15 Best Things to Do in West Des Moines, IA

 West Des Moines, IA

Between the rolling cornfields and the bustling cityscapes of Iowa, nestled in its own charming corner, is West Des Moines.

It's a city where a day can start with a steaming cup of locally brewed coffee and end with a breathtaking sunset painting the sky above the Raccoon River.

From strolling through the vibrant city center or exploring our thriving art scene to getting lost amongst the local boutiques and finding solace in the sprawling parks, West Des Moines is a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be discovered.

Let me guide you through the best things to do in West Des Moines, Iowa, where every corner is teeming with unexpected delights.

About this article: This article was written by a local contributor based on their own experiences and those around them. While this list showcases some remarkable places, it's important to note that this is an opinion piece, and there are many other exceptional places to visit that are not featured here.
Our aim is not just to guide you to popular places but to encourage you to venture out and experience the city for yourself.

Spend a Wonderful Day at Raccoon River Park

The waters of Raccoon River Park
Jinying Zhan / Shutterstock.com

From a relaxing walk alongside the river to the thrilling catch of a large fish, Raccoon River Park offers a diverse range of experiences that will surely make your day.

My day typically starts with a sunrise jog along the numerous trails.

It's a great way to wake up, surrounded by the beauty of nature.

It's not just the trails that are great for getting exercise; the park includes athletic fields that are perfect for a friendly game of soccer or a challenging softball match.

There's a lovely beach where you can relax and sunbathe, or even go for a swim.

I'm more of a fishing enthusiast myself, and the fishing pier is fantastic.

Sandy trail at Raccoon River Park
Jinying Zhan / Shutterstock.com

Recently, I had the chance to take my little golden retriever out for a swim at Raccoon River Park.

It was her first time, and she absolutely loved it.

There’s something about the water at the park that just makes it an inviting and safe place for pups to explore.

The park also has a playground, which is currently undergoing renovation.

I have seen some of the new equipment that's being installed and I can tell you, the kids in the city are pretty excited.

Have Fun at Smash Park

Smash Park has become my to-go place when I need a shot of fun.

It's a massive playground for adults with both indoor and outdoor games, and never fails to keep my buddies and I entertained.

There's nothing like a friendly competition of bocce or pickleball after a long week.

And yes, you need to make a reservation for pickleball or you might not get to play - that’s how popular it is!

Smash Park isn’t just about games; their food is equally exciting.

From their diverse menu, the bao birds are a unique delight, and the house-marinated chicken is definitely worth the wait.

Speaking of waiting, it is a counter service spot so you might have to wait a bit for your food.

But trust me, it's absolutely worth it.

And when you get a taste of their dangerously delicious house made apple pie shot, you’d wish they remained open a little longer.

The energy at Smash Park is always electric, especially during Trivia nights and Friendly Feud.

Explore Glen Oaks Country Club

There's something special about being able to spend time in a place that's as well-manicured and beautifully landscaped as the Glen Oaks Country Club.

I remember one Mother's Day, my partner and I decided to spend some time exploring this hidden gem tucked away in our city.

The golf course was like a green carpet spread out in front of us, and the community surrounding it was just as impressive.

We couldn't resist dropping by the Country Club, and the beauty of it was striking.

The woman at the front desk greeted us with a warm smile and welcomed us in as if we were old friends.

We took a tour around, and I managed to capture a video from the balcony at the back of the Country Club.

But Glen Oaks is not just about the picturesque view. It's also a place where celebrations come to life.

I remember being there for my cousin's wedding reception. The service was impeccable, and the food was delectable.

The ceremony was held on a covered veranda, overlooking the beautiful golf course.

The reception was indoors, where the Glen Oaks team crafted an elegant setting that was nothing short of remarkable.

Attending weddings and family gatherings here, I can confidently say that it's an excellent venue for sizable groups.

Revisit the City's History at Jordan House

Exterior of the Historic Jordan House
Goddesshanna, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

After all these years, the Jordan House still captivates me with its grandeur and rich history.

This timeless Victorian home, nestled in the heart of Des Moines, is a testament to the city's past.

It's no ordinary house - it holds secrets and stories from a time long forgotten.

With its stunning architecture, it's unique for the time period it represents.

Stepping into the house is like stepping back in time.

The spacious basement, which used to house the kitchen, is quite impressive.

With every step you take, you can feel the history and stories that are part of the house.

This landmark house isn't just about its architectural charm.

It's also an integral part of the Underground Railroad history.

The exhibits and artifacts are thoughtfully curated, painting a vivid picture of the Underground Railroad era.

It’s quite a humbling experience to walk through the corridors where history was made.

Facade of the Historic Jordan House
Goddesshanna, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the best parts of visiting the Jordan House is the guided tours.

The docents here are not only knowledgeable but also personable.

They bring the house to life with their storytelling, making you feel a part of the history.

Shop Some Produce at Fresh Thyme Market

I have a secret that I'd like to share with you: I've found the gem of grocery stores in Des Moines, Iowa, called the "Fresh Thyme Market."

