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Des Moines, Iowa Travel Guide

Complete Vacation, Recreation and Tourism Information

Des Moines, population 196,000, is the largest city in Iowa and the state's capital. The Des Moines River runs through the metropolitan area that is home to close to 500,000. The city pays tribute to the state's agricultural history and economy with a variety of farm-related venues and events. The city also offers attractions, arts and architecture, shopping, and outdoor recreation.

Each August, the city hosts Iowa's biggest event, the multi-day Iowa State Fair. The fair draws crowds of more than 1 million to agricultural displays and exhibits, concerts, midway rides, crafts, and food on a 400-acre fair ground. Extensive explorations of Iowa's agricultural history are also available at Living History Farms. Here, on 600 acres, a town and four farms give visitors a glimpse of Iowa's rich agricultural heritage from Native American times to present day.

Des Moines also offers a full complement of big city attractions including ballet, opera, symphony, and theater performances. Downtown, visitors will find a concentration of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Top natural attractions are 22-acre Blank Park Zoo, and the Des Moines Botanical Center, which features more than 1,000 plants from around the world. For family entertainment, amusement parks Adventureland Park, Holiday Aquatic Center, and White Water University provide both wet and dry rides. Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino features slot machines, poker, and blackjack, as well as live horse races April through October.

The city's top art destinations are the Des Moines Art Center and Hoyt Sherman Place. The Des Moines Art Festival is one of the top-ranked fine arts festivals in the U.S. The three-day event, in June, features 150 artists. Many architecturally significant buildings and homes compose the cityscape. The governor's residence, Terrace Hills, which overlooks the city, is a National Historic Landmark. Other visit-worthy sites include the state capitol, Drake University campus, the Basilica of St. John, and Salisbury House.

Area golf courses and parks provide outdoor recreation opportunities. At Saylorville Lake, a 26,000-acre lake northwest of Des Moines, camping, sailing, motor boating, swimming, and fishing are popular activities. The Des Moines metropolitan area features more than 300 miles of hiking and biking trails. The 24-mile Neal Smith Trail runs along Saylorville Lake and then into downtown Des Moines.

Des Moines is located in central Iowa 135 miles east of Omaha, Nebraska and 170 miles west of the Quad Cities. It is accessible via Interstate Highways 35 and 80. There are many lodging options in the city and surrounding suburbs.


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