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5 Free Things to Do in Downtown Des Moines — May Edition

Five Free Things to Do

The best time of the year is finally here in Downtown Des Moines (DSM)! As spring transitions to summer, local favorites ranging from cultural festivals to farmers’ markets return for the season. Be sure to take advantage of these five fun and FREE Downtown DSM festivals, events and things to do throughout the month of May.

Free Downtown DSM Events in May

Des Moines’ Downtown Farmers’ Market

Saturdays, 7 a.m. – Noon from May – October
It’s back! The much-awaited Downtown Farmers’ Market presented by UnityPoint Health – Des Moines is finally open for the season, beginning this month. Shop local farmers and producers, artists, makers and other vendors scattered throughout the Historic Court District in Downtown DSM as you enjoy live music and entertainment in an unforgettable atmosphere. Get your fill of fresh produce, meat, cheese, eggs, baked goods, fresh flowers and plants, jewelry, art, décor and lots more! While you wander, enjoy a hot coffee and eat breakfast, lunch or something sweet. You’re in for a treat at this festive, can’t-miss market that draws thousands of locals and visitors to Downtown DSM each week.


Friday, May 26 – Saturday, May 27, 2023, 11 a.m.  10 p.m.
The Western Gateway neighborhood in Downtown DSM will transform into a vibrant celebration of Asian culture and heritage over two days this month. Discover more than a dozen Asian villages full of authentic food, cultural exhibits, history, performance arts, sports, martial arts, family-friendly activities and lots more! This free festival in Downtown DSM is sure to delight all five of your senses and is one festival you won’t want to pass up!

More Free Things to Do in Downtown DSM

Gray's Lake

As May rolls around, more outdoor recreation is available for the season at Gray’s Lake! Beginning Monday, May 1, you’ll find snacks, drinks and watercraft rentals on evenings and weekends with further expanded hours starting Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Watercraft available to rent includes canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, pedal boats, row boats and sailboats — with life vests provided complimentary with each rental. After an excursion on the lake, snag a cold drink, ice cream or snack to fuel up before hitting the beach, wandering the 2.1-mile looped trail around the lake — even enjoying a lakeside picnic or a nap in your hammock.

Better Homes & Gardens Test Garden

Fridays, Noon – 2 p.m. from May – September
Another favorite hidden gem in Downtown DSM opens for the season this month with self-guided tours every Friday from Noon to 2 p.m., May through September. Located adjacent to Dotdash Meredith on the corner of Grand Avenue and 15th Street, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped right into the pages of a world-class magazine while exploring the various areas of the meticulously cultivated space including a courtyard, seasonal perennials, shade garden, vegetables and herbs

Downtown DSM Parks & Trails

‘Tis the season to get out and explore the great outdoors around Downtown DSM! The Greater Des Moines (DSM) region boasts 800+ miles of recreational trails ideal for walking, running, biking, skateboarding, rollerblading (and more!) — many converging in Downtown DSM as the central trails hub for the area. From the mature tree canopy at MacRae Park to the urban Principal Riverwalk, you’ll find the perfect combination of nature getaway along with vibrant city amenities (no bike ride is complete without a bite to eat and a cold beer on a local patio!).

Looking for even more budget-friendly adventures? Check out these ideas from February, March and April for even more totally free things to do in Downtown DSM!

Plan your visit to Downtown Des Moines (DSM) with these tips for parking and navigation and follow @downtownDSMUSA on Instagram for more epic, things-you-just-can’t-miss happening around Downtown.

Greater Des Moines Partnership

DSM USA is the regional identifier for Greater Des Moines (DSM). DSM USA is a bold statement to the world: This is a welcoming, diverse and vibrant community with affordable and accessible amenities for residents and businesses. This regional identifier is the result of significant quantitative and qualitative research. The Partnership will champion the DSM USA message, and encourages its Investors, its more than 6,500 Regional Business Members and DSM USA Ambassadors to help share the region's story with One Voice.