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What Locals Love about Des Moines, IA and Why You’ll Want to Call This City Your Home

We were featured in an article on the Redfin blog highlighting what we love about

Des Moines, IA. Check out the blog article here!

des moines family and newborn photographer in waukee iowa

January 31, 2024 by Julia Weaver

A city known for its welcoming charm and sense of community, Des Moines, IA, holds a special place in the hearts of its residents. Often associated with its friendly atmosphere and agricultural roots, Des Moines boasts a unique appeal that goes beyond its Midwestern charm.

Maybe you’re thinking about buying a home in Des Moines, IA or renting an apartment in the city, or are just curious about what it’s like to live in Des Moines before moving cross-country. Either way, locals reveal what makes their city so great.

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1. Thriving creative community

“I am not originally from Iowa, but I have a true love for Des Moines now that I’ve been here for over a decade,” explains Mandy, owner of April + August Photography, specializing in family photography. “I feel there is a thriving creative community with diversity that is cherished, and everyone gets a finger-wave or nod hello while passing by. As Iowans, we get the extreme temps in summer and winter; but the generosity of those who live here never fades and is evident even during a blizzard as neighbors stay out to help with shoveling even when their driveway is clear. I’ve never met more kind and genuine people as I have in the Midwest. The term Iowa-nice truly originates in Des Moines.”

des moines family and newborn photographer in waukee iowa

For writers, a must-visit destination is The Writers’ Rooms, inviting writers of all genres to come together in themed Rooms. Participate in the Cedar Room, which caters to all genres, every second Wednesday of the month from 6-8 pm at the Coralville Public Library’s café area to engage in writing and socializing with fellow writers.

2. Small town feel with urban amenities

“Des Moines, IA strikes the perfect balance as a city that is large enough to offer urban amenities yet still retain an intimate feel,” says Theresa Schumacher Photography, a locally-based portrait photographer. “The city has continued to expand in culture, art and entertainment through its diverse culinary offerings and cultural and artistic events. Over the years, Des Moines has expanded physically but also culturally which makes it an exciting and inclusive place to live.”

des moines family and newborn photographer in waukee iowa

“I’m from small-town Iowa, lived elsewhere, then couldn’t wait to get back and settle down right here in the Des Moines area,” shares Lynn Kuhn, an award-winning landscape architect, business owner, and author of a book called Conversation Gardens. “It’s true what they say, ‘Des Moines is the world’s largest small town!’ I’m in love with the small-town friendly vibe combined with big-city features such as a fantastic culinary scene with award winning chefs, bike trails, breweries, public gardens and more. My all-time favorite is THE HALL DSM, a beer hall in a 120 yr old building with a large beer garden. They’ve cultivated a beer selection that is the best I’ve seen, plus a  full bar and elevated pub food, including German fare. As a lover of the outdoors, I can’t get enough of the lush beer garden.”

“I love the breadth of community amenities in Des Moines,” says blogger and photographer. Matthew von Schenkel of Hidden Des Moines. “For a long time I coveted the idea of living in a much larger city for their rich culture, public transit, and parks. When I moved here I very quickly realized I had easy access to a lot of really beautiful places.”

des moines family and newborn photographer in waukee iowa

3. The city is dog-friendly

“Des Moines, IA is truly a unique city and often affectionately referred to as ‘Dog Moines’ for good reason,” explains Michel Rohner, owner of Arf & Wag Studio, offering pet photography services to capture your pet’s unique personality. “Paws & Pints stands out as a one-of-a-kind establishment, combining a grooming spa, daycare, a bar & restaurant, an indoor/outdoor dog park, a pet store, and a top-notch training facility all in one place. Notably, Arf & Wag Studio has had the privilege of collaborating with Paws & Pints, further enhancing the city’s reputation as a haven for pet lovers. Our pet portrait studio sessions have been a delightful addition to the community, providing pet owners with the opportunity to capture cherished moments with their furry companions in a truly unique setting.”

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4. Gray’s Lake

“I love to go for a run or a walk around Gray’s Lake,” shares lifestyle blogger It’s Jolene. “A stone’s throw from the downtown area, the trail around the lake provides a fantastic view of the skyline while experiencing nature. You can also get out on a kayak or a paddle board and you might even see some Bald eagles.”

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5. Iowa State Fair

“One of the things I love most about Des Moines is that it’s home to the Iowa State Fair, with roughly 1 million people each year and something for everyone,” says Wendy Sorenson Photography, a full-service, professional senior portrait and family photographer. “Out of all the food vendors, my personal favorites are Brad & Harry’s Cheese Curds and Barksdale’s Chocolate Chip Cookies in a bucket. We enjoy seeing the various farm animals (something we don’t see in the city), and the Butter Cow sculpture is always a sight to see. There are also several music concerts at the fair every year – we’ve enjoyed seeing Keith Urban, Foreigner, Skillet and The Newsboys in the past.”

