Whether you’re looking to plot a family trip or just plan your weekend, we’ve rounded up the best bets for family activities and things to do in Greater Des Moines, as voted by locals. From sports to shows and sunshine to snow, the forecast calls for fun, no matter the season.

*All of our Des Best lists are crowdsourced and voted by locals.*


Located amidst the entertainment hub of Altoona – pairs well with side trips to the Outlets of Des Moines, Prairie Meadows Racetrack, Casino, and Hotel, and Bass Pro Shops – Adventureland is Iowa’s answer to Disneyland, but swap out Mickey Mouse for Bernie the Beagle and long lines for the rides for shorter lines at the swim up bars. Home to an amusement park with over 100 thrill rides (we double dog dare you to try The Monster) and a water park with a dozen more, plus private cabanas and an attached hotel, no summer bucket list is complete without a family trip to the Midwest’s Magic Kingdom. Get your tickets here.

Science Center of Iowa
You don’t have to be an astrophysicist to know that the Science Center of Iowa is one of the top options for family fun in Greater Des Moines. With a convenient downtown location, it’s the best place to discover big-time fun for your pint-size little ones, with permanent exhibits like Brick by Brick (LEGO) and Why the Sky (Planetarium). In addition to everyday fun, keep an eye out for out-of-this-world events and exhibits like Mixology Nights for the parents, Spooky Science for the kiddos, and of course, traveling dinosaur exhibits for the whole family…because who doesn’t love dinosaurs?  

Blank Park Zoo
Iowa’s largest zoo is where the wild things are, with more than 100 different animal species, including giraffes (that you can feed!), sea lions, penguins, and the impossibly charming red pandas. Turns out we’re not all pigs and cows after all. Two of our favorite annual events also call the zoo home. From April through May the main event is Wild Lights, where beginning at 7:30 p.m. you can wander through and see more than 50 handcrafted, larger-than-life illuminated Asian lanterns. Pandas, lizards, and 82-feet dragons, oh my! And on Wednesday evenings in June and July, parents can unleash their wild side at Zoo Brew, where the zoo comes to life for those 21 and over with live music, summer brews, and a stroller-free environment to see the animals.

Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
Fun is in bloom at the 12-acre Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, where things are warm and bright no matter the season. You’ll find peace of mind along with a new favorite plant species walking amongst the different galleries, from the domed indoor conservatory to the outdoor gardens, savannah, and reflection pool. Besides the beautiful plants, there is amazing art at nearly every touchpoint, including the stunning Robert D. Ray Asian Garden across the street. Check out their event calendar for upcoming programs and signature events like Botanical Blues (Sunday concert series) and Music in the Garden (outdoor summer concerts).   

Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad
If life is a journey, sit back and enjoy the ride at Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, where it’s full steam ahead to fun. There are numerous ways to experience Iowa like you’ve never seen it before on a spectacular train ride through the beautiful Des Moines River Valley. There are the lunch or dinner trains year-round, but the big hit with kids is the seasonal events like the Pumpkin Express train in the fall and the Santa Express train in the winter, both of which cross the 156’ tall Bass Point Creek High Bridge. But the real bucket list item is taking a breathtaking excursion on a two-or-four-person Rail Explorers rail bike. These pedal-powered, motor-assisted bikes cross two bridges, offering panoramic views of the valley below. The sunset ride is a memory you’ll never forget.

Living History Farms
We’re not all farms, but the ones we do have are pretty epic. Four different farms tell the story of Iowa’s 300-year-old history at this 500-acre open-air museum in Urbandale, featuring everything from a blacksmith to old-timey baseball games. Guests tour the farms at their own pace, meeting historical interpreters at many of the sites along the way. Start at the 1876 town of Walnut Hill and then wander over to the 1700 Ioway Farm, progressing through the 1850 Pioneer Farm, and ending at the 1900 Horse-Powered Farm, where you’ll catch a tractor cart back to the Visitor Center. Special events are held throughout the year, from Applefest to Trick or Treating!  

