Summer Things to Do
Come summertime in Des Moines, it’s sun's out, fun's out. From epic festivals and events to outdoor adventures, summer positively radiates fun in Greater Des Moines.
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You’ve got a full day planned, so you’ll want to start off with a good base to work off of, and no better place to find your morning sustenance than The Breakfast Club in the East Village. This is the cool kid’s club, with funky décor and too cool for school dishes like S’more Donut Holes, Breakfast Corn Dogs, and Angel Food Cake French Toast. And since their slogan is “Brunch without booze is just breakfast,” you’re practically obligated to try a mimosa flight or espresso martini.
From there, things get wild, as you check out the 49-acre Blank Park Zoo, perhaps best known for its red panda exhibit, and the sea lions. (Next up: 500 words on why sea lions are underrated.) With activities like giraffe feeding, camel rides, train rides, face painting, and exhibits that include penguins, lions, tigers, rhinos, and gibbons, you’re sure to leave with a new favorite animal and the stuffie to prove it. Pro tip: Check their site for cool traveling exhibits like Wild Lights (animal-shaped Asian lanterns) and fun nights like Zoo Brew (ditch your wild animals and instead enjoy their wild animals while listening to bands and sipping on brews.)
Nothing says summer quite like baseball and beer, and in Des Moines, we’ve got both in spades. Start out with dinner at Mullet’s, which is just as fun as its name. Located right across from Principal Park on the Des Moines River, it features a two-level patio with possibly the best view of the skyline in town. Try a burger, po'boy or BBQ, and swap stories about your most hilariously awesome haircuts.
From there, swing over to grab a beer at El Bait Shop. With more than 200(!) beers on tap, it’s the largest beer selection west of the Mississippi (and they serve food too, so your kids are welcome). You’ll of course want to sample some Iowa beers while you’re there, and we recommend local favorites such as 515 Brewing, Gezellig, Barn Town Brewing, and Kinship.
Time to root, root, root for the Cubbies as you head across the way to beautiful Principal Park, home of the Iowa Cubs, the AAA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Catch a rising star (and a hot dog) and grab a beer from the Iowa Craft Beer tent. They also have a Kid Zone and splash pad for the little ones. Friday night is the always popular Fireworks Night and on Sundays, kids can run the bases for free after the game.
Let’s be honest: no Des Moines itinerary is complete without mention of the Downtown Des Moines Farmers’ Market. Named the #2 Farmers’ Market in America (we demand a recount), this must-visit attraction takes over the entire Court Avenue District every Saturday, May through October, from 7 a.m. – noon. This is so much more than a table of bell peppers and ripe tomatoes (although you can get those too); with live music, handmade art, baked goods, plants, flowers, pies, wine, and prepared food ranging from mini-donuts to dumplings, you won’t find a cooler or comfier spot anywhere. Mandatory activities include a breakfast burrito from Farm Boy’s Burritos, juice from a pineapple glass, sunflower pic in front of the courthouse, and a selfie in front of the ‘This Must Be the Place’ mural on the side of RoCA.
Now that you’ve gotten a literal taste of Des Moines, you’ll want to keep the cool vibes going, and no better place to do that than exploring Historic East Village, which has been dubbed “the closest thing to Brooklyn that Iowa has ever seen.” Thanks?
Walkable and effortlessly cool, it’s home to tons of boutiques for her (Aimee and Marne), shops for him (Fontenelle Supply Company and Marv’s Record Shop), and the store with something for everyone, Raygun. With “ripped from the headlines” cheeky t-shirts, drinkware and accessories, you’ll be apt to agree with their claim of being the “Greatest Store in the Universe.”. Des Moines: Hell Yes, indeed.
All that walking around will work up a thirst and what better to get a taste of summer than at a tiki bar, which are, believe it or not, becoming quite the thing here in Des Moines. We love the Poolside Classics at Bellhop Tiki, located right across from Raygun. It’s tiki without trying too hard, and is attached to Ernie’s Boondock, the coolest “new dive bar” in town, with a prime people-watching patio. If you want to tiki bar hop, make your way down to Court Avenue and try Revival House, where the drinks are boozy and the Instagram opportunities are bountiful.