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6. A reader’s heaven

“The best thing about Des Moines is it’s full of readers,” states Jan Danielson Kaiser, marketing and events coordinator at Beaverdale Books, an independent bookstore selling new books in all genres. “Situated in the heart of Beaverdale, we are surrounded by some of the best customers any bookstore could ask for. Best of all, Des Moines readers support writers of all kinds–local and national. They attend author events, book festivals, library events and they buy books to help this indie bookstore (and others) thrive.”

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7. Always something to do

Jill Neil Photography, a local lifestyle and family photographer values the endless amount of things to do. “The thing I love most about Des Moines is that there is always something to do – from new restaurants to music festivals to bike rides to flower farms to sporting events and more – the options are endless year-round and people are always eager to attend. And because it’s a mid-size city with light traffic and easy parking, there is plenty of time to do it all.” 

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“As a life-long Iowan, I love the diversity that Des Moines holds,” says Amanda Parker, family and wedding photographer at Sweet Story Photography. “From Dale Maffitt Reservoir to the East Village and every neighborhood in between, there’s something for everyone. The Science Center is always a great stop along with Blank Park Zoo, or you can wander through the gorgeous scenery found at Gray’s Lake/Water Works Park or take a walk around the Art Center Rose Garden. If a night out is what you’re looking for, the downtown area offers a slew of dining options (Blue Sushi is one of my personal favorites) before you make your way to one of a number of fantastic events (concert at Wooly’s or a pop-up comedy show, anyone?). The options really are endless here in our little part of the world.”

des moines family and newborn photographer in waukee iowa

“Des Moines has so many amazing features, but one of my favorites is our art center,” says Kendra Plathe, owner of KMP Photography. “It is truly remarkable and has outstanding works of art, including original Picasso pieces. Admission is always free, but donations are appreciated.”

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8. One of the best Farmers’ Markets in the country

“We love the Downtown Farmers’ Market on Saturdays during the summer,” shares Jason Rosa, manager of Vibrant Coffeehouse + Kitchen — a cozy coffee stop nestled into the heart of Des Moines’ historic East Village. “It’s a top-25 farmers’ market in the country for a reason — It showcases everything that’s good about Des Moines. The market supports more than 300 small business owners, features events that attract both locals and tourists, and is overflowing with produce so fresh you won’t believe it. It’s truly a can’t-miss experience.”

9. The restaurant scene

“Over the last 10 years, Des Moines has come a long way in the food, beverage, and coffee scene,” explains T.J. Rude, owner of Northern Vessel, a coffee company based in downtown Des Moines that strives to provide an exceptional coffee experience. “It’s not easy to be innovative in the Midwest but I have trust and confidence that the hospitality industry will not only get better in Des Moines, it will rise to a new standard.” 

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10. Big city conveniences, small town feel

“I love Des Moines because it has a big city charm but with a hometown feel,” shares brand photographer, Kirstie Veatch. “Des Moines is filled with talented and wonderful people; ‘Iowa Nice’ isn’t just a phrase for nothing. Grays Lake park has a trail I frequent with my son, it’s beautiful and you get the view of the lake and the Des Moines skyline. Then hop over to the East Village to find some amazing shops. Indie House is perfect if you need some home decor inspiration, or Janes Family Shop if you need a gift for little ones. If you’re a coffee addict like me or want an inviting place to sit with your laptop then Scenic Route Bakery or the new Vibrant Coffeehouse are a must. I love and appreciate all the wonderful places Des Moines has to offer and Downtown has everything to offer from parks, to different cuisines and experiences, it truly is one of my favorite places.”

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11. Small business community 

“Des Moines is such a lovely city to live in,” says May Thompson, Cake Designer and Owner of Parinda Cupcakes. “The size of the city is just perfect – not too big and not too small, just like the Goldilocks story. As a business owner, I have found many opportunities to grow and work with caring and understanding clients and vendors. Finally, our family loves being outdoors, and Des Moines offers several great biking trails throughout the city and suburbs during the warmer months that we can’t get enough of.”

“Des Moines truly shines through its community of small businesses,” explains Laynee Rietz, brand photographer and owner of Sage Collective Photography. “Areas like East Village and Valley Junction are just some of the places where creative business owners thrive thanks to strong community backing. This supportive environment allows for diverse, unique businesses to flourish, making Des Moines a special place for both entrepreneurs and customers.”

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What locals love about Des Moines, IA: Final thoughts

Des Moines, IA, emerges not just as a city, but as a collection of vibrant neighborhoods, diverse communities, and shared experiences that collectively define its unique charm. It’s evident that this city has a way of capturing the hearts of those who call it home. 

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