My personal favorites in the Court Avenue area are the German-themed Hessen Haus (built in a converted railroad warehouse right next to an active railroad track). Discount Jagger shots every time a train goes by. I keep wanting to take my second-generation German father here, but I'm afraid he'll lose his mind, get hammered and start talking about the Kaiser or something. The Hessen Haus is next door to the Science Center of Iowa, fabulous for the kiddies. It includes an IMAX theater.
Also, Court Avenue Brewery for fresh beer and pretty tasty food. El Bait Shop has a zillion micro brews on tap, including all the Rogue beers. A super inside source tells me Danica's Handler, the famous Haley Moore, is a BIG fan of El Bait Shop. I also super dig the Bait Shop, so you should consider it.
Right next door to El Bait Shop (they are actually literally attached) is the High Life Lounge, which is an Ultra Lounged out 1970s throwback that only serves beer that was around in the 70s, including Miller High Life, of course.
Just south of Court Avenue is Principal Park, home of the Iowa Cubs Triple A baseball team. The Cubbies are in town for the weekend, so you can catch a game there Friday night or Saturday night. Go HERE for info. You can usually just walk up and buy good seats. Tickets are just $8 for general admission and $11 for a reserved seats. Save a $1 per if you buy in advance. Check the seating situation HERE. The Iowa Cubs are the pinnacle of family friendly in Des Moines.
Also in the area (although not technically in the Court Avenue district) is the Raccoon River Brewery. Mmmmm. Fresh Beer. Court Avenue Brewery and Raccoon River Brewery see a lot of the pdog, as you can imagine.
Also good in the downtown area (and within about 50 feet of each other) are Fongs Pizza Chinese Italian Lounge, Java Joes coffehouse if you want to get WIRED and, of course, the Royal Mile, a British-themed pub where Shane Rogers, International Super Star, and I had a lovely dinner last year.
Also on the "east side" is The Latin King, a pretty famous, family-owned landmarky kind of Italian restaurant at 2200 Hubble Ave. in Des Moines. Bonus if you go to the Latin King, you'll be near Anderson Erickson Dairy and will see the HUGE mother cow and cafe statue. Be sure to get your photo taken with them.
Head just a bit to the west and hit Ingersoll Avenue, one of my favorite streets in Des Moines. From Martin Luther King Blvd. west you'll see a ton of restaurants and shops. Star Bar is one where the hipsters gather. Wellman's Pub is a landmark. Also Ingersoll Wine Merchants, one the official suppliers of pressdog™ beers of the race, is on this road.
If you're looking for the more suburban mall-esque stuff, roll to West Glenn and the Jordan Creek Mall. Take I-80 or I-235 east into the metro, then hit I-35 south. Exit at George Mills Civic Parkway, head west. Welcome to my hood. Big Super Target kicks things off. Target anchors the West Glen Town Center, there's bars and even the Funny Bone Comedy Club. View all the offerings HERE.
Keep going west on Mills Civic Parkway and you'll run the guantlet of traditonal suburban stuff -- many and sundry chain restaurants, Wal-mart, Starbucks, Kohl's, etc. Mills Civic Parkway takes you to the Jordan Creek Mall, the metro's big dog of malls. Lots of great restaurants around there -- Bravo (upscale Italian), PF Chang, Cheesecake Factory, On the Boarder (Mexican), Flemings (home of the $30 steak). View all the offerings here.
There are many fine steak places throughout Des Moines, but if you want IOWA food, the ethnic food of Iowa, "brown food" as I call it (because it is all brown), massive pork chops, steak, etc. etc., what my sister calls "sod food," eaten among the natives, the Iowa Machine Shed can fix you up. It's in Urbandale, one of the contiguous suburbs. Buckle up for pork chops so huge they bring them to your table in a skid loader. Seriously massive food.
Newton itself has a ton of restaurants, etc. Many many fast food options close to the interstate. Here's a listing.
Finally, if you want the high-dollar, steak and chops that will make you pee yourself, money-is-no-concern experience (I'm looking at you, Roger Penske), then 801 Grand Steak & Chop House is the place. This is the scene of the highest restaurant bill I have ever personally paid, $150 for my wife and I on our anniversary five years back.
And no post on what to do in Des Moines would be complete with out an extended shout out Knoxville Raceway, just about 30 minutes south of Iowa Speedway.
Saturday night. Winged sprints. $15 for adults. RELEASE THE KRAKEN. If you have never seen winged sprint cars on dirt at Knoxville (or a similar track), you have to go. Here's some color on the track atmosphere. Here's dirt track driver Erin Crocker describing the mayhem. Check for info and tickets here.
I find it physically painful that the Firestone Indy Lights race is Saturday night during the Knoxville race. Insert renewed plea to have lights races be the opening act on IndyCar race day.
So that should get you started. Any specific questions, shoot me an email at email@example.com and I'll do my best. See ya at the track.