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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our Des Moines Getaway

Des Moines is not often thought of as a great getaway destination, but trust me, it is.

Years ago, I was selected to work on a project to hire airport security screeners (the TSA) around the country. I was pretty excited for the project, but had one request: Don’t send me to North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho, Wisconsin or Iowa. To my disappointment, I was sent to Des Moines, Iowa, but ended up having a blast. Despite working 80 hours a week, our team had fun exploring and getting to know the city. It was a home away from home.

So, as my birthday approached, Ryan and I considered our drivable options and determined that Des Moines would be the best place to spend my birthday weekend being that it was only 3 ½ hours away, it was affordable, and we already knew plenty of things to keep us busy.

We checked into our hotel (the Renaissance Savery in downtown Des Moines) and got our weekend started by heading to The Continental for drinks, specifically Pisco Sours, my favorite drink there.

Look at all those lemons -yes!
After a couple drinks (only $5 a piece!), we headed to Proof for dinner. Proof is only open for lunch, but on Friday evenings, they offer a 3-course farm fresh dinner using local ingredients. The entire meal was wonderful and surprisingly filling, but our favorites had to be the salad topped with peaches and the eggplant goat cheese bisque.

Mixed greens, toasted almonds, gorgonzola & peaches.

Roasted eggplant pureed with carrots, onion, celery and drizzled with goat cheese cream.
After dinner, we wandered through the sculpture garden right outside the restaurant and watched crazy college students hoot and holler for no good reason. Maybe they were actually excited about school starting?

On Saturday morning we woke up early to do yoga at Gray’s Lake. It was my first time doing an outdoor yoga class and I loved it. The instructor was great and there was even a flutist to really set an earthy vibe.

Last time we were in Des Moines (almost a year ago) we were amazed at how much the farmers market had grown. Back in 2002, it was pretty small with only a few farmers, some jelly producers and a couple crafters. Now, it’s a sprawling market with food vendors, activities, and many farmers from all over the state.

Ryan and I grabbed a freshly grilled mozzarella and basil sandwich, a beet-apple-blueberry smoothie, and stocked up on ingredients like mushrooms, squash, apples, pears and green beans for meals back home.

Grilled sandwiches, green bean "fries" and grilled sweet corn.
Fresh made juices and smoothies made at the market.
Chicken mushrooms.
Since we split everything at the market and it was already time for lunch, we parked ourselves at Court Avenue Brewery for beer, bloody marys and my favorite salad at Court Avenue, the Colossus Salad.

Falafel, pita, hummus, feta, olives & mixed greens.
After a lengthy nap, we found ourselves back at The Continental. This time our main objective this time was food – fried goat cheese, tapenade, tacos and crostini, but of course I ordered a couple more Pisco Sours and tried their flavored mojitos too. Yum!

I didn’t get pictures of everything (hey, I was on vacation!), but we did eat at a few more places like Fong’s Pizza (think Chinese food, but on a pizza), Gateway Market & Café (like our co-ops + a café with an array of sandwiches, salads, and entrees), Ritual Café (Horchata latte was the best!) and our new discovery: Django. If you are ever in Des Moines, you must try this place. They have a pretty extensive menu, but the mussels in blue cheese cream sauce really caught my eye and did not disappoint. They were the freshest mussels we have ever had and the blue cheese cream sauce was to die for. We also split a cheese flight (triple cream brie, creamy gorgonzola & marigold infused gouda) and got so full that we couldn’t finish it. They offered me a birthday dessert and I sadly had to decline!

We ended our trip at the High Life Lounge, a kitschy tribute to all things retro. Wood paneling, shag carpet and Miller High Life decorations all over the place; they don’t serve any beers made after the 1970’s.

High Life everything!

Ryan and I holed up in a booth, put quarters in the jukebox, and sipped on Tangermeisters. Yep, Tang + Jagermeister. It’s surprisingly good and while meant as a shot, I prefer to sip it.

As you can see Des Moines IS a great getaway destination, especially if you like to eat and drink (like we do!) and it is quite affordable and easy to navigate; a great break from the Twin Cities.

Have you ever been to Des Moines? What are your favorite things to do while on vacation?


  1. I haven't been to Des Moines, and like you, wouldn't immediately think of it as a tourist destination! :)

    Chicken of the Woods mushrooms! Did you read my blog post when Dan and I found some in the spring? Might be time to go hiking again . . . !!!!!

  2. So happy you enjoyed Des Moines! We love our city and are happy you enjoyed your time here.

  3. Yeah! Glad you love our city as much as I do. Thanks for spending time writing about it.

  4. Thanks for the great post! As a Des Moines resident, you've encouraged me to get out and take in some more of our fine restaurants. It sounds like you had a great vacation, and we're happy you chose Des Moines!

  5. I'm glad you like Des Moines as much as we do!

  6. My in-laws live there, so when we go, we tend to end up sitting in their living room for an entire weekend. I think that has colored my perception quite a bit. Because this looked like a fabulous weekend. Bookmarking it for my next trip down, maybe we can sneak out and squeeze one of these in.

  7. Thank you Des Moines readers!! I love that you took the time to comment and just goes to show how wonderful you all are.


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