Believe it or not, Iowa isn’t all cornfields and John Deere tractors.
Its capital city – Des Moines (DSM) – is the fastest growing urban sprawl in the Midwest. Between its entrepreneurial startups, technological hubs, and rich local arts scene, DSM has earned its reputation as one of the hippest and most vibrant cities in the country. Whether you’re looking for a trendy, downtown vibe or easygoing family-friendly charm, DSM has a welcome mat for just about anyone.
1. The Historic East Village
— DMKoreanCopia (@DMKoreanCopia) September 28, 2013
Perfect neighborhood for: Millennials, singles, artists
The East Village, located between the Iowa State Capitol and the Des Moines River, easily wins the coolest kid in school award. Dubbed “the closest thing to Brooklyn that Iowa has ever seen,” the area boasts over 200 shops and services, including award-winning restaurants, loft-style apartment living, and independently-owned boutique shopping.
Buildings doomed for the wrecking ball just two decades ago have been turned into some of the city’s most cherished eateries, bars, and shops. It’s not only immensely walkable, the entire neighborhood is easily accessible via bike, transit system, or car, making the East Village one of the most convenient hubs the city has to offer.
Where to eat: HoQ, Tacopocalypse, Olympic Flame, Miyabi 9, Lucca
Where to drink: Wooly’s, Up-Down Arcade Bar, Blazing Saddle, Locust Tap
Need coffee or tea instead? Mars Coffee Bar, Scenic Route Bakery, Gong Fu Tea
Where to shop: Raygun (your one-stop-shop for everything snarky – don’t miss it!), AllSpice Culinarium, Domestica, Fugitive Apparel Co., Plain Talk Books and Coffee, and Jett and Monkey’s Dog Shoppe.
Things to do: Antiquing (Reclaimed, Raccoon Forks Trading Company, UglyTree, Porch Light Antiques, Hill Vintage and Knits), Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, State Historical Museum, State Capitol Building, Simon Estes Amphitheater.
2. Western Gateway
— Andy Hall (@AndyHallRadio) July 27, 2015
Perfect neighborhood for: Millennials, artists, singles, professionals, families
Not unlike the East Village, the Western Gateway neighborhood has seen serious revitalization and rebirth in the last couple of decades. With its eclectic blend of history, modern architecture, green space, corporate hubs, and percolating nightlife, it’s the heart of downtown DSM.
Western Gateway Park is instantly recognizable. The 13-acre green space is home to the famous John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, a 4.4 acre outdoor museum that offers 28 sculptures by some of the world’s most famous artists, including Willem De Kooning, Jaume Plensa, Deborah Butterfield, and Yoshitomo Nara.
If you’re business-minded, welcome home. Western Gateway is the stomping grounds for several major corporate campuses, including Meredith Corporation (a publishing behemoth), Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and Federal Home Loan Bank. And when the five-o’clock whistle blows, you’ll see business types shaking off their cubicle shackles in search of cocktails and sustenance at one of many local establishments nearby.
Where to eat: Django, Americana, Malo, Bubba, Magnolia Wine Kitchen
Where to drink: Des Moines Social Club, Proof, Tipsy Crow, El Bait Shop
Where to shop: West End Architectural Salvage
Things to do: DSM Art Festival, 80/35 Music Festival, World and Food Musical Festival
3. Historic Court District
— Downtown Farmers’ Market – DSM (@DTFarmersMarket) May 5, 2018
Perfect neighborhood for: Millennials, singles, young professionals
The Historic Court District is downtown DSM’s go-to hub for all things entertainment. Some of the area’s old-timers will remember when Court Avenue was where to find a “Hot Naked” (and you still can!), but today it’s also home to family-friendly activities, art, and culture.
Although you won’t find a lot of houses, young professionals and families alike live in residential lofts and apartments perched throughout the lively neighborhood. All of the district’s residents relish being close to the DSM Civic Center (home to Broadway shows and the DSM Symphony), Principal Park (go Iowa Cubs!), and the Science Center of Iowa and Blank IMAX Dome Theater.
The Historic Court District is also home to the DSM Downtown Farmers’ Market, an extremely popular venue that blends rural and urban sensibilities into one enormous, 300+ vendor extravaganza from May to October. Oh, and there’s a winter market, too!
Where to eat: RōCA, Wasabi Tao, Fong’s Pizza, Court Avenue Brewing Company
Where to drink: Hessen Haus, Beer Can Alley, Royal Mile
Where to shop: Kaleidoscope at the Hub
Things to do: Downtown DSM Farmers’ Market, DSM Civic Center events, Iowa Cubs game, the Science Center of Iowa and Blank IMAX Dome Theater
4. Sherman Hill
Perfect neighborhood for: Families and retirees
Sherman Hills is downtown DSM’s oldest residential neighborhood. It’s been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979, and it’s positively brimming with character. The district was named in the spirit of Hoyt Sherman Place, originally a mansion but now a theater, art gallery, and special events center – the jewel of this charming neighborhood’s crown.
Like most of DSM’s coolest neighborhoods, Sherman Hill has gone through a major transformation in the last 20 years. Although the neighborhood retained its original character – historic street lighting and distinct architecture makes the area’s annual Walking Tour of Homes a popular event – it’s also flourished into an artsy mecca that offers something for everyone.
Where to eat: Aposto, Smokey Row Coffee, A Dong, Gusto Pizza
Where to drink: Vines to Wines, Carl’s Place, Juniper Moon
Where to shop: Gateway Market
Things to do: Hoyt Sherman Place, Walking Tour of Homes
5. Historic Valley Junction
— Valley Junction (@Valley_Junction) October 31, 2017
Although there are certainly more modern parts of West DSM (Jordan Creek offers the state’s largest mall and it’s growing fast), the Historic Valley Junction neighborhood has the kind of charm and small-town feel that’s hard to find in urban areas. Chock-full of quaint shops and restaurants, it’s a perfect weekend destination. Valley Junction is also a stone’s throw from lots of other popular West DSM residential areas, like Clive, Waukee, and Johnston.
Where to eat: Cooper’s on 5th, The General Store Eatery, Chuck Celsi’s Tavern Restaurant, Let Them Eat Cake
Where to drink: G Mig’s 5th Street Pub, Fox Brewing, Longest Yard
Where to shop: Atomic Garage, MōMere, Hinge, Heart of Iowa Market Place, Rose’s Theatrical Shop
Things to do: Antiquing, Valley Junction Art Festival, Valley Junction Farmers’ Market/Music in the Junction