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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!

Markets and Holiday Events 

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 10

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 17, December 1, 8, and 15, 5 – 9 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 18 – December 16, 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 18. Tickets are $25 - $50 per person.

Holiday Hullabaloo
Brand new in 2022, 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. Don't miss out on the Adults Only portion from 7 – 11 p.m. as well!

Where: 225 10th Street, Boone
When: November 25 – December 31, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., 7 – 11 p.m. adults only

Holiday Shows  

Alton Brown Live: Beyond the Eats – Holiday Variant
Author and Food Network star Alton Brown brings his interactive live show back to Des Moines, where fans can expect not only cooking, but comedy, music, and silly science. A VIP tickets gets you an invite to a pre-show Q8A.  

Where: Des Moines Civic Center
When: December 6 at 7:30 p.m. 

Pentatonix: A Christmas Spectacular
The Grammy-award winning vocal group, Pentatonix, are bringing their Christmas ballads to Des Moines to kick off the Christmas spirit. 

Where: Wells Fargo Arena, 730 3rd Street, Des Moines
When: December 8 at 7 p.m.

The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker returns to Hoyt Sherman, put on by Ballet Des Moines and introduces a new cast of characters into this annual holiday tradition.  

Where: 1501 Woodland Avenue, Des Moines
When: December 8 and 9, 7 p.m., December 10, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., and December 11, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. 

The Nutcracker
Your other option for the Nutcracker is at the Des Moines Civic Center, with this one being put on by Iowa Dance Theater. It’s been a holiday staple at the Civic Center since 1997, so break out your fancy duds and prepare to be delighted by the Sugar Plum Fairy, Clara, and some mischievous mice.   

Where: 221 Walnut Street, Des Moines, IA
When: December 11, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., December 12, 2 p.m.

A Christmas Carol
Iowa State Theatre’s rendition of A Christmas Carol is coming to life this holiday season. This holiday tradition tells the tale of Scrooge’s ghostly visitations and Yuletide change of heart. 

Where: Stoner Theater, 221 Walnut Street, Des Moines
When: December 9 – 18  

Tis the Season With the Beach Boys
Rock and Roll Hall of Famers and Grammy-Award winning act The Beach Boys bring their Southern California sound to the heart of the Midwest, with a holiday twist. Expect classics from their 1964 Christmas album, alongside an array of new holiday songs.  

Where: Des Moines Civic Center
When: December 15 at 7:30 p.m.  

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Everybody’s favorite red-nosed reindeer is hitting the stage at the Des Moines Civic Center. Rudolph will be joined by his friends Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, the Abominable Snow Monster, and Yukon Cornelius. Although, for our money, you can’t beat the Island of Misfit Toys.

Where: Des Moines Civic Center, 221 Walnut Street, Des Moines
When: December 22, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. 

Mannheim Steamroller Christmas
America’s favorite holiday tradition of seeing and hearing the sounds of the Mannhiem Steamroller is coming to the Des Moines Civic Center just in time for the holiday season.  

Where: Des Moines Civic Center, 221 Walnut Street, Des Moines
When: December 23, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Disney on Ice
In what has become the annual kick-off to the holiday season, Disney on Ice returns to Wells Fargo Arena and brings all your favorites from Frozen and Encanto along for the ride. Family fun has never been this cool.  

Where: 233 Center Street, Des Moines
When: November 24 – 27 

Let There Be Lights   

Jolly Holiday Lights
This essential holiday tradition and largest light show in Iowa includes a 2.5-mile stretch featuring more than 100 different light displays. Admission starts at $20 per car if you purchase tickets online.  

Where: Adventureland, 3300 Adventureland Drive, Altoona 
When: 5:30 – 10 p.m.; November 25 – January 1. Closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve.  

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: Open daily (hours vary) November 25 through January 1. Tickets start at $25.99 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 $5. 

Dogtown Lights
A new holiday tradiiton returns for Year Two, 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: University Avenue between 23rd and 25th streets in Des Moines' Drake neighborhood
When: Through February 2023 

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 25 – 27 

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

Christmas Pop Up Bars and Restaurants  

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 15 to December 31, regular hours with additional Saturday and Sunday brunch hours from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. 

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 16 to 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 16 – 30  

Ice Ice Baby  

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: Check site here for holiday hours and to reserve a spot. $8 for adults and $5 for children and seniors (under 5 are free).

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: Friday, 5 – 8 p.m., Saturday, 1 – 8 p.m., Sunday, 1 – 5 p.m.

Christmas on the Big Screen  

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 – Elf, Christmas Vacation, Polar Express, Krampus, The Grinch, White Christmas, Love Actually (various days and times) 

The Palms in Waukee – Polar Express, Elf (various days and times) 

Copper Creek in Pleasant Hill – Polar Express, Elf (various days and times) 

Santa Claus is Coming to Town  

 

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.  

Where: 1000 Bass Pro Drive Norhtwest, 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.   

Where: 1551 Valley West Drive, West Des Moines
When: December 1 – 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