25 Best Things to Do with Kids in Des Moines, Iowa

Wondering about the best things to do with kids in Des Moines, Iowa? Des Moines is one of the fastest growing cities in Iowa. A visit here will have your whole family excited, because there are so many fun things to do in Iowa with kids. While you can wander around this city for hours, stopping at one popular attraction after another, you won’t want to return to your hotel too early. The reason for this is there are even more things to do in Des Moines at night. This is perfect if you have older kids that can easily stay up later. But if that is not the case, you may want to bring someone with you to watch the younger ones, so you can go out on the town.

25 Best Things to Do with Kids in Des Moines, Iowa

1. Play at Raccoon River Park

Raccoon River Park is a popular destination in Des Moines for families, because there are so many things to do there. You can all walk along the paved trails, before the kids run around and play on the playgrounds. There is also a spray pad and beach for those warmer summer days.

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2. Walk Along the Skywalk

The Skywalk is almost four miles long and you will find it in downtown Des Moines. This is one of the best things to do in Des Moines during a weekend in the winter, because it is heated. However, you can do this walk at any time of the year.

3. Ride the Carousel at Union Park

One of the best things to do in Des Moines with kids is riding the carousel at Union Park. The Heritage Carousel was built in 1998 and features hand carved animals. There is even a band organ with a snare drum that plays Sousa marches. Adults are free unless they are riding on an animal, so you can save some cash during this Des Moines adventure.

Carousel at Union Park - Best Things to Do with Kids in Des Moines, Iowa
Credits: Picture Des Moines, Flickr CC BY 2.0

4. Do a Little Shopping at the Downtown Farmers Market

Kids love food, so you know they will love walking around the Downtown Farmers Market if they are going to get something to eat. There are lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as cheeses and baked goods. If you plan your visit right, you might be there when live performances are taking place.

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5. Watch a Performance at the Des Moines Performance Arts Center

As you are looking for the top things to do in Des Moines, you will be happy to know that performances at the Des Moines Performance Arts Center is near the top of the list. The people performing offer everything from shows that are part of the Willis Broadway series, the Dance Series, and the Family Series. You can check their schedule to see what is being offered during your visit.

6. Visit the Animals at the Blank Park Zoo

The Blank Park Zoo might be one of the smaller zoos in the country, but it is still an excellent way to let your kids see many different animals. Plus, this zoo offers many extra activities during the year, so you never know exactly what you might be doing when you visit.

Blank Park Zoo - Best Things to Do with Kids in Des Moines, Iowa
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

7. Go Ice Skating at the Brenton Skating Plaza

One of the best things to do in Des Moines during the winter months is ice skating at the Brenton Skating Plaza. You can easily ice skate during the day, but there is something magical about waiting until night when the stars are shining above. This is one of the best things to do in Des Moines at night, especially if the snow is falling gently all around you!

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8. Drink Some Wine at the Jasper Winery

The kids won’t be able to belly up to the bar at the Jasper Winery, but they can sit in the café with you! The café, or the outdoor patio when the weather is warm, is the perfect place to try sone wine, as everyone nibbles on the cheese trays. Anyone who doesn’t drink wine will be happy to know that this winery also serves beer, cider, sangria, and soda.

9. Take a Ride on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad

One of the more unique things to do in Des Moines is riding the train at the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad. There are many different train rides throughout the day, so you can choose the one that is best for you and your family. The basic ride is approximately an hour and a half long. You will ride on a historic coach car, which is pulled by a steam engine, from Boone. The train goes over the Bass Creek High Bridge, over the Des Moines River, and then near Squaw Creek to the town of Fraser. This train rides sell out quickly, so it is best to reserve your seats in advance.

Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

10. Walk Along the Principal Riverwalk

If you have discovered many things to do West Des Moines, you can easily reach them from East Des Moines by walking along the Principal Riverwalk. This recreational trail is just over a mile long and includes two pedestrian bridges.

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11. Have Fun at Big Creek State Park

Big Creek State Park is about twenty miles outside Des Moines, but it is an easy place to reach if you want to get out of the city for the day. Big Creek Lake is in this park and it is where you will find the largest beach within the state parks of Iowa. You could spend all day swimming in the lake and soaking up the sun in the sand. However, we also recommend renting a boat to take a tour of the lake and letting the kids play on the all wooden playground.

12. Visit the Des Moines Art Center

Younger kids are not usually thrilled with visits to museums and art centers, but older kids might appreciate the works of art and sculptures located at the Des Moines Art Center. The permanent collection includes works of art by famous artists like O’Keefe, Monet, and Rodin. There are also temporary exhibits that rotate every couple of months. When you are done inside, you can wander out to look at the rose garden and the sculptures that are scattered around the grounds.