Well that was fun, but now you’re hungry. The Avenues, also known as “Restaurant Row” has a plethora of tasty options to get you back on your feet. If you’re feeling casual, try the buzzy new Lachele’s Fine Foods, whose smash burgers and hand-cut fries are already legendary among locals. If you want fancy, Harbinger collects James Beard nominations like your kid collects Pokemon cards and is objectively the best place in town. Or for something in between, there’s Cheese Bar, voted the #1 Cheese Shop in America, where you can nosh on a cheese and charcuterie plate, cast iron mac and cheese, and grilled cheeses while sipping on some of the most interesting beer and bubbles in town.
For a nightcap, there are also plenty of options. From craft cocktail bars like Bartender’s Handshake (love the astroturf patio) and Juniper Moon to patio hangs Wellman’s Pub and Eatery A, to your townie dive bars like Yacht Club and Alpine Tap, there’s no shortage of ways to keep the party going. Pick your vibe, you can’t go wrong.
No summer in Des Moines is complete without a trip to Adventureland, which has something for both the young and the young at heart. Included in admission is an amusement park with more than 100 rides, as well as a water park with a half dozen slides, a lazy river, a kid's cove, and a swim-up bar for mom and dad. That’s not to mention the magic and comedy shows, concert series, and Iowa craft beer tent.
Your best bet is to split the day between the water park and amusement park (or stay in the on-site hotel and do a day at each.) Adventure Bay includes cabanas for rent, so we like to get one and use it as a home base for the day.
Popular roller coasters include The Monster (Adventureland’s first-ever infinity rollercoaster), The Phoenix (family spinning coaster), the all-new Dragon Slayer, and of course, the old stalwart Tornado (35-year-old wooden coaster.)
For the little ones, there are tamer (but no less fun) options like the raging river, teacups, Bernie’s Playground, and at Adventure Bay, Kokomo Kove, a virtual splash factory with seven smaller water slides, pirate ship, and 100+ other water features.
Main Street includes foods for every taste, including chicken, gyros, burgers, tacos, pizza, bbq, and duh, ice cream and cotton candy. All the great swimsuit foods.
And not only is there an on-site hotel (Adventureland Inn), but also a full-service campground with complete facilities including showers and restrooms. The question isn’t whether you’ll have fun, but rather the age-old quandary of “Roller Coasters or Water Slides?” (*The answer is both.)
Hotel: Downtown Marriott
Relaxing, affordable and ideally located. Set in the city's lively downtown, Des Moines Marriott Downtown is located just five short miles from the DSM airport. Walk to nearby shopping, dining, and nightlife via our convenient downtown skywalk extending to the Iowa Events Center. Step into stylish rooms and suites for a comfortable stay, featuring signature bedding and expansive city views. Upgrade to our concierge-level for exclusive perks like our private lounge. When it's time to unwind, swim in our indoor pool, stay fit in the 24-hour gym or enjoy a great meal on-site at Mash + MARROW.
Other Summer Fun ideas:
Pickleball, shuffleboard, cornhole, nachos, and Moscow Mules on Iowa’s largest outdoor patio at Smashpark.
Pack a picnic and throw a frisbee at Sculpture Park.
Patio brewery hop at Confluence, Lua, Firetrucker, Peacetree, The Hall, Kinship Brewing, and Exile.
Rent a pontoon for a half or full day at Saylorville Lake.
Take a bike ride on High Trestle Trail with a stop at Flat Tire Lounge for refreshments.
Hike at Ledges State Park and BBQ at Watcha Smokin’ BBQ.
Pop an ollie at Lauridsen Skatepark, the country’s largest skatepark.
Book a float trip down the Des Moines River with Seven Oaks.
Beach day at Lake Ahquabi.
Go-karts and mini golf at Sleepy Hollow Sports Park.
Indoor Football action with an Iowa Barnstormers game.
Don’t Miss These Summer Events:
Des Moines Farmer’s Market (May - October)
Principal Charity Classic (June)
Pride Fest (June)
Des Moines Beer Week (late June)
Des Moines Arts Festival (late June)
ArtFest Midwest (late June)
Goodguys Car Show (early July)
80/35 Music Festival (early July)
Italian-American Heritage Festival (late July)
National Balloon Classic (early August)
Hinterland Music Festival (early August)
Iowa State Fair (mid-August)
515 Alive (mid-August)