The Nice List – A Holiday Itinerary

We know holiday to-do lists can be stressful, so we’re giving you the gift of The Nice List. A list of all the fun holiday things in Greater Des Moines that you’ll actually want to do. From holiday markets and events to Christmas pop-up bars and Santa sightings, this is the holly, jolliest list around!


The Peppermint Trail
More than 50 local shops, restaurants, and businesses will be featuring peppermint and holiday-themed specials. Enjoy Gingerbread house decorating, carolers, visits from Santa Claus, and so much more. Make a stop at Bauder’s for one of their famous Peppermint Ice Cream Bars, Crème for peppermint hot chocolate, and stop at The Station on Ingersoll for their Holiday pop-up, Miracle on Ingersoll.

Where: The Avenues of Ingersoll and Grand
When: December 9

Jingle in the Junction
Few places are better to get you in the holiday mood and knock out your holiday shopping than Historic Valley Junction, particularly during their annual Jingle in the Junction jubilee. On four Thursday evenings in November and December, take a step back in time with horse-drawn trolley rides, Christmas carolers, ice carvings, and of course, Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Shops stay open late with holiday sales and mini-events.   

Where: Fifth Street in Valley Junction, West Des Moines
When: November 16 and 30, December 7 and 14, 5 – 8 p.m.

East Village Holiday Promenade
Santa's Village has nothing on the East Village when the Holiday Promenade takes over the East Village for five Fridays in November and December. Kicking off on November 19 with the tree lighting at Brenton Skating Plaza and (deep breath) Santa (!!), each week has a different theme and activities, so multiple trips may be in store. From horse-drawn trolleys and wreath displays to scavenger hunts and hide and seek ornaments, this is the most epic and Des Moines way to get into the holiday spirit and enjoy some retail therapy. It’s even got its own Spotify playlist!  

Where: Historic East Village
When: Every Friday, November 17 – December 15, 5 – 9 p.m.  

Santa Express
This real life Polar Express in Boone was named one of the 30 Best Holiday and Christmas Trains in the U.S., and for good reason. Wear your most festive Christmas pajamas and take an hour-long round trip to the quaint but charming “North Pole,” singing Christmas Carols and enjoying hot chocolate and cookies along the way.  

Where: 225 10th Street, Boone
When: Santa Express trains operate on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through December 17. Tickets are $25 - $50 per person.

Holiday Hullabaloo
Returning for 2023, celebrate the Holiday season at Horizon Events Center. Benefitting Dorothy's House, explore Mrs. Claus's Kitchen, build a craft in Santa's Workshop, shop in the Marketplace, check out the Ice Bar, and so much more. Holiday Hullabaloo also has special events throughout the season such as Breakfast with Santa, Noon Years Eve, Photos with Santa, and more!

Where: 10320 Hickman Rd. Clive, Iowa 50325
When: November 24 – December 31, check here for hours

Winter Wonderland
If you missed Center Grove Orchard this fall, hit up Winter Wonderland this holiday season. Experience twinkling lights, trees, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and more. Want to make your experience even more magical? Purchase the Yuletide Spectacular which includes not only Winter Wonderland, but U-Build Bears and Brunch with Santa. Prices start at $7.95 and 

Where: 32835 610th Avenue Cambridge, IA 50046
When: Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays November 25 – December 23

For a list of all the holiday events happening in Greater Des Moines, click here.


Disney on Ice
Your favorite Disney stars are coming to life during Disney on Ice Presents Magic in the Stars. The family-friendly show will have the figure skating stars doing high-flying acrobatics and stunts, all with special effects, electric lighting, and set designs.

Where: Wells Fargo Arena
When: November 23 – 26
Tickets: $18 – $98   

A Charlie Brown Christmas
The beloved TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, is coming to life this holiday season. Enjoy a performance of the classic as Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the gang of friends discover the meaning of Christmas.  

Where: Des Moines Community Playhouse
When: December 2 – 3, 9 – 10, and 16 – 17
Tickets: $14 – $19

Ballet Des Moines Present: The Nutcracker
It’s your quintessential performance – The Nutcracker. Follow along with Ballet Des Moines for the magical story of Clara, her Nutcracker, and their journey.  

