Last year, K-Hubs and the girls talked me into doing a staycation. And I say “talked me into” because last year, I didn’t really want to do one. The thing is, as a WAHM, every day feels a little like a staycation. Where are we going today? Do we have enough snacks? Did everyone actually go to the bathroom before getting into the car?
All fair questions that are part of the daily routine, no matter what day of the week it is. So I had no interest in doing more of the same old, same old for a vacation that was within a reasonable driving distance of pretty much every other activity we ever do. But then scheduling conflicts necessitated we rework our plans, leaving us with a free weekend we didn’t originally anticipate. And K-Hubs and the girls suggested the staycation again. I relented, and you can read about our 2018 staycation in Des Moines here.
I’m glad I gave in to the wonders of a staycation because WE HAD A BLAST.
And now I officially love staycations. K-Hubs and the girls remain fervent supporters of the staycation as a vacation idea, so this year, we decided to do it again. Even though Iowa gets a bad rap for being a flyover state, I have to say it isn’t the Iowa most people think of. And I’ve lived in Iowa all my life. So I distinctly remember the days when Des Moines went to bed at 5:00 in the evening. Unless you went to the sports bar/dance club where everyone had to be 25 years or older.
What is even with that?
It kind of doesn’t matter anymore because Des Moines is hip, it’s happening, and it’s hyped after 5:00. Also, you no longer have to be pushing 26 years old to appreciate it. There are now countless activities to stay busy, no matter your age. And if you just need a cuppa joe or a place to hang out with friends so you’re out of the house but not melting on the sidewalk, don’t worry. There’s a downtown Starbucks for that.
Honestly, I would have loved a Starbucks hangout when I was in high school. We were relegated to Merle Hay Mall or, if we were feeling high brow, Valley West Mall. And don’t you even go forgetting that. I mean, where else would you even find Z. Cavaricci jeans that you would later get a hole in the butt from that time you tried to jump a fence? I mean, really, where?
Over the last few decades, Des Moines has been building a longer table, making more and more room for people to sit down and hang out. And while there are still areas for improvement, we’ve come a long way, baby.
So here are a few of the highlights from our 2019 Spirited Staycation, friends. You’ll notice we didn’t hit up any restaurants. We decided to picnic our way through the city. There are, however, lots of delicious options in the downtown area, especially on Court Avenue and in the East Village.
Des Moines really is worth a weekend visit. But, like, for real.
SCIENCE CENTER OF IOWA
If there is one thing to love about the Science Center of Iowa, it’s the number of activities for kids with relatively short lines. Although it’s smaller than many science centers found in larger cities, the girls loved jumping from activity to activity without having to wait in line. This also meant we made good use of our time.
K-Hubs and I have been to the Science Center when they’ve had exhibits. We even went to an interactive Titanic exhibit. This was several years ago, long before we had kids. And it was incredible. Like, I’m still writing about it after all these years.
So while the Science Center of Iowa is small-ish, it knows what it does well. And young minds will be thrilled with its offerings while moms, dads, grandparents, and caregivers will love the short/nonexistent lines, quick parking, and age-appropriate activities the whole family can enjoy.
DES MOINES ART CENTER
During this year’s trip, we braved breakables and took the girls to the Des Moines Art Center. So incredible. I distinctly remember going their on a field trip in elementary school. So while it has been around for decades, the Art Center stays fresh with awe-inspiring exhibits. On display this year is Queer Abstraction. And I have to say, we were blown away. Some of the paintings and installations were so simple and understated, it was easy to overlook their impact. But gradually, the art got under my skin, and I found myself experiencing what the artists intended.
The Des Moines Art Center is the type of destination where you can spend as much or as little time touring it as you’d like.
If you’ve been to the San Antonio Riverwalk, you’ll discover that the Principal Riverwalk is exactly nothing like it. And that’s okay. Because while being smaller than what you’ll find in San Antonio, the Principal Riverwalk is worth a traipse or two. There is a spot to grab some grub. Unless there’s a wedding reception inside. In which case, you’ll hope for the kindest, most down-to-earth bride who sees your crying 6-year-old and brings her refreshments. Twinkle’s got game and doesn’t even know it.
