116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
With plenty of paid and free things to do, Des Moines is perhaps an underrated day trip and weekend getaway destination for Eastern Iowans. Just far enough to feel like a getaway but close enough to comfortably drive there and back in a day, the drive to the city center is a tad under two hours from Cedar Rapids.
If you find yourself with a few extra hours before or after visiting the Iowa State Fair this month, check out some of these free and reasonably priced activities that all ages can enjoy.
Blank Park Zoo
On the south side of Des Moines is Iowa’s only accredited zoo and one of the closest ones to the Corridor. About 20 minutes from the fairgrounds and 15 minutes from downtown, it’s not the most conveniently located, but it is worth the drive if you enjoy watching animals as much as I do.
While it’s a family-friendly spot for families with children, you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy the wonders of the wild. At $14 for adults and $8 for ages 2 to 12, it’s just as affordable as the Iowa State Fair, too.
Where: 7401 SW Ninth St., Des Moines
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day
Cost: $14 ages 13 and over; $11 for senior citizens; $8 ages 2 to 12; free under age 2
Wander to your heart’s content through Australia, Africa and Asia without a passport, but don’t forget to stop for the little adventures available to interact with the animals, too.
Just $2 will give you the chance to squeal in delight, like I did, as a foot-long giraffe tongue gently but insistently wraps around your hand to pull a piece of lettuce to its mouth. Giraffe feeding is available at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
For another $2, you can chat with parakeets on trees as they come up and nibble some of the food off your stick. For $6, you can ride a camel.
A bit like Des Moines itself, the Blank Park Zoo is large enough to offer fun but small enough to manageably do in a day. If you’re a quick walker and don’t dawdle too often, you can get through the entire zoo within two hours.
Having been to large zoos like the San Diego Zoo and the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., it’s nice to have an animal experience that doesn’t take an entire day or leave you exhausted.
Every Wednesday through August, you can enjoy the Zoo Brew from 5:30 to 9 p.m. with summer brews and live music.
For more information, visit blankparkzoo.com.
Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
If you’re looking to do more than sit at home but don’t want to exert much energy, take a relaxing walk through the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.
With a dome that resembles Spaceship Earth at Disney World’s Epcot, beauty radiates inside this humid jungle of tropical plant life you won’t find anywhere else in the Midwest.
Where: 909 Robert D. Ray Drive, Des Moines.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Cost: $10 adults; $9 seniors and military; $7 ages 4 to 17; free ages 3 and under
In August, the grand lotus blooms continue to evolve in the water garden, dinner-plate-sized hibiscus radiate in the Koehn garden and butterflies visit the violet Phlox Jeana.
If you have time to beat around the bush, water gardens and a bench behind one waterfall provide an opportunity to soak in the tranquillity, calm the mind and mind the present.
The garden’s concert series, Music in the Garden, runs every Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. through Sept. 30. Bring your own blanket or lawn chair to enjoy live music in the lush gardens.
For more details, visit dmbotanicalgarden.com.
Art Route Des Moines
Who needs The Bean in Chicago or the “Spoonbridge and Cherry” in Minneapolis when you have “Nomade” in Des Moines? With a path spanning from the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden all the way to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, there’s plenty to see on a casual stroll downtown.
Art Route Des Moines connects 87 pieces of art with playful city sidewalks and intersections
Park and start at the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens on Robert D. Ray Drive, which highlights the importance of diversity in the community. In the 1970s, Gov. Ray responded to refugee challenges and was the first public official in the world to offer the endangered Vietnamese Boat People a haven.
Walk across the Des Moines River on the iconic Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge right next to the Asian Gardens to see the rest of downtown Des Moines, where other art awaits.
At the four-acre Pappajohn Sculpture Park, 1330 Grand Ave., you can be your own art critic in interpreting sculptures — whether they be odd, frightening, provocative or intriguing.
To learn more, visit artroutedsm.com.
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