Where: Hoyt Sherman Place
When: December 7 – 10
Tickets: $37 – $87

Iowa Stage Theatre Company: A Christmas Carol
You won’t want to miss the classic story of Ebenezer Scrooge and the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future with the Iowa Stage Theatre’s Performance of A Christmas Carol.  

Where: Stoner Theatre
When: December 8 – 10 and 13 – 17
Tickets: $25 for student, $40 for general admission 

Cirque Dreams Holidaze
The world of acrobatics is feeling the spirit of the holidays with Cirque Dreams Holidaze. With original takes on holiday favorites, you’ll see circus acts, jugglers, acrobatics, and more as the stage is set with dancers, penguins, toy soldiers, and reindeer.  

Where: Des Moines Civic Center
When: 7:30 p.m. on December 22 and 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m. on December 23
Tickets: $29 – $99

For a list of all the holiday shows happening in Greater Des Moines, click here.


Jolly Holiday Lights
Jolly Holiday Lights has a new home for 2023! Now a free experience, head to Outlets of Des Moines to take in the beautiful light displays, as well as a Lights-to-Music Show that happens every 30 minutes. Still want to help in their mission with Make-A-Wish Iowa? They will have multiple ticketed events such as Breakfast with Santa, Sip & Shop, and more!

Where: 801 Bass Pro Dr NW, Altoona, IA 50009
When: November 17 – January 7

Santa’s Rock N Lights
Visitors to this Living History Farms light show will travel through the mystical dinosaur world and over 700 feet of tunnels, including the techno rainbow tunnel. Tune your car radio to the station synced to the show lights for an immersive, full-sensory experience!  

Where: Living History Farms, 11121 Hickman Road, Urbandale 
When: November 24 – December 31. Tickets start at $29.99 per vehicle and must be purchased in advance online. 

Reiman Gardens Winter Wonderscape
Want to see some lights and get your steps in at the same time? Head up to Ames, where Reiman Gardens unveils “Winter Wonderscape” – a walk-through light show featuring 17 acres of immersive light displays. Walk through brightly lit tunnels, meander through fantasy lights falling like stars, view massive disco balls twirling to laser lights, enjoy a 20’ wide fountain, and a wide array of other sparkling wonders.   

Where: 1407 University Boulevard Ames, IA 50011
When: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, December 1 – December 31, 5 p.m. to last ticket sold at 8 p.m. Tickets must be purchased online in advance and start at $7. 

Dogtown Lights
A new holiday tradition returns for year three, as the Drake neighborhood receives a colorful makeover with Dogtown Lights. The entertainment district in the heart of campus will have double the amount of lights as last year and the lights will change in appearance to recognize things like Lunar New Year and Black History Month. 

Where: 2321 University Ave, Des Moines, IA 50311
When: Through February 2024

Festival of Trees & Lights
This public event serves as a fundraiser for Blank Children’s Hospital and features beautifully decorated trees, food and entertainment, children’s activities, and more. Admission is $5 and free for children 2 and under.  

Where: Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center at IEC - 833 5th Avenue, Des Moines
When: November 24 – 26 

For a list of all the best holiday lights in Greater Des Moines, including neighborhoods, click here.


SnowGlobe DSM
Exile Brewing turns into a winter wonderland with a SnowGlobe concept, first popularized in Lawrence, Kansas. The restaurant and bar areas get a Clark Griswold makeover, with more than a mile of Christmas lights, a semi-truck full of décor, and a Instagrammable “Merry Christmas Ya Filthy Animals” neon sign in the basement. Reservations recommended.  

Where: Exile Brewing, 1514 Walnut Street, Des Moines
When: November 14 – January 7, regular hours with additional Saturday and Sunday brunch hours from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. 

Rudolph's Rooftop
Head to The Republic on Grand to experience Rudolph's Rooftop Bar this holiday season. With specialty cocktails, a charming rooftop adorned with dazzling decorations, and a festive atmosphere, this bar is sure to put even the grouchiest grinch in the holiday spirit. Pair your cocktail with an artisanal chef's favorite, and you'll be set for the perfect girls night out or date night. 

