you’ll visit, it’ll make sense why. It’s a gem that, for now, is a little hidden.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Des Moines State Capitol | Broke Girl Abroad
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USA

Official Language(s): none at federal level, English is considered the national language

Currency: U.S. Dollar

Emergency phone number: 911

When to Go to Des Moines

Downtown Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Weekends in the fall

If you can, a weekend in the fall is an absolute delight. The historic Court District hosts the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market. From 7 a.m. to noon until the end of October, you can get local wares during good seasonal weather.

Much of Des Moines’ government area (including the Capitol building) are tree-lined, making autumn a sight for sore eyes.

Plan to Stay

State Capitol Park, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Over the weekend

Where to Stay in Des Moines

Residence Inn by Marriott, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Residence Inn by Marriott

Des Moines doesn’t have any hostels (yet) but the Residence Inn by Marriott really exceeded my expectations. It’s steps away from the Farmer’s Market, and many other attractions. It’s clean, inexpensive and has a pool(!). The staff are super friendly and give great local recommendations. 

100 SW Water St, Des Moines

Book here

How to Get Around in Des Moines

Downtown Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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DART Pass

As far as cities go, I found Des Moines to be very walkable, especially the downtown area. It’s not the easiest city to bike around in (though they seem to be working on it), but I travel better on foot anyways.

For longer distances, you can take the DART. A day pass is pretty inexpensive.

Buy pass

Where to Eat in Des Moines

Zombie Burger, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Zombie Burger

Des Moines really excels in the area of slightly odd restaurants with really good food. 

What do I mean by slightly odd? Make your first stop Zombie Burger and you’ll see. Reserve a spot ahead online if you can, it gets packed fast. At its core, it’s a ridiculous setting that serves damn good burgers and fries. Don’t be afraid to be touristy… take a pic with the zombie mannequins.

300 E Grand Ave, Des Moines

Website

Court Avenue Brewing Company, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Court Avenue Brewery

Court Avenue Brewery is much more tame. Consider this a good restaurant if you’re traveling with a picky eater; they’ve got seafood, burgers, pizza and more. Something for everyone.

309 Court Ave, Des Moines

Website

High Life Lounge, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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High Life Lounge

The High Life is like a homage to 1960’s bar culture. The menu is full of comfort food. Old advertisements and posters line the walls. There’s even a phone booth for the truly nostalgic.

200 SW 2nd St, Des Moines

Website

Crème Cupcake + Dessert, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Crème Cupcake + Dessert

Fun fact: Crème Cupcake + Dessert was featured on “Cupcake Wars.” Deservedly so. Their main draw is a menu that matches a dessert with a cocktail or coffee that pairs well. Good stuff. I left with to go boxes of “later cupcakes.”

543 28th St, Des Moines

Website

Day 1 of 2 Days in Des Moines

Farmer's Market, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Farmer’s Market

I mentioned the Farmer’s Market earlier, and for good reason. I absolutely love when cities do this on the regular. It’s ideal for a tourist to get a feel for the city; what people like, where the local good stuff is, and maybe even snag a recommendation or two for the rest of the trip.

400 Court Ave, Des Moines

Open Saturday 7 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Website

World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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World Food Prize Hall of Laureates

This is such a cool exhibition area, but is only open two days of the week. Slightly inconvenient, but very worth visiting. It’s a gorgeous building with exhibitions on successes in alleviating world hunger.

100 Locust St, Des Moines

Open Tuesday, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m and Saturday 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Website

Jordan House, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Jordan House, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Jordan House, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Jordan House

Somewhat out of the way, the Jordan House has to be one of my favorite historical home tours. It’s the home of James Jordan, who’s house was a stopping point to safety on the Underground Railroad.

2001 Fuller Rd, West Des Moines

Open Friday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. – 2 p.m.

Website

Terrace Hill Historic Site, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Terrace Hill Historic Site, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Terrace Hill Historic Site, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Terrace Hill Historic Site

The Governor’s Mansion is a little out of the way, cash only ($5 entrance) and tricky to time it right, but… doesn’t it look so pretty?

2300 Grand Ave, Des Moines

Open for tours March-December on Tuesday – Saturday 10:30, 11:30, 12:30 or 1:30.

Website

State Capitol Building of Iowa, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Iowa State Capitol, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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State Capitol Building of Iowa, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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The State Capitol Building

The Capitol and the area surrounding it looks like it was plucked straight out of Europe. And, I mean, it is a Renaissance-style building, so it kind of makes sense.

I highly recommend taking a tour of the building. It’s free, and it’s got a stunning interior.

1007 E Grand Ave, Des Moines

Open 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday

Website

State Historical Museum of Iowa, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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State Historical Museum of Iowa, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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State Historical Museum of Iowa, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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State Historical Museum of Iowa

State history museums are always a treasure, and Iowa is no exception. There are so many neat exhibits and displays to get lost in. Best part? It’s free to enter.

600 E Locust St, Des Moines

Open 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday – Saturday

Website

Day 2 of 2 Days in Des Moines

Science Center of Iowa, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Science Center of Iowa

The Science Center is way more fun than I ever thought science could be. Hands-on learning, designed for both the young and the young at heart (no, really), have turned this place into an area where everyone is itching to do some science.

It’s impossible to walk away without having learned something. It’s just so fun. Word to the wise though; defer to the littles and let them have their turn before you.

401 W Martin Luther King Jr Pkwy, Des Moines

Open 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Monday – Saturday, 12:00 – 5:00 p.m. Sunday

Website

River Trail, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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River Trail

Last but not least, the River Trail is an excellent way to see pretty sights on a well-planned route. 

Robert Ray Asian Gardens, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Robert Ray Asian Gardens, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Robert Ray Asian Gardens, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Robert Ray Asian Gardens

You’ll pass by the Robert Ray Asian Gardens which gives you a great chance to pretend you’ve traveled way farther than Iowa.

Robert D. Ray Dr, Des Moines

Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens | Broke Girl Abroad
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Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens | Broke Girl Abroad
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Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens | Broke Girl Abroad
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Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens

Finally, you’ll arrive at the gardens. The area is so much bigger than it looks and it’s a sight to see. Des Moines doesn’t half-ass anything. Plants included.

909 Robert D. Ray Dr, Des Moines

Open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Website

Cost Calculator

One Last Thing

State Capitol Building of Iowa, Des Moines | Broke Girl Abroad
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Parking can be a bit of a pain downtown. You’ll find lots of meters, so bring extra quarters when you arrive.

The Ultimate Des Moines Travel Guide | Broke Girl Abroad
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The Ultimate Des Moines Travel Guide | Broke Girl Abroad
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Pin this 2 day Des Moines budget travel guide!

Safe travels!

-Maggie

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