Best of the Burbs
When it comes to Greater Des Moines, the burbs are anything but boring. We have some of the fastest-growing suburbs in the nation (Ankeny, West Des Moines), and it's not just because it's a great place to live (although it's that too); it's a great place to play!
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With entertainment for all ages, Altoona is the unofficial family vacation headquarters of Greater Des Moines. Treat the family to a fun day(s) at Adventureland Resort featuring Adventure Bay water park, with its multiple slides and swim-up pool bar. Enjoy the rides (we double-dog dare you to try The Monster) and slides during the day and cap the evening with a sip at Spectators and maybe one more dip at the indoor waterpark at Adventureland Inn.
Adults will enjoy the entertainment options next door at Prairie Meadows Casino and Hotel. Enjoy live horseracing May – September and sports betting year-round in the newly opened William Hills Sports Book. After your day of play, dine on USDA Prime steaks at AJ's Steakhouse located inside Prairie Meadows.
Need retail therapy? Peruse the shops at Central Iowa's only outdoor shopping center, Outlets of Des Moines. Fill up a growler at the family-owned Brightside Aleworks or down the road at Reclaimed Rails in Bondurant. For a more romantic atmosphere, elect for Johnny's Italian Steakhouse, and be sure to ask for a table on the heated patio overlooking a scenic lake.
An anchor for entertainment on the east side of Des Moines, Pleasant Hill is the hub of the Gay Lea Wilson Trail with a variety of urban and natural features, including scenic views of Four Mile Creek. Enjoy the evening with family or friends at Great Escape - The Ultimate Experience and Social - Eats & Crafts. The facility features a VIP boutique bowling suite, open bowling, state-of-the-art laser tag, a 50-game arcade, great food, and great fun.
One of the top ten fastest-growing cities in the U.S., Ankeny has several new developments to keep you entertained. With chic boutiques, locally owned businesses, and distinct eateries, the District at Prairie Trail promises entertainment for the whole family. Here you'll find popular area eateries such as Whiskey River, Jethro's BBQ n' Lakehouse, and Fong's Pizza, alongside a bowling alley, movie theater, and an arcade. If you want to have the kids burn off some energy, try Urban Air. More than just a trampoline park they also have a Sky Rider (think zipline, but cooler) and virtual reality activities.
In Greater Des Moines, we like to take advantage of the nice weather while we have it. And for outdoor adventures, Ankeny is at the top of the list. The High Trestle Trail is arguably the region's most iconic spot, with 25 miles of exploration spanning five towns, including the "can't-miss" High Trestle Bridge, a half-mile, 13 story bridge that glows a brilliant hue of blue at night. You're also a stone's throw from Saylorville Lake, the metro's most popular place for boating (or drinks lakeside for you land lovers). Cap off a warm summer day with a cold brew on Firetrucker Brewing's outdoor patio.
Conveniently located at the intersection of Instates 80 and 35, Clive earns a glowing reputation for its beautiful parks and green spaces. Grab a delicious, handmade pastry filled with egg, cheese, and breakfast sausage at Coaches Kolaches and then walk, run or bike along the Clive Greenbelt Park and Trail system. There you can check out Art Along the Trail; this temporary exhibit of pieces by local artists runs May through October each year.
Exploring the Greenbelt will work up a thirst, so make sure to stop and enjoy a brew or two at the popular 515 Brewing. It's the perfect spot for pre-dinner drinks. After those pre-dinner drinks, head over to Warrior Lanes. They have 16 new bowling lanes, and Extreme Glow Bowling on Friday and Saturday Nights. They also have an extensive food menu as well. Glow in the dark bowling and funnel cake fries? Sign us up.
Looking for something else to do in this area? How about dinner and a movie? How about dinner while watching a movie? Head to The Palms Theatres & IMAX, they've got you covered. With a full bar and restaurant alongside their theater, you can eat while you enjoy a brand new movie. Featuring one of the largest IMAX theaters in the midwest, and reclinable comfy chairs, The Palms is sure to entertain.
Look up "quaint and charming small town," and Indianola will be at the top of the list (or should be). Home to Simpson College and more art and culture than any town of 15,000 people should be able to lay claim to; their signature summer event is the National Balloon Classic. In July, this spectacular 9-day event features food vendors, children's activities, and over 100 hot air balloons that paint the sky with color over a picturesque Iowa backdrop. No Instagram filter required.
World-class opera in Indianola? You bet. The Des Moines Metro Opera hosts a Summer Festival every June and July that the Chicago Tribune dubbed one of the most "enterprising summer opera fests in the nation." And what better way to kick off a night at the opera than with a tour and tasting at Summerset Winery, Iowa's oldest winery?
For one of the most underrated outdoor hotspots in Greater Des Moines, head north to Polk City. You'll want to hit the links at the Tournament Club of Iowa. This stunning golf course is the only Arnold Palmer Signature Course in the state of Iowa and is known for its bold elevation changes and magnificent vistas.
From well-manicured greens to lush greenery, head over to Jester Park, one of Central Iowa's favorite outdoor playgrounds. Check out the nature center and natural play area constructed using boulders, earth mounds, and water features. Perhaps best of all, you'll be able to spot bison and elk herds hooves who've roamed the wildlife animal enclosure for almost four decades.
You're not far from the farm in Urbandale, literally. After dining on absurdly large cinnamon rolls at Machine Shed, take a stroll through the fictional town of Walnut Hill at Living History Farms – a real working farm and interactive outdoor history museum. Learn what rural life was like for Midwesterners from the 1700s to the early 1900s while you explore a Victorian mansion, sample old-fashioned drugstore candy, or try your hand at blacksmithing.
For cloudy days, get active indoors at Climb Iowa in Grimes. Iowa's largest indoor climbing and training facility offers more than 10,000 square feet of climbing. With 200 routes and problems, a fitness room, and a yoga studio, there's no limit to how you can test your body.
For dinner, head to one of the best restaurants in the metro, Trostel's Greenbriar in Johnston for big flavors and even bigger portions. After dinner, keep the good times rolling at The Beerhouse – a local favorite sports bar with a large patio and 35 taps.
West Des Moines
Known as the premier shopping destination in Greater Des Moines, West Des Moines features several distinct shopping destinations, each with unique dining options and outdoor amenities. Historic Valley Junction is a charming gathering place and the heart and soul of West Des Moines – featuring a delightful mix of old and new with unique antique and home goods shops and vibrant community events.
After meandering through the locally-owned shops, stop by The Hall – a contemporary nod to old-world beer halls, for a drink and a bite from one of the four diverse food menus. Reserve a whole day to explore Jordan Creek Town Center – a giant lifestyle center filled with a collection of upscale brand names in a park-like atmosphere, complete with a lakefront boardwalk. Make sure to schedule enough time for Smash Park, a pickleball and gaming utopia featuring Iowa's largest patio. End your day with a dinner at one of West Des Moines' hundreds of restaurants – we recommend Fleming's, Gilroy's, or The Chicken.
If the outdoors are your thing, West Des Moines has more than 65 miles of trails and connects to Raccoon River Park, the West Des Moines Parks system's crown jewel. The park features the metro's largest dog park, a beach with a swimming area, ball fields, play structures, picnic shelters, and a boathouse where you can rent kayaks and canoes.
Need more travel inspiration? Check out the rest of The Catch List itineraries. And add ideas to your Des Moines bucket list with our Des Best lists and S’s Are Silent videos!