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Des Moines is Iowa’s low-key, spread-out capital. It's a perfectly pleasant place to watch a minor league baseball game, poke around a historic mansion and let the kids romp through museums. The action picks up considerably in August, when the Iowa State Fair brings the masses to town for corn dogs and butter cows.

The State Capitol impresses with its gold-domed opulence. The Des Moines Art Center hosts fine contemporary exhibits, while the Pappajohn Sculpture Park features lofty works by Keith Haring, Jaume Plensa and other renowned chiselers. Ten thousand antiques and objets d'art pack the 42-room Salisbury House; the 1920s manor doubles as a setting for plays and concerts. Children get stoked to shoot the air cannon at the Science Center of Iowa. They also flock to family-friendly Principal Park, where the Iowa Cubs swing to reach the major leagues.

Plentiful spots for a wander include Downtown's Court Avenue district (burgers and microbreweries), the East Village (galleries and global eats) and Ingersoll Avenue (pubs and sushi lounges).