July 15, 2022  

12 Ways To Explore Your Own City


When was the last time you explored your own backyard? Here are some fun ways to get out of the house and find adventure in your own city.

This post is sponsored by Iowa Lottery. All opinions are my own.

I’ve always been a homebody and love nothing more than a slow, cozy day spent curled up with a puzzle. Between my homebody tendencies and two years of a pandemic, we’ve lived in the Des Moines, Iowa, area for nearly five years and there’s still so much to explore!

One of our family’s goals this year is to get out of the house and go on more adventures around our city and state. This year, Iowa Lottery wants to encourage Iowans to get outside and explore, so when they asked me to share how I’m exploring Iowa, it was a natural fit!

Ideas For Exploring Your Hometown

I’ve had so much fun exploring Iowa this year! I’ve discovered incredible views, endless events, delicious food, cool local shops, historic downtowns, an abundance of parks, stunning scenery, local landmarks, tasty treats, delightful drinks, and awesome people all right here in Central Iowa.

If you’re feeling inspired to get out of the house and find adventure as well, here are a few ideas of ways you can explore your own backyard this summer.

1. Do All The Touristy Things

Something we often don’t think about doing in our own city is exploring all of the classic tourist things. Look up the top tourist attractions in your city or state and go visit them!

2. Try New Restaurants

Instead of going to your usual place this weekend, try a new-to-you restaurant in your area. Maybe it’s one of the top-rated restaurants in the city that you’ve never been or maybe it’s that hole-in-the-wall local joint that a friend recommends.

3. Make A Bucket List

Create a bucket list of places to visit and start crossing them off! We created an ice cream shop bucket list that we’re working our way through this summer and it’s been so fun. You could also make a bucket list of seasonal activities or any themed list works, too.

4. Explore Area Parks & Natural Resources

Take a day to explore a park or natural area you’ve never taken the time to visit before. We have so many beautiful parks in Iowa and I’ve hardly visited any of them. I visited two new parks the past two weekends and I’m blown away by the gorgeous views and pretty trails I found just a few miles from our house. How have I never explored these places before?!

5. Visit Historical Sites & Landmarks

Spend an afternoon exploring the local landmarks and historical sites in your city and state. Whether they’re well known tourist hot spots or quirky museums, these area a great way to explore your city.

6. Explore Local Shops

I love visiting locally owned businesses! They’re always full of character and interesting finds. I recently discovered a shop near me that sells houseplants AND has a bar that serves cocktails with plant-inspired names. Oh, and I also learned about a candle-making store that I’m excited to visit very soon.

7. Go To Local Events

Local events are such a great way to experience a city. Festivals, county and state fairs, art shows, live music, parades, and more are a great way to get out of the house.

8. Walk Around Downtown

Have you ever taken the time to just stroll around your city’s downtown? Go explore the shops and restaurants and attractions without an agenda and you’re bound to find something new.

9. Visit Local Coffee Shops, Wineries & Breweries

Choose a nearby coffee shop, winery, or brewery to visit and enjoy a beverage. Many of these host live music and other events that are a great excuse to visit but they can also be a great way to bump into other locals if you visit on a regular day.

10. Explore A Tourist Trail Or  Itinerary

See if your state’s tourism website has any tourist itineraries or themed trails you can explore. For example, I recently downloaded an Iowa Wine Passport which has a big list of wineries across the state that you can check off and earn prizes for visiting. There are also different “trails” that are essentially themed road trips in different areas of the state.

11. Plan A Staycation

Your hometown can feel brand new and exciting if you change your perspective. Book a hotel room for a night or two and plan a staycation exploring the surrounding area.

12. Ask Others For Recommendations

And lastly, a benefit of exploring your own area is being able to ask your friends, neighbors, and coworkers for recommendations! Ask people where there favorite places in town are and take note of places that others mention in the area. I’ve discovered some of my favorite parks and restaurants this way! A friend recently told me about a cool prairie just minutes from my house–check out the view in that photo below!

Explore Iowa With Iowa Lottery

Iowa Lottery is partnering with Polaris to help you explore our great state through the $5 Explore Iowa scratch-off ticket! You can win one of three different Polaris recreational vehicles: the RZR, Slingshot, or Snowmobile, or up to $50,000 in the Play it Again Promotion. 

How fun would it be to win a new vehicle to go on outdoor adventures around the state? Non-winning tickets can be entered into the LotteryPlus App for your chance to win one of these amazing Polaris prizes:

  • Nine lucky winners will receive a $25,000 Polaris Gift Certificate
  • 15 winners will get a $5,000 cash prize
  • TWO Grand Prize Winners – one $50,000 Polaris Gift Certificate and one $50,000 Cash Prize

This promotion runs through September 13, 2022. Click here to learn all about the Explore Iowa promotion!


I hope this inspires you to get out of the house and explore your own backyard this summer. And for all of my Iowa readers, be sure to get your Explore Iowa scratch-off tickets for your chance to win Iowa Lottery’s Explore Iowa promotion!

Looking for more Iowa travel ideas? Take a look at these blog posts:

Have a fantastic day!

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About the author

Emily Counts is the founder of Small Stuff Counts, a home and organization blog she created in 2013. Her goal is to help moms make home life easier so they can create beautiful, organized, and thriving homes. She shares life at home as a working mom juggling two young kids, a corporate job, and all that goes into managing a home. The Iowa-based blogger lives in the suburbs of Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband, two children, and rescue dog. Emily has collaborated with brands including The Container Store, Cricut, Command Brand, Bissell, Sam's Club and Rubbermaid.

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