Sentimental journey back to Des Moines – Botanical Center expansion, Des Moines Art Center special exhibits, Highland Park neighborhood coolness (“The Collective”), Big Grove/Lua breweries, Fresko

Three months after moving to Chicago from Des Moines, we returned to our former home of 32 years for a very busy 3.5 days. It still feels like home, with our daughter there and so many old and dear friends. Iowa’s capitol city looked better than ever – we managed to squeeze in one bike ride on our favorite loop down the river to the Botanical Center, over the Women of Achievement Bridge, past the East Village to Principal Park and then over to Gray’s Lake (alas, the trail from the ballpark to the the lake was closed due to construction, so we rode along MLKing Parkway), to Waterworks Park, then up north on Cumming Parkway through the cemetery and back to Forestdale..

New to the Highland Park neighborhood

We duly noted the construction going on around Captain Roy’s on the river (a new boat rental place, we gather) and the Botanical Center’s expansion of its outdoor gardens caught our eye, for sure. Sadly, no time to visit. Also noted the complete eradication of one of the city’s biggest eyesores – a superfund site south of downtown (the Dyko plant) that is now a grassy field awaiting possible development as a pro soccer field!

Just south of Sherman Hill, the new Big Grove brewpub was packed with people (sadly, it wasn’t open for lunch at 1 p.m. when we tried to go – opens at 3 p.m.). We have enjoyed the one in Iowa City and the original is in Solon, IA. Lua, the smaller one-of-a-kind brewery across the street, proved a perfect patio to hang out on a balmy Friday night. Friends wanted to go to Irina’s – a Russian food-inspired restaurant with an outdoor patio on Hickman. Pleasant enough but pretty heavy food for summer and a dull view of a classically nondescript suburban thoroughfare.

We were more impressed by the new (to us) Fresko on Locust Avenue, which has a large varied menu of shareable items and lighter fare. I “Didn’t you used to work in this building?” I asked our dining partner David. “Yes,” he replied. “We’re sitting in what used to be our conference room.” Excellent margaritas, pork tacos, shrimp. We also ate at our favorite Peruvian place, Panka, which remains excellent (Next trip, we hope to try it’s offshoot near Drake – soon to be opened Peruvian chicken restaurant). Speaking of Drake, friends wanted to go to the Drake Diner for breakfast – we haven’t done that in years. It’s still good! As is La Mie in the Roosevelt Shopping Center.

I didn’t get a chance to wander around the trendy East Village but I did make a quick trip to the Highland Park/Oak Park “emerging” neighborhood. Des Moines Mercantile has well-curated Iowa-produced goods including pricey but oh-so-cozy looking wool blanks from Amana, IA. I chanced upon another new-to-me place called The Collective which specializes in sustainable, eco-friendly, vegan products – the kind of place where you can frefill your reusable containers with bath and kitchen products (“Suds of Love Laundry Soap,” “Charcoal and Mint Tooth power,” Vegan Body Butte,…); plus find metal drinking straws, menstrual caps, non-plastic hair bands and a lot more.

The Des Moines Art Center is as stimulating as ever, with two interesting temporary exhibits – a media-focused exhibit “Images Unbound,” examining the societal impact of images we’ve been bombarded with since the invention of photography (including some Carrie Mae Weems’ evocative, atmospheric “Sea Island Series (Women in White”), photo essays of deep south black communities), and a post-social distancing exhibit in the print gallery of images (print and photo) of intimacy called “Hold Me Closer.” including my favorite Deana Lawson photo “Wanda and daughters”! There’s also been a change-up of artwork in the other galleries that kept me on my toes as a former docent.

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Filed under Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

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