I was a fatigued senior in high school, with graduation so close I could taste it. Needless to say, I was deeply in need of a break. One chilly weekend in May, my friend and I chose to take a three-hour trip to Des Moines, Iowa. We went to escape our responsibilities for a few days, postpone the imminent future and have a whole weekend with no worries.
I'm no longer that sleep-deprived high school senior. Now I’m a sleep-deprived freshman here at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and I’ve worked for The Daily Nebraskan for about three weeks.
Des Moines was founded in 1851, and the relics of colonial style influences in buildings are still very present today. The brief glances I got of houses while zipping down Grand Avenue were of large, well-kept estates that varied in design by neighborhood. Des Moines is a city that combines the architectural antiquity and flair of a century-old state capital, with the modern minimalism of today’s tastes.
In this piece I will take you down the streets, by the river and through Iowa’s capital city, Des Moines.
Des Moines Art Center, 4700 Grand Avenue
When I pulled up to the Des Moines Art Center, I had never seen a stranger building. The structure resembles a spaceship with little windows lining its largest tower. The museum’s permanent collection houses over 300 different pieces and has a dynamic feature exhibit that changes every few months.
I saw everything from old paintings dripping with aging colors to captivating digital videos with deep underlying messages that make you feel like abandoning society and living off the grid. But of course the sharp beep of a cell phone brings you right back to reality.
Admission to the museum is free, and the most common tour is self-guided with a very helpful, simple map. After the Art Center I wandered towards downtown.
RAYGUN, 505 East Grand Avenue
East Village is a hip area adjacent to downtown with loads of local shops and businesses which sell everything from floral arrangements, like those in your grandma’s house, to modern graphically designed Des Moines memorabilia.
One store I found particularly interesting was RAYGUN. This politically focused store specializes in mostly liberal designs on T-shirts, cups, posters and other practical items we all have lying around. Each product contains some kind of catchy slogan or artistic design. They sell more unusual trinkets too, such as an interesting $20 deck of “woman cards” inscribed with pictures of famous feminists made local artist Zebby Wahls. From there, I found myself at lunch.
St. Kilda Cafe & Bakery, 300 Southwest 5th Street
St. Kilda Cafe & Bakery is an Australian-style cafe that serves healthy dishes, fresh baked goods and Counter Culture Coffee artisanal drinks. The atmosphere is sleek and modern, with rustic touches like cacti, wooden tables and exposed brick walls. It was the kind of place you could imagine meeting a business associate at for lunch or casually going to with your friends for iced coffee.
The food is moderately priced. Standouts include the $14 Banh Mi Sandwich with pulled chicken, carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, jalapeños, cilantro and oil. Another delicious sandwich was the $13 salmon club with bacon, tomato, red onion, watercress and dill aioli. Their coffee runs from $3 to $5. At St. Kilda, you can get a coffee and a sandwich for under $20.
Principal Riverwalk, stretches from Walnut Street and Court Avenue
I decided to brave the cold and walk along the Riverwalk. The city seemed to be nearly split in half, held together only by numerous stitches of bridges stretching across the Des Moines river.
The railing along the stone walkway is covered in a smooth, dark gray cement with gothic decorations scattered along its railing. Staircases go down into the river itself and disappear into its depths. I followed the old-fashioned aesthetic walkway along the river and took one of the modern bridges back to the city’s downtown area.
Des Moines Public Library, 1000 Grand Avenue
Across the river from the East Village is the modernly designed Des Moines Public Library. The entire outside of the structure is encased by translucent windows. Anyone who’s looking in can see the phenomenal collection of books which fills its body. As I walked in, I noticed a small room to the left of the entrance, made entirely out of windows.
In this room sat piles and piles of books for sale. You don’t even need to be a member of the library to take part in this deal. There were stacks of paperback books, mostly hovering around $3, but the bigger, more valuable textbooks cost about $50. There was also a collection of old records for $1 each.
Brown’s Woods, 465 Brown’s Woods Drive
I ended my trip with a nice hike through Brown’s Woods. Located on Brown’s Woods Drive, just off of Southeast 1st Street, this small forest was a gorgeous end to the day. As the sun set, I followed the dirt path down through the dense, lush forest to a small stream that runs through the middle of the park. The small park is a piece of wilderness in an otherwise urban landscape.
Des Moines offers interesting food, shops, an amazing gallery, a seemingly ancient riverwalk and much more. If you’re ever heading east on I-80, it’s worth it to make a stop in Des Moines.