Where: The Republic on Grand, 401 E Grand Avenue, Des Moines
When: November 17 – January 7

Miracle on Ingersoll
Head over to Dugan’s Hideaway, the hidden gem dive bar attached to The Station on Ingersoll to get your fix of holiday cheer and spirits. The TVs show a continuous loop of Christmas Vacation, and the vibe is very much “grandma’s basement, if grandma was a Christmas hoarder.” Holiday drinks are served in fun glassware (dinosaur with a Santa hat, anyone?) that will be available for purchase when they close up shop on December 26.  

Where: 3124 Ingersoll Avenue, Des Moines
Dates: November 22 to December 26, Monday to Friday from 6 p.m. to Midnight; Saturday Noon to Midnight; and Sunday from Noon to 6 p.m.; Christmas week hours are Monday to Friday 5 p.m. to Midnight and 2 p.m. to Midnight on Christmas Day. 

The Naughty List
Known for their seasonal pop ups, Good News, Darling, as the one naughty list that you want to get your name on. Expect cool kid holiday décor paired with some of their famous experimental cocktails that also receive a holiday makeover. They’re also teaming with Oh High Bakery to offer chocolate chip and peanut butter chocolate lava cookies. Holiday nostalgia at its most delicious. Reservations recommended on weekends.  

Where: 717 Locust Street, Des Moines (check in at Hello, Marjorie host stand)
Dates: November 15 – December 30 

The Nice List
You can’t have a naughty list without a nice list. Sister bar to Good News, Darling, Secret Admirer will be hosting The Nice List pop-up Christmas bar. Better try them both to see what list suits you best.

Where: 110 SW 5th Street
Dates: November 15 – December 30 

For a list of all the holiday pop ups happening in Greater Des Moines, click here.


Brenton Skating Plaza
If you’re having trouble harnessing the holiday spirit, let us suggest an evening skate under the stars with a skyline (and giant Christmas tree) as the backdrop. You’ll be dreaming of a white Christmas in no time. This Des Moines bucket list activity runs from November – March and is fun for the whole family, no matter your skill (or lack thereof) level.

Where: 520 Robert D. Ray Drive, Des Moines
When: Open daily starting November 22. Check hours here.

Johnston Town Center Ice Rink
New to the list is the brand-new Johnston Town Center Ice Rink, which is fresh enough that it hasn’t even required a Zamboni yet. The rink uses synthetic ice and is the first of its kind in the metro. And if you have your own skates, you skate for free!  

Where: Merle Hay and NW 62nd Avenue
When: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.


Sure, you can quote Elf and Christmas Vacation front to back, but have you ever seen them on the big screen with a giant bucket of buttered popcorn? That’s next level.  

Flix Brewhouse – A Christmas Story (various days and times) 
The Palms in Waukee – Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Polar Express, A Christmas Story (various days and times)
Cinemark Century Jordan Creek – The Polar Express, Love Actually, A Christmas Story, Dr. Seuss' The Grinch, It's A Wonderful Life, Arthur Christmas, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (various days and times)
Varsity Cinema – The Holiday, Die Hard, Elf, Home Alone, The Muppet Christmas Carol (various days and times)


Bass Pro Shops Santa Wonderland
One of the most popular FREE places to get a photo with Santa, with beautiful backdrops, this one fills up fast. They release spots a week ahead at 12:01 a.m. each night, so set that alarm to reserve a spot here.

Where: 1000 Bass Pro Drive Northwest, Altoona
When: November 6 – December 24

Valley West Mall
Another good free option, this one includes a fun little train for the littles as well. They are also offering a Sensory Friendly Santa on Sunday, December 3!

Where: 1551 Valley West Drive, West Des Moines
When: November 24 – December 23

Jordan Creek Mall
Iowa’s largest mall has one of the most popular Santas. So popular in fact, that reservations are highly encouraged. Book a photo experience starting at $19.99.  

Where: 101 Jordan Creek Parkway, West Des Moines
When: November 18 – December 24 

Brunch with Santa
Have a delicious brunch with Santa on Saturday and Sunday mornings at Center Grove Orchard this holiday season! Meet Santa, tell him your wishes, and enjoy a delicious brunch buffet. Tickets start at $10.95.

Where: 32835 610th Avenue Cambridge, IA 50046
When: Saturdays and Sundays November 25 – December 23