10 Fun and (sometimes) Free things to do in Des Moines, Iowa

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Hi everyone. Sorry about the hiatus, but I needed to have a couple days rest. But I’m back, baby and ready to do some exploring. Today, I thought we would discuss ten fun things to do in Des Moines, Iowa. I always try to make at least half the stuff on my lists free. So five out of the ten places listed here you can visit at no cost. So here we go:

                     Number 10 The Iowa Gold Star and Military Museum


The Iowa Gold Star and Military Museum honor the brave men and woman of the United States Armed Forces. There is a particular emphasis on the military history of Iowa. Uniforms, weaponry and some battle scenes from the 1800’s to today are depicted. The museum is on an army base so adults will need an ID to visit. Admission is free.

                      Number 9 Terrace Hill (The Iowa Governor’s Mansion)


The mansion sits on a hill overlooking downtown Des Moines. The estate has over 18,000 square feet including a 90ft tower. There aren’t many governor’s mansions in the United States that are open to the public or at least without attending some sort of official function, but Terrace Hill is open to the public. Most days, the Carriage House, first and the second floors are accessible to tours. The third floor is the Governor and his families private apartment and is off limits though. Admission is just Five Dollars and the visit last about an hour.


                Number 8 The Pappajohn Sculpture Park and Des Moines Art                                                                                  Center and Gallery.

Sorry, no Pizza Sculptures here. That’s a different Pappa John. This is the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. The park includes 29 intriguing, and thought-provoking works from 22 artists. The Sculptures are located on a four-acre park just south of downtown Des Moines.  The Sculpture Park is part of the Des Moines Art Center/ Admission to both are free.


I really liked this one. The Park is so lovely, I am thinking about doing a post just about the park in the future which will include more pictures.


The Des Moines Art Center features both Classic and Contemporary Art.


            Number 7 The Des Moines Botanical Gardens


The park includes a geodesic dome that provides year-long greenery as well as nine outdoor gardens. The outdoor gardens include a water garden, roses, and wildflower fields. The grounds are lush and a great way to spend an afternoon. Admission is Ten Dollars


Inside the dome.

               Number Six The Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden


If you have ever seen a lovely garden scene featured in Better Homes and Gardens, the picture was most likely shot in Des Moines. The test gardens are open to the public every Friday 10am to Noon. Admission is free.

                   Number Five Salisbury House

Built by cosmetic magnate Carl Weeks between the years of 1923-1928, Salisbury House was designed after “The Kings House’ in Salisbury, England. The Weeks were avid art collectors and the home’s luxuriant interiors are not to be missed. Admission is 8 Dollars.
The foyer of the Salisbury House. The House and Grounds will be featured in a future post.

                             Number 4 The John Wayne Birthplace and Museum

Before he became John Wayne he was Marion Morrison of Winterset, Iowa. Winterset, Iowa is located just 35 miles southwest of Des Moines.  The Museum features ‘The Duke’s” movie memorabilia, photos and personal items.
John Wayne’s humble birthplace is a far cry from where his life’s journey would take him.


The city park in Winterset had this really cool mini castle.

                                           Number 3 The Bridges of Madison County

The covered bridges of Madison County Iowa have been featured in the best selling novel by  Robert James Waller as well as a popular feature film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep.  Six covered bridges still remain all of which were built in the mid to late 1800’s. The Chamber of Commerce in Winterset have maps to the bridges locations. Free.

                                               Number Two The Iowa State Capitol

All fifty states have capitol buildings. almost none can compare to the Iowa State Capitol. With its gold primary dome and four copper lesser domes, and marble and oak interior, the building is definitely worth the time to visit.
The Iowa Statehouse is located on a hill with a commanding view of all the city. If you haven’t done so already, please visit the post I did a couple weeks ago about the building. There are a lot more pictures and the backstory to the magnificent interior design.
The interior of the Capitol’s law library,  The Capitol is free to visit, but sadly only library personnel gets to use the cool staircases.

                                              Number 1 The Living History Farms

The Living History Farms is a 500 Acre interactive Park that features three actual working Farms from the 1700’s to 1900. They include an Ioway Indian Village, an 1850 pioneer Pioneer farm and a 1900 horse powered Farm as well as an 1875 town of Walnut Hill. All the farms and the town have people in period dress and the farmland is actually worked and harvested.
All the selections on this list save this one, can easily be visited in an hour or two. You can easily spend a good part of the entire day here and still not feel like you have seen everything.
Everything is authentic to the last detail. The reenactors farm the land and make do without running water A/C or electricity.
The farm’s total immersion in its respective time frame really draws you into another time.
The Village features craftsmen including a blacksmith, broom maker,  and farm equipment artisan.  many of these wares actually are used on the farms.
There aren’t any vacant, display only buildings here. The village has all working stores, a bank, a church and residents all in period dress and maintaining characters.
Lots of Livestock including hogs, horses, cattle, and sheep.

The farms are open May through October. The most expensive option on the list but given all, there is to see and experience the admission is a good value.

Des Moines, Iowa is located about halfway between Kansas City and Minneapolis and about four hours west of Chicago. The city is located on both I35 and I80 so it is accessible from just about anywhere. 











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