Fall Things to Do
Fall into sweater weather and cider donuts come autumn in Greater Des Moines. From a-maize-ing pumpkin patches and apple orchards to colorful parks and scary good haunted houses, the options for fall fun are bountiful!
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Start your fall Des Moines adventure by carb-loading at Drake Diner, a Des Moines institution. Try their famous pumpkin pancakes, served with butter, real maple syrup, and pecans in a comfortable, old-timey setting that practically begs for letterman jackets and spinning a football in your hands. After you’re done, walk a block over to Mars Café, Des Moines’ Third Wave coffee shop offering craft coffee drinks that are out of this world.
Now that you’ve got a belly full of buttermilk, sugar, and caffeine, it’s time for some urban exploring. Start off by hitting up some of the colorful and animated murals that you’ll find peppered throughout Greater Des Moines. An impromptu (or planned) fall photoshoot is the perfect way to explore all the nooks and crannies around the metro and create some serious FFOMO (Fall Fear of Missing Out) on your Instagram feed.
Need help figuring out where to start? Check out our guide to all the murals around town. It’s got everything from the greatest hits like “Cheers from Des Moines” (Exile Brewing) to some of the lesser-known b-sides like “Timeless Beaverdale” in the charming Beaverdale neighborhood. Pro tip: Swing into Exile and sort through your photos on their patio over a tasty Oktoberfest beer. Cheers, indeed!
While you’re in Beaverdale, check out The Dam Pub for a hearty lunch, chock-full of nostalgia. Boasting a 90’s theme, replete with an ALF mural (bonus mural!) and major Saved by the Bell vibes, you can nosh on timeless classics and hearty fall fares like meatloaf sandwiches, hearty beef stew, and chicken and waffles. Make sure to leave room for a Mr. Pibb or Barq’s Root Beer float, because it’s never too chilly for ice cream. Boo-ya!
To cap off your urban exploring, make sure to hit up the always-popular West End Architectural Salvage to hunt for the perfect vintage or salvaged conversation starter. As seen on the HGTV show “West End Salvage” for two seasons, this is four stories of WOW factor, with everything from chairs and mirrors to tables and cabinetry. There’s even a coffee shop (pumpkin spice, anyone?) on the first floor for your afternoon pick-me-up.
Now it’s time to shift gears to some outdoor exploring. Head on over to Jester Park to get your steps in. With 1,661 acres of land, there are plenty of trails to explore. And if you thought you got some cool photos at the murals, just wait until you see the fall leaves in bloom. We just found your holiday card cover shot.
After you’ve filled your camera roll with color, go explore their Nature Center, ride a horse at the Equestrian Center or go see some Bison and Elk Herds to round out a great afternoon. Other great places to see fall leaves in Greater Des Moines include Brenton Arboretum (Dallas Center), Easter Lake (Des Moines), Ledges State Park (Boone), Pammel Park (Winterset – go see the Covered Bridges while you’re there), and Yellow Banks Park (Pleasant Hill).
For a pre-haunted house bite, it only feels appropriate to send you to Zombie Burger in the East Village, where the gore-met burgers and spiked milkshakes are as unique and fun as they are delicious (we’re partial to the Raygun burger and Seasonal Pie Shake). Just don’t pig out too much, because for this next stop you may lose your lunch.
Where are we taking you? Well, what better way to get into the Halloween spirit than by experiencing one of Des Moines’ scariest haunted houses? The Slaughterhouse is known for its jump scares and extreme storylines which are sure to make you scream. Buy a ticket online and reserve a time to cut down on wait times. The Slaughterhouse has also recently created a brand-new experience, an escape room called “The Game.” If you complete Level One (alongside six of your friends), you get to continue and attempt Level Two (if you dare). Assuming you survive, return to your hotel and get plenty of rest for day two. Frighteningly good times lie ahead.
Morning and Afternoon
There are many things to look forward to in the fall: tailgating, football, bloody marys, pumpkin pie, hoodies, a stylish yet affordable cashmere cardigan. But perhaps nothing signifies our excitement for the best season as much as a trip to an orchard or pumpkin farm. In Greater Des Moines, two options reign supreme.
The first is Center Grove Orchard in Cambridge, located about 30 miles north of Des Moines. Open from August to November, this 20-acre orchard is a mandatory autumn experience for families all over the metro. There’s of course the pumpkin patch and the apple orchard, but there’s also a sunflower meadow (More. Great. Pics.), a county store, and eight different restaurants and food vendors. Oh, we didn’t even mention The Farmyard which includes (deep breath): hayrides, a combine slide, a corn pool, baby goats, a corn maze, jumping pillows, slingshots, super slides, and train rides. You’re going to need multiple cider donuts to get through this.
