Sometimes, when life gets SO busy you just need to check out for a day and take a break. My husband is a school principal and I work from home with our toddler most days. After a busy spring at school packed with all sorts of meetings, travel, and chaos we looked at each other and declared it was past time to schedule a hooky day. We scheduled a personal day off to spend together and decided to explore Des Moines – the state capitol of Iowa. For more information about tours, directions, etc. you can visit the Iowa Legislature page.
WARNING – LOTS of photos ahead! It’s the whole reason I wanted to visit the capitol building!
I’ve driven past this stunning building multiple times but never had the chance to take a photo of it. That gorgeous dome is covered in 23K gold. It’s even more stunning in person and you can see it from far away while traveling through the city. If you take a special tour you can go almost all the way up in the dome.
This marble grand staircase is absolutely grandiose. Although my husband takes the students at school every year for tours we decided since we wanted to maximize our day out that we would just wander around inside the capitol building until we were done. Unfortunately that means we did not get to go up inside the dome since our friends in the Senate were off for the day so hopefully I’ll get a chance to go back and do that sometime.
As you can imagine just like any state capitol building I’ve been in it’s just beautiful. The architecture and detail everywhere is worth taking your time walking through to appreciate. And the Des Moines capitol building is PACKED with history – everything from showcases of the current governor’s keepsakes to models of the USS Iowa – including it’s ship bell! (Did you know that Iowa residents get to board and visit the USS Iowa for FREE? It’s stationed in California!)
So I’m not going to lie – it was really easy to get lost here! It didn’t seem that you could just go up the stairs and see everything on that floor – there were different stairwells for various sections of that floor just like in the University of Iowa.
This was an interesting feature of history – every governor’s wife gets a doll made fashioned to her style at the time. It was neat to view the various fashions over the decades.
AH-HAH! T.H.I.S. The Des Moines capitol building law library – that’s exactly why I wanted to visit the capitol building! I had seen a photo of the library on Pinterest a while back and the ornate decor immediately caught my interest.
The library is packed floor to ceiling with all sorts of nooks, crannies, and original furniture. In fact the glass lamps are original with the building – they wired everything to transform the gas lights to electric and kept the original globes.
Unfortunately you are only allowed to walk around on the main floor but thankfully they do allow you to climb part of the stairs to get a better view of the library.
I wish I had brought my zoom lens because we could see amazing tattered books high on the 3rd floor that looked ancient. I can only imagine the age of the books in this treasure trove.
I’m so glad I had the chance to drool at the library for a little bit! It even had an old card catalog stationed by the desk!
Here’s an inside shot of the rotunda – I was fascinated by the top squares you see there – every single square had an individual light that was lit up inside.
Strangely enough I found this to be the most beautiful spot in the capitol. We were walking around behind this set of stairs to look out the window over the city and as I glanced up I was hit by the colorful ornateness. (ok – probably not a word but it sums up the feeling!)
In the bottom of the capitol building, which is actually the main hallway you walk through after going through the metal detectors is a small gift shop and display with historical items from the original building between large sections of the building in 1904. The few items there are fascinating (especially the library door hinges!) and the gift shop is CHEAP CHEAP! If you ever wanted an Iowa souvenir that’s the place to go!
Although we didn’t have time to do everything in such a short time some of our other favorite Des Moines area spots to explore are at Big Creek State Park, Jester State Park, the Des Moines Botanical Garden, of course Blank Park Zoo and the Iowa Science Center. If you’re into history Living History Farms and the Jordan House are both great places to schedule a stop.