Winter Things to Do
Come wintertime, the temperatures may drop but the excitement is just starting to heat up in Greater Des Moines. The forecast calls for fun no matter the season, so we’ve got your covered...no matter how many layers it takes.
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Hotel: AC Hotel by Marriott
The AC Marriott is a beautiful hotel located in the heart of the East Village, meaning not only are you close to all the action downtown but all the annual events that typically happen in the East Village. The clean, modern rooms are reason enough to stay here, but the fact that the Republic on Grand, one of the swankiest bars in town, is on the sixth floor is the cherry on top (or should we say, the cherry in your Manhattan?).
You’re going to need a hearty breakfast this morning, and nothing says hearty like The Morning Mullet (eggs and hash browns atop biscuits and gravy) at the aptly named Mullets. The décor is everything you’d hope for in a place called Mullets, but the food here means business. Business in the front, party in the back (on their patio overlooking the Des Moines River).
Why such a big breakfast? Because next up, we’re heading out east to Pleasant Hill to hit the slopes (er, sleds) at Sleepy Hollow. If the idea of sliding down multiple 1,000-foot runs excites you, but the idea of climbing back up the hill gives you a stitch in your side, fear not! There’s a chairlift to whisk you and your crew up for another (and another…and another) trip back down. You can choose a tube or a sled; the only requirement is that sliders are at least five years old. Wait, there is a second requirement: you must love things that are awesome. If you check both boxes, you’re golden. Maybe just don’t wax your sled. Seven Oaks is also totally tubular, but also offers skiing and snowboarding as well!
After you’ve worked up a good sweat on the slopes and burned off at least one of those breakfast biscuits, you can head over to Social Eats & Crafts in nearby Pleasant Hill. Featuring comfort food like Three Cheese Mac, Shepherd’s Pie, and a dozen types of burgers, along with 30 draft beers, it’s a great family-friendly place to recharge and catch the game. For the next stop on your adventure, you won’t have to travel far because Social Eats & Crafts is located inside The Great Escape. It’s almost easier to list the things that The Great Escape isn’t than what it is, but we’ll give it a shot: boutique bowling alley, laser tag, arcade, and virtual reality adventure. In a word: fun.
Once you’ve exhausted all your quarters (and if you’re a parent, perhaps patience), head back downtown and grab a bite to eat at Zombie Burger in the East Village. With an ambiance that can only be described as ‘post-apocalyptic chic,’ it serves up GORE-met burgers like the Walking Ched (the buns are fried mac and cheese!) and Undead Elvis (with peanut butter and bananas) along with shakes like the Human Centipeach and Zombie Bride Wedding Cake. It’s all very punny, but also very delicious.
Assuming you make it out alive, nothing beats a night out on the town at Wells Fargo Arena, seeing the Iowa Wild (hockey). The Wild are the top affiliate of the Minnesota Wild in the AHL. As Raygun would say, we’re the major league of the minor league.
If you prefer the drama of the stage to that of the court, check out what’s playing at the Des Moines Civic Center, one of the top performing arts venues in the Midwest and among the first stops of touring musicals such as Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen. With an annual array of Christmas and holiday musicals, there’s no better way to enjoy the winter wonderland than with cheerful Christmas carols under glowing stage lights.
Start your morning at local favorite Star Bar on Ingersoll, where you can charge up with shrimp and cheese grits with eggs or a baguette with smoked salmon, cream cheese, red onion, and capers; all washed down with one of the best Bloody Mary’s in town.
Now that you’ve got a little pep in your step, head over to the most beautiful Capitol Building in the country (it’s a scientific fact, folks) for a free self-guided tour. Completed in 1886, it’s the only 5-domed capital in the country and contains over 100 rooms decorated with 29 types of marble. Make sure you get a photo in the magnificent Law Library—it’s the most photographed room in Iowa for good reason.
No matter how cold it is outside, you can warm up at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, where the tropical climate ensures you won’t look like a weirdo rocking your Hawaiian shirt and Raybans (maybe just a little bit). Check out their storied Bonsai collection and seven acres of outdoor gardens, and if you happen to stop during the right time of year, you may even catch a glimpse (and whiff) of the infamous corpse flower.
For a light lunch, visit Trellis Café inside the Botanical Gardens, serving a plant-based menu (naturally). It’s the perfect place to grab a salad, sandwich, or soup while you contemplate your next move.
After lunch, indulge in a little retail therapy in the Historic East Village, downtown Des Moines’ hippest hood. Buzzfeed once called it “the closest thing to Brooklyn Iowa has ever seen,” and who are we to argue? Thankfully, property taxes are much lower than in Brooklyn.
With over 200 shops, boutiques, and restaurants, it’s impossible to leave without a Des Moines souvenir. The best (or at least most popular) place to nab a souvenir is Raygun shirts, where you can collect shirts, glasses, coasters, and other gifts that demonstrate Iowa Nice with a side of irreverence. If it’s been in the headlines, Raygun’s made a cheeky shirt about it.
You’ll work up a thirst walking around East Village, so we recommend stopping at the Iowa Taproom to warm up with a cold one. Housed in a building that’s been there since 1882 (at one point, it was a warehouse for Old Style beer), the décor includes an 1880 salvaged bar top, historic signs, and a giant Sukup grain bin. But what you’re there for is the 99 taps of all Iowa beer. And perhaps an order of Iowa ham balls or breaded pork tenderloin strips (when in Iowa!).
Pro tip: if you’re more into sugar and frosting than barley and hops, check out Molly’s Cupcakes right next door to get your afternoon sugar fix.
When the sun sets (much earlier than we’d prefer in the winter), it’s time to hit up Brenton Skating Plaza. Located right along the Des Moines River, with views of the downtown skyline (and a giant Christmas tree before January) as your backdrop, you’ll have a good time no matter how many times you make everyone else feel better about themselves by falling. Also, if you’re thinking of popping the question and you’re a sucker for the whole winter wonderland thing, this is the place to do it.
From there (if you just got engaged, congrats!), keep the romance going, and head over to Peace Tree Brewing in the East Village for a pre-dinner drink. Known for their creative craft beers, a Blonde Fatale will defrost your fingers and warm your insides. Then head over to Lucca for a trendy Italian dinner in a modern minimalist space that wouldn’t feel out of place in Brooklyn (that earlier quote will start to make sense). Finish the evening with a nightcap at Republic on Grand on the sixth floor of the AC Hotel overlooking the East Village. The ambiance is as elevated and comfy as their signature blue couches.
Don’t Miss These Winter Events:
Iowa’s Premier Beer, Wine and Food Expo (mid-Nov)
Winter Farmer’s Market (late Nov)
Holiday Promenade (late Nov)
Jingle in the Junction (late Nov)
Festival of Trees & Lights (late Nov)
Christkindlmarket Des Moines (early Dec)
Jolly Holiday Lights (Dec)
Des Moines Home + Garden Show (mid-Feb)
Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival (early March)