As the cultural and economic heart of Iowa, Des Moines is headquarters to nearly 60 companies and most notably a center for the insurance industry as well as many agriculture-related businesses. Many characterize it as a “gentle” big city, retaining a small-town feel with larger-city amenities, but some also complain of a lack of entertainment and nightlife. It is quintessentially Midwestern with a clean but plain downtown with mostly rectangular tree-lined streets.
The wealthier and more educated suburbs and most parks and recreational amenities lie west of town, the largest being West Des Moines, while the east is more industrial. The area contains about 400 factories, many processing food or manufacturing farming products. The city has an assortment of parks, museums, zoos, gardens, and historic attractions. With a 140-year-tradition, the Iowa State Fair matches most people’s image of a classic American fair. For a larger capital city, air service is relatively lacking and ethnic diversity is low, but cost of living is quite reasonable for what is available and for a capital city.
The gently rolling terrain sits in the shallow valley of the Des Moines River and its tributaries. The climate is continental with a marked seasonal contrast in both temperature and precipitation. The summer season is warm and humid with prevailing southerly winds and precipitation falling mainly as showers and thunderstorms, some heavy. Autumn is characteristically sunny with diminishing precipitation. Winter brings cold dry air, sometimes below 0 degrees, interrupted by occasional, short show storms. Extensive drifting snow can impede transportation. First freeze is early October, last is early May.