Other options include Howell’s Pumpkin Patch in Cumming and Iowa Orchard in Urbandale. If you're looking for a local fall selfie spot, head to the Rose Farm in Norwalk! A beautiful farm decorated accordingly for each season, and they don't hold back in the fall. Put on your cutest sweater and pose in front of the pumpkin set up!
Finding your way out of a corn maze is no easy task, so surely, you’ve worked up an appetite and earned a drink. To get in the Oktoberfest mood, there are plenty of appetizing options. You could try Hessen Haus, a festive German beer hall in the heart of downtown with more than 50 German brews on tap, along with authentic German fares like schnitzel, spaetzle, and lots of sausages. Or check out The Hall in West Des Moines, with its communal beer hall seating, giant TVs (perfect for college football Saturdays), killer patio, and four different food menus – German fare, pizza, burgers, and pub fare. If you want to sample all the hefeweizens and marzens, check out the Iowa Taproom in the East Village. Home to more than 99 all-Iowa beers, you’ll find your new favorite beer, courtesy of their generous beer flights. The elevated bar food will scratch that Iowa itch as well, with authentic eats like tenderloins, The Maytag burger, and Iowa ham balls.
You can’t go to dinner without getting dessert afterward, so make your way towards Molly’s Cupcakes, right next door to Iowa Taproom. (Try the Pumpkin Spice or Caramel Apple cupcake for the full fall experience.) If you’d rather drink your dessert, check out Ken’s Not So Secret Speakeasy in the basement of Iowa Taproom, featuring Prohibition-era cocktails and the best whiskey list in town.
Need to knock out the cobwebs after those beer flights last night? Head over to Scenic Route Bakery for some strong coffee and sweet pastries. Baked daily, you can get anything from cinnamon rolls to the always underrated bread pudding. (We personally love their Oatmeal Stuffed Roasted Apples.)
We’re going to give you a few options here. If you have kids in tow, spend the rest of your day going back in time at Living History Farms. Located in Urbandale, this is a 500-acre open-air museum that includes the 1876 Town of Walnut Hill plus three working farm sites representing different periods in Iowa’s history. Learn about the 1900 horse-powered farm, and then walk just across the farm to go all the way back to the 1700s and Ioway Indian Farm. Plus, Living History Farms has a ton of fall events that you can hit up if you’re lucky! Watch an old-timey baseball game, milk a cow or take part in a historic dinner at Flynn Mansion and learn all about what the typical fall harvest looked like.
If your kids are more of the indoor type, check out the Palms Theater and IMAX in Waukee. With eight full-service in-seat auditoriums, you can dine and recline in style (and comfort), taking in Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters on one of Iowa’s largest IMAX screens.
If you’re without kiddos, check out the Des Moines Botanical Garden (good for kids too!). Grab a quick selfie at the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens and then make your way over to this 14-acre botanical garden located right near downtown. There you’ll find fun in full bloom, with indoor and outdoor gardens, the award-winning eatery Trellis (with a rotating seasonal menu), and if you’re lucky, the corpse flower.
Cap off your epic fall weekend in Greater Des Moines with a dinner featuring rotating menus and fall vegetables. There is a cornucopia of choices, but some of the top picks are Alba (close to the Botanical Gardens), HoQ, and if you’re feeling 5-course fancy, the renowned and insanely cool Harbinger.
Finish up with a craft cocktail at the buzzy new Good News, Darling (from the owners of Hello, Marjorie), where you’ll find small, experimental cocktails using seasonal ingredients with fun names like blue-ribbon pie, jalapeno popper, and sno cone. Or check out The Bartender’s Handshake, where you can sip a craft cocktail on their astroturf outdoor patio while rotating marshmallows over their gas fire pits.
Phew, what a weekend! This is why fall is our favorite season.
Don’t Miss These Fall Events:
Iowa’s Latino Heritage Festival (Late September)
Sleepy Hollow - Renaissance Fair and Scream Park (September and October)
Des Moines Oktoberfest (Late September)
Adventureland Oktoberfest (Late September)
World Food and Music Festival (Mid-September)
Night Eyes - Blank Park Zoo (Mid-October)
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!