Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in West Des Moines, IA

  • Published 2022/11/22

Points of interest and things to do in West Des Moines are abundant, given that this city straddles four counties of Iowa.

A large part of this city is in Polk County, with the rest taking slices from Warren, Madison, and Dallas Counties.

The city was originally named Valley Junction when it was incorporated in 1893, initially emerging as a shipping and trading post.

To inject new vigor into its growth and keep it abreast with progress in Iowa’s Des Moines capital nearby, the city was renamed West Des Moines in 1938.

Imprints of the original business district in the city, however, have been preserved in its Historic Valley Junction.

This area offers plenty of homegrown specialty shops and restaurants, destinations that have grown popular among Iowa visitors.

Browse the following list of things to do in West Des Moines!

Enjoy the Lake at Raccoon River Park

The waters of Raccoon River Park

Jinying Zhan /

Active and passive recreational delights are in store for visitors to Raccoon River Park.

Reputed as the “crown jewel” of the parks system in West Des Moines, this facility spreads over more than 630 acres.

This area in southeast West Des Moines is accessible via Grand Avenue and incorporates a vast wildlife habitat acreage.

The park’s centerpiece is 232-acre Heron Lake, providing a boat launch for paddling and fishing enthusiasts.

The park runs a boathouse that rents out boats with lifejackets provided for free.

Sandy trail at Raccoon River Park

Jinying Zhan /

Park visitors have access to a 500-foot-long beach on the shore of the lake with areas designated for swimming.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources manages Blue Heron Lake, which holds a wide variety of fish species.

The lake is a no-wake zone, a designation allowing a more passive recreational experience.

The facilities in the Raccoon River Park include a soccer field/playground, play equipment, picnic tables, and a grill.

It also offers a multi-use trail, a reservable shelter, and displays public artwork.

Go Malling at the Jordan Creek Town Center

Opened in 2004, the Jordan Creek Town Center holds the bragging right as Iowa’s largest shopping complex with 1.34 million square feet of commercial space.

This mall, located on Jordan Creek Parkway, exudes a park-like setting, with the expansive lake on its grounds incorporating a boardwalk.

Here, you can enjoy the views of the West Des Moines skyline, which is picturesque, especially at night.

The anchor tenants of the mall include Dillard’s, Von Maur, Century Theatres, and Scheels All Sports.

During summer, visitors and shoppers of this mall are treated to a free concert series—Live at the Creek.

Have Fun at Smash Park

Take fun to a whole new level at Smash Park on Coachlight Drive, where you can pick from several indoor and outdoor games, as well as dine and drink.

This West Des Moines entertainment and dining venue opened in 2018 as the first in a franchise with several locations.

The Smash Park of West Des Moines was developed on about 3.5 acres, with fun facilities in approximately 30,000 square feet.

At Smash Park, you can play pickleball, ping pong, darts, corn hole, shuffleboard, bocce ball, foosball, and arcade games.

The items are as varied and tempting as the food and drinks menu of Smash Park, which has been cited as Iowa’s Best Independent Family-Friendly Restaurant.

Win Prizes in The Operating Room

The West Glen Town Center, a famous mall on Mills Civic Parkway, hosts The Operating Room, a bar arcade.

This fun center is noted for its prize-earning machines where the best players can amass points for prizes like Apple, iPads, and other gadgets.

The Operating Room features modern arcade games, such as Connect 4 Hoops, Skee-ball, and Space Invaders.

Its games run via a card system allowing players to load their choice amount of money.

Some of the arcade’s games award skill-based points directly to the players’ cards for prizes to be collected later.

With craft cocktail slushies in its full bar, delicious food, and lots of arcade fun, The Operating Room is one great attraction in West Des Moines.

Tour the Historic Jordan House

Exterior of the Historic Jordan House

Goddesshanna, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the first settlers of West Des Moines, James C. Jordan, built the historic Jordan House on Fuller Road.

Notably, it was Jordan who fired the midnight gunshot on October 11, 1845, declaring the West Des Moines area open to Anglo-European settlers.

Built in the stately Victorian design with Italianate Gothic style, this house is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Facade of the Historic Jordan House

Goddesshanna, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It now serves as a museum and the headquarters of the West Des Moines Historical Society.

The Jordan House boasts 16-period rooms wherein many antique treasures from West Des Moines’ past are on display.

One must-see in the museum is its Underground Railroad Exhibit featuring many mementos on the importance of the railway during West Des Moines’ early years.

Take the Family to Valley View Aquatic Center

Located on South 81st Street, the Valley View Aquatic Center offers fun for an entire family.

This city-owned facility provides a zero-depth kiddie pool with fun play facilities like spray toys in the water.

The visitors of the aquatic center can also enjoy its four water slides, drop slide, lap pool, and a 600-foot lazy river.

After enjoying the water, you can proceed to Valley View Park for other fun activities just across the street.

The facilities in this park include picnic tables, a grill, lighted tennis and basketball courts, a sand volleyball court, a pickleball court, and a soccer/playfield.

Bring Your Kids to the Des Moines Children’s Museum

Shopping with your kids at West Des Moines’ Valley West Mall can segue with the Des Moines Children’s Museum.

This museum on Valley West Drive is located near the play area of the mall.

A nonprofit runs this museum which features not only permanent exhibits like a recycling truck and chicken coop in its wind tunnel area.

