Des Moines has been my home base for over a year now, but even before it was my physical address, it was my home away from home. It was a big part of my high school years, coming back to visit during college breaks and a place where many of my close friends now reside. The breweries and restaurants are delicious, the coffee shops are on point and the arts, culture and music scene is as vibrant as ever.
Follow along through a few of my favorite hot spots, cool scenes and great atmospheric vibes in Iowa’s beautiful capital.
This is one of my absolute favorite places to dine in Des Moines. The pretzel bites are legitimately little bites of Heaven and the sauce should come in a big bowl with an even bigger spoon. The vibe is casual and relaxing meets classy and intimate. The staff is great and the atmosphere is industrially sound with warm tones. I highly recommend a blueberry mule, a side of creamy garlic mac & cheese and a West Coast Burger. And of course, the pretzel bites. Can’t forget those Heavenly gems.
While we’re in the neighborhood, let’s hop on over to one of the hippest coffee shops on the scene.
For a casual business meeting, a chat with friends or to bring your laptop and build your empire - Horizon Line Coffee is the spot for you. Each time I’ve frequented this establishment, it gives off good vibes. Their Instagram game is strong and they seem to have fun, unique events all the time. The staff is always super sweet and helpful with suggestions to make your drink order as delicious as possible. Lemon poppyseed latte with almond milk, anyone?
If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll find it here. Or at the very least, the inspiration for what you’re looking for. This four-story building is full of character, surprises and antique goods from all over the world. And they legitimately have the best Bloody Mary in Des Moines. Plus, a coffee bar. What more could you ask for?!
By far my favorite bar in Des Moines, this German-Style Bier Hall is the place for epic gatherings. I’ve drank, ate and even danced my way through this hall more times than I can count. The Mac & Cheese Baden Bäden is a pile of pasta goodness and there’s always something cold and tasty on tap. Come ready to Pass the Boot!
I consider this my main coffee shop because it’s by far where I’ve spent the most time reading, writing and going on first dates. It feels like a big, cozy, 50’s style diner cabin shop. It’s always busy - 6am through 10pm and I love it. I can only imagine the ideas and collaborations and relationships that have come from within the walls of that neon ‘Smokey Row’ sign out front. With a great location off of MLK, it’s the perfect jaunt up the hill from my Sherman Hill home. For a sweet treat, my vote is the Snicker Bar Latte. And if you’re feeling fruity, the Strawberry Smoothie is the smoothest, sweetest sensation your mouth could ever desire.
Oh, Centro. This Italian corner restaurant holds some of my most treasured memories. It’s the ideal spot for an intimate birthday gathering, special anniversary or a solo taste of treat-yo-self. I absolutely love their tomato basil soup (my mouth is literally watering as I type this) and you cannot go wrong with their pasta. A diverse drink selection and a long list of wine make this a complete dining adventure; from the warm bread when you first sit down all the way to dessert. The low candles, dim lights, and smooth music make it a memorable experience for all.
We are so lucky to have this unique and plentiful dumpling dream right here in Des Moines. For those looking to try something new, they cater to your taste buds with flavors from around the world. It’s an intimate setting with a relaxed and light vibe. The bar is full of specialty drinks and the dishes are amazing. If you can’t decide what to get - don’t. Try them all! You won’t be disappointed with their fresh food options and overall coolness.
By far my favorite place in the area to wander about aimlessly while keeping my wallet handy. I have gotten some of my favorite gifts from this store (a lot for others, more for myself). It is absolutely idyllic and has the very best selection of stylish antique goods. I always feel inspired when I visit this shop and am always pleased with their products.
A new store with a high frequency, this place is all about the feels. Energy, intuition and all the good vibes beam throughout the storefront through crystals, candles, beads, jewelry and more. They offer a unique selection of healing goods and powerful products. This is a must visit place for those in search of something that looks good on the outside and makes you feel even better on the inside.
Last, but not least, Valley Junction is where I’ve spent a majority of my time in Des Moines/West Des Moines. The locally owned one-of-a-kind specialty shops, antique stores, and boutiques make it an ideal shopping destination. The restaurants are right up there, with great Bloody Mary’s, some of the best burgers and sandwiches and Coopers - which is just awesome. Thursdays are the best day to go in the summer/fall/early winter and anytime you get to drive through, please do. The twinkling lights make the world seem lighter and brighter. Literally.
I could write a book on all things Iowa (hey, there’s an idea…) and especially on my favorite chapter of all: Des Moines. It truly is an amazing place. If you’ve never thought of Iowa as a destination, you might want to think again. Des Moines is just one part of a 99 county state that has a lot more hidden among the cornfields than what meets the eye. And if you’re looking for an unofficial tour guide, look no further. I’d be happy to give you a wave, a smile, and big ‘ol helping of some of that Iowa nice.
Image credit: Photo by Author