There are two bridges available, including the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge, to get you over the Des Moines River. And it’s not at all scary. And by that, I mean Toodle and I held hands, practiced our breathing techniques, and prayed we’d get to the other side. In one piece. That water is LOUD. And although it’s beautiful, it’s also a reminder of just how small we really are.
So even though I get a little freaked on the bridges, and I refuse to look down, I also refuse not to do it because the whole experience is just that awesome. Also, when did the girls just grow up? And who even authorized that? I cannot even with how quickly the years fly by.
As we rounded out our walk, we came across the World Food Prize. The grounds are something to behold. So, naturally I took 94689243018340 zillion pictures. Thank you for understanding.
We also wandered through a few hotel lobbies. Toodle suggested we “act like people who are millionaires and live in mansions” who like to walk through hotel lobbies. “Mom, do millionaires wear flip-flops?” Bless. It. All.
DES MOINES ART FESTIVAL
Okay, if you haven’t been to the Des Moines Art Festival, then set your calendar for next year and MAKE IT HAPPEN. It’s free, it’s open to the public, and it’s just a generally good time. Think art, food, music, and sweltering temps.
The art can be quite expensive. But I discovered the Emerging Artists section and found incredible artwork by the highly talented Sarah Justice. And all I can say is I didn’t go home empty-handed. Also, I can’t wait to finish redecorating my home office this fall. You guys, if you don’t know about Sarah Justice’s artwork, let us rectify that now.
I took one look at that painting and knew it was right for me. And the story behind it is incredible, too. She painted The Hague, the painting I bought, while visiting the Netherlands with her fiancé, who I believe is from there. Inspired by the colorful pillars at Pier Hague in Scheveningen, the colors look like something straight out of the Spirited logo and my home office. Friends, it was meant to be!
If you do attend the Des Moines Art Festival and have a little extra time on your hands, go back on Sunday. Even though festivities conclude that day, I found it was easier to talk to the artists and get a better look at what they had to offer.
As a family, we decided we’re going to try to plan our staycations around the Art Festival each year, as it provides an invigorating backdrop for a kickass family weekend.
JOHN AND MARY PAPPAJOHN SCULPTURE PARK
While you’re at the Art Festival, you can also partake in what the Pappajohn Sculpture Park has to offer. Artist booths flanked the park at this year’s festival, making it easy to enjoy both. Abundant green space, a few interactive sculptures, and benches for sitting, unwinding, and taking it all in. We have grown to love the sculpture park.
It doesn’t cost a thing to enjoy it either. If you’re in downtown Des Moines, it’s worth seeing. When there’s another event going on, the energy is electric. You forget you’re in a relatively small city that once went to sleep at 5:00 p.m.
ON OUR LIST FOR NEXT YEAR
- The East Village. Home to quirky shops, mom and pops, and iconic t-shirt shops, the East Village is home to the Pride Parade, concerts, and holiday extravaganzas. It’s also home to some beautiful graffiti art on the aging buildings. Seriously, it’s a must-visit.
- Principal Park. While Des Moines doesn’t boast any major league teams, it is home to the Iowa Cubs, amongst others, and often hosts players from Chicago who are getting in extra practice before heading “back east.” So, schedules permitting, we hope to make our way into the stands. The last time we did that, we sat just off to the side of where Kyle Schwarber was playing, and the experience did not disappoint.
- Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. I spent many an hour at the Botanical Garden as a child. From weddings to winter formals to field trips, it seems like there are countless reasons to be there. But I think it would be awesome to experience it as an adult, and without having to worry about braces or walking in a line.
So instead of avoiding Des Moines altogether, drive on through and stay for a day or two. You’ll barely scratch the surface of all it has to offer. Just maybe don’t jump any fences if you’ve just purchased a new pair of jeans.