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This List of Family-Friendly Downtown Des Moines Ideas is a Must Read

DSM Family-Friendly Adventure

Summertime is the perfect time to make memories with your family, and you don’t have to go far to have a warm-weather adventure. Check out these summer fun and family-friendly things to do in Downtown Des Moines (DSM), and get ready to make some epic memories.

Summer Family-Friendly Things to Do in Downtown Des Moines

For Kids Under 5 Years Old

  • Playgrounds – Downtown Des Moines offers several playgrounds and play spaces for littles, including the natural playscape at Water Works Park and swings at Rotary Park. Additionally, the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a great space to run off some energy.
  • Water Play, Spraygrounds + Splashplads – Downtown Des Moines is also a great spot to keep cool, with water play offerings such as the zero-depth water fountain at Cowles Commons and the Runnel Water Feature in the Western Gateway area. Gray’s Lake is another good spot for water play, including a sandy beach and kid-friendly pedal boat rentals onsite.
  • Central Library – The Library offers tons or programming for littles beyond storytime, including craft activities, song and movement, wiggles and giggles and more.

For Kids Under 12 Years Old

  • Iowa Cubs – Take them out to the ball game! Kids 12 and under will love the sights and sounds of the ballpark. Grab a hot dog, some popcorn and a photo with Cubbie Bear.
  • Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden – Wander the indoor and outdoor gardens. Peek at the artful sculptures intermixed with the lovely plants and flowers. Stay for lunch at Trellis Café, which offers a budget-friendly kids’ menu with fresh, locally sourced summery eats. And don’t forget to stop by the gift shop, too.
  • Mainframe Studios – There are so many hands-on activities to do here! Mainframe offers kids art classes such as watercolor, storytelling and other art-centric workshops for children based on age and skill level.
  • Art Terrarium – For the budding botanist, sign up for a kid-friendly workshop at Art Terrarium.

For Families with Teens

  • Bcycle – Bike around Downtown Des Moines to visit art, attractions, shops, restaurants, the riverfront and more! There are 17 checkout stations around Downtown, and a one-hour bike rental is just $15.
  • Escape Chambers – Spend 60 minutes locked inside a room working together to solve the puzzle to escape. Downtown Des Moines’ Escape Chambers offers multiple themes to choose from, including several family-friendly options.
  • Lumber Axe DSM – Grab your crew and practice your hand at axe throwing. This Downtown Des Moines attraction has special days and hours for ages 12 and up. Check their website for specific details on supervision and waiver requirements.
  • Climb Iowa – Located in the Historic East Village, Climb Iowa is a fun spot to try bouldering. The gym includes 3,000 square feet or rock climbing and more than 80 problems to tackle.

For Families with Mixed Ages of Kids

  • Science Center of Iowa – SCI is a must-visit for families with kids in Downtown Des Moines. The facility includes a wide-range of hands-on activities for anyone — whether young or young-at-heart. The littlest kiddos will enjoy the Small Discoveries exhibit, and an older crowd will marvel at the Planetarium. The whole family will love spending time in the When Things Get Moving area which includes paper rocket launch races, a domino obstacle course, ball run and other fun activities.
  • Explore Art – Visit the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park and bring a copy of the Sculpture Park Exploration Guide with you to make it an interactive adventure. Follow the green dots along the sidewalks Downtown, named Art Route DSM, which lead to various free public art around the city. And check out this list of sculptures and mural art throughout Downtown Des Moines as well!
  • Lauridsen Skatepark – Pack your skateboards or scooters and check out the largest skatepark in the U.S.! And if you’re not yet ready to jump on a board, watching the action from the sidelines as a spectator is (almost) as thrilling.
  • Wellmark YMCA – Drop in for a visit at the Downtown Des Moines YMCA location, with its Olympic-sized swimming pool, racquetball courts, basketball courts, rock climbing, fitness classes and lots more to offer. A family can purchase a visitor pass for the day for just $30.
  • Take in a Show – Check out the schedules at Des Moines Performing Arts and Hoyt Sherman Place and get tickets for a show the whole family can enjoy.

For Multi-Generation Families

  • State Historical Museum of Iowa – The many exhibits at this Downtown Des Moines museum provide variation for parents, grandparents and children to explore and enjoy. The Museum is free, with free parking available nearby as well!
  • Tour a Garden – Stroll the beautiful grounds of the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates Gardens or spend a few hours at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. Additionally, the Better Homes and Gardens test garden on the Dotdash Meredith campus is open to the public on Fridays from Noon to 2 p.m. through September 30.
  • Des Moines’ Downtown Farmers’ Market – Every Saturday morning, May through October, the Historic Court District bustles with nearly 300 entrepreneurs selling farm fresh meat, cheese and eggs, local produce, flowers and plants, baked goods, handcrafted art and much more. This staple Des Moines event occurs each week over the summer, perfect for families visiting Downtown Des Moines both young and old to spend a morning together! 
  • West End Architectural Salvage – Parents, grandparents and kids will love browsing the four floors of this historic Downtown Des Moines building jam-packed with refurbished furniture, antique furniture and fresh/raw picks. Swing by the coffee shop for a jolt of java or a sweet treat!

To make it easy to plan your family time in Downtown Des Moines, check out these tips and resources to help you with getting around and parking. While you’re here, visit a Downtown Des Moines restaurant and check out the local shops, as well.

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.