Des Moines Art Center - Best Things to Do with Kids in Des Moines, Iowa
Credits: Picture Des Moines, Flickr CC BY 2.0

13. Walk Through the East Village

One of the cool things to do in Des Moines is walk through the East Village. This downtown neighborhood is part residential and part commercial. There are many historic buildings in this neighborhood, and you can see them all in the same day. A few of the most prominent buildings include the State of Iowa Historical Museum, Iowa State Capitol, Hohberger Building, and the Northwestern Hotel.

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14. Try One of the Tasty Tacos

Tasty Tacos is a business that opened after a woman called Grandma Mosqueda passed down her famous flour tacos recipe to her grandchildren more than fifty years ago. The flour tacos are deep fried and filled with all sorts of topping. This is one stop in Des Moines that is a must and your children will not complain about!

15. Picnic at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

If you are in need of something relaxing for the next thing you do in Des Moines, then the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden should be the obvious choice. You can easily have a picnic lunch in this garden that was started way back in 1939. There are more than one thousand plants on display, although you might want to pay closer attention to the orchids, bonsai, and amaryllis over all the rest. The gardens host special events throughout the year, so you may want to check them out before you plan your visit.

Des Moines Botanical Garden - Best Things to Do with Kids in Des Moines, Iowa
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

16. Go Over the High Trestle Trail Bridge

There is a long trail that will take you to the High Trestle Trail Bridge, but it is usually best to make the thirty-mile drive to Madrid. This allows you to reach the bridge much faster. The bridge itself is only a half mile long, but it is one hundred thirty feet in the air.

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17. Drink Coffee at Java Joe’s

Okay, you might think we are crazy here, because we want you to drink coffee while your kids sit there supposedly bored out of their minds! But there is a secret we haven’t mentioned yet! This coffeehouse has a secret clubhouse and play area that your kids can discover and then play in as you are drinking your coffee. And if you have older kids, we are sure there is something on the menu that they will drink too.

18. Have a Few Hands-On Experiments at the Science Center of Iowa

The Science Center of Iowa is on the western side of the Des Moines River and it has one hundred ten thousand square feet of space. There are many different interactive galleries your entire family will love. And with so many options, you can all do something you want to, as everyone else tackles their own experiments. There is also an IMAX Theater and Planetarium in this science center, so you will have a well-rounded lesson during your visit.

Science Center of Iowa - Best Things to Do with Kids in Des Moines, Iowa
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

19. Go Stargazing at Saylorville Spillway

Saylorville Spillway is a large open area that is perfect for stargazing on clear nights. You can load the kids in the car for the drive and then sit on a blanket under the nighttime sky.

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20. Visit Chocolate Storybook

One of the best things to do in West Des Moines is visit Chocolate Storybook. This chocolate store offers everything chocolate, including chocolate bacon. You will even find so many different flavors of cotton candy during your visit. Your kids will learn a lot about chocolate during their time there and will probably have a sugar high for weeks afterwards.

21. Run Around Pappajohn Sculpture Park

Pappjohn Sculpture Park is not as much fun as all the other parks in Des Moines, but there are still a few things that kids will love to do there. There are more than four acres to explore and you will discover sculptures by twenty-two different artists as you are walking around.

Pappajohn Sculpture Park - Best Things to Do with Kids in Des Moines, Iowa
Credits: Phil Roeder, Flickr CC BY 2.0

22. Explore Gray’s Lake Park

Kids can really get their energy out as you explore Gray’s Lake Park, because there are one hundred sixty-seven acres of land. This is an excellent place to ride a bike or walk the numerous trails.

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23. Have a Blast at the Iowa Children’s Museum

You will need to travel approximately two hours to reach this Des Moines kids’ adventure place, but it will be well worth your journey. You can begin in the train room, before continuing on to see the city grocery, city money, CityWorks Children’s Hospital, Pizzeria Pie, and the take flight wind tunnel areas. There are many other exhibits to see as well, so you will want to plan an entire day at this attraction.

24. Go Sledding at the Waveland Golf Course

Okay, so this is another one of the best things to do in Des Moines during the winter months. There are quite a few sledding hills in Des Moines, but the one at the Waveland Golf Course has been deemed, “the best sledding hill ever”, by the locals.

Waveland Golf Course - Best Things to Do with Kids in Des Moines, Iowa
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

25. Visit the Living History Farms

One of the unique things to do in Des Moines is visiting the Living History Farms. This is also one of the top things to do in Des Moines, because it is an interactive museum that allows you to explore history at working farms. You will begin at the 1700 Ioway Indian Farm before walking along the unpaved trail to the 1850 Pioneer Farm and the 1900 Horse Powered Farm. Before you leave, you must also wander through the 1876 Town of Walnut Hill. It is there where you will see the blacksmith and broom maker, general store, Church of the Land and New Hope Cemetery, schoolhouse, bank, doctor’s office, print shop, and so much more. This Des Moines experience will take an entire day, so you will need to plan accordingly if you have less time available.

These are the twenty-five best things to do with kids in Des Moines, Iowa. You can easily check off many of these things to do in Des Moines over a weekend, but a few of them you will need multiple days for. No worries though, because this is one destination your kids will love returning to.

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