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Best Museums in Des Moines

Des Moines, Iowa is a family friendly community that has so much to do for all ages and interests. Many people do not realize that Des Moines has a number of great museums to visit with family and friends. 

I have compiled a list below of museums in Des Moines that are not only unique and enlightening but also very family friendly.

Iowa State Capitol rotunda in Des Moines, Iowa.

State Historical Museum of Iowa

One of my favorite museums in Des Moines is the State Historical Museum of Iowa. It is a free museum and a fantastic place to take the kids.

This museum is located downtown Des Moines in the East Village and just a few blocks down from the Iowa State Capitol Building and grounds. 

The museum showcases Iowa history and has a number of different exhibits including what it was like before Iowa became a state, Iowa’s natural resources and animals, the role of Iowa in the Civil War, Iowans who were a part of major Hollywood movies and the movies that were filmed in Iowa, and Iowa’s bicycling history.

Throughout the museum there are a few interactive exhibits for kids. It also has a special area for kids with a humongous train table, play kitchen, Duplo lego building spot, and more.

Inside the State Historical Museum of Iowa is Cafe Barrata’s which is a fabulous place to have lunch after touring the museum. Cafe Barrata’s terrace has amazing views of the Capitol and downtown Des Moines.

Note: Cafe Barrata’s is currently closed during the museum’s renovations, but visitors will be able to enjoy it again in the future.

Living History Farms

Living History Farms is an outdoor museum in the Des Moines area that our family frequently visits. 

It is located in Urbandale, Iowa just off of Interstate 80. 

Living History Farms educates and entertains guests while they learn what life was like in rural Iowa.

You can take a tractor ride out to the 1700s Ioway farm and then walk your way through the 1850 Pioneer Farm and 1900 Farm before boarding the tractor to take it back to the 1876 Town of Walnut Hills.

Things the kids LOVE about Living History Farms–

  • Tractor ride
  • Farm animals
  • The costumed historical interpreters at various sites
  • Walking through the homes at each of the farms and in the town of Walnut Hills
  • Pretending to be a student or a teacher at the school house in Walnut Hills
  • Seeing the Flynn Mansion

The walk between the farms is less than a half of a mile total. Walking through the Town of Walnut Hills is about ¾ of a mile. 

You can bring a stroller and even bring it out to the farms with you. 

Des Moines Botanical Garden

The Des Moines Botanical Garden is a gorgeous and lush indoor and outdoor garden that has an immense variety of diverse plants from all over the world. 

I love visiting the Botanical Garden year round, but it is especially enjoyable for me to visit it in the wintertime. It feels like a tropical escape from the cold and dreariness of outside. Visiting the Des Moines Botanical Garden transports you to a warm plant paradise.

The kids enjoy walking through the Botanical Garden and seeing all of the plants. There is also a gorgeous waterfall with a pond that is relaxing to sit by. 

In the warmer months, you can also enjoy the plants outside at the Botanical Garden as well.

The Des Moines Botanical Garden also has a quaint little cafe with delicious food and even a kids menu.

The Botanical Garden is located in downtown Des Moines near the East Village. To get detailed directions to the Botanical Garden, visit its website.

Des Moines Art Center

The Des Moines Art Center is another exceptional museum in Des Moines. 

It is located at 4700 Grand Avenue in Des Moines, Iowa.

One great thing about visiting the Des Moines Art Center is that admission is free!

The Des Moines Art Center always has a number of permanent exhibits as well as ones that are only there for a certain amount of time. 

I have always loved the art classes that the Art Center offers. They have art classes for kids as young as three years old!

The Des Moines Art Center is located right by Greenwood Park which is also a great place to spend some time. After visiting the Art Center, make sure to take a walk through the Rose Garden. 

Science Center of Iowa

The Science Center of Iowa is one of our family’s favorite museums in Des Moines. 

It is also located in downtown Des Moines. There is a covered paid parking garage right next to the Science Center that makes it convenient to park and enter the museum. 

We LOVE the Science Center because of all the hands on and interactive exhibits. It is such a great place for people of all ages to learn about science through touching, interacting, and experiencing. 

The Science Center has a great area for small children that includes a pretend grocery store, bubbles, and toddler town. This is a phenomenal area for young children to use their imaginations. 

Another cool thing about the Science Center of Iowa is that they have a Weather Studio and the Channel 13 News broadcasts the weather from there at noon during the week. Kids can get their chance to get on tv during the weather broadcast.

The Science Center has so many other fantastic exhibits both kids and adults will love.