The moment I step inside the premises, I am greeted with a cornucopia of fresh produce, vibrant and inviting.

The Fresh Thyme Market is not just about fruits and vegetables, though.

They have a fantastic selection of goods across all categories, and the pricing is just right.

The store is kept meticulously clean and the staff members are professional and considerate.

It's no wonder I find myself recommending this store to everyone I know.

One of my top favorite items to get from here is their frozen, precooked half duck from the freezer section.

It's absolutely delightful and saves me so much time in the kitchen.

And the fresh squeezed carrot juice - it's my healthful indulgence.

Their deli section is quite small and the selection limited, but it does the job.

See the Nature's Beauty at Brown's Woods

Every weekend, I lace up my hiking boots and head out to my personal sanctuary – Brown's Woods.

The moment the canopy of oak and hickory trees envelopes me, I can feel my worries melt away.

There's something about the stillness of the woods and the rhythmic rustling of leaves that makes the world seem peaceful.

While the trails can be a bit hilly, they're perfect for anyone looking for a challenge.

My usual route is the outer loop trail that stretches for three miles, but there are several other trails that you can explore if you're up for an adventure.

Don't be surprised if a deer or a wild turkey makes an appearance along the way – they're regulars here!

My most memorable experience was stumbling upon a family of pheasants during one of my hikes.

I also remember spotting a Scarlet Tanager, its vibrant red feathers standing out against the lush greenery.

If you're a bird watcher or someone who enjoys wildlife photography, Brown's Woods is a paradise waiting to be discovered.

Explore Walnut Woods State Park

Birds at Walnut Woods State Park
Angela Arnold / Shutterstock.com

There's no place quite like Walnut Woods State Park.

Over the years, I've found this 260-acre nature reserve to be my personal haven of tranquility.

I remember the first time I set foot on the park's trails, the serenity enveloped me and ever since, it has been my go-to place when I need a quick escape from the daily grind.

The park offers a range of outdoor adventures.

I've spent countless afternoons boating on the Raccoon River, casting out my fishing rod hoping for a bite.

The river's calm waters make it an ideal spot for canoeing too.

During those times, I'd often catch sight of fellow adventurers pitched up at the various camping sites, their fires crackling invitingly in the dusk.

One of the park's hidden gems is its Bird Blind, a sanctuary for bird watchers.

The waters of Walnut Woods State Park
Fredddie, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It attracts a myriad of songbirds and if you're lucky, you might even spot a Bald Eagle.

The sight of these magnificent birds is a sight that never gets old.

The 1930s lodge available for rentals gives off a rustic charm that matches the park's natural beauty.

Here, I've hosted family get-togethers and friends visiting from out of city, always receiving compliments on the choice of location.

There's a unique charm to Walnut Woods State Park that keeps me coming back.

Enjoy a Day Spent at Valley View Aquatic Center

"Beat the heat, make a splash, or just laze away the day," that's a perfect description of my usual summer days spent at Valley View Aquatic Center.

This outdoor complex is a favorite spot for families and friends looking for some cool fun under the summer sun.

My favorite part has to be the leisure pool equipped with four vibrant slides, and an assortment of sprays.

There's also a 10-lane lap pool for the more fitness-focused folks, and a lazy river where I find myself unwinding after a quick swim.

The lazy river is a great spot for some relaxed conversation or even some alone time with your thoughts.

However, one thing that can be a bit bothersome is the overly vigilant policing.

It sometimes feels like there's a constant focus on finding the tiniest slip-ups rather than just ensuring safety.

It can be a tad bit annoying when you're whistled at for a harmless act like throwing a ball around.

You'd expect a more chilled out vibe at a pool, wouldn't you?

Have Fun at Des Moines Children's Museum

What an absolute treasure the Des Moines Children's Museum is for our community!

It's become a family tradition to hold birthday parties here, and it never disappoints.

I remember the joy and laughter that filled the room during my nephew's 4th birthday party; it was a sight to behold.

The museum staff were more than accommodating, opening early just so we could have the entire place to ourselves, a private party room included.

Our little ones were captivated for hours.

They were enchanted by the museum's array of creative, homemade exhibits.

From running their own scoop shop to trying to escape an imaginary lava floor, their imaginations ran wild.

There's a construction zone and even a farm, all designed to keep them engaged and learning.

To top it all off, there's a massive Lite Brite - even us adults couldn't resist its charm!

Discover the Charm of Valley Junction

Entryway of the Valley Junction
Iowahwyman, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There's something special about waking up in Valley Junction.

My weekends usually begin with a leisurely stroll down our main street, lined with quaint boutiques and family-owned restaurants.

Each storefront has a unique story and charm, offering treasures such as vintage finds, eclectic home decor, and delicacies from around the world.

You'll often find me rummaging through the antique stores, hunting for that perfect addition to my collection.

No Saturday is complete without a visit to the Valley Junction Farmers Market.

Bursting with fresh produce, homemade goodies, and vibrant flowers, it's a true testament to the bounty of Iowa.

I've made it a ritual to pick up some sweet corn, a loaf of freshly baked bread, and maybe a jar of local honey if I'm feeling indulgent.

