As summer heats up, staying cooped inside your house or within the fences of your backyard seems a dying trend. In the fall with school stressing you out, you won’t want to stay cooped up. With more vaccinations taking place and the lifting of many mandates and restrictions pass, slowly we’re seeing a return to normal. Still prefer to remain cautious but spend your summer making memories? Des Moines, Iowa offers 10 COVID friendly options that showcase everything Des Moines can offer.
Keep reading for 10 COVID friendly activities in Des Moines!
10. Jordan Creek Town Center
One of three malls in the Des Moines area, Jordan Creek sits as the largest. Many shops and restaurants call it home. A bustling shopping center with a large food court, movie theater and many stores both inside and out of the mall, the mall holds plenty of entertainment. Located in West Des Moines, Jordan Creek only sits a few exits past Drake University and the Urban campus of Des Moines Area Community College.
“My favorite activity is probably shopping at Jordan Creek,” Drake University junior Alexa Johnson said. “You’re still able to shop almost normally with the exception of wearing a mask.”
Jordan Creek takes COVID procedures seriously. Most stores recommend masks and contain social distancing guides. The mall allows for plenty of room between you and other guests. Bring along your mask and some friends and enjoy Des Moines largest shopping center!
9. Racoon River Park
Racoon River Park contains just a bit of everything. Within the park lies a beach—a very popular spot, including a fishing pier, picnic shelters, a soccer and softball complex and even an ice rink. Racoon River Park contains Blue Heron Lake, a perfect place for fishing or a nice hike on the trail surrounding the lake. A great trek for an outdoor retreat, or if quarantine happens to get you down.
Racoon River Park remains one of the most popular parks in the Des Moines area. As a result, it can get busy, especially during the warmer months. To avoid crowds, head out earlier in the morning to watch the sunrise or later at night to watch it set. A great time for a morning run is just after the sun comes up and before the heat kicks in. You will probably find other runners there, but it will hold significantly less people within the confines of the park in the early hours.
8. Downtown Des Moines
The Des Moines River divides downtown Des Moines into two sections: Downtown and the East Village. Many big-ticket places call the Downtown side home, including the Des Moines Civic Center, the Farmer’s Market every Saturday and the locally famous Court Ave district. Catch a Broadway show this fall at the Civic Center, get fresh fruit or locally made wine at the Farmer’s Market or sample some of the best restaurants in the city centered around Court Ave.
“Exploring the city was really fun,” Drake University sophomore Emily Godsey said. “Coming in freshmen year during COVID, it was hard to find ways to get to know my surroundings and enjoy what the city had to offer but the city is really beautiful and just being able to walk around it was always nice to do.”
Across the river sits the hip East Village. Home to many bars and shops, the East Village is where the city comes alive. Shop the funny t-shirts and stickers at the famous store Raygun. Grab some cheese curds or a Mac and Cheeseburger at Zombie Burger. Walk the city blocks and find your new favorite store. If you are over 21, check out the bar scene! On Friday and Saturday nights the streets buzz with people bar hopping.
7. Ashworth Park
A hidden gem in the middle of the city, Ashworth Park sits out of site on a backroad. Behind the Des Moines Art Center-number 5 on this list-you wouldn’t even know the park sits in the middle of Iowa’s largest city. With a small pond, a natural amphitheater and woods surrounding the park, Ashworth Park truly is a little-known treasure.
Check out the amazing public events that happen in the park over the summer. Drake neighborhood yoga studio, Yoga and Co., is one of a few organizations that hold events in the park. Come for sunset yoga, stay for the ambiance, nature vibes and gorgeous views Ashworth Park provides.
6. Restaurant Patios
Des Moines: famous for its often-mispronounced name, but it should really hold fame for the number of restaurant patios that line the city. In every neighborhood, you can find a handful of restaurants with outdoor seating. No matter what mood you find yourself in, there’s a great restaurant patio waiting for you!
“My favorite covid safe restaurant in Des Moines is the Angry Goldfish,” Drake University junior Carly Mullins said. “Their vibes are so good and so are their food and drinks. Definitely a great place to hang out at in the summer.”
