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Celebrate the Fourth with Brianne's Favorite Attractions and Events

Fourth of July Things to Do in DSM USA

June 8, 2017

Independence Day weekend holds a special place in my heart because — cue the fireworks — it’s my anniversary weekend. Many of my close friends also chose to get hitched over the holiday, so we’ve often been out of town toasting newlyweds. But when we get the chance to enjoy the Fourth close to home, I have a few favorite ways to celebrate.

Yankee Doodle Pops

Spreading out a quilt on the lawn of the Iowa State Capitol for the Des Moines Symphony’s annual free Yankee Doodle Pops concert is hands-down my favorite local tradition. The stage is aglow and backlit with the Downtown Des Moines (DSM) skyline as the musicians strike up patriotic favorites and a thematic program that more than 100,000 people enjoy together. We put glow sticks on our kids, bring a picnic and make a special evening of the show, which starts at 8:30 p.m. on July 3.

We’ve enjoyed pre-concert bubbly and cake at our friends’ stationery store, Ephemera Design, in the Historic East Village beforehand, but there are plenty of great bars and restaurants that would make for a perfect dinner-and-drink spot. You just might want to stake out a spot earlier in the evening. The Iowa Cubs are in town for an evening game on July 3, and Principal Park is another fantastic vantage point to see the sunset and catch the fireworks.

Splash and Sweets

At the height of summer, the perfect day involves some family time, sunshine and maybe a little water. With two little kids, we love to pair a trip to the splash pad with an ice cream run. Sometimes it’s swinging and splashing around Ashby Park in Beaverdale followed by soft serve at Snookie’s Malt Shop. Or we head to the east for the rocket slide and splash pad at Union Park (where you can also catch a ride on the Heritage Carousel) and then Dairy Queen treats.

If we really want to get out on the water and live that lake life, we go up to Big Creek State Park where you can rent a pontoon (or a canoe, if that’s more your speed). The park has huge and small family-sized picnic pavilions and an incredible castle-like playground for the kiddos. And yes, you can get ice cream at the concessions area.

Living History Farms

What better way to celebrate Independence Day than by immersing yourself in our history? And baseball. Of course, baseball. Living History Farms marks the occasion with a Victorian-era street parade, complete with horse-drawn wagons festooned with bunting. Later in the afternoon, there’s also a historic baseball game (you’ll be rooting for the Bluestockings). In a strange way, this is a romantic place for my husband and me — our first dates were running together to train for the Living History Farms off-road race, which happens in November each year on the museum grounds.

Outdoor Adventures

So many of our favorite businesses close for the Fourth, but nature is always open! A long weekend calls for at least one bike ride and Greater Des Moines (DSM) has miles and miles of trails to choose from. But showy skies are what we’re after and the High Trestle Trail is a great place to pedal at dusk. There’s also something so American about a project that converts old railroad to a new use, thanks to the cooperative effort of many dedicated organizations.

Whether your long weekend involves fireworks, grilling out, hitting the (no coast) beach or pool, sweets or cocktails, history, symphony — or all of the above — I hope you get to enjoy time making memories with people you love.

From enjoyable outdoor recreation to exciting attractions and events, there is so much to do in Des Moines this Fourth of July! 

Brianne Sanchez

Brianne Sanchez lives with her two young children, dog and husband in the Drake neighborhood. Check out her website at bsinthemidwest.com.