Ho Ho Ho… Happy Holidays! ‘Tis the season for twinkly lights and lots of family fun. Check out our guide for festive celebrations and winter break boredom busters.
Psst… If you’re looking for Santa Claus, we have the inside scoop on when and where to find the big man in red in our Where to See Santa Guide. We also have a round-up of holiday gift markets and the best places to see Christmas lights in the Des Moines area.
December 2018 Events and Activities
December 1 | Dazzling in the District Holiday Stroll, The District at Prairie Trail, Ankeny
2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Stroll through The District with Santa as he stops along the way for photos, cookie decorating, letter writing, story time, arts and crafts, brain games, and more.
December 1 | Family Christmas, Living History Farms
1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The whole family will enjoy a day of holiday traditions including a horse-drawn wagon ride, tree decorating, live music, and more.
December 1, 8, 15, 22 | Holiday Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides, Pella
Price: $5 for adults, $2 for children, under 2 years old free
There are few things more festive than horse-drawn carriage rides! Trot around the picturesque town of Pella.
December 1 – 16 | Santa Express Train, Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, Boone
Times vary on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays
Bring the family, and enjoy a ride from the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad’s depot to the North Pole (and return). You will hear the story of Santa’s Scenic Valley Ride, sing holiday songs, and take part in other fun, family activities. Also on board, you will be served hot chocolate and a cookie, and children will get to meet (and receive a special memento from) Santa himself.
December 1 – December 23 | ELF – The Musical, Des Moines Playhouse
Times and prices vary.
Based on the 2003 film, “Elf – The Musical” tells the story of Buddy, a human raised as an elf at the North Pole. Buddy travels to New York City where he learns his dad doesn’t believe in Santa Claus! The Playhouse presents the regional debut of this holiday show for the whole family.
December 1 – December 29 | Jolly Holiday Lights, Adventureland Park, Altoona
5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Price: $20 per car ($40 for limo or mini-bus)
Buy tickets ahead of time here.
A central Iowa favorite for more than 20 years, Jolly Holiday Lights supports the Make-a-Wish foundation. Treat your family to a night of lights and holiday fun.
December 2 | The Advent Shop, Freedom Blend Coffee
1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Shop with purpose at the Gateway Church’s annual Advent Shop. A variety of vendors will include locally-created, justice-oriented, socially-conscious, and handmade goods. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to two local organizations: Freedom for Youth and Joppa.
December 4 | Light the Plaza, Clive
6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Ring in the holiday season with the lighting of Aasheim Plaza. Enjoy holiday carols from Valley High School Vocal Music and a lighting ceremony to follow. Bruegger’s across the street will feature a free visit from Santa, hot cocoa, cookies, and kids activities.
December 4 | Mistletoe & Martinis Holiday Pop-up, Hotel Renovo in Urbandale
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Eat, drink, and shop! Celebrate the season at this annual holiday pop-up with local vendors. Grab some gifts for the holidays (or for yourself) while you sample wine from The Cellar at White Oak, enjoy sweet treats from Molly’s Cupcakes Des Moines and more.
December 4 | Square Lighting, Polk City
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Head to Polk City for open houses, carriage rides, Santa, and chances to win some great prizes.
December 5 | Goldie’s Kids Club: History Makers – Electric Cars, State Historical Museum of Iowa.
2 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Make the most out of your early-out Wednesday and learn about the electrifying history of the electric car and view a 1917 Milburn electric car in Iowa History 101. Activities and topics are recommended for children 8-12 years old.
December 7-9 | The Nutcracker, Hoyt Sherman Place
Price: Tickets start at $25
The beloved holiday tradition, The Nutcracker, returns to the stage with the whimsy and magic we have all grown to love! Join Clara, her magical prince, and toys that come to life as a mysterious gift sparks a wondrous adventure.
December 8 & 9 | Penoach Christmas Open House, Penoach Winery in Adel
1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Enjoy free wine samples and warm mulled apple wine while you shop for gifts for the wine lover in your family. (Or just enjoy an afternoon out with friends!)
December 8 & 15 | Santa at the Zoo, Blank Park Zoo
10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Price: $14 adults, $8 child, Free for members
This is a holiday tradition you do not want to miss! Enjoy a winter trip to the zoo while you snap a photo with Santa and write a letter to the North Pole.
December 12 & 15 | Pint-Size Science: Exploring Engineering, Science Center of Iowa
Price: $10 per child for members; $19 per child for non-members
Explore 3-D shapes and how they fit together to create structures. Use LEGOs to participate in design challenges and use different types of measurement tools. Recommended for ages 3-5; Toddler edition available for ages 20 months to 3 years.
December 13 | Storytime with Santa, Waukee Public Library
Families are invited to attend a special storytime with Santa! There will be a few songs and stories followed by a photo opportunity. Kids are welcome to come in pajamas.
December 13 & 14 | One Starry Night, Grimes United Methodist
6:15 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Don’t miss this live nativity scene for the whole family. Be transported back to Bethlehem. Free admission.
December 14 | The Gingerbread Child, The Des Moines Playhouse
Run, run, run I’m free and wild! You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Child! This cutout cookie leaps out of the oven and into a grand adventure. This interactive show is best for children ages 4-6.
December 15 | Gingerbread Storytime & Gingerbread Houses, East Side Des Moines Public Library
Hear stories and sing songs about gingerbread. Then add to the library’s gingerbread house with your own decorations. Create your own gingerbread house after storytime.
December 19 | Polar Express – Interactive Movie, Altoona Public Library
Get your tickets and climb aboard! Join us as we watch The Polar Express. There will be hot cocoa and more, so bring the whole family. Free admission, but pre-registration is required.
December 26 – 28 | Winter Break Camp, Living History Farms
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Kids can explore life in the past, visit Living History Farms’ historic sites, and get busy with hands-on activities. Camps are offered as 1-day or 3-day experiences.
December 27 | ELF Movie Night, Bash Events and Catering
6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Come with family and friends to watch Elf at Bash Events and Catering. Feel free to wear your pajamas, bring a lawn chair, and a blanket while you watch Buddy the Elf remind us how to spread that Christmas cheer. The event is free, but there will be a popcorn bar available to all attendees, and drinks available for purchase.
December 27-29 | Winter Break: Stuck on Cacti, Des Moines Botanical Center
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Looking for a fun family experience over winter break? Head to the Botanical Center for an array of drop-in activities (free with admission) that celebrate the unique beauty of cacti with games, crafts, and activities.
December 27 – 28 | SCI Winter Camps, Science Center of Iowa
Register for day-long camp experiences ranging in topic from technology to nature. Camps are open to students in Pre-K through 8th grade. Morning camps run from 9 a.m. to – noon; afternoon camps run from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
December 31 | Noon Year’s Eve, Science Center of Iowa, Des Moines
9 a.m. to noon
Bring the whole family to SCI to celebrate the New Year 12 hours early! Morning activities include face painting, balloon animals, a magician, and a balloon drop as attendees count down to 2019. Noon Year’s Eve activities are included with general admission.
December 31 | New Year’s Eve 2019 featuring The Nadas, Hotel Renovo
8 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Ring in the new year with a date night at Hotel Renovo, with live music from The Nadas and Dan Tedesco. There will be a hosted cocktail hour, champagne toast at midnight, and a midnight dessert bar. Stay for the breakfast buffet the next morning with an acoustic set from The Nadas.
Send us an email if we missed anything, and we’ll add your event to the list.
We work hard to ensure the accuracy of this information. However, you should always call ahead to confirm dates, times, location, and other information before heading to an event or activity, since it may change.