If you don’t pay much attention to politics (or don’t live someplace where the 2016 presidential race has been impossible to ignore for the last six months), you might not be as aware of Iowa’s campaign season craziness. Since the spring of 2015, Iowa has been a hub for every presidential hopeful as well as the onslaught of staff, media, and national attention that comes with them.
Sure, it can be annoying to be wanded by security while trying to pick up a salad over lunch because a candidate happens to be dining at the same eatery. But the Iowa Caucuses are also an amazing time to show my out-of-state friends (and everyone else) all our state has to offer and why I’m so happy to call Des Moines my home. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that we get cool write-ups in publications like POLITICO, or that Ben and Jerry hung out at a coffee shop a few blocks from my house yesterday.
So with the big day less than a week away, I’ve decided to share some of my favorite places to eat, shop, and spend time in Des Moines if you happen to be passing through during caucus season.
But wait. There’s more!
Home to one of the best happy hours in town—half off pizza and beer or wine from 3 – 6 pm every day—Eatery A is one of my favorite places to grab a quick bite or enjoy a bottle of wine with friends.
2932 Ingersoll Avenue
There’s no better cure for a long day than Fong’s Pizza. This Chinese restaurant turned late-night pizza joint is always a favorite with visitors for its unique concept, strong drinks, and inventive pizza combinations. Order the Honey Garlic on Alfredo. You won’t regret it.
223 4th Street
If you’re looking for delicious French pastries or a filling, healthy breakfast, La Mie is just the place. Be sure to get there early on the weekends because the small space tends to fill up quickly. Also plan on taking a few pastries for the road. I promise I won’t tell.
841 42nd Street
The second restaurant of Tacopocalypse’s Sam Auen, Krunkwich is Des Moines’ first ramen house. The space may be small, but the flavors are big. My current favorites are the Krunk Rice (add bulgogi and a fried egg) or the Seoul Food Ramen.
2721 Ingersoll Avenue
This cozy coffee shop was my daily haunt when I was a student up the street, but even though I no longer live next door, Mars Cafe is still one of my Des Moines favorites. Their regular drip coffee is amazing (and will definitely give you the shakes) or, if you’re feeling fancy, go for their signature latte, the Sputnik.
2318 University Avenue
Long one of my Downtown Farmers’ Market favorites, Strudl Haus opened a brick and mortar location a year or two ago on Des Moines’ south side. The cheery yellow restaurant is small and cozy, featuring traditional European dishes and pastries. I’m almost hesitant to share this one because, in my opinion, it’s incredible deliciousness is still one of Des Moines’ better kept secrets.
1951 Indianola Avenue
The Waveland Cafe
If, maybe, you enjoyed a few too many libations at one of Des Moines’ drinking establishments below the night before, the Waveland Cafe will be your greasy breakfast savior. While you wait for your food, sip some coffee and try to see how many political candidates’ and news anchors’ signatures you can spot decorating the walls.
4708 University Avenue
Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure
Now that Mars Cafe isn’t part of my regular routine, Zanzibar’s is a convenient (and delicious) on-the-way-to-work substitute. The tiny coffee shop offers delicious caffeinated (and non-caffeinated) beverages in a relaxed environment. If you’re looking for someplace to catch up on emails or get some work done, this is not the place. Zanzibar’s, sometimes refreshingly, offers no public WiFi.
2723 Ingersoll Avenue
Confluence Brewing Company
Des Moines is lucky to be home to so many local breweries and Confluence Brewing Company is by far my favorite. Located just off one of Des Moines’ great bike trails, Confluence has a large taproom with lots of board games and food trucks typically parked just outside.
1235 Thomas Beck Road
El Bait Shop
If you love beer, El Bait Shop is the place for you. With the largest selection (180+) of craft beers on tap in the city, there’s sure to be something for everyone at this beloved dive. Be sure to remember your (temporary) Iowa roots and order the fried cheese curds when it’s time for a snack.
200 SW 2nd Street
The Lift has been one of my regular haunts since college and I can’t see that changing anytime soon. Regardless of when you visit (though I recommend a Wednesday to take advantage of 2-for-1 Martini Night), The Lift will be filled with music (most likely live), local art, and a wonderful atmosphere. My martini of choice? The New Year.
222 4th Street
Walking into Up-Down feels like walking into your cool neighbor’s tricked out basement, and that’s not a bad thing. Full of retro video games and skeeball lanes, this ’80s and ’90s themed bars has quickly become one of my favorite places in Des Moines.
500 E. Locust Street
Whenever I need a housewarming gift, new print for my apartment, or a unique piece of jewelry, I head straight to Domestica. The shop has long been one of my East Village favorites. Now with a new, bigger location, Domestica’s lovely owner Chrissy is able to stock even more wonderful, must-have finds.
505 E. Grand Avenue, #102
I’m a sucker for fancy pens, spiral-bound planners, and quirky greeting cards so Ephemera is basically my version of heaven. Whether you’re just browsing or looking for the perfect birthday card for your bestie, this East Village shop is definitely worth a visit.
505 E. Locust Street
No visit to Des Moines is complete without a stop in RAYGUN. Pick up a cheeky T-shirt and irreverent Midwest-themed postcards to send to all of your friends back home. As RAYGUN says, “let us exceed your already low expectations.”
505 E. Grand Avenue
Des Moines Art Center
I may be a little biased, but the Des Moines Art Center is a great way to spend a few extra hours, regardless of when you find yourself in Des Moines. Plus, did I mention it’s free?
4700 Grand Avenue
Des Moines Social Club
It seems crazy that the Des Moines Social Club‘s firehouse location only opened two years ago because in that short amount of time it’s become a huge part of life in Des Moines. Whether it’s grabbing dinner at MALO, a coffee date at Capes Cafe, checking out a new show in the Viaduct Gallery, trivia in the Basement Bar, or a new show in the Kum & Go Theater, there’s always something to do here. I also recently found out it’ll be my 2016 caucus polling place.
900 Mulberry Street
Iowa State Capitol
Tour the epicenter of politics in Iowa—the state Capitol building. Be sure not to miss the gorgeous library and beautifully intricate rotunda.
1007 E. Grand Avenue
Pappajohn Sculpture Park
Located in the heart of Des Moines’ Western Gateway, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a beautiful place to visit no matter what the season. Snap a photo with Jaume Plensa’s iconic Nomade and listen to an audio tour about the park’s works using your cell phone.
1300 Grand Avenue