When I lived in the Midwest, I used to drive all over the place. It’s so easy to get from point A to point B in the US. The freeways are well kept and well demarcated, and it’s really low stress driving along the open highway.
Des Moines is an underrated, sleeper city. A capital city, it’s the most populated in the Hawkeye state. What you might be surprised to find is that there’s a ton of arts and culture in this city.
The gold domed State Capitol building is one of the more ornate state capitols. Along Locust, Grand and Walnut streets are local boutiques focusing on home decor, clothing and gifts. Des Moines is nice in that way, that there is a real focus on small business owners. The most amazing shop, Eden, is located on 6th street and is a very carefully curated perfumery and cosmetic shop. They have products by Tokyo Milk, Malin+Goetz, Voltivo. There’s Diptyque and Tocca candles and pretty things and it’s adorable, perfect for gifting. There’s a vespa in the showroom, it’s like a store version of Zooey Deschanel.
Next door is a Gong Fu Tea, which is a nice space to sit and contemplate the intricacies of life. Another place to do that is down the road at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park. This is probably one of the best sculpture parks around and it’s located smack dab in the middle of Des Moines. It’s stuck with me for all these years, and for good reason. It features works from heavy hitters such as Louise Bourgeois (whose Spiders also sit in front of the Kemper Art museum in Kansas City),
Keith Haring’s Untitled and my personal favorite sculptor, Jaume Plensa’s Nomade.
Here you can see Juno by Deborah Butterfield (driftwood horses), and Thinker on a Rock by Barry Flanagan.
As an adult, I still don’t quite understand what venture capitalism is, but it seems that Mr. Pappajohn was very, very good at it, to be able to donate all these works to the Des Moines Art Center.
For an artsy, or at least eclectic choice for lunch, go straight to Zombie Burger where they serve artfully crafted burgers with a horror show theme. I had a Raygun, which was a medium patty piled high with bacon, guac, fried jalapenos, monterey jack, and caramelized onions. They have burgers with gouda, proscuitto, peanut butter, mac & cheese, croquettes, fried pickles, you name it. If that won’t kill you, the scary decor will. They also have neon-hued milkshakes with cereal, twinkies, cake mix, the works.
On your way out of town, you should be a total weirdo like me and seek out a covered Bridge in Madison County, as made famous by the book and movie. The movie with Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep was filmed on location in this area. They are not the easiest to get to, off the beaten track, but the one closest to my route was the Cedar covered bridge, and it was an adorable landmark to cap off a quick road trip.