Des Moines, Iowa is a great place to visit. On a recent trip we enjoyed perfect weather which allowed us to enjoy several parks as well as street boutique shopping. Anyone thinking of vacationing in the central part of the United States should consider this charming city for their destination.
The capitol city of Iowa has a lot to offer. History buffs will enjoy touring both the capitol building and the surrounding grounds. As you can see from the pictures in the slide show, the building is currently undergoing a face-lift. The restoration project is in full swing. But from an aircraft above as well as when driving, one just notices the shining gold dome.
My favorite park is on the grounds of the capitol. The eclectic nature of the various monuments appealed to me. At first glance I thought the memorials were limited to the fallen Iowans of the various wars. There is even a tribute to those soldiers buried in Iowa who fought in the Revolutionary War. This memorial showcases the original colonies. Thus a great visual teaching tool for young visitors to the area.
But, the tributes are far-reaching. One of the most attention attracting monuments from a distance is Shattering Silence. This tribute to a landmark slavery case involving Ralph Montgomery is appropriately located closer to the Iowa Court of Appeals. For more information on the historic decision, click here.
Other key memorials include a gift from Japan and multiple trees planted. The Iowa government has produced a map of the grounds. I wish I had found this map prior to my visit. Click here for the map. I recommend printing the PDF version found on the link.
Our downtown Des Moines stops included the East Village Shopping area, Papajohn Sculpture Park, and the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden. Each offer metered parking. But only the Test Garden offered much shade. There are plenty of places to walk along the river as well.
I love old-fashioned shopping along city streets. More of the businesses are Mom and Pop stores. Furthermore, clothing boutiques allow you to express yourself. Unlike the chains, service tends to be a bit more personalized too.
East Village has much to offer. Boutiques like Aimee and Matilda Muse were fun to pop into. Clothing from casual to dressy filled the racks. Alongside the clothing stores were two great places for those who like to cook.
First was Kitchen Collage. This shop had everything you could imagine needing in a kitchen. Knives, cutting boards, dish towels, place mats and hundreds of gadgets. I bought a tool to turn my zucchini into noodles. Kitchen Collage would be an ideal place to shop for wedding gifts.
At the other end of the block is Allspice. This locally owned store is a must visit for cooks. In addition to a wide array of spices, the store offers olive oil and vinegar blends. The service here, like the other stops in East Village, was top-notch. I have already used the pickling spices I purchased. To visit Allspice online, click here.
Papajohn Sculpture Park
The Papajohn Sculpture Park commands attention. The large pieces have plenty of room. But they still have a larger than life appearance. My favorite is the spider. However, the attention stealer is titled Nomade. The art piece is 12,000 pounds of stainless steel painted white. The artist, Jaume Plensa hails from Spain. You can view more of his work by clicking here.
Many families rambled across the park on the day we visited the area. This is a great place to let kids stretch their legs while absorbing this contemporary style of art. However, proper respect of the artwork is essential. The sculpture park is open from sunrise until midnight. The operating hours for the adjacent museum can be found by clicking here.
Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden
Just across the street from the Papajohn Sculpture Park is the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden. We were fortunate to visit Des Moines on a Friday. Because the test garden is only open on Fridays from noon until 2 during the warmer months of the year.
The test garden had a small crowd waiting at the gate for the guides to arrive. This was a key destination for many visitors. A series of steps leads down into the garden. Reservations were not required. However, groups of ten or more can arrange for guided tours. Our group was half that size. So no guided tour. But I found the master gardeners friendly and informative.
A ring of crabapples surround a fountain courtyard in the center of the garden. The shady spot offered tables for those working nearby to bring their sack lunch. Visitors needing a break could sit at the tables and soak in the view. The trees were planted 20 years ago. In the ensuing years a canopy has formed creating the shady oasis in the center. The guide I talked with indicated sun-loving plants were set out underneath the trees in the early years. As the trees matured, shade loving plants took the position at the base of the crabapples. Now there is deep shade. The trees and the fountain more than suffice to anchor the courtyard.
A pathway winds around the edge of the test garden. They types of plantings varied with the amount of sun. One corner had a vegetable and herb garden. The bell peppers were huge!
Readers of the magazine easily recognize various features in the garden. The planters and benches are picturesque. The groupings of plants were inspiring. But what I found most helpful were the identification labels. These labels named both the annuals and the permanent flowers and trees. If I lived and worked in downtown Des Moines, the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden would be my lunch spot every Friday during the summer.
Following the request of the magazine, there are no photos of the test garden in my slide show. Visitors are allowed to take pictures for their own use. But not for any commercial use. Therefore, I am providing this link to the test garden website.
This is just a taste of what Des Moines has to offer. The city deserves a repeat visit and a longer stay to further explore its treasures. Consider this great place for your next vacation destination.