A Weekend in Des Moines, Iowa

This post is sponsored by Catch Des Moines.

Des Moines has always been a place we’ve driven through but hasn’t been our final destination. We decided to change that this summer and head to the capital city of Iowa for a weekend getaway!

The Drive to Des Moines

I will tell you right now I am not a fan of car trips with kids- or without them if I’m being honest- but this one was easy.  Des Moines is a short three hours from Kansas City. We broke our trip into two parts, stopping at the big rest stop about two hours from home (I-35 Northbound just north of exit 4). The rest stop had a visitor center, a super nice trail to stretch your legs, green space for the kids to run, picnic tables, vending machines, and most importantly, clean bathrooms.

Mom Tip

Have the kids use headphones hooked up to an old cell phone to listen to podcasts. Works like a charm. We recommend Dinosaur George.

Where to Stay in Des Moines, IA

We stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in downtown Des Moines. The hotel was perfect for our needs- convenient location to downtown attractions, the riverwalk, had a daily hot breakfast that was included (my kids loved the waffle maker), and free parking. Our room also had a mini fridge, which I always appreciate having on trips for leftovers or anything we want kept cool.

Mom Tip

A great way to save money on trips is to bring your own food for lunches/breakfast (if not included in your stay). Ensure that you have a mini fridge to keep your groceries cool and then plan a picnic or two or come back and eat in the room.

Where to Eat in Des Moines

We had some great meals in Des Moines. Here were our favorites:

Smash Park

If you are looking for a lively place for your kids to eat, play, and be up and about this is it! Smash Park is home to the largest outdoor patio in Iowa with bocce ball, pickleball, cornhole, shuffleboard, and an awesome arcade. My husband and I enjoyed drinks outside before dinner while the kids played which was super nice. I highly recommend their extensive list of mules! Perfect place to play and eat at the same time!

Mom Tip

Grab one of the many games such as Connect 4 to bring to your table for your kids to play while you wait for your meal!

Spaghetti Works

This was another great and very kid friendly restaurant. We enjoyed the Downtown Farmers’ Market in the morning and then went here for lunch (all walkable from our hotel!) Spaghetti Works has more than 700 pasta and sauce combinations! Our daughter enjoyed trying their Italian Soda, as well.

Zombie Burger

This place was so. much. fun.  The decor alone gives you plenty to look at while you wait for your yummy “gore-met” burgers and delicious shakes (adult options, too!) The kids got the Zombie Unicorn shake (topped with Fruity Pebbles) and my husband and I shared the Zombie Joe, a coffee inspired shake. I loved the creativity of this restaurant and the food was excellent.

Mom Tip

  • The shakes were big, so our sweet waitress helped us split one into two cups for our kids.  It was plenty for each of them.

Things to Do in Des Moines

Downtown Farmers’ Market

Des Moines has one of the top farmers’ markets in the US with 25,000 people each Saturday, May–October. More than 300 vendors, live music, and prepared food, including famous breakfast burritos! This was seriously the largest farmers’ markets I have ever been to- it was incredible. The kids each got a balloon animal and got to sample a variety of foods, including “lobster of the prairie” (aka crickets!) It was a blast and we could have spent hours there.

Mom Tips

  • Have cash just in case!
  • Bringing a stroller would be a good idea, decent amount of walking.
  • There were some great coffee, smoothie, and boba tea vendors so keep your eyes peeled!

Science Center of Iowa

My kids spent forever in the space area!

The Science Center is in the heart of downtown with interactive exhibits and learning stations. Some of these include Why the Sky? (space), Brick by Brick (LEGO), What on Earth (geology), and popular rotating exhibitions like Sue: The T. Rex Experience. Right when you walk in is a permanent exhibit called Small Discoveries perfect for toddlers and under. My kids loved the bubble making area of this exhibit! My personal favorite was the animal exhibit where you got to watch them do a live feeding of a snapping turtle.

We were able to walk here from our hotel, as well! We paired this activity up with the Downtown Farmers’ Market.

Mom Tips

  • Hours are 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. so be sure to plan accordingly to maximize your time there.
  • They recommend you reserve tickets in advance.
  • There is a nursing/feeding area complete with a changing table in the Little Discoveries area.

Blank Park Zoo

Feeding the giraffe was a blast.

I loved this zoo, and I will tell you why. It wasn’t huge so was very doable with small kids. There was also a decent amount of shade which was nice in the summer. We were able to feed a giraffe for $3, and it was the best $3 I have ever spent.

The Blank Park Zoo is Iowa’s only accredited zoo with 49-acres of wild fun. Popular exhibits include tigers, seals, giraffes, and their famous red pandas. My kids loved the train ride that took us up close to quite a few animals including the lion and the kangaroos.

We were able to eat lunch there with affordable options and a great shady area with nice tables.

Mom Tips

  • Wear good walking shoes and pack your own water/snacks.
  • Have cash on hand.
  • You could easily do this in a half day.
  • Don’t forget the stroller!

The Palms Theatres & Imax

Eat while you enjoy a brand-new movie in one of their “dine and recline” theaters or see a movie in 3D in their IMAX theater! This theater had great food and drink options, including Edy’s ice cream! We loved relaxing in the super comfy seats (with heating capabilities) after a long day in the city.

Mom Tips

  • Every Tuesday they offer discounted admission for all tickets purchased online or at the box office. Plus, you will receive a free 46 oz. bag of popcorn with any beverage purchase!
  • Receive $1 off your ticket when you present a current military ID or current college ID. (Does not apply to Bargain Tuesday admission).

For a comprehensive list of all the Des Moines area has to offer, visit here to plan your next easy weekend getaway!

Megan Coffey
Hi! I'm Megan, former teacher turned stay-at-home-but-never-home mom to Peyton, 7, and Gage, 4. I host the Kansas City MomCast podcast! I'm married to the most patient person on this earth, Chris, and we live in Overland Park with our kids, an insane lab, and two guinea pigs. You can find me over committing to everything, reading informational and self-help texts, listening to podcasts, organizing, spending time with friends over margaritas, thrifting, and staying up way too late to have peace and serenity. I love people and hearing their stories and look forward to connecting with KCMC readers!