Des Moines Art Center
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but everyone who has been to the Des Moines Art Center agrees that it’s quite the sight to behold. This free museum showcases modern and contemporary art, with signature works from Georgia O’Keeffe and Edward Hopper, along with an impressive array of special exhibitions. Afterward, you can stop and smell the roses, literally, at the Rose Garden, take a stroll through Greenwood Park, and snap a selfie with the “Three Cairns” egg-shaped stone structure. For kids, there are also programs and classes for every age group, ranging from clay creations and drawing to filmmaking and photography.


Iowa Events Center
You want to go big? Try the Iowa Event Center on for size. This three-venue, multipurpose complex in the heart of downtown is host to everything from comic conventions to home and garden shows, but the biggest draw is the 17,000-seat Wells Fargo Arena. Home to sports teams like the Iowa Wild (AHL hockey affiliate of the Minnesota Wild), Iowa Wolves (G League basketball affiliate of the Minnesota Timberwolves), and the Iowa Barnstormers (Indoor Football League), it’s a hat trick for year-round family fun. If music is more your jam, the arena is the preeminent live music venue in the state, hosting big-name concerts like Pink, Foo Fighters, and Zach Bryan, along with comedians like Adam Sandler and Nate Bargatze. That’s not to mention kid faves like Monster Jam and Disney on Ice. Plan a whole trip around one of their shows by checking out what’s coming up here.

MidAmerican Energy Company RecPlex
Since opening in 2021, this game-changing event complex of West Des Moines has played host to numerous big-name youth sports tournaments, from the State Games of America to the AAU Junior Olympic Games. With two ice arenas, indoor and outdoor soccer fields, three full-size hardcourts, pickleball, batting cages, and a state-of-the-art e-gaming center, there’s something for every athlete in the family, no matter their age. Check out their schedule for drop-ins, rentals, and public times here.  

Iowa Cubs
Head to beautiful Principal Park along the Des Moines River to root, root, root for the Iowa Cubs (AAA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs) from April through September. There’s no better way to catch a rising star (or a hot dog) and soak in the Americana than baseball on a summer day with views of the skyline and Capitol building. Beyond the on-field action, there’s a two-story play area in the right field concourse, a splash pad in the right field corner, and every Saturday you can play catch in the outfield when the gates open. And on Sunday kids can run the bases after the game for free. Take advantage of all the things with a Family Fun Pack on Sundays that includes: four tickets, four hot dogs, and four drinks for $64 (additional tickets can be purchased for $13 a ticket). Check out their home schedule here.


Brenton Skating Plaza
It’s impossible not to be romantic (or at least nostalgic) about Brenton Skating Plaza, located along the Des Moines River with the downtown skyline as your backdrop. Starting in November it’s also home to a giant Christmas tree and pairs perfectly with a Friday evening at the East Village Holiday Promenade. Open November – March with admission starting at $6 for children 6-12 and seniors over 60, and $10 for everyone else. Check their calendar for special events like learn-to-skate clinics, family skate dates, and a superhero and princess skate!

Jester Park
There are dozens of parks and hundreds of miles of trails worth exploring in Greater Des Moines, but Jester Park earns the nod for its diverse array of things to do that go off the beaten path. Regular golf and mini golf? Check. Horseback riding? You bet. A bouldering wall? Funny you should ask. A nature center with multiple exhibits that hosts events like the Fall Makers Market and Summer Music Series? We’ve got music to your ears. And of course, our favorite, elk and bison viewing. Home on the range indeed.  

Seven Oaks
Seven Oaks Recreation in Boone is an all-seasons adventure outfitter with skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubes in the winter and kayaks and river tubes come summertime. Think winter goes too slow? Speed things up by skiing, snowboarding, or snow tubing down the slopes and have a ski lift or surface lift take you back up to the top. Come summertime, soak it all in and slow things down by floating down the Des Moines River under the highest double-track bridge in the United States. They even have paintball and an epic Gladiator Assault Challenge!

Lauridsen Skatepark
Many of our family attractions have that wow factor, some of them literally. The country’s largest skate park, nestled picture perfectly along the riverfront, features both park and street courses, plus a giant skateable sculpture that spells the word “wow.” Skate where the pros do or watch those who can. Best yet, it’s free!  

