15 Things I Love About Iowa and Des Moines

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living in Des Moines

When I travel out of state, and someone asks me where I am from, I only recently started saying, “Des Moines, Iowa.”  Before, my response was, “Well I’m FROM San Antonio, but I LIVE in Des Moines, Iowa.” 

Even though it feels like I only moved here a couple years ago, I realized I have been an Iowa resident now for 15 years! The truth is you’ll never be able to take the Texas out of me, but Iowa is home now and I adore it. In celebration of my 15 years here, I’d love to share with you 15 things I love about Iowa!

  1. Experiencing all four seasons! Growing up, winter snow was something I sang about in Christmas carols. Drinking a hot apple cider had no appeal in October with temperatures averaging in the mid-80s.  But since moving to Iowa, my eyes have been opened to an entirely new-to-me beauty of the changing seasons. There’s so much love from this girl for spring tulips, summer sweet corn, fall mums, and yes, winter snow!
  2. All the festivals. You guys. All the festivals here are just too fun, and to me are distinctly Iowan. My favorites are Tulip Time, the National Balloon Classic, Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival and Celebrasian!
  3. Farming families. Fun fact: this city girl had NEVER set foot on a working farm until moving to Iowa. In the past 15 years, I have been invited by several friends to come with them to their parents’, grandparents’, or aunt and uncle’s farms for a meal or holiday celebration. Each time, I have experienced hospitality like nowhere else! Every farming family I have gotten to know has fed me, hugged me, taught me something new, and invited me back for more.  
  4. The Iowa State Fair! I had never attended a state fair until I moved to Iowa. The first time my husband took me to the Iowa State Fair, I was hooked. Cheese curds! Jr. Donuts! Butter Cow! Seriously, there was a gaping Iowa State Fair-shaped-hole in my heart the first 22 years of my life, but I’ve been making up for it ever since.
  5. Feels small and big at the same time! This is specific to the city of Des Moines. I love that Des Moines is small enough to navigate easily, and regularly bump into friends unexpectedly in public. It also feels “big” to me in all the right ways. Our downtown is pretty great, and always getting better. We also have access to quality theater performances, local dining, great shopping, and family-friendly activities.  
  6.  Easy proximity to other great Midwest cities. Des Moines is the perfectly-sized city for family living in my opinion! For the occasional weekend getaway, though, I love visiting larger cities.  I love the easy distances to some pretty fantastic places like Chicago, Minneapolis, and Kansas City.  
  7. The food. Admittedly, some of the foods I was introduced to when I first moved here seemed odd. Taco pizza, pickle wraps, and ginormous pork tenderloins, all had me scratching my head. But now they make me smile and I fully embrace them. Oh and Iowa can be crowned queen in my mind for the sheer act of introducing me to Jaarsma Bakery’s dutch letters. Yum!
  8. May Day. I had never even heard of May Day until I moved here! What a delightful tradition and one I am so glad is part of my family’s life!
  9.  Quality hospitals, clinics, and therapy centers. Between my oldest daughter’s developmental needs, my husband’s spinal cord injury and our three kids’ bouts with ear infections, strep, influenza and the like, we have accessed a lot of medical care and therapies. We are so thankful for choices and quality care here in Iowa. I must give special shout-outs to Iowa Methodist Medical Center, Childserve and Enrichment Therapies for all they have done to care for our family and improve our quality of life. 
  10. Gardening. I am no gardener, but Iowa soil and climate give me the confidence to dabble in gardening! It’s not so easy in Texas with hard clay ground and prolonged heat. Here, after just a bit of prep work in the spring I can sow a few seeds, water them regularly and voila! Flowers, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers galore!  
  11. Beggar’s Night. Here’s another Des Moines-specific tradition. I just love the trick or treating on the night before Halloween as well as the joke telling before receiving candy. So charming. So Des Moines, and I’m so in love.
  12. Farmers Markets. You didn’t think I would forget the farmers market scene in Iowa, did you? After getting married, one of my life goals was to get a dog, become a mom, and walk around the Downtown Des Moines Farmer’s Market with my dog on my leash, baby in the stroller, and husband by my side. Done, done and done. And I couldn’t be any more pleased.
  13. RAGBRAI. The first time I learned about RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) I was captivated by the statewide sense of community here.  I have a friend from Texas who heads up a RAGBRAI team annually. That just gives me a big Iowa+Texas warm fuzzy feeling inside! 
  14. Iowa nice. I can’t imagine finding a community that is kinder, more generous or more self-sacrificing than what I’ve found in Iowa. Check out this Des Moines Register Article to learn about one of the most amazing “Iowa Nice” gestures our family has been on the receiving end of! It will warm your heart and make you proud to be an Iowan!
  15. My coming-of-age place. Iowa is where I got married, became a homeowner, started my career, and became a mother.  These life-defining moments are inextricably linked to Iowa.  For this reason alone, it will forever have my heart.

What do YOU love most about Des Moines and Iowa?  Let me hear from you in the comments!

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Erika Stevenson grew up in San Antonio, Texas but has made her home in Des Moines for 15 years. She and her husband, Darin have been married for 14 years and live in a turn-of-the-century home in the heart of Des Moines where they raise Lucy (10), Collin (9) and Nora (4). Erika first became a mom to Lucy in an open domestic adoption and eventually gave birth to Collin and Nora. When she's not busy with home-school lessons, laundry and meal-planning, she loves to sew, knit, and read.

2 COMMENTS

  1. What as great list! These are all the things I love about Des Moines too! I would add the arts: art center, sculpture garden, and art fair. And alongside RAGBRAI, the local bike trails that can bring you from downtown to the racoon river park to sailorville lake and countless other destinations.

    • Yes! Love your additions, Pam! Especially the mention of bike trails. We have started enjoying family bike rides during the past few years and have made many great memories riding the central Iowa trails!

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