Beyond the shopping and food, the warmth of the community is really what makes Valley Junction a gem.

The annual events are a highlight, bringing everyone together to celebrate the seasons, from summer street festivals to holiday parades.

Relive Your Childhood at The Operating Room

Every now and then, you stumble upon a place that brings back the joy of your childhood, while offering the perks of adulthood.

The Operating Room in West Des Moines is one such place.

Imagine stepping into a world where you can relive the excitement of beating your high score at your favorite arcade game, except now, you get to do it with a glass of wine or beer in your hand.

This isn't your average arcade; it's a blend between a bar and an arcade, making it perfect for those nights when you want to feel like a kid again.

The interior design of this place is unlike any other.

You're immediately drawn to the art of human anatomy adorning the walls.

It's a peculiar mix of science and fun, setting the tone for the unique experience that awaits you.

The variety of games is impressive too, ranging from the classics to new favorites.

But it's not just about the games. The Operating Room also offers plenty of drink options.

Spend an Afternoon at West Grand Golf

Who doesn't enjoy a good round of mini-golf?

It's my go-to outdoor activity in my hometown, especially when it comes to the 18-hole course at West Grand Golf.

It's a delightful little place with beautifully landscaped gardens and eye-catching water features that make for a memorable golfing experience.

There are holes for all skill levels, from the easiest to the most challenging, ensuring everyone, from kids to adults, can have a great time.

The course has a special place in my heart. It's the same one I played on over 20 years ago as a kid, and over the years, it has been well-maintained.

Stroll Through Southwoods Park

A deer at Southwoods Park
Stone' s Throwe Photo / Shutterstock.com

Every afternoon, I find myself drawn to the lush greenery and quiet trails of Southwoods Park.

It's the perfect place to escape the bustle of daily life and immerse yourself in nature.

Whether I'm alone or with my family, a casual stroll in the park always uplifts my spirit.

Disc golf is a major attraction here. Even though the course can be quite challenging with its elevation changes, it's also a great workout.

And trust me, you don't need huge drives; it's all about precision shots.

I'll admit, I've questioned my discing skills quite a few times here, but the challenge is part of the fun.

But it’s not all about sportsmanship.

When the sun starts to set, my wife and I particularly love walking the trails.

Butterfly at Southwoods Park
Stone' s Throwe Photo / Shutterstock.com

The beautiful scenery gets even more enchanting as the orange hue of the setting sun paints the sky.

It’s our own little romantic getaway right in the middle of the city.

What surprises many visitors is the live music.

From time to time, local bands set up near the park's pavilion, adding an unexpected soundtrack to your park visit.

It's a delightful experience that adds an extra layer of charm to Southwoods.

Discover the Charm of Purple Martin Lake Water Resource Area

You can't help but feel tranquility wash over you as you take a step into the Purple Martin Lake Water Resource Area.

It's my refuge from the bustling city life, a place where I can reconnect with nature.

What I love most about this place is how it caters to various interests.

For those who enjoy fishing, it offers a chance to cast your line and wait for the bite to hit.

However, I should warn you that you might need to be patient.

I've tried my hand at fishing here a few times, using various baits, but I've only caught a baby channel cat.

The shoreline for fishing is limited to a long stretch on the southern side of the main lake, but the soothing sounds of water hitting the shore make it worth your while.

But Purple Martin Lake Water Resource Area is not just for the fishermen.

It's a haven for families as well.

Taking a leisurely stroll on its well-maintained 2-mile loop trail, you'll be captivated by the beauty of the purple martins flying in and out of their complex.

The trail is a treat for plant enthusiasts too, with various species growing around the lake.

Keep an eye out for the salmonberries; these translucent red berries are a delightful sight and a favorite among the local wildlife.

Unwind at Holiday Park

Nestled right in the heart of West Des Moines, Holiday Park is a gem that adds that extra sparkle to our city.

From the moment I step foot into the park, it feels like being transported to a different world.

The verdant greenery, the serene calm of the pond and the melodious chirping of the birds provide a delightful escape from the hustle and bustle.

The park is meticulously maintained with clean picnic areas and well-marked trails, making it easy for park-goers like myself to navigate and enjoy the park's offerings.

My morning jogs around the park are particularly enjoyable due to the flat, easy-to-walk trails.

The outdoor exercise equipment scattered throughout the park, in my opinion, is a fantastic addition for those who want to incorporate a bit of strength training into their routine.

The playground, I must say, is a kiddie paradise.

Watching my children engage in imaginative play, make new friends and just have an absolute blast is incredibly gratifying.

Final Thoughts

Living in West Des Moines, Iowa, has certainly been a delightful experience.

Whether it's taking peaceful strolls through Brown's Woods or Walnut Woods State Park, or cooling off in the Valley View Aquatic Center during summers, there's always something to do.

All in all, West Des Moines has proven to be a charming city with endless opportunities for recreation and relaxation.

It boasts of a vibrant community and an invigorating blend of history, culture, nature, and entertainment, making it a fantastic place to call home.

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