Waking up at our campground just west of Des Moines we truly felt almost like we were back on the east coast. We had come a long way in just a week and unlike Northern California & Western Nevada there were no mountains to speak of here. Iowa was a sort of a new travel state for us. On our first loop of the country back in 2017 we had spent a few hours in extreme eastern Iowa in the city of Dubuque, however we didn’t venture much further than that into the state. Today we were excited to explore the state’s capital and largest city of Des Moines!
Des Moines, IA
Driving into Des Moines almost felt like driving into our home city of Rochester, NY. The highway curved and twisted around small hills and through neighborhoods before the downtown appeared. Unlike Rochester though here in Des Moines the capitol building loomed over almost everything on what seemed like the tallest hill in the city. As capitol buildings are generally the 1st place we head to in a capital city, the Iowa state capitol building was our first stop.
Completed in 1886 the Iowa capitol building is stunning with the front of the building overlooking downtown Des Moines. After finding parking toward the rear of the building we walked over to the building first stopping at a miniature Statue of Liberty statue. We didn’t expect to see this statue here in Iowa yet here it was. At the base of the statue was a small plaque stating that this was placed here by the Boy Scouts of America in 1950. We thought for almost being 70 years old this statue looked pretty good!
We walked into the capitol building and signed up for a tour. Capitol building tour guides are generally pretty good, and tours are always usually around an hour or less. You are however free to stay in a capitol building all day during open to the public hours. Much like Nebraska’s capitol building that we had seen just a few days prior, Iowa’s was beautiful. The building is built using Iowa and other Midwest stones. It had beautiful marble grand staircases on the interior and gold-plated domes on the exterior. We were told that was the only 5-domed capitol building in the entire country! Once the tour concluded we wandered around a bit more taking pictures before wandering down the hill and into downtown.
One of Julie’s old coworkers was originally from Des Moines and had recommended one of her favorite lunchtime spots, Zombie Burger & Drink Lab. Walking in it was what we expected…a zombie themed burger restaurant. The downtown Des Moines location had 2 sides, one was a full-service sit-down area and the other one was an area where you order at the bar and come get your burger when your number was called. We opted for that side. We ordered two different burgers and split them. Both were delicious. We would highly recommend this place!
Next we walked around the downtown area and stepped into a gift shop called Raygun aka “The Greatest Store in the Universe”. This turned out to be one of our favorite gift shops ever. Raygun sells everything from tee-shirts to coasters, mugs, glasses, post cards, magnets and many, many other goods. On all or most of these were slogans making fun of themselves, Des Moines, Iowa or the Midwest in general. They were all dry humor and we thought It was all hilarious and awesome. One of my favorite cards had a picture of the Des Moines skyline saying, “Des Moines: Let us exceed your already low expectations”. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time browsing and bought a handful of cards amongst other knickknacks.
Once we were done browsing at Raygun we hopped into Bubbles and started to explore some of Des Moines’ neighborhoods. First, we drove over to West Des Moines. We were going to be staying with Julie’s cousin in a few days and Julie wanted to get her some hot chocolate as a thank you gift. After doing a bit of internet sleuthing, we found a nearby chocolate shop called Chocolaterie Stam. This shop turned out to be a Dutch inspired Midwest chocolate chain. We browsed a bit before deciding to try some of their dark chocolate gelato and a few assorted chocolates. It was all awesome!
Historic Valley Junction
Our last stop in Des Moines for the day was the Historic Valley Junction neighborhood. We had apparently arrived just in time because after we found parking and walked over to the main street, we found that a street fair/farmers market was just about to start. We walked up and down the street looking at vegetables, art and food carts. We purchased some hot sauce and had a wine tasting as we walked. Julie’s day was made at the wine tasting when she was carded, the woman didn’t think she was close to being 21 years of age. After we left, she asked me repeatedly if I asked the woman working the counter if she would card Julie. I swore to her that I didn’t (I really didn’t!) but not sure if Julie ever believed me or not. After browsing through a few shops, we hopped back into Bubbles and headed back to the campground for the night.
As we had to be in Indianapolis in a few days we were not able to spend much more time around Des Moines, so we hit the highway once again driving across Iowa. We were staying in Moline, IL (just over the river from Iowa) tonight so once we reached eastern Iowa, we had a little time to explore. Davenport is one of the larger cities on the eastern side of the state and as such we thought that there probably would be a few things to do there.
While the downtown was on the bigger side it seemed almost deserted compared to Des Moines. There were a few open business, restaurants & offices but nothing that made us want to park and walk around. Julie saw on the map the Village of East Davenport, so we drove over to check it out. The village turned out to be quite nice with tree lined streets and nicely kept up homes. We saw that there was a small commercial area, so we stopped to stretch our legs and take a walk around.
We were thirsty and luckily enough we stumbled upon the Baked Beer & Bread Company. This turned out to be a pretty neat restaurant specializing in making their own breads (with entrée’s including the homemade breads) as well as having a line of their own beers. We saddled up to the bar and ordered a flight. While most of the beers were from other breweries, they did have some of their own which we tried. Overall, we liked the place a lot. Most of the surfaces were made with a light wood which gave the place a cabin type feel. The bartender was friendly, and the beer was good. Two thumbs up from us!
Leaving Davenport, we crossed the Mississippi River, leaving the western USA behind and drove through Moline & Rock Island to get to our campground. Overall, we really enjoyed Iowa. The people were friendly, the cities and towns clean and the food was outstanding. Go Iowa!
Next up…We continue our trip in the nation’s heartland cruising through central Illinois!