Interesting things to do in Des Moines
May 17, 2007 9:32 PM   Subscribe

Going on an impromptu road trip to Des Moines. What do we do once we get there?

I found this old question, but any new information would be helpful. I'm looking for stuff like interesting thrift, antique, used book or record stores. Hell, I'll even go to garage sales if they might have something cool. Also, any museum and restaurant recommendations would be appreciated. (Please don't recommend Sonic because I am totally already eating there. I'm practically eating there in my mind right now.) Is there a farmer's market, and is it worth stopping at this time of year? Any produce would have to make it back in the car the next day.

Oh, and is there anywhere especially good to stop between Chicago and Des Moines?

posted by sugarfish to Travel & Transportation around Des Moines, IA (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, if it floats your boat, there's the covered bridges in Madison County. It's about half an hour southwest of Des Moines. Pretty countryside. If you saw the Clint Eastwood movie, the famous house is fortunately on the Des Moines side of Winterset by about 5 miles or so, but the famous covered bridge is a bit of a haul, about 15 miles west of there.

We used to enjoy eating at the Machine Shed restaurant in the late 1990s due to the comical farm atmosphere, but when I was there in the early 2000s it seemed to have lost its charm and turned into another Cracker Barrel type restaurant.

That's about all I know, as I haven't explored the city during my visits.
posted by rolypolyman at 9:46 PM on May 17, 2007

I spent most of my youth at Java's and the Vaudeville mews. You certainly check out Valley Junction for shopping and eats. The Atomic Garage is one of my all time favorite thrift shops. For a nice place to eat, The Olympic Flame is great and not to pricey, and not to bad of a walk from Java's or the Mews. And if your looking for some more tunes for the ride back, ZZZ Records is a great little independant record shop, good prices and good people running it.
posted by Kudos at 9:50 PM on May 17, 2007

posted by Kudos at 9:51 PM on May 17, 2007

"Oh, and is there anywhere especially good to stop between Chicago and Des Moines?"

Not really. Iowa City has more of the thrift, antique, book, record shops than Des Moines. You could spend a couple hours downtown without too much trouble.

My comment in the old thread stands. Between the river and the capitol (and to a certain extent, court avenue, running the other way from the river to the courthouse) is the more colorful/interesting part of Des Moines with various shops, bars, and restaurants. The farmers market started last weekend, though almost all the "fresh" produce will have been shipped in from points south. There are a lot of other vendors there that might make a trip worthwhile.

The Capitol itself is worth a visit. The legislators have gone home, but the building's pretty neat.
posted by jaysus chris at 10:03 PM on May 17, 2007

What Kudos said.

The farmer's market is pretty awesome. Good food, live music. Seven till noon tomorrow.

If you want art there's the art center.

If you're a kid at heart the Science Center is a great stop after the farmer's market.

If you drive around randomly in the residential neighborhoods or suburbs (I'd suggest Urbandale, Clive, West Des Moines) you'll see signs for garage sales (or you can pick up a newspaper and a map), but it's usually best to go early in the day.
posted by starman at 5:52 AM on May 18, 2007

There's the Anderson Erickson Dairy Cows, although maybe those are only fun to me because I have about five pictures taken with them at various intervals throughout my childhood. Still, if you like odd photo opportunities...
posted by MsMolly at 6:55 AM on May 18, 2007

Living History Farms was my fave when I was a little kid. ymmv.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:26 AM on May 18, 2007

Awesome, thanks everyone! We're heading out the door now. If I get a chance to check this thread while I'm gone I will, so if anyone wants to add anything feel free.
posted by sugarfish at 8:58 AM on May 18, 2007

Oh, and welcome!
posted by kc0dxh at 10:49 AM on May 18, 2007

I lived in Des Moines in the late 90s.

Nix the spaghetti works - personal opinion, perhaps they're better now, but when I was there it wasn't somewhere I would care to dine.

If it's still around - check out Chat Noir in the sherman hill district. Amazing coffee house. Also check Zanzibar's - on Ingersol.

Ditto to the 'if it's still there' - Cosi Cuchina on 86th (west des moines, perhaps urbandale) was THE BEST italian restaurant. For a steak house, the Greenbriar in Johnston was very good.

Salisbury House was particularly interesting for me, as I grew up 12 miles away from the original one (King's House in Salisbury, UK).

Finally, the whole skywalk thing is really cool if your home town doesn't have one. I loved walking it when I was there.
posted by devbrain at 11:29 AM on May 18, 2007

I can't believe I missed this one yesterday. I'm going to mostly second a lot of things -- if you can hit up the Farmer's Market downtown, do so. Browse the East Village (the area downhill from the Capitol building), including stops at Gong Fu Tea, ZZZ Records, and possibly a clothing boutique or two if that's you're thing. There's also a new apartment building (East Village Square) that an architect friend designed, and the ground floor has many small live/work lofts that people have put shops in.

The west side of the Des Moines River is going to give you a number of places to eat, drink, and a baseball game if that's your sort of thing (I'm not sure if the Iowa Cubs are in town this weekend, though). Check out the bars along 4th Street if you like bar hopping, even if it's just early evening for the food. The Science Center is right downtown, and the Art Center (which I'd recommend, and not just because I'm likely going there this weekend) is worth checking out. It's a short drive from downtown on Grand Avenue.

Actually, a good route would be to hit downtown for the morning, head west past the Art Center, and then take Grand Avenue out to Valley Junction in the old part of West Des Moines. It's going to be a good bet for antiques and has a couple streets worth of shops and restauraunts. Cafe Su would probably be my favorite to eat, near there.

A good bet for a new cafe-style place to catch lunch would be the Gateway Market and Cafe at MLK and Woodland -- it opened a couple weeks ago and has both groceries and a cafe area I've been told is fairly tasty. It'll also have locally-grown items.

Most of these are downtown-centric. I'll probably check in this thread sometime tomorrow if you need more tips for other sides of town, and my email address is in my profile. I'll be in town all weekend and wouldn't mind giving some tour-guide type advice.
posted by mikeh at 1:07 PM on May 18, 2007

Thanks everyone! I didn't get a chance to check the thread but we had a lovely time anyway. We stayed at the Savery, so the Farmer's Market was only a couple of blocks away. We spent a very nice couple of hours there on Saturday morning. Then we went to the Art Center, free and practically empty on Saturday afternoon. Crazy! Mikeh -- if you were there at the time then we probably walked right by each other :) How did you like the print exhibit? Also, we checked out Valley Junction and the area near the Capitol.

All in all we had a grand time, though I'm only a little ashamed to say that we partook mostly of the new and different fast food that Iowa has to offer. Des Moines was really easy to get around and I'm trying to get over being weirded out that the whole city seemed to shut down at like 8.30 on a weekend evening.
posted by sugarfish at 7:29 PM on May 22, 2007

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