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Your Family’s Must-Do Downtown DSM Summer Bucket List

Downtown DSM Summer Bucket List

With kids, summertime is all about making memories as a family. Whether you have littles or even teens, explore things to do in Downtown Des Moines (DSM) with this must-do bucket list for the perfect summer. 

  1. Rent Bcycles and go for a bike ride around Downtown Des Moines.
  2. Visit the Des Moines Public Library’s Central Library family programming, such as Wiggles and Giggles or Baby Rhyme Time.
  3. Take your skateboard or roller skates for a spin at Lauridsen Skatepark.
  4. Stroll the Historic Court District during a visit to the Downtown Farmers’ Market, taking place every Saturday morning from May through October.
    Downtown Farmers' Market 
  5. Meander the three stories of treasures to be found at West End Architectural Salvage. (Did we mention there is a coffee shop, too? Hint hint, moms and dads!)
  6. Enjoy a quiet day with a book at one of these reading spots in Downtown Des Moines.
  7. Shop ‘til you drop around downtown, including the local shops in the Historic East Village.
  8. Sample all the yummiest Asian foods at CelebrAsian, Friday, May 24 – Saturday, May 25, 2024.
  9. Take a walk along the Principal Riverwalk.
  10. Go to an Iowa Barnstormers indoor football game.
  11. Bring your loudest cheering voice and quirkiest sign or costume to root for athletes at a Downtown Des Moines sporting event, such as Dam to DSM on Saturday, June 1 or IRONMAN on Sunday, June 9, 2024.
  12. Scout out your favorite food trucks.
  13. Visit a free museum or art gallery such as the State Historical Museum of Iowa, Hoyt Sherman Place or the Polk County Heritage Gallery.
  14. Make PrideFest a must-do over Friday, June 7 through Sunday, June 9, 2024! Might we suggest the Pet Parade?
  15. Participate in the Iowa Juneteenth Neighbor’s Day Celebration on Saturday, June 15, 2024.
  16. Take the fam to a Downtown Des Moines restaurant with a fun patio space!
  17. Take in the art, local food vendors and free concerts during the Des Moines Arts Festival®, Friday, June 28 through Sunday, June 30, 2024.
  18. Visit the Science Center of Iowa (a perfect spot to spend an extra hot dayScience Center
  19. Give your kiddos the chance to dance to live music at an outdoor concert at Water Works Park. Note: You can find out about other outdoor concerts around the region, too!
  20. Wander through the indoor and outdoor areas of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.
  21. Bring a lawn chair or blanket to sit on and enjoy Yankee Doodle Pops, the Des Moines Symphony’s free outdoor concert held annually on Wednesday, July 3.
  22. Rock out to the best tunes at 80/35 Music Festival, including the free stages and local artists, too! Taking place Friday, July 12 and Saturday, July 13, 2024.
  23. Rent a canoe, pedal boat or other watercraft at Gray’s Lake (photo courtesy of Des Moines Parks & Recreation). Gray's Lake

    Photo Credit: Des Moines Parks & Recreation

  24. Snag a sweet treat at one of Downtown Des Moines’ bakeries and dessert destinations.
  25. Check out one of the free outdoor family events provided by Des Moines Performing Arts.
  26. Take a selfie on one of Downtown Des Moines’ iconic bridges.
  27. Get up early to watch the skies during the National Balloon Classic’s Downtown Des Moines hot air balloon flyover, date TBA in late July.
  28. Head indoors during the summer heat and play racquetball or give bouldering a try at the Wellmark YMCA.
    Rock Climbing
  29. Splash around in the zero-depth Lauridsen Fountain at Cowles Commons.
  30. Visit Up-Down during family hours, which takes place one Sunday each month!
  31. Get your family photo at one of these sweet places for a photoshoot in Downtown Des Moines.
  32. Do the free, self-guided audio tour at the John & Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park.
  33. Take in the coolest views of Downtown Des Moines. Pro Tip: We have a list for that!
  34. Dedicate your weekly pizza night to a local eatery. Here’s a list of Downtown Des Moines pizza places to choose from. (Centro’s margherita pizza pictured below.) Pizza 
  35. Take your family fishing! MacRae Park, Gray’s Lake, Water Works Park, the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers are all great options nearby.
  36. Go on a scavenger hunt for artful murals around Downtown.
  37. Plan a Downtown Des Moines staycation.
  38. Visit the Better Homes & Gardens test garden just outside of the DotDash Meredith headquarters.
  39. Watch fireworks on a Friday night after an Iowa Cubs baseball home game.

    Iowa Cubs Game

    Iowa State Fair Parade on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2024.

  40. Go for breakfast or brunch with the whole crew.
  41. See how many art sculptures you can find in Downtown Des Moines.
  42. Try something wacky to eat at Fong’s Pizza followed by a cereal-filled milkshake from Zombie Burger + Drink Lab.
  43. Have you seen the newly renovated MacRae Park? Go for a mini hike, splash in the sprayground and test your balance on the natural log playground. Be sure to stop by the scenic EMC Overlook and take a group pic. (Photo courtesy of Des Moines Parks & Recreation.) EMC Overlook

    Photo Credit: Des Moines Parks & Recreation

  44. Grab lunch to-go from Gateway Market or Fresko and make it a picnic.
  45. Don the family in matching tees from RAYGUN.
  46. Play a game of pickleball at the new EMC Park, located in the heart of Downtown!
  47. Try something you've never eaten before from the New Oriental Food Store, a long-time staple in the Historic East Village.
  48. Get your fill of live music on the patio at Truman’s KC Pizza Tavern, available every Friday night during the summer.
  49. Eat your way through the World Food & Music Festival from Friday, Aug. 23 through Sunday, Aug. 25, 2024. World Food & Music Festival
  50. Try the interactive ball wall and bouldering wall at the new Cohen Park.
  51. Have a pop-up family jam session at one of the free pianos sprinkled around Downtown thanks to CitySounds DSM. There are pianos at Cowles Commons, RAYGUN, Local Bites Food Court and the Wellmark YMCA this summer.
  52. Explore the Reichardt Family Natural Play Area at Water Works Park. (Bonus: There are bathrooms, shade trees and a drinking fountain nearby!)
  53. Play board games or yard games at a family-friendly Downtown Des Moines brewery. (Big Grove Brewery pictured below). Big Grove
  54. Check out the truly beautiful gardens outside of the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates.
  55. Test your climbing skills at Climb Iowa East Village (a great place to burn some energy on a rainy day!).
  56. Take a tour of the Iowa State Capitol (it’s free!). Be sure to walk through the Iowa State Law Library when you visit. 
  57. Head over to Mainframe Studios’ First Friday events to explore local artists and their incredible creations.
  58. Visit the Arie den Boer Arboretum, where 800 crabapple trees including 300 varieties make for a unique outdoor exploration opportunity.
  59. Navigate to the United Way of Central Iowa website to find volunteering opportunities near Downtown Des Moines, including venues like Central Library, Science Center of Iowa and even hospitals including UnityPoint Health, MercyOne and Broadlawns.

Find even more bucket list ideas in Downtown Des Moines with restaurants, attractions, outdoor recreation and more. And make your downtown visit easy to navigate with these affordable and convenient parking options.

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.