Get to Know: Des Moines
The capital city of Des Moines tops many quality of living rankings and is recognized for being affordable, neighborly and arts-focused. Major employers prove its momentum as a hot spot for tech, financial services and insurance. A network of neighborhoods lend to a vast array of living options, from urban Downtown DSM neighborhoods to historic enclaves and quiet developments, DSM is flourishing The recent addition of the popular Lauridsen Skatepark (bragworthy as the largest skatepark in the U.S.) located Downtown has brought global skateboarding pros and first-class events to the heart of the city, while familiar favorites like Greenwood-Ashworth Park, Gray’s Lake Park and others offer lush greenspaces full of forestry, trails, water recreation and more.
Des Moines at a Glance
- Population: 212,031 (2021, U.S. Census Bureau)
- Location within Greater Des Moines: Central
- Type of Community: City
- School District: Des Moines Public Schools (the largest public school district in Iowa)
- County: Polk
Des Moines in one sentence: As a hidden gem of a city, expect the unexpected from distinct neighborhoods, accessible amenities, major events and festivals as well as local restaurants and shops that showcase a vibrant Des Moines entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The top five best things about Des Moines:
- Vibrant communities, neighborhoods and groups support making connections and building friendships.
- Sixty-eight miles of paved and 19 miles of soft trails in Des Moines are one-of-a-kind, connecting to 800+ miles of trails located throughout the regional area.
- Huge events like 80/35 Music Festival, the World Food & Music Festival, Downtown Farmers’ Market, the Des Moines Arts Festival® and numerous cultural celebrations including CelebrAsian and Latino Heritage Festival and Juneteenth take place in Des Moines, often highlighting local flavors, unique performances and cultural opportunities.
- Des Moines’ arts and culture scene includes Broadway shows at the Civic Center, the Des Moines Symphony, Ballet Des Moines, Des Moines Playhouse and the free Des Moines Art Center. The Des Moines Public Art Foundation will help you navigate a robust network of free public art including the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, centrally located in Downtown DSM.
- Life is both easy and affordable AND vibrant and exciting. The low cost of living, easy commutes, clean and safe neighborhoods paired with access to top-notch amenities, world-class entertainment and an ever growing list of things to do truly make DSM the place to be.
Hidden gems and unexpected finds in Des Moines: The unique neighborhoods found throughout Des Moines are truly hidden gems, each with a unique identity. In Downtown Des Moines, explore a broad range of housing from urban apartments, condos and historic homes The Beaverdale neighborhood is known for its brick cottage-style homes from the ‘20s through ‘40s, and in nearby Waterbury you’ll find an established tree canopy with expansive yards surrounding homes from a similar period. Other areas to consider include North and South of Grand, the Drake University neighborhood, the Highland Park/Oak Park neighborhoods, Southwestern Hills, the Merle Hay area — and many more.
The Des Moines’ food culture is a big part of the local experience. A search for James Beard Award nominees will turn up a slew of award-winning local chefs, brunch is a way of life here and we love our food trucks!
Community traditions and annual events: The Downtown Farmers’ Market, 80/35 Music Festival, Pride Festival, Des Moines Arts Festival®, Drake Relays, IMT Des Moines Marathon, Holiday Promenade, CelebrAsian, Latino Heritage Festival, Oktoberfest, Juneteenth, Christkindlmarket and St. Patrick’s Day Parade are just a few of the events that take place each year in Des Moines. The annual Iowa State Fair (yeah, the one Rodgers and Hammerstein. wrote a whole musical about) is held over 11 days in August, drawing one million visitors to this spectacular tradition!
Best ways to get connected: Attend a Greater Des Moines Partnership Welcome to DSM USA reception for new residents or plug in with one of three local Chambers in Des Moines (Des Moines Downtown Chamber of Commerce, Fuse DSM, Des Moines West Side Chamber). Get engaged with other YPs through the Young Professionals Connection. Check out all that Des Moines Parks and Rec has to offer for classes and rec leagues. And explore tons of volunteer opportunities with Volunteer Iowa, VolunteerMatch or the United Way of Central Iowa.
Big things on the horizon for Des Moines:
- The ICON Water Trails project will include 80+ improvements across 150 miles of rivers and creeks in Central Iowa, including proposals for a surf wave and a whitewater park in Downtown DSM.
- The Pro Iowa Soccer Stadium and Global Plaza, which will serve as the home of a new professional soccer team.
- At Merle Hay, a new arena to house the Des Moines Buccaneers hockey team is in the works, with connectivity to a new hotel and the shopping center.
- With such high growth in the regional community in recent years, the Des Moines International Airport is working to build a new terminal to increase capacity and capabilities.
If you’re coming to check out the community, be sure to spend your day … : Snagging yourself a coffee from Smokey Row, Horizon Line or Mars Café, and check out one of the 75 great parks scattered throughout Des Moines! These parks have something for everyone, from playgrounds to trails to simply beautiful nature spaces. Also exploring DSM’s amazing art is a must-do — from hundreds of free public art murals and sculptures to the free Des Moines Art Center, DSM is chockfull of beautiful artistry. Grab a slice of pizza from Gusto Pizza Bar or Dough Co. Pizza, then hit up one of the area’s many attractions such as Blank Park Zoo or the Science Center of Iowa. Have dinner somewhere elevated like Centro, Eatery A, Mulberry Street Tavern or Proudfoot & Bird (or somewhere lowkey like The Cheese Bar, Star Bar, Lucky Lotus, Smokey D’s BBQ or Zombie Burger, if that’s more your style), followed by tiki drinks at Revival House and dessert at Crème Cupcake.
If you’re here on a Friday night, check to see if there’s an Iowa Cubs home game so you don’t miss the post-game fireworks in Downtown DSM! Also here on a Saturday morning? Hit up the Downtown Farmers’ Market which takes over the Historic Court District every Saturday morning during May through October.
Some of the ways Des Moines advances diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI): Take part in the annual Pride festival and other LGBTQ+ events. One Iowa is an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization located in Des Moines, with resources and training available to local businesses and individuals. The Greater Des Moines Partnership’s annual Inclusion Summit draws hundreds of business and community leaders each year. Attend festivals in the area like CelebAsian, the Latino Heritage Festival and I’ll Make Me a World in Iowa to immerse yourself into different cultures and celebrate diversity in DSM.