Every year, during the last week of July, the small town of Des Moines is transformed for it's Annual Waterland Festival. Although it is just a small carnival to outsiders, to the young people of Des Moines, it is one of the most anticipated events of the summer.
From Wednesday to Sunday, the marina is converted into a place of rides, games, eateries and highschoolers having fun. On Saturday afternoon (occasionally Sunday), the main street of Des Moines is closed off for the parade.
Most folks in Des Moines try to make it to the festival at least once, and that is for the fireworks on the first night of the festival. Keep in mind that the days are long here in the summertime. The fireworks start at 10:00pm, just after dark.
If you go to see the parade, go early. There is a lot of room to sit along the street, and no matter where you end up, you will probably get a good view. But it never hurts to arrive early to avoid any people jams. Keep in mind that the parade is set up on Marine View Drive- most of the entire road is closed, so you will most definitely have to park in a nearby neighborhood and walk. Des Moines is a city of hills, so be prepared to walk up and down hills!
If you are looking for a hometown, uncrowded carnival, go to Waterland during a weekday. You will be one of the only people around and will be able to enjoy the beautiful scenery that surrounds you. At night, however, local highschoolers take over the carnival. So, if you are looking for the only opportunity all year to see bustling nightlife in Des Moines, I suggest arriving at 7pm and staying until closing (11pm) on Thursday, Friday or Saturday nights.
In the past two years, the city has added an admission charge for the carnival. The cost is $2. This small fee tends to keep the nightly crowds down to a managable limit.