Des Moines Children’s Museum

The Des Moines Children’s Museum is the perfect spot to go for imaginative play for little kids. They have a variety of exhibits for kids to pretend and play.

Kids can pretend to put out a fire, sell ice cream from their ice cream truck, deliver mail to various businesses, put on a play in the theater, grow some vegetables in the garden, and so much MORE!

The Des Moines Children’s Museum is located in the lower level of Valley West Mall in West Des Moines. 

This is definitely an entertaining museum for the younger kids. Admission is $6 for ages 1-10 and free for anyone over the age of 10. I think kids ages 6 and under would enjoy this museum the most.

View of the Des Moines Children's Museum in the Valley West Mall in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Pappajohn Sculpture Park

The Pappajohn Sculpture Park is an outdoor grassy area filled with intriguing and awe-inspiring sculptures.  

It is located in downtown Des Moines.

This is a fantastic place to go for a stroll while you view and discuss magnificent sculptures from world-renowned artists. 

There is a sidewalk surrounding the sculpture park, or you can walk in the grass to get a closer look.

We try to make it to the sculpture park a few times a year. The Pappajohn Sculpture Park is located just a few blocks from Des Moines’ Central Library. We usually combine a visit to the library and the sculpture park in one morning or afternoon.

If you are from out of town, I definitely recommend taking at least thirty minutes or so out of your visit to Des Moines to check out the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. You will not be disappointed!

Sculpture at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines, Iowa.
Pappajohn Sculpture Park

Iowa Gold Star Military Museum

The Iowa Gold Star Military Museum is one of the most impressive and inspirational museums in the Des Moines area.

If you are interested in learning about Iowa’s military history or simply enjoy learning about the military in general, I highly recommend a visit to this museum.  

The museum has so many cool exhibits that people of all ages will be captivated by. I definitely recommend bringing the kids here as well. They will enjoy it, and there are even a few interactive elements for them. 

The exhibits are divided by the different wars that occurred in our nation’s and in Iowa’s history. There is even an Iowa State Patrol exhibit. 

The Iowa Gold Star Military Museum is located at the Camp Dodge training center in Johnston, Iowa. You do need to show a driver’s license or government photo identification at the main gate of the facility in order to enter. 

Admission is free!

They also have a paper scavenger hunt you can pick up when you enter or you can ask for it. This is perfect to entertain the kids while they are going through the museum.

Jordan House Museum

The Jordan House is a significant historical museum located in West Des Moines.

This house and now museum played an important role in the Abolitionist movement as well as the Underground Railroad.

Visitors can tour this inspiring home on Fridays and Sundays at either 11:00 am or 1:00 pm.

Tour tickets must be purchased and booked ahead of time on the West Des Moines Historical Society’s website. Each tour ticket with fees is about $6.00.

The tour is about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes.

I would recommend this tour for kids ages 10 and over. There are many fragile artifacts throughout the home. Additionally, the tour has tons of valuable historical information that would be better suited for a little bit older children.

The Jordan House Museum is very impressive to see and the tour has so much great information about the history of the Jordan family and the role that they played in not only Iowa history but also American history.

Iowa State Capitol Building

Another fantastic historical museum to visit in Des Moines is the Iowa State Capitol!

Our family LOVES visiting the Capitol building and grounds. We have visited numerous times with our children.

The Iowa State Capitol building is open to visitors Monday through Friday 8:00am until 5:00pm and on Saturday from 8:00am until 4:00pm. Capitol building tours are also available during these times.

You can call ahead to schedule a tour or if you decide to go last minute, walk in and try to get on a tour.

Tours are about 60-90 minutes long.

If you decide not to take a tour, you can walk around the Capitol building on your own. On Saturdays some rooms in the Capitol building will not be available unless you are on the guided tour.

I HIGHLY recommend taking the time to visit the Capitol building. It is SO gorgeous and has so much history. Even more, it is such a great learning experience for the kids! Our kids are so intrigued by the government and as a result, love getting to see a piece of it in person. They are so curious and always have so many great questions about Iowa’s history and our government.

There are many visitor parking lots near the Capitol building. The closest one is near the intersection of Walnut Street and 12th Street. There is really good signage for visitor parking so you should easily be able to find a parking spot.

If it is a nice day out, walking around the Iowa State Capitol grounds is also a treat! It is so beautiful and there are so many historical statues to see and learn about.

As you can see, Des Moines has so many awesome museums to visit for every age and a variety of interests. You can find it ALL in Des Moines.

I would love it if you would SAVE and SHARE this post with a friend or family member so they, too, can discover the best museums in Des Moines.

May you love your adventure. KW

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