20 Things You Need to Know Before Moving to Des Moines

When most people think of Des Moines, they don’t immediately conjure images of a bustling downtown splitting at the seams with hip eateries, a wicked craft brew scene, or art on every corner.

But the city has it all and then some. If you’re planning a move to Des Moines, take a look at these 20 Things You Need To Know.

1. First of all, the S’s are silent.

Although everyone has a great aunt in Nebraska who still pronounces it DEZ MOYNEZ, lose the hard S and tell people “I’m moving to Duh Moin.”

2. The Hawks vs. Clones battle is serious business.

Even if you’re not a football fan, you’ll learn that the rivalry between the Cyclones (Iowa State University) and the Hawkeyes (University of Iowa) is a big deal. The teams face off once a year for the coveted Cy-Hawk Trophy, but everyone knows it’s about Facebook bragging rights.

3. It’s cyclist heaven.

RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) is the largest, longest, and oldest bicycle tour event in the world. It’s non-competitive, and since most riders consume as much food and adult beverages as they can along the way, that’s a probably a good thing. The city also has over 550 miles of existing trails, whether you’re biking, running, or walking.

4. The “locals” don’t live in Des Moines.

Wait, huh? It’s true: Many of the folks who “live” and work in Des Moines actually make their morning commute from the ‘burbs, most of which have seen exponential growth within the last 15 years.

5. The State Capitol Dome is the cityscape’s crown jewel.

The glittering 23-carat gold-domed construction that sits on the Des Moines River primarily houses Iowa’s legislative branch of government. The building also functions as a state and international cultural facility, a living museum, and is home to several monuments, statues, and memorials.

6. Des Moines isn’t huge, but the food is.

Although Des Moines is famous for it’s “everything-on-a-stick” Iowa State Fair binges, the city’s palate has become fairly sophisticated in recent years. Grab some miso-lacquered corn from Harbinger, chicken and waffles from Bubba, or an adult grilled cheese that’ll make you disown your mama at The Cheese Bar. And you’re not a real Iowan until you’ve sunken your teeth into a gigantic pork tenderloin sandwich or a messy Maid-Rite.

7. We drink other cities under the table.

Although you can certainly order a high-end cocktail in these parts, Des Moines has a pretty sweet dive bar scene. Locals can be spotted quaffing one of 262 beers on tap at El Bait Shop, gobbling comfort food alongside a cold domestic at High Life Lounge, or playing Passing of the Boot at Hessen Haus. And don’t forget the craft brew scene – it’s hoppin’!

8. Des Moines is becoming a tech powerhouse.

Iowa is recognized as part of the “Silicon Prairie,” and Des Moines was named as a 14 Best Startup Cities in America by Popular Mechanics.

9. …And a publishing mecca.

The highly respected Des Moines Register offers readers top-notch (ahem, Pulitzer Prize-winning) journalism. Want to break into publishing? Start with Meredith Corporation, which publishes several top magazines (Better Homes & Gardens, People, and Sports Illustrated, just to name a few).

10. Young locals love getting Juice’d.

The dmJuice, a digital newsmagazine that focuses on a younger demographic, offers Des Moines millennials insight into the city’s networking and nightlife.

11. Bulldogs are king.

Those loveable, jowly, drooling pups are Drake University’s mascot. They’re so beloved, the school sponsors an annual Beautiful Bulldog Contest during its annual Drake Relays, a competitive track and field event that began in 1910.

12. The Iowa State Fair is blue ribbon-worthy.

It’s your one-stop shop for butter sculptures, live entertainment, and hundreds of gut-busting food choices, including deep-fried Snickers bars and turkey legs the size of your brother’s forearm.

13. But if manure isn’t your scene, 80/35 might be.

Coachella’s got nothing on 80/35, Des Moines’s very own summer music festival. Named for its location between two major interstates, 80/35 attracts seriously cool musicians, like the Wu-Tang Clan, Spoon, and Wilco.

14. Des Moines takes its amusement parks seriously.

Brave the loop-tastic green Monster roller coaster at Adventureland Park in the summer or sled the hills of Sleepy Hollow Sports Park in the winter. And if you’re the gambling type, bet on the horses at Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino (right next door to Adventureland).

15. The Downtown Des Moines Farmers’ Market is unsurpassed.

Starting the first Saturday in May, residents flock to the Historic Court District to stock up on homegrown goods, local artistry, and live entertainment.

16. Museums are interactive.

Between the Pappajohn Sculpture Park (an extension of the Des Moines Art Center), the Science Center of Iowa and Blank IMAX Dome Theater, and Living History Farms, art and history are tactile experiences, not roped-off curios.

17. Des Moines has star power.

Cloris Leachman, Jason Momoa, Brandon Routh, and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins were either born or raised in the Des Moines area. Ronald Reagan was a WHO-radio sports announcer in the 1930s, and even Tiny Tim was local from 1992 to 1996.

18. You can be in other cool cities by lunchtime.

Craving BBQ and blues? Kansas City is just shy of a three-hour drive. The Mall of America in Minneapolis is also just over three hours away, and if you’re a Cornhusker fan, Omaha is only a two-hour car trip.

19. Raygun rules.

The self-proclaimed “Greatest Store in the Universe” opened its Des Moines flagship location in 2005 and offers tons of merchandise emblazoned with their Midwestern trademark snark. But no matter where you’re from, you’re bound to find something that makes you laugh.

20. We’re first in line to choose the POTUS.

The rest of the country likes to joke that Iowa is simply a “flyover” state, but it’s actually instrumental in choosing the next American president. Every four years, the Iowa Caucuses kick off election season. So if you live in Des Moines, don’t be surprised if you see a presidential candidate kissing babies at the State Fair.

Sarah Pfennigs