It also features children’s games, helping build the foundation of lifelong learning through play.

Before the museum opens, visitors can join a free program called Museum Babies for newborns to 18 months.

Tee Off at Glen Oaks Country Club

Glen Oaks Country Club offers a top-rated 18-hole championship golf course designed by the renowned Tom Fazio.

Built in 1994, this course plays at par 71 over 6,898 yards from the longest tees and posts a 74.4-course rating and 140 slope rating.

The course is well-maintained and relatively easy to play with its flat fairways and just some moderate hills.

In addition to golf, Glen Oaks provides a clubhouse offering five-star dining.

This country club also boasts a gorgeous aquatic facility and a fitness center.

Sharpen Your Swing at West Grand Golf

Golfers visiting West Des Moines who want to improve their game will likely be drawn to the driving range of West Grand Golf on Raccoon River Drive.

This facility has all the markings for golfers to improve their game, with the superb layout of its infrastructure.

Much attention was also given to the quality of the grass and the irrigation in the driving range.

West Grand Golf also takes pride in its award-winning mini-golf course, offering fun and challenging experience for young and adult players.

A round of play goes through 18 holes, traversing a backdrop of scenic gardens, fountains, and waterfalls.

Visit Valley Junction

Entryway of the Valley Junction

Iowahwyman, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Experience the fruits of a historic commercial district revitalization in the Valley Junction of West Des Moines.

The city has been reinvigorating this district since 1987 under the standards and guidelines of the Main Street Iowa program.

To discover the charms of the West Des Moines’ historic Valley Junction district, stroll around 4th to 7th streets, the blocks perpendicular to Locust Street and Railroad Avenue.

Small homegrown businesses, including quaint shops and restaurants, abound and thrive here, thanks to the efforts of the Historic Valley Junction Foundation.

Along 5th Street in this district, the popular stops include the Valley Junction Activity Center, the eatery St. Kilda Collective, and the antique store Memory Lane.

Browse the Farmers’ Market and Enjoy Music in the Junction

Historic Valley Junction offers a signature event in its weekly Farmers Market and Music in the Junction.

Check out the stretch of 5th Street and Railroad Park for this event held from May to September.

Scheduled on Thursdays, this two-pronged event starts late afternoon and winds up in the early evening.

In the Farmers Market, you will find more than 100 local vendors selling fresh produce and prepared foods.

Also available in the market are artworks, handicrafts, and decorative plants and flowers.

Music in the Junction is accessible to the public, with its live performers set up in Railroad Park, where food and drinks are available at a beverage garden.

Like the Farmers’ Market, Music in the Junction supports and accommodates performing artists from Iowa’s 50 counties.

Visit the Purple Martin Lake Water Resource Area

Opened in 2017 for public recreational use, the Purple Martin Lake Water Resource Area is located off Army Post Road southwest of Walnut Woods State Park.

The recreational area is named after the bird species Purple Martin that abounds in this lake environment.

Visitors can view the birds in the wild here or several birdhouses kept in the recreational area.

The activities that can be enjoyed in this area include hiking, jogging, and non-motor recreation on the lake.

A former quarry now filled with water, the lake is owned by the Des Moines Water Works.

Hike on Brown’s Woods

Spreading over 486 acres, Brown’s Woods is Iowa’s largest urban forest and provides hikers with over four miles of trails.

Accessible via Southeast Brown’s Woods Drive, this forest impresses visitors with its canopy of hickory and oak trees.

This woodland stretches from Brown’s Woods Drive to the Raccoon River, also suited for winter snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

A trek here traverses small streams and rolling hills that are joyful to explore at any season.

Dogs are allowed in Brown’s Woods, provided these pets are kept on a six-foot leash.

Watch Youth Sports at Holiday Park

Located off Railroad Avenue, Holiday Park is one of the most active among West Des Moines’ parks.

Featuring several ball fields, this park is home to the West Des Moines Youth Baseball and the West Des Moines Girls Softball Association.

The sports activities of these youth ball clubs are at their height during summer in this park.

This park also features an aquatics center featuring swirl water slides, the only one in Central Iowa.

Spreading over 62 acres, the park likewise offers a multi-use trail to its visitors.

Explore Walnut Woods State Park

Birds at Walnut Woods State Park

Angela Arnold /

A visit to Walnut Woods State Park opens the opportunity to explore various points of interest in its 260-acre expanse on the south banks of the Raccoon River.

This nature reserve off Walnut Woods Drive offers shaded campsites, with eight of them having complete power and water hookups.

This preserve has several picnic sites with fire grills, providing a boat ramp for river trips and fishing.

Rentals are also available in this preserve’s 1930s lodge, which boasts indoor and outdoor fireplaces.

The waters of Walnut Woods State Park

Fredddie, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Visitors of the preserve have the option for birdwatching at its blind observation station or the Purple Martin Water Resource Area nearby.

On these sites, you can observe warblers, flycatchers, owls, hawks, and songbirds.

An immersive experience can be enjoyed hiking along the reserve’s trails of over two miles meandering along the wooded banks of the Raccoon River.

This stretch connects to a 16.5-mile path to Des Moines and Martensdale, making it popular for cross-country skiing during winter.

Final Thoughts

It appears wise to lean more toward a West Des Moines visit when on a trip to Central Iowa.

From its rich mix of urban and countryside attractions, you can easily draw up an exciting itinerary on the things to do in West Des Moines.

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