In the Drake neighborhood you can enjoy burritos at Habeneros, barbeque at Jethro’s or pizza at DoughCo. Heading downtown? Make sure you try Spaghetti Works for some amazing pasta, some brews at Court Ave Restaurant and Brewing or a burger at Zombie burger. Venture out of your own neighborhood to find a new delicious place to eat at regularly! Whatever mood strikes you-whatever food you find yourself craving, you can find some delicious eats with lovely patios to enjoy a COVID-friendly meal.
5. Des Moines Art Center
Many beautiful works of art call the Des Moines’ own art center home. With a mix of both rotating and permanent exhibits, there’s always something for everyone here. The museum is perfect for a visit during COVID. The hallways are wide and airy, leaving plenty of room for social distancing. The hallways open into large galleries, each with a different mood, theme or artist. Check out the art center to see local artists and ones from far and wide.
4. Rails to Trails
Rails to Trails are old railways that the state turned into multi-purpose trails. Des Moines boast many of them, and the entire state of Iowa holds many. The wonderful thing about these trails is they have to have only a 2% incline which means…no big hills! If you’re a biker, or just in need of a change of scenery, check out some of these trails.
Some of the best in Des Moines include the High Trestle Trail and the Greenbelt trail in Clive. Take in the lush tree tunnels, the stretching prairies and the rolling fields, all within a few miles of Des Moines. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, these trails make the perfect escape.
3. High Trestle Trail Bridge
If you live in Des Moines you will undoubtedly see people posting pictures of the High Trestle Trail Bridge. Located in Ankeny, a half hour from downtown Des Moines, the trail—and its bridge—are an icon of Des Moines. After a mile walk through the prairie and woods surrounding a paved trail, the path bends and you see it: the spiraling squares that make up the bridge. It’s even better at night, glowing bright blue against the Iowa summer night.
“When it is dark is probably my favorite time of day to ride [the trail],” Southeastern Community College sophomore Isabella Gillispie said. “It is a whole new bridge at night. The bridge is lit up at night with blue lights. Another thing I love about the High Trestle Trail is on one end of the bridge is the Flat Tire Lounge in Madrid. On the other side is Whistling Donkey in Woodward. You will see cyclists, runners and walkers at all times of the day when on this trail.”
The bridge crosses the Des Moines River. From the bridge looking South, you can even see the tallest buildings of the Des Moines skyline and the river many feet below. Lush prairie surrounds the river underneath. Check out the trail on bike or on foot if you need a new hike! It’s worth the drive!
2. Iowa State Capitol Building
Driving into Des Moines from the east side limits the views of the city. There’s houses and businesses after the farmland and prairies let way. Then suddenly, on interstate 235, there’s a curve and you see it: the golden domes of the Iowa State Capitol building. The sight—even better at night—can make anyone glad they came.
Upon closer inspection the building is even more impressive. Construction began in 1871, finishing in 1886. The building stands in contrast to the modern skyline of Des Moines just West of the building.
Many students at surrounding schools check the capitol out after the sun goes down. The state legislators and workers of the capitol have emptied out, leaving an empty campus. While you cannot tour the inside of the building, the outside, lit up at night, amazes. Not only will you get great sites of the building, but you can also see all of downtown from the veranda on the west side of the building.
1. Gray’s Lake
Gray’s Lake: the single best outdoor walking spot within the city of Des Moines. Around a small manmade lake off the Racoon River sits a quaint paved path. The path spans about two miles, circling the lake, taking you over the water on a beautiful memorial bridge and through some trees and plants. Gray’s Lake also provides a beach to soaking in the sun during the warmer days. Feeling adventurous? Rent a small boat or canoe to take a trip around the water!
“Walking around Gray’s Lake is one of my favorite COVID friendly activities,” Drake University junior Ellen Everhart said. “The path is pretty big so people can social distance plus it’s outside. It’s a great way to switch things up in my routine.”
Making that trip around sunset will allow you to further appreciate nature’s beauty. The fading light provides the best views of the park, putting the world into a warm glow. The memorial bridge lights up and from the north side of the trail, you can catch spectacular views of downtown Des Moines. Take in the skyline, rent a boat or just enjoy a nice walk through a small slice of heaven right in the heart of Iowa’s biggest-and best-city, Des Moines.