I spent the best couple of days in Des Moines this past weekend and wanted to share what we did, since everyone who knew I was going to Iowa was some kind of combination of amused and intrigued. One of my friends from college was born and raised there and moved back a year after graduation, and myself and our friend from NYC flew into town for a girls weekend and exploring a new place with the help of a local. Not only was she a great hostess (we had our own room with twin beds and a box of chocolate from Stam on our pillows), but she also knows the places to go and how to show guests the highlights of her city. If you find yourself in Des Moines or are planning a trip, hopefully you can hit some of these spots!
What we did
We got in on the later side Thursday night and woke up early on Friday for a 7:15am yoga barre class at Power Life, followed by grabbing coffees and tea at Zanzibar’s. This is where I first discovered that people in Des Moines truly do seem to know everyone…my friend legit ran into someone she knew everywhere we went. It was fascinating considering we were still in a city and not a little town! After fueling up with some NYC bagels that survived the night perfectly, we headed to Living History Farms to get a fun look at Iowa’s agricultural history. It’s basically an interactive museum–think similar to Colonial Williamsburg, if you’re familiar–and was a good little educational session before heading into the rest of our weekend. It’s only open in the warmer months (we were there on the last day of the season) and is very family-friendly, too!
After Living History, we grabbed lunch before making a pit stop for cupcakes and walking around the East Village to check out Eden (one of the cutest boutiques with every wonderful niche beauty brand and product, it seems) and Velvet Coat. The timing worked out well to see our friend’s childhood home and visit with her mom, so we spent the rest of the afternoon there before showering + getting ready for dinner and drinks. If you’re doing Des Moines with a local, I’d highly recommend asking them to giving you a driving tour of the city…it’s very manageable size-wise so driving around is a great way to get a lay of the land and understanding of the neighborhoods! (P.S. On that front, don’t miss driving through the South of Grand neighborhood. The houses are beautiful! I wish I’d snapped photos.)
We got a later start on Saturday and checked out the market downtown, which is apparently the second largest farmers’ market in the country. You can’t miss the Vander Pleog Bakery stand–they have some of the best European pastries I’ve ever tasted. They’re known for their “Dutch Letters,” which are an almond croissant-like concoction that will melt in your mouth. I even stopped by at the end to pick one up for my flight home the next day! We picked up some of Maytag’s famous blue cheese to take home, and also stopped by Farm Kids Food for breakfast burritos + bowls–another market highlight if you’re in the mood for a meal! Seeing the farmer’s market was one of the coolest things we did and I was really impressed with the variety of businesses that set up shop. Don’t miss it if you’re there in season!
The rest of Saturday was spent socializing, grabbing beers at The Hall, and napping before dinner + my friend’s improv show! She’s part of the Chowdown group and they are so freaking funny. I love improv and it’s even cooler to have a friend be a star–it was the perfect way to end our last night :)
I had an early flight back to DCA on Sunday morning–there’s only about 1-2 direct flights a day from DCA to DSM, so keep that in mind as you plan your trip!
Where we ate
St. Kilda: We had a great lunch at St. Kilda on Friday–it’s an Australian-style bakery and cafe right off downtown. It was so good…we shared the mushroom toast, and I had huevos rancheros and split a green smoothie. It’s a great place to eat a whole, healthy (if you want!) meal, and linger with friends. The vibe is really modern and cool, too.
Molly’s Cupcakes: A cute midwestern cupcake shop–we went on Friday ended up coming back on Saturday! They have the most inventive flavors and I’d highly recommend pairing your cupcake with some of their homemade ice cream. They have a sprinkles bar, too. I had the s’mores cupcake and we shared a couple scoops of vanilla.
Republic on Grand: A super cool hotel rooftop restaurant and bar with great views of the city! We went here on Friday night and ended up having dinner with our drinks. Of course, prices felt so much more reasonable than NYC or DC and everything we ordered was great. I loved how the cocktails were named after Des Moines neighborhoods–it was a fun test to remember where we’d been that day!
The Exchange, Shorty’s, and Carl’s: Three bars we popped into–The Exchange follows a stock market-like model and is apparently typically full of young 20-somethings (we went on the early side just to check it out, and it wasn’t packed), Shorty’s is a really fun, low key dive bar that wasn’t sloppy while we were there (on the earlier side, too), and Carl’s is a local spot in Sherman Hill as was super low key and casual–the best place to end the night. Depending on where you’re visiting from, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the low prices and super friendly bartenders + servers :)
Republic on Grand // Proof
The Hall: This was the beer hall from Saturday–food trucks set up outside and you order from any of them using iPads (located indoors, so perfect for when temperatures drop!). It’s a lively scene with people of all ages, large TVs playing sports, and a very extensive beer list.
Proof: This was our “fancy” dinner out and it did not disappoint! It’s a chic, minimalist restaurant downtown that’s perfect for both date night and small groups. We ordered a bottle of rosé and let the server customize our menu, which was a great move. We started with this incredible meat + cheese board, and followed that up with a watermelon and greens salad, crispy artichokes, brussels sprouts, scallops, and two types of dessert–an olive oil and pepper shortbread ice cream sandwich of sorts and a pound cake-like slice with carrot sorbet. The food is inventive without being over the top and the service was wonderful!