48 Hours in Des Moines

December 19, 2017

Iowa is the butt of every joke in movie history, but it is also where I was born and raised. Unless you’re from the midwest, it’s probably not somewhere you’ve thought of visiting. But there is actually a lot of cool shit going on in Des Moines.  Also, we are not the potato state.

Where to Stay

Downtown – The amazing thing about Des Moines is that what is expensive to us is probably normal anywhere else! The cost of living here is so low that a luxurious hotel here is probably the same price as like a roach motel in New York. The Des Lux hotel located downtown Des Moines is the epitome of swanky luxury. With exposed brick, marble, and velvet; it’ll make you feel like a baller and I mean, who doesn’t love free breakfast??

East Village – The East Village is a fast growing area full of trendy local shops, fantastic restaurants, and a great nightlife. The AC Hotel Des Moines East Village is one of the newest hotels here. It features sleek, modern design and a super trendy cocktail bar on the roof called The Republic on Grand. You can get drunk at the bar and you’re kitty-corner from some awesome drunk food at the infamous Zombie Burger.

For the Budget Queen – Not everyone can afford nor do they need all the amenities that a hotel offers which is where our good friend AirBnb comes in handy. There are a handful of affordable and really cute ones in the Des Moines metro. There are a ton of affordable options downtown that include chic lofts and townhomes for under $130 a night. To save even more money you can stay a couple miles away from downtown and stay for less than $80 a night. If you go with this route you’ll have more money to spend on food which is the most important part of any trip, imo.

Where to Eat

For Breakfast- Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I will not let anyone tell me differently. Waveland Café is the best breakfast I have ever had. It is classic, American diner food that is everything you could hope and dream for in a morning meal. Just thinking about their hash browns brings tears to my eyes. It’s the kind of place that always has a line out of the door and you may even have to sit at large table with a group of strangers because that’s the only table that is open and you just do what you gotta do. It’s the kind of places that the waitresses call you “hun” and I just love it so much. Why go to church when you can go to Waveland and have a religious experience over bacon?

For Brunch- To quote the great Oprah Winfrey, “I love bread”. La Mie bakery in the Roosevelt shops is such a gem. When you walk in the front doors you are immediately greeted by a table full of breads and pastries that were baked fresh that day. They have a knockout menu of breakfast and lunch options. The whole place has just this cool aura without having to even try. My only complaint is that they’re not open on Sundays which seems to be the day I crave it the most, but isn’t that just the way life is?

Lunch- We still eat meat here in the Midwest and when we eat it we want it greasy and covered in cheese. George’s Chili King is an old school drive-up restaurant that’s been around since the early 1950’s. It was even featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, so if you don’t believe me, you have to believe Guy Fieri. They have a small inside area that you can sit right up in front of the flat top and watch as they create your cheeseburger, pork tenderloin, or whatever greasy comfort food you crave. Oh, and best part? It’s insanely cheap.

Dinner- I get asked constantly for restaurant suggestions and before they can even finish their sentence I am already screaming this next restaurant at them. Centro is an urban Italian eatery downtown that is hands down my favorite place in Des Moines. I have tried multiple things on the menu and have never been disappointed. It is located in an ex-Masonic temple and Centro’s neighbor, South Union Bakery, supplies the delicious fresh focaccia that comes before every meal. After you gorge yourself on bread and Italian food, walk down the street and take a stroll through the sculpture garden.

What to Do

Farmers Market- I know there are a lot of great farmers markets, but we ARE a state known for farming so that means ours has to be better, right? It’s located on Court Avenue in downtown Des Moines, right in front of the historic court building. (Which makes a great Insta backdrop if I may add.) There’s blocks and blocks of farm fresh produce, flowers, and other goodies too ogle at while you meander through the crowds (probs hungover from Friday night.) You will for sure be able to find something that tickles your fancy with the multitude of breakfast options. From smoothies to hearty breakfast sandwiches with thick sliced bacon, you’re bound to find something to enjoy and take an Instagram that’ll make all of your followers drool.

Art Center- “Small but mighty” would be my favorite way to describe the Des Moines Art Center. It does not take long to get through it but the stuff inside is better than a lot of larger museums I’ve seen. Quality > quantity. They actually have a super fun interactive exhibit made up of tape that you can crawl inside of. Sounds weird but it’s so fun and makes for hilarious pictures. It goes on through the first of the year and it is definitely worth checking it out. Outside the Art Center features a beautiful rose garden with a ton of roses in colors you never knew existed. The entire place is extremely instagrammable and is my personal favorite.

East Village- As previously stated, East Village is this fast growing area of downtown that has this great local culture that always has something going on. I love to head down there and shop at all the fun boutiques. For some hilarious and witty gear head to the official outfitters of snowflake liberals, Raygun. They are politically relevant and full of Midwestern pride and just really awesome. Another hotspot is the female powerhouse Sex + Ice Cream. It is a pink palace that is run on pussy power. It has everything from apparel to jewelry to sex toys. It is the cutest store that’ll leave you feeling inspired. Last but not least is the modern apothecary, Eden. It’s a gorgeous store, with beauty and home goods, that is so beautiful that you never want to leave. The products sold were picked with such great attention of detail and there isn’t a single thing in there I wouldn’t love to have on my bathroom shelf.


Retro Vibes- Hello, Marjorie is a bar in the heart of downtown with a cool retro vibe and killer drinks with fun names like Bette Davis (which was my favorite!) and Killing Me, Smalls. All of the furniture is vintage and the seating arrangements make for the perfect place to sit with your friends and chat over some craft cocktails. It has an adorable, extremely accurate, neon sign and floral wallpaper. You’ll want pictures of absolutely every inch of the place.

Spooky Vibes- If you’re scared of the dark, stay far away from this next place. Black Sheep is a tequila bar in the basement of a Ceviche restaurant in the East Village that is creepy in all the right ways. It serves extremely well crafted tequila cocktails along with some punk and alternative music you’re not used to hearing at the bar. The whole place is light by many candles and a few red neon lights to give off a sexy, scary vibe that is so refreshing from the normal nightlife scene.

Local Vibes- Iowa is home to many breweries across the state and they all come together at the Iowa Taproom in the East Village. In fact, it’s actually across the street from Black Sheep. They have 118 beers on tap and every single one is brewed here in the good ole Hawkeye state. They also have a ton of TVs and snacks so it’s the perfect place to watch the game and drink some brewskies.

Whether you’re passing through Iowa on a road trip, traveling for business, or randomly looking to have a mid-west getaway; follow these recommendations and you are sure to leave absolutely loving Des Moines. 

More about Rena Knutson

You can find me probably yelling about something. I live in Des Moines, Iowa with my fiance, Duncan, and together we parent our handsome golden retriever, Wallace. I've never been wrong about anything in my life. I'm a through and through Sagittarius. And if you have five minutes I would love to talk to you about Burger King breakfast.