Every four years, all eyes are on Iowa as it hosts the first-in-nation caucuses. And nowhere does that spotlight shine brighter than here in the capital city, where thousands of media, along with campaign staff and the candidates themselves, call Des Moines home for the week leading up to the caucuses.
We've rounded up some of the favorite places of visiting campaigns and media, so whether you're a political junkie, political tourist, or just a curious local, you can cast your vote of support behind these local businesses. And maybe you'll run into someone famous while you're at it!
If there's an expense account dinner to be had, it's probably happening at this Des Moines steakhouse staple. At 801 Chophouse expect big, important things to be discussed over big, juicy steaks. For a list of all the best steaks in Greater Des Moines including Des Moines signature dish Steak de Burgo, click here.
The epicenter of downtown Des Moines dining, Centro is where you go to see and be seen. It specializes in homemade pasta, wood-fired pizza, and strategy sessions. Check out all of the metro’s best restaurants here.
This no-frills breakfast spot is known for hearty portions and crispy hashbrowns. It is the go-to spot for everyone from politicians to news anchors to actor and hometown hero Jason Momoa. Soak up all the best brunch place with this list.
No visit to Iowa is complete without sampling a breaded pork tenderloin, the unofficial state sandwich. Smitty's is a campaign favorite and has been frequented by the likes of The Today Show, Fox News and Bloomberg Television. If you want to sample all the different tenderloins while you’re here, check out the best ones here.
New since 2020, this Iowa City-based brewery (and largest in the state) opened it’s Sherman Hill taproom in 2022 to much fanfare. As the largest restaurant in Iowa, there’s plenty of room for big groups to enjoy the hip ambiance, elevated bar fare like brisket mac & cheese and chicken shawarma, all washed down with Iowa’s top selling IPA, Easy Eddy. For those who prefer a more intimate brewery setting, the popular Lua is right across the street. And for a list of all the best breweries, click here.
This Des Moines institution is a welcoming dive bar that has long been the unofficial campaign headquarters of both media and campaign staffers. Carl's is a neutral territory where you might be rubbing elbows with a New York Times writer or a press secretary, all while bonding over Busch Light. From martini’s to tallboys, check out the list of all the best bars here.
For those who don't want to venture "all the way" to Carl's, Beechwood Tavern is located just a few short blocks from the House and Senate office building. This local watering hole is an unpretentious favorite of locals and visitors alike.
With 99 taps featuring all Iowa craft brews and elevated pub grub, like tenderloins and Iowa ham balls, the Iowa Taproom is where out-of-towners go to get a taste of our state.
El Bait Shop
Nothing quite says blowing off some steam like 262 beers on tap (the world's most extensive collection of American craft beers). Look for staffers and media alike to saddle up to El Bait Shop's bar all week long and enjoy comfort food favorites like bacon-wrapped tater tots.
Scenic Route Bakery
There are two guarantees when you go to Scenic Route Bakery during caucus season. One, you will be served an excellent cup of coffee. And two, you will run into campaign staffers (and maybe some candidates too). If Carl's is the libation headquarters, this is the caffeine headquarters.
If they're not at Scenic Route, they're probably at Smokey Row. Candidate sightings abound and mean biscuits and gravy to boot. Need more caffeine? We’ve got you covered with this list of the best coffee shops in Greater Des Moines.
The self-proclaimed Greatest Store in the Universe sells cheeky, self-aware t-shirts with phrases such as "Iowa! For some reason you have to come here to be President!" Along with the State Fair, this has quickly become the must-do photo-op for all candidates and media. Commemorate your stay in the Capitol city with something from our list of best boutiques.
State Capitol Building
If you come to Des Moines to cover the caucuses, but don't go to the State Capitol Building, were you really here? Expect to see media live shots in front of the 23-karat golden dome all weekend long.
State Historical Museum
Located in the heart of the East Village action, the State Historical Museum is a political junkie's dream. It is currently exhibiting a First in the Nation exhibit, featuring images, film clips, newspaper articles, and more than 100 artifacts from 1836-2016. Nothing sets the mood quite like a visit to the State Historical Museum.