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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Des Moines, Iowa: Booming with Fun

Des Moines at a Glance

Location: South Central Iowa

Access: Des Moines International Airport

Hotel Rooms: 2,833 downtown, 13,000+ in Greater Des Moines

Contact Info:

Catch Des Moines


Meeting Spaces

Iowa Events Center

Exhibit Space: 150,000 square feet

Other Meeting Spaces: 37 meeting rooms

Iowa State Fairgrounds

Exhibit Space: 110,400 square feet

Other Meeting Spaces: 14 meeting rooms

Meeting Hotels

Des Moines Marriott Downtown

Guest Rooms: 413

Meeting Space: 14,000 square feet

Hilton Des Moines Downtown

Guest Rooms: 330

Meeting Space: 9,940 square feet

Sheraton West Des Moines

Guest Rooms: 285

Meeting Space: 12,000 square feet

Who’s Meeting in Des Moines

World Pork Expo

Attendees: 180

American Cheese Society

Attendees: 1,000

National Speech and Debate Tournament

Attendees: 10,000

In the middle of Iowa’s rolling prairie, a flood of new residents, artists, sports and attractions have transformed Des Moines into a city booming with fun. 

With a thriving culture of entrepreneurship, Des Moines has become the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the Midwest. In May of last year, the city opened the largest skatepark in the nation — Lauridsen Skatepark — to entertain boarders and BMX bikers alike. There are hundreds of miles of trails and kayaking at the Iowa Confluence Water Trails, or ICON for short. The addition of many such attractions have made Des Moines a cosmopolitan and cool place for meetings. 

Destination Highlights

Before it began to grow so rapidly, Des Moines was known primarily as the state capital and the national campaign epicenter during presidential election years. It was an insurance town that also hosted the nation’s top state fair at the Iowa Fairgrounds, drawing more than 1 million people every August. The Iowa State Fair and the beautiful state capitol remain visitor favorites, along with thrill rides at Adventureland Park, live horse racing at Prairie Meadows Casino Racetrack and the Des Moines Farmers’ Market.

But Des Moines has changed into something much bigger. Because of its growth, Des Moines today can accommodate groups of all sizes, according to Trina Flack, vice president of sales for Catch Des Moines. 

“We have the capacity,” Flack said. “We are a city and not just cornfields. Everything is fresh and new. We are front and center for all the national media every four years. Our hotels and facilities put their best foot forward every four years.”

In July, the beautiful downtown will host the return of the 80/35Music Festival, named after the two prominent interstates that intersect the city. 

In west Des Moines, the new MidAmerican Energy Company, RecPlex, has been built on 66 acres to attract adult and youth tournaments for soccer, hockey, volleyball, lacrosse, pickleball, football, rugby and basketball.

In a renovated art deco firehouse downtown, the Des Moines Social Club draws thousands every month to theater and live music performances. The club also hosts culinary classes, dance parties and trivia nights. Its Viaduct Gallery supports local artists and has a music studio and a bakery. 

Because of all it has to offer, a half dozen national magazines have dubbed Des Moines the nation’s best location for millennials, young professionals, families, businesses and careers. 

Distinctive Venues

The Iowa State Fairgrounds offers an interesting meeting place with lots of flexibility close to the heart of downtown. There are 14 venues ranging from 1,800 to 110,400 square feet. The fairgrounds are used for a wide variety of events, including rodeos, car shows, home and garden shows, pork expos and more. 

Another venue worth consideration is the MidAmerican Energy Company RecPlex. The complex includes a 90,000-square-foot indoor turf soccer field, two indoor ice arenas, four basketball courts, eight volleyball courts and three outdoor synthetic turf fields. Located near the city entertainment districts, the complex has space for trade shows, conventions, galas and concerts. 

One of the local lodging treasures is the Hotel Fort Des Moines, where celebrities and a dozen sitting presidents have stayed. The hotel has more than 13,000 square feet of meeting space and completed a total renovation a few years ago. It’s close to downtown’s cultural attractions, dining, shops and entertainment. 

There are many other hotels with meeting space, including the Des Moines Marriott Downtown (14,000 square feet), the Hilton Des Moines Downtown (9,940 square feet) and the Sheraton West Des Moines (12,000 square feet).

Major Meeting Spaces

The Iowa Events Center includes the Wells Fargo Arena, Hy-Vee Hall and the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center. This flexible space with 37 meeting rooms, a 150,000-square-foot exposition hall, a 28,800-square-foot ballroom and a 17,000-seat arena can accommodate all kinds of events. 

Hy-Vee Hall’s first level meeting space includes 14,400 square feet and up to eight meeting rooms, while its second-floor features 150,000 square feet of exhibit space and up to three exhibit halls. The third-floor convention center has 21 meeting rooms and 50,000 square feet, and the mezzanine level includes four executive board rooms. 

Wells Fargo Area is home to the Iowa Barnstormers football team, whose season runs through July. Major concerts have returned to Wells Fargo Arena, including renowned performers such as Elton John, New Kids on the Block and Justin Bieber.

The events center is attached to the 330-room Hilton Des Moines Downtown and includes 1,400 parking spaces on site. More than 1,300 hotel rooms and many restaurants are connected to the center by a climate-controlled skywalk, and the center has its own culinary team.

Des Moines has many other cool event spaces like Salisbury House and Gardens. The historic mansion is filled with ornate needlepoint tapestries and a 19-foot-long oak table.

After the Meeting

Anyone interested in craft beer will enjoy visiting the breweries located downtown. And that’s only the beginning of after-meeting fun in Des Moines.

For family fun, the Adventureland Resort has roller coasters, a water park and shows, while the Blank Park Zoo is also a big hit, exhibiting 1,500 animals. It also includes a train, a carousel and camel rides. 

For shopping, the Jordan Creek Town Center is the largest shopping and entertainment complex in Iowa, while Smash Park offers courts for pickleball, shuffleboard and arcade games, making it an excellent location for a night out. 

Fans of Westerns may enjoy the John Wayne Birthplace and Museum located just southwest of the city. The museum this year is celebrating an expansion and contains a collection of John Wayne memorabilia, including hundreds of rare photographs and other exhibits.

History lovers enjoy the State Historical Museum of Iowa, featuring exhibits celebrating movies connected to Iowa, along with other stories about the state. 

“Des Moines is a little above our weight class because we have so much corporate support,” Flack said. “We have to have the attractions and investments to attract workers, and we get shows like ‘Hamilton’ ahead of a lot of cities our size.”