Just a hair less than 250 miles south of the Twin Cities sits the city of Des Moines, Iowa, the state’s capital city. As a major hub for the insurance industry, it’s nicknamed the “Hartford of the West.” Though the city received a much more flattering honor in 2017 when SportsBusiness Journal named it the No. 1 minor league sports market in the United States.
Minnesota’s interest in this new minor league mecca has increased in recent years. The Minnesota Wild’s AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros, relocated to Des Moines in 2013 and were renamed the Iowa Wild. Minnesota’s fellow winter sports team found themselves in Des Moines four years later when the Timberwolves purchased the NBA G-League’s Iowa Energy and rebranded them as the Iowa Wolves ahead of the 2017–18 season.
The Wild and Wolves joined an already bustling minor league sports community in Des Moines. Less than a mile away from Wells Fargo Arena (the home of both Minnesota affiliates) lies Principal Park, the home of the wildly popular AAA affiliate of the 2016 World Series Champions, the Iowa Cubs. And in the spring, football fans can catch the Indoor Football League’s Iowa Barnstormers, the team famous for launching the professional career of Iowa-native NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner.
Teams and facilities are important to providing a top-notch fan experience, but being worthy of a national No. 1 ranking comes down to the people and the places to engage with outside the arena. This is where Des Moines sets itself apart. The young and growing population of people are wonderful, welcoming, and passionate about their vibrant community, making it a place any team would be lucky to call home.
All the ingredients are here for a great game day or weekend getaway, including the on-court/ice product. Both teams hold more than a share of exciting talent on their young rosters, and much like the parent clubs to the north, they have their eyes set on the playoffs.
But the city is much more than its sports scene. Downtown Des Moines and the surrounding neighborhoods have all the makings of the Midwest’s latest great Bohemia. From dance clubs to dive bars, craft beer to craft cocktails, and comfort food to ceviche, you can get a taste of it all in Des Moines and you can almost always walk to it.
Whether you’re planning a game day trip to Des Moines for the first time or getting ready for next time, one weekend won’t be nearly enough time to take in all the city has to offer, but mix in a few of these great destinations and you will not leave hungry or thirsty.
The Des Moines To-Do List
*listed in alphabetical order
The charm of Ceviche Bar is that it is the only place in the world (probably) that will reward you for wearing a fedora. Be sure to rock one on Fridays to get a free shot of Havana Club for the Fedora Fridays special.
Confluence Brewing Company
Confluence has been a staple of Iowa’s craft beer community since it launched in 2012. Get their Milk Man stout on Nitro while it’s still winter.
An old-fashioned underground craft cocktail bar tucked right under the heart of downtown Des Moines, featuring an extensive list of variations on the Moscow Mule.
El Bait Shop
The world’s largest selection of American craft beers. Need we say more? We will anyways. In addition to the 222 beers on tap, El Bait Shop boasts an impressive space and a packed events calendar.
Exile Brewing Company
Exile’s tagline is “We fear no beer” and has used that attitude to master the preferred poison of every kind of beer lover. The Run to Exile event in June is one of the biggest beer parties of the summer.
Tiki bar meets pizzeria at Fong’s and they’re pretty darn good at both.
George the Chili King
Vintage American drive-in boasting great burgers and fries in addition to world class chili and the Iowa classic pork tenderloin sandwich.
Your classic German beer hall with over 150 kinds of beer available, including 21 imported from Germany on tap.
If it’s brewed in Iowa, you’ll find it here in this spacious and picturesque taproom. The wall of taps from every corner of Iowa is a sight to behold.
Madhouse Brewing Company
The go-to spot for barrel-aged and sour ales in Des Moines’s beer scene.
RAYGUN (THE GREATEST STORE IN THE UNIVERSE)
The parenthesis say it all. This store is incredible. Head here for the coolest of shirts, stickers, pint glasses, large canvas prints of random, awesome shit, and more. There’s not a better place to go to find gifts for a friend or to treat yourself.
Yup, the very same as the one in LynLake, but this one’s the original.
The name is quite literal. The combination of two of the best things ever—burgers and zombies—makes this the ideal late-night dining spot.