Road trip recommendations: How to do Des Moines


Kamrin Baker

Decor inside Horizon Line Coffee. Photo by Kamrin Baker/the Gateway

During the first weekend in August, myself and Gateway digital editor Samantha Weideman had the opportunity to travel to Iowa to attend and cover the Hinterland Music Festival. In between photographing big musical acts like Kacey Musgraves and Hozier, we spent our down time in Des Moines exploring the city.

With the fall semester beginning a week later than year’s past for Mavericks, we found this to be the opportune time to squeeze in some affordable travel tips for one last adventure before the new school year commences. Enjoy the following recommendations for Omaha’s twin city– two hours away– Des Moines.

Stop in RAYGUN.

I had heard of RAYGUN before my trip and definitely wanted to pop in, but I had no idea what I was about to experience. This store is a large, airy, inclusive warehouse of products that speak to the soul in a political and comical way. A good portion of the shirts, stickers, magnets and more depict political phrases that are most likely to speak to a liberal demographic, but many are also non-partisan, like “America Needs Teachers,” and my personal favorite, “America Needs Journalists.”

However, if politics aren’t your cup of tea, there are countless tees, mugs and prints dedicated to loving on the Midwest. There are entire collections dedicated to the word “ope,” the Midwestern collective love of ranch dressing and Hy-Vee grocery stores. I really had to hold myself back from buying every little thing, but most products were extremely well-priced, which made it easy to fall in love.

RAYGUN. Photo by Kamrin Baker/the Gateway

Grab a cuppa joe at Horizon Line or DSM Brew Coffee Co.

Similarly to Omaha, there are a lot of wonderful locally owned coffee shops, and while I wish I had a chance to try them all, I really enjoyed Horizon Line and DSM Brew.

Horizon Line was reminiscent of Omaha’s Rally or Archetype, with a lot of natural light and plant life. Their beverages were delicious and Samantha said it “may have been the smoothest coffee” she had ever had. It was easily Instagram-able, and my almond milk vanilla latte served me well.

On Sunday, we spent a good chunk of time in DSM Brew Coffee Co., which was located inside a building that also had a barbecue joint, Fuzzy’s Tacos and Jimmy John’s. College student paradise, if you ask me. This shop had stellar prices and offerings, as well as gelato and other snacks. The interior design struck me with a lot of beautiful local art and a neon sign that said “Get Woke,” the company’s slogan. It bright and accommodating and had the most comfortable chairs I have ever had the pleasure of sitting in.

Sign inside DSM Brew Coffee Co. Photo by Kamrin Baker/the Gateway

Dine to the nines.

Des Moines also has a ton of wonderful dining options. We enjoyed each meal, which were all, admittedly, recommended to us.

1) Zombie Burger
Zombie Burger was our first bite of lunch, and we beat the dine-in line for self service. While we didn’t commit to a fun milkshake, the burger options were stellar and I think I’ll be having dreams about the fries for at least two weeks.

2) Up-Down
If you thought Beercade was a staple in your life, wait until you see the neon signage and cheap pizza from Up-Down. We had $2 slices of pizza and then spent two hours playing pinball like absolute legends. I imagine this is a perfect stop for beer, cocktails and competitive Skee-Ball.

3) Mullets
While it is still difficult for me to stomach the dolphin frat boy-looking logo that signifies Mullets, I loved my affordable breakfast and the “Mulletin Board” in the entryway. This homey eatery is located on the river and has comfortable indoor and outdoor seating for any meal of the day.

Mulletin Board at Mullets in Des Moines. Photo by Kamrin Baker/the Gateway

Shop local downtown

One of my favorite parts of the trip was our afternoon on East Grand Avenue, where we stopped in countless local businesses that struck my fancy. Besides RAYGUN, we hopped into Domestica (which, if you’re a Hello Holiday fan, is right up your alley); Porch Light and Reclaimed, both pretty antique and vintage shops; Marv’s Music, a large vinyl shop; and Permanent Collection, a large letterpress business with hand-crafted paper goods.

Inside Reclaimed. Photo by Kamrin Baker/the Gateway
Printed features inside The Permanent Collection. Photo by Kamrin Baker/the Gateway