Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Des Moines? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Des Moines?”
At one of Des Moines most-loved restaurants, you’ll find a burger called the “Dead Moines.” It isn’t just a grisly play on words — 30 years ago, it was a city nickname. Downtown emptied at 5 p.m. as workers fled back to the ’burbs. Cornfields traded space for insurance buildings; empty skywalks and city streets created a midday ghost-town air; and gas stations and pawn shops outnumbered even restaurants and bars.
That’s all in the past. In the 1990s, the city reinvented itself — purposefully, mindfully — and succeeded. Des Moines is now one of the fastest-growing mid-sized cities in the nation, with millennials, entrepreneurs and families flocking here for the rare combination of affordable housing, James Beard-nodded restaurants and brewpubs, a thriving arts scene, accessible outdoor pursuits and booming tech and creative sectors. Nothing is more certain than the odds of the city surprising you — especially if you start with this guide. (Should you find yourself here, don’t mispronounce it: The “s”es are silent.)