Next Wednesday the Oiselle birds are flying! Destination: Des Moines, Iowa, to cheer our Rogas off at the USA Championships at Drake. We'll all be the first to admit we know nothing about this "Iowa" we've heard so little about. So we needed to ask a native. Enter: Betsy Flood. And we have to say, she has us excited for more than the races now!
"We're off to the races..."
...I’m not sure that Lana Del Rey meant to say we were off to Des Moines, IA for the USATF meet at Drake Stadium when she wrote the song above, but that’s where we are headed. All elite runners and track fans in the US of A are packing their bags to head to the heart of the heartland. They are traveling here in order to lay it all out on the blue track in competition, experience the joys of running in the Midwest in the summer ;) , and explore a city full of awesomeness that is brimming with life and opportunity. With one of the country’s best farmer’s markets, a statewide population dedicated to becoming the healthiest state, and lots of great arts and eateries, the city is quickly becoming a destination instead of a drive-thru.
So why am I writing this? After racing at Drake Stadium for the past near-decade of my life I have seen the misguided representation of Des Moines known to most runners who spend time shuttling between hotel and track with the mindset of there being ‘nothing better to do.’ I’m here to show off my hometown and bring some excitement to the elite athletes and spectators visiting this little gem. Going to a meet doesn’t have to mean life is boring and horrible for three days, and Des Moines is freaking awesome! The following illustrates a guide of the ‘must-sees’ of the city. Places to run, eat, and drink lots of coffee for the running culture of America. And, of course, all of my favorites. Please pick and choose from the parts of the write-up that interest you, it would be impossible to do it all in a weekend!
True Life: there are better places to run in Des Moines than the sidewalks. Get Yo Run On, (Wo-)Man!
- Gray's Lake and Water Works Park: Gray’s Lake offers a scenic 3k loop with several areas to add on, including Water Works Park which is located directly across Fleur Drive.
- Raccoon River Park is a sure destination for those avoiding pavement. This run makes a 5k loop with beautiful scenery and soft surface.
- Bill Riley Trail: this railroad-turned-bike path runs for dozens of miles by connecting to other trails and provides some nice shade as well. Very accessible from most parts of the city.
- For those thrill seekers who just wanna get dirty and run the hidden trails: check out this link. These are probably not the best option for before racing.
Places to Dine Before the Race
- La Mie and City Bakery: Hands down my favorites. Created by the same owners both restaurants offer fresh affordable French inspired fare. Be sure to get the vegetable scramble and a French macaroon to go.
- Gateway Market: The Drake Stadium go-to. The grocery store/café is full of organic, local produce. This crowd pleaser is sure to satisfy the foodie, runner, or average joe looking for last-minute groceries or a quick satisfying meal.
- Centro: The local’s favorite. This acclaimed restaurant has gourmet pasta, pizza, proteins, and tapas. The brunch is equally divine.
- Lucca: modern Italian in the East Village. Pricey, but worth it.
Places to Dine After the Race
- Zombie Burger + Drink Lab: Such a novelty. So important. So Yummy. So hip. The creative calorie laden menu is one of a kind.
- Jethro's: All that needs to be said is this place has been featured on Man vs. Food. It’s the real deal, and within walking distance from the stadium.
- Django: Could be visited before or after the race. But the frites! The wine! The dessert! I think after is better.
- The Waveland Cafe: It’s been around long enough to be considered ‘historic.’ This website-less greasy breakfast gem has been a staple in the community, forever.
- Star Bar: Features a full menu of ‘New American’ eats and gets a little funky later on. Great food, location, and nightlife.
The Arts, The Culture. The City Life.
- Des Moines Art Center + Cafe: The place is really and truly beautiful. Incredible works for such a small city. If you make the stop in be sure to hit up the award winning café.
- Pappajohn Sculpture Park: A fairly recent addition that adds a ‘big city’ feel to the downtown (you almost forget there is only a single skyscraper.) Perfect for a short walk, or great for a picnic or coffee date.
- Fleur Cinema: So divine! A great artsy theater with pastries, coffee, and wine. I almost didn’t share because it’s my secret hideaway without the big cinema prices and crowds. Indulge and relax to escape the heat!
- Simon Estes Amphitheater: Beautiful outdoor concert venue with grass seating and a private feel. Be sure to look at the ‘nightfall on the river’ lineup.
- DSM Arts Festival: The best event in Des Moines begins less than a week after USATF. If you are still in town, you must go. The city at it’s finest.
- Yoga in the Park: Free at Gray’s Lake every Saturday morning. Perfect after a morning run! Excellent instructors volunteer to give yoga to the community.
- Farmer's Market: Voted one of the best markets in the country. Full of incredible people. animals, foods, and atmosphere. Highly recommend a visit.
- Jasper Winery: I’ve heard really amazing things about this place. Haven’t been, but making a point to go this weekend. Live music, food, and atmosphere receive raving reviews.
- East Village: Des Moines newly renovated made-hip neighborhood and shopping area is the place to be if you’re young and thriving (which we all are!) Eclectic, beautiful, artsy, and unique!
Coffee… Please? Always.
- Ritual Cafe: "Where great coffee is a daily ritual." Also features yummy vegan foods.
- Smokey Row: Very close to the Drake with lots of room and lots of options.
- Java Joe's: In my opinion, the best. Coffee, beer, music, games; it’s all here.
- Zanzibar: Great sustainable coffee from around the world. Incredible service.
- Mars Cafe: Tasteful atmosphere and product. Walking distance from the track.
Note: For those of you who are routine, stick-to-what-you-like-before-races types (understandably), there is also a Whole Foods, a Trader Joe’s, a Target, several shopping malls, and many chain restaurants. But I’ll leave finding those up to you!
Good luck to all Oiselle birds competing this weekend: Dream; Fly!