Life in Des Moines

What is Des Moines? 

It’s the new Silicon Valley—an atmosphere where fresh start-ups and tech companies thrive. It’s the new Brooklyn—a site where hip, young professionals soak in scores of local music, arts, and culture. It’s the new Chicago—a hub for business and industry where career opportunities are constantly springing up. But Des Moines is not Silicon Valley, Brooklyn, or Chicago. It’s Des Moines. It’s a city that defies comparison because it’s something completely its own. 

So, what’s there to do in Des Moines? Check out a sampling below. Then, come see for yourself.

Eat Up

In the Drake neighborhood, you’ll find award-winning barbecue at Woody’s Smoke Shack and Jethro’s, (featured on Man vs. Food), Chinese, sushi, Mexican, classic diner fare, and eclectic coffeehouse food. Venture a little further into the city, and options include everything from tried-and-true favorites like pizza, pasta, and burgers to specialty offerings for vegans and vegetarians. There’s also the unique places that make Des Moines a foodie’s paradise—student favorites include the undead-themed Zombie Burger and the quirky Polynesian/Italian fusion of Fong’s Pizza. You’ll also find innovative international cuisine, including Caribbean barbecue at Flying Mango, Ecuadorian cuisine at Mi Patria, or the authentic Thai, Indian, Japanese, Pakistani, Southern Soul, and other tastes to be found in the city. And for desert? Des Moines has a delicious array of cupcakes, ice cream, chocolate shops, and bakeries scattered throughout the city.

Arts & Culture

Besides the wide variety of musical performances on campus, you can swing downtown to hear the spectrum of alt rock, punk, hip hop, indie folk, jazz, classic rock, and country at some of downtown’s coolest venues like Wooly’s where the Des Moines music scene is thriving. During the warm weather months, outdoor concert series bring artists ranging from Fitz and the Tantrums to the Des Moines Symphony. A series of stars regularly roll through Des Moines for shows at the Wells Fargo Arena, or Des Moines’ own 80/35 Music Festival, which has featured the likes of Wu-Tang Clan, Best Coast, Death Cab for Cutie, and The Roots.

Just minutes from campus, The Des Moines Art Center has a unique collection of works and exhibitions from artists such as Andy Warhol, Claude Monet, and Georgia O’Keeffe. If theatre’s your thing, check out the Des Moines Playhouse’s incredible productions, often starring and involving Drake students, or head to a Broadway show at the Des Moines Civic Center and take advantage of discounted student rush tickets. The Des Moines Social Club combines all these arts elements to provide a centralized location for programs ranging from comedy to poetry, circus to theater, dance to opera, and a whole lot more in one of the hippest venues in the Midwest.

Maybe the best showcase of life in Des Moines is the diverse lineup of festivals celebrating the unique culture, arts, and food of the city. The fall kicks off with the World Food & Music Festival downtown, while the Latino Heritage Festival and CelebrASIAN each illustrate unique facets of Iowa’s identity. The Des Moines Arts Festival is nationally renowned for its array of visual and multimedia arts. And perhaps the most Iowan of gatherings, the Des Moines Bacon Festival is a standout every year with its array of unique bacon foods.

The Great Outdoors

Des Moines provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors with classic activities like bike rides, hiking, boating, or sledding. But the city also offers some unique offerings to add variety, fun, and challenge to your outings. For instance, spend your winter ice-skating under the stars—or under some falling snowflakes—at the riverside Brenton Skating Plaza. Or, with more than 550 miles of regional trails (42 of them within the city), there are tons of opportunities to bike, run, walk, skate, or kayak at places like Des Moines’ own Gray’s Lake, just a few minutes away from campus. For the athletically inclined, Sleepy Hollow Sports Park provides batting cages, Go-Karts, and bumper boats in the summer. In the winter you’ll find skiing, snowboarding, and tubing at the park.

Drake students can participate in fun runs like the Halloween Hot Chocolate 5K, color runs, and mud runs, or the Hy-Vee Road Races that take over campus during the Drake Relays season in April. And for serious athletes looking for a serious challenge? Join the Des Moines Triathlon Club and work with others to train for the city’s big annual races. If you stick around for the summer, join in with the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI)—seven days of cycling, pie, tent cities, and Iowa fun. And more pie.


Quirky shops and boutiques reign supreme in the Historic East Village, where you’ll find vintage clothes, niche shopping (like the subversively awesome Raygun), and a whole lot more. West of campus lies the shopper’s paradise of West Des Moines. There you’ll find Jordan Creek Mall with its collection of retail giants, restaurants, and all the clothes, shoes, gifts, and accessories you could ever need. Other neighborhood retail meccas include the Shops at Roosevelt, Valley Junction, as well as Valley West and Merle Hay malls.

Professional Life

There’s a reason Forbes called Des Moines the number one city for young professionals. The city has become a hub for young job seekers, and at Drake, students can take advantage of the market not only for jobs after graduation, but for professional experience and internships while still in school.

Beginning their first year at Drake, students have access to an incredible array of opportunities to explore different professional fields and find the right fit. Meredith Corporation and all its media outlets hire student interns to write and design for some of the biggest magazines in the nation such as Better Homes and Gardens. On the financial side of the spectrum, corporations like Wells Fargo and Principal Financial Group hire Drake student interns to work in the ever-growing finance, insurance, and actuarial science industries. Education majors have access to Des Moines’ strong network of schools, while health care students are surrounded by numerous hospitals and pharmacies that partner with Drake for internships. The cluster of bioscience companies in the area also provides opportunities for hands-on research. Meanwhile, in the fine arts, Drake students have access onstage and behind the scenes work at venues such as the Des Moines Playhouse and the Des Moines Symphony. And with Iowa’s capitol right at the University’s doorstep, Drake students have front-row access to the political process, especially as big election cycles roll around. Students in fields such as politics, pre-law, and communications can work with a campaign or a network news crew during caucuses and debates, or intern in the capitol building with local representatives, senators, and Supreme Court members.

Drake’s Professional and Career Development Services constantly connects students with these industries—and many more.


When you’re not busy cheering on the Bulldogs, there’s plenty in the Des Moines sports world to keep you busy. Catch future major leaguers before they hit the big time at an Iowa Cubs game (AAA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs); or cheer on the Iowa Energy, the Chicago Bulls development league team, as they take the court at Wells Fargo Arena. Des Moines also presents two different opportunities to catch some hockey with the Des Moines Buccaneers and the Iowa Wild, the affiliate of the Minnesota Wild. And if football’s your thing, an outing to see the Iowa Barnstormers men’s team and Iowa Crush women’s team is a must. For something a little unique, check out the Des Moines Derby Dames roller derby squad. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try out to be part of the team.

Getting Around Town

One benefit of Des Moines’ size is that it’s a small enough city to be accessible, but big enough to provide plenty of places to go. Students are welcome to bring cars to campus, but can also access the city through other modes of transportation. A quick walk or bike ride puts you in reach of everything you need, and for longer trips, the DART bus system’s multiple lines travel around the city and make stops right on campus. Best of all, it’s completely free for Drake students to ride the bus with their Drake IDs.