Center Grove Orchard
Home to pumpkin spice and everything nice, Center Grove Orchard reminds us why we love fall. The cornucopia of fun includes hayrides, bottle-feeding baby goats, a corn pool, super slides, sunflower meadow, and 25-acre pumpkin patch. And that’s not to mention the kettle corn, apple cider donuts, and s’more ice cream shakes. Channel the flannel and make some lifetime memories. The fun extends beyond fall too, with holiday events like Brunch with Santa and strawberry picking in the summer.  


Iowa State Fair
For 11 days in August, the iconic Iowa State Fair is a mind-blowingly big deal. Catch fair fever with the hundreds of food stands and hundreds of events across hundreds of acres. So where do you start? Marvel at the butter cow. Eat something on a stick. Take a ride in Thrillville. Put your hands in the air at a Grandstand concert. Ooh and aah at the animals and livestock. Whatever is on your bucket list, you’re sure to find something to shout about. Start to plan your adventure here.

Des Moines Arts Festival
This world-class event at the end of June in Western Gateway Park (amidst the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, naturally) hosts 200,000 people each year and is the 12-time winner of the coveted Grand Pinnacle Award, reflecting the “best festival in the world.” With big-name bands, bold artwork, global cuisine, and activities for all ages, there’s something for everyone’s inner Bob Ross. There are plenty of hands-on activities for the little ones at the Creative Zone, where they can do everything from rock painting and LEGO art to creating spin art paintings and dancing puppets. Check out a full list of activities here.  

Downtown Farmers’ Market
The locally grown, nationally recognized Downtown Farmers’ Market is your meal ticket to fresh family fun. Every Saturday morning from May through October, thousands of shoppers turn nine city blocks in the Historic Court District into a feast for the senses, with more than 300 vendors selling everything from produce and pupusas to bouquets and baked goods. Grab a family selfie with the historic courthouse in the background and make sure to indulge in market favorites like puppy petting, mango on a stick, sunflower bouquets, and breakfast burritos. 

National Balloon Classic
Fun takes flight at the National Balloon Classic, taking place over nine days at the end of July in charming Indianola. More than 100 hot air balloons paint the sky with brilliant colors at sunrise and sunset each day. With balloon rides and competitions, concerts, fireworks, and special events like Nite Glow, Fantastic Fireworks, and Kite Flight, it’s your Instagram feed’s (and kids’) favorite event of the year. While you’re there, explore all the other family-friendly activities that Indianola has to offer, from hiking at Lake Ahquabi State Park to exploring their town square where you can grab a slice of legendary pizza at Pete’s Pizza and a root beer float at the Corner Sundry


Jordan Creek Town Center
Forget everything you think you know about malls in 2024, because Jordan Creek is a throwback to an era when malls were the place to not only shop, but to socialize and spend the day. Located right off the interstate in West Des Moines, this entertainment district features a two-level enclosed mall with 100+ retailers (including Apple Store, Urban Outfitters, American Eagle, and Lululemon), a movie theater, and just about every restaurant that’s ever crossed your mind. The surrounding area includes even more standalone retailers (Nike Factory Store, REI, Dick’s) along with family fun faves like Putts & Pins (duckpin bowling and mini-golf) and Spare Time (luxury bowling, arcade, laser tag, and escape rooms).  

Home to the largest outdoor patio in the state, Smash Park offers activities like pickleball, cornhole, darts, shuffleboard, axe-throwing, ping-pong, and arcade games, along with large screen TVs and a food and drink menu that includes everything from pickleballs (naturally) and poutine to seltzers and Sociabowls. Their patio is pooch-friendly, and every week they have a plethora of events like brunch bingo, trivia nights, watch parties, and live music. You don’t just go to Smash Park, you experience it.

Climb Iowa
With locations in suburban Grimes (with ropes) and the East Village downtown (bouldering), the fun at Climb Iowa rocks — literally. Drive your kids up the wall for a change with a 37-foot wall that will make you feel like a real-life superhero. For first-time visitors, there’s a quick orientation before hitting the rock wall, and for locals, you can sign up for classes or even climbing leagues!