Des Moines is one of the best-kept secrets in the Midwest... but don't take our word for it! In the past year alone, Des Moines was named the #1 best city for young professionals by Forbes, the #1 City with an Up-and-Coming Downtown by Fortune, and the #1 Best Up-and-Coming City for Foodies by Women's Health. (There's more... a LOT more! Read the whole list here.)
With that in mind, there are a few truly special things about Des Moines which you will NOT want to miss during Aerial Expo weekend! Here are a few of our favorite spots, all of which are close enough for a quick jaunt from the Science Center during a break in your schedule.
10. Restaurant Week
Remember how we mentioned that Des Moines was named the Best Up-and-Coming City for Foodies? Well, this is your chance to check out our thriving restaurant scene! Through Sunday, three-course dinners are $25 at participating restaurants - check out the list and menus here. Restaurant week participants near the Science Center include Americana, Centro, Django, Dos Rios Cantina & Tequila Lounge, Malo, Proof, RōCA, and more!
9. The East Village
Located steps away from our gold-domed state capitol, the East Village is a vibrant shopping, restaurant, and nightlife district. You'll want to visit Eden, a light-filled boutique selling upscale bath, baby, and home products, and make sure to plan a stop at Gong Fu Tea. Just above Grand Avenue you'll find a rooftop bar with great cocktails and a lovely downtown view.
The East Village is across the river from downtown, but it's worth visiting for the historic buildings, tree-lined streets, and local charm. Too far to walk? Check a bike out from the B-Cycle station on Court Ave and ride across the bridge!
8. The Principal Riverwalk
Clocking in at just under two miles, this walk and bike path spans both sides of the Des Moines River. A stroll along the Riverwalk leads you past public art, over the river on the Women of Achievement bridge (check out the gorgeous views!), through the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens, and back down to the Simon Estes Ampitheater. If you've seen our Aerial Expo promotional video, you'll recognize a lot of these landmarks - this is a great spot for staging your most creative Instagram posts!
7. The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park
Speaking of creative Instagram posts... you'll definitely want to check out this gem located in the Western Gateway Park (just a few blocks northwest of the Des Moines Social Club). This 4.4 acre park features sculptures by 22 of the world’s most celebrated artists in a pedestrian-friendly setting. It's a lovely place to take a picnic, cartwheel down a hill, or snap photos - all completely free.
No trip is complete without a souvenir, and we have a feeling you're going to want one of Raygun's tongue-in-cheek t-shirts. Featuring witty slogans with a healthy dose of snark, Raygun's t-shirts simultaneously skewer and celebrate Iowa. Their new East Village location features an attached coffee shop, ice cream sandwiches, and apparel for men, women, and children.
5. This trio of local coffee shops makes it easy to get your morning buzz.
Capes Kafé is located in the Des Moines Social Club - if you're taking pole or lyra workshops, you truly can't miss it! Capes is a comic book shop-slash-coffee extravaganza with a sprawling, whimsical drink menu that belies how truly good their coffee is. They make an excellent cold brew - if you're feeling adventurous, try the Metropolis.
Just a couple of blocks north of the Science Center on 4th, you'll find Des Moines institution Java Joe's - with local music, board games, and drinks in the evening, they've been downtown's coffee shop of choice for years.
If you make it over to the East Village, Mars Cafe (inside Raygun) calls itself "Des Moines's first third-wave coffee bar," and they are serious about what they do. Check out Raygun and Thelma's Treats while you're there!
4. Zombie Burger
If there's one Des Moines restaurant you've heard of... we're guessing it's got to be Zombie Burger. This popular burger joint features spiked milkshakes, a full bar, tons of cleverly named burgers riffing on the zombie theme, and a buzzy atmosphere. It's extremely popular, but worth the wait. Open until 2am for all you night owls!
3. El Bait Shop / High Life Lounge / Hessen Haus
Looking for a bar within a block of the Science Center? We've got not one, but THREE!
For craft beer fanatics, your first stop has to be El Bait Shop. With 180 beers on tap (yes, you read that right!), Bait Shop boasts the world's largest selection of American Craft Beers. It's less than a block from the Science Center, and serves food too!
Speaking of food, you're going to want to check out the High LIfe Lounge (in the same building as Bait Shop). This retro bar prides itself on old school classics like broasted chicken, pizza burgers, and Miller High Life. Unlike Bait Shop, you won't find any beer created after 1979 here!
Walk north of the Science Center and you'll find Hessen Haus. This counterpart to Bait Shop claims to have the largest selection of German beers on tap anywhere in the US. Hessen Haus is a great place to share a boot of beer with friends, try authentic (and not-so-authentic) German food, or just wrap up a long day of classes and workshops.
2. The Iowa State Fair
This one deserves an honorable mention - no, it's not within walking distance, but it's the biggest event in Iowa each year and it just happens to be wrapping up during Aerial Expo! Go for the fried foods on a stick, stay to rub elbows with every presidential candidate under the sun. Farm animals, people watching, concerts, rides, and a lot more!
1. Des Moines Farmer's Market
If you attended last year's Aerial Expo, you may remember one that one of the world's top-ranked farmer's markets sets up shop right outside our doors! This is really a can't-miss event for new visitors! On Saturday from 7am-noon, you can wander blocks and blocks of downtown Des Moines lined with fresh produce, cheeses and meats, baked goods, artwork, flowers, and all kinds of vendors. Be aware that parking does get a little tricky, so allow extra time if you plan to check this out before or after classes.
We hope you're excited for your visit to Aerial Expo - we can't wait to introduce you to our home city!
Want to see even more? Check out this time lapse video for some great views and a fun perspective on Des Moines.