Spring Things to Do
Come springtime, or as we like to call it, "shorts weather", the fun starts to blossom in Greater Des Moines. From parks and art to iconic races and farmers' markets, you'll have a little extra pep in your step.
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Today you’re going to get artsy, so dress accordingly. Perhaps a wide-brimmed hat and horn-rimmed glasses will complete your look. You’ll start off with brunch at Motley School Tavern in the charming Beaverdale neighborhood. Everything at this buzzy spot hits the mark, but the Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes are as pretty as they are delicious.
Continue to explore Beaverdale by hitting up Beaverdale Books, one of the best-hidden treasures in the metro, where you’re assured of finding a good book to curl up with (perhaps with a cup of joe next door at Grounds for Celebration). Then head across the street and make a stop at Back Country, where you can stock up on name-brand outdoor apparel and gear in preparation for conquering all the trails, sails, or just drinking all the ales.
It’s now time to hit up the Des Moines Art Center, which has many things going for it, not the least of which is its free admission! Beautifully situated amongst the rolling hills and oak trees of Greenwood Park, this internationally acclaimed museum is home to 19th and 20th-century artists such as Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keefe and always interesting rotating exhibits, with more than 5,000 works of art in total. After you’re done, get lost driving around looking at some of the homes South of Grand, many of which are works of art in and of themselves.
Once you get your bearings, it’s time to make your way downtown, but not before stopping to nab a scrumptious sandwich at Manhattan Deli (get the “Zach Johnson”, named after Iowa’s most famous golf pro). Get your sandwich and brownie to-go, because that will serve as lunch for your picnic at Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Located in Western Gateway Park, this 44-acre park with over 30 works of art is the crown jewel of downtown and the perfect spot to unwind, toss a frisbee, and take an obnoxious amount of selfies.
Once you’ve had your fill, explore downtown via Art Route Des Moines, which unites 87 pieces of public art with an access path marked with circles and chevrons. You’ll pass by sculptures, murals, and architecture that will confirm what we tell anyone that will listen: Des Moines is the most underrated art town in the US. Plus it takes you by Horizon Line Coffee, where you can get the most underrated cup of coffee in the US as well. These claims, much like our art and coffee, are BOLD.
For dinner, it’s back to the Sculpture Park...or right across from it at least. There you’ll find Django, the most approachable French restaurant this side of Paris. So approachable in fact, that if Coq Au Vin isn’t your thing, you will find arguably the best burger and onion rings in town here as well.
Down the road just a way is Hello, Marjorie, a chill cocktail lounge with major 50’s living room vibes, presuming it’s Don Draper’s living room. Not only will you find delightful drinks with a literary bent (“The Editor’s Note” is a fan favorite), but an iconic neon sign with the Jack Kerouac quote “The prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines.” If that doesn’t end up on your Instagram feed, you’re doing it wrong.
Following your after-dinner drinks, you’ve got your choice of live music, depending on what is playing that evening. Check out some area rock or a country superstar at Wells Fargo Arena. Build up your street cred by checking out indie bands and up-and-coming artists at Wooly’s in the East Village. Or check out nationally acclaimed jazz and cabaret acts at Noce Jazz and Cabaret. No matter your choice, you’ll be singing the praises of Des Moines after.
Today will include a little slice of history and a big slice of fun. Start with brunch at St. Kilda Collective, the fourth concept in the popular St. Kilda line of metro restaurants. Located in a 106-year-old brick building that used to be the home of Valley Auto Ford (the original dealership sign is still painted in brick), this comfortable and stylish space is part breakfast café, part bakery, and part farm-to-table restaurant. Pro tip: the avocado toast is as good as advertised.
After brunch, check out the Salisbury House & Gardens, a Tudor mansion that draws inspiration from The King’s House in Salisbury, England. Containing original 16th Century woodwork and rafters that date to the time of Shakespeare, it’s a must-stop for lovers of architecture, books, art, and quirky history. Self-guided tours are available.
You’re off to the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, another one of Des Moines’ great free museums, this one recognizing great achievements in agriculture and food security (you are Iowa, after all). The building itself is over a century old and used to be home to the original Des Moines Public Library. Inside it is adorned with beautiful artwork, photography, mosaics, and stained glass, making it no wonder that this also serves as one of the metro’s most popular event spaces. (Note: For the time being, the Hall of Laureates is closed for historical tours, but in the meantime, you can take an awe-inspiring virtual tour!)
Speaking of food, is it time for lunch yet? Make your way to Malo for top-notch modern Mexican food (one word: totchos) and top-flight margaritas. Malo was at one time Des Moines Fire Station No. 1 and was built in 1937 in an Art Deco style.
After seeing all this beautiful décor up close, you’re probably going to be feeling like you need to upgrade your own digs. Lucky for you, you’re right next door to West End Architectural Salvage, a four-story showcase of everything awesome. Containing one-of-a-kind salvaged pieces (think dressers, tables, chairs, mirrors, and lighting), it rose to fame with its eponymous show on HGTV.
The excitement of your inevitable remodel that you just planned in your head as you wandered through West End Salvage is going to require creative juices. There are plenty of creative juices to be found in the form of fermented grapes at Japser Winery. Their modern tasting room is yet another design style to consider. Now that you’ve seen all the different design styles, it’s time to try all the different wine styles. Cheers!
For dinner, we have Aposto on the menu. This one-of-a-kind dining experience is nestled in an 1880 Victorian Mansion that feels like you stepped back in time. But with dishes like Osso Buco, Duck Risotto, and seasonal specials that are way ahead of their time.
From there it’s a nightcap at Hessen Haus. This German-style bier-hall started as Des Moines’ Rock Island Railroad Passenger Station with its Creative Eclecticism movement when it was built in 1910. Since then, it has served as a dance hall and outbuilding for horses, but you’re there now for the hefeweizens and to pass the boot!
You can return to the hotel (you’ve earned it) at this point, but we’d be remiss not to recommend a show at Hoyt Sherman Place if there is one in town. Built in 1877 and home to the Des Moines Women’s Club since 1907, it is part of both the National Historic Register of Places and the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There is truly no cooler (and more elegant) place to catch a concert or a comedy show.
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