When telling the owner of my gym that I was planning a trip to South Dakota, she lit up. “No one ever goes to South Dakota!” And I’ll admit that it had never been high on my list. I half expected the Dakotas to be the last of my fifty states. But a conference in nearby Wyoming and a draw to the Black Hills led me to transit through Rapid City. On my way out of town, I saw little more than the airport and a Super 8 near the highway but decided to stay an extra night before going home.
I’m so glad I did because I found a charming and easily accessible city with unique architecture, history, and charm. I browsed the Native American shops and even found a record store where I tried not to spend all my remaining money. I dined out at the restaurants as well. I found the city to be unexpectedly cool and these places the most surprising…
A Norwegian Church?
This replica of the Borgund Stavkirke church in Laerdal, Norway is known as the Chapel In the Hills. It was here that I learned that Scandinavian immigrants settled in this area in the 1800s. Their traditions carry on today and the attraction also has a small museum and gift shop selling Scandinavian gifts and wares. The church, which I found on Roadside America, is free to visit, but donations are encouraged. They also have weekly church services open to the public.
Dinosaurs Overlooking the City?
Built as far back as 1936, this Works Progress Administration project has been a favorite of families for generations. Dinosaur Park is high in the hills above the city and was built by Ernest Sullivan, the man behind other offbeat attractions like Wall Drug and Christ of the Ozarks. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the attraction is free to visit.
Authentic Aussie Coffee?
I stand by my statement that there are literally Australians everywhere, even South Dakota. I arrived early in search of a cup of coffee before I could check into my accommodations. A quick Google search led me to Essence Of Coffee, owned by a man from Perth. Go figure. In addition to flat whites and other beverages, the shop has avocado toast and breakfast dishes.
Something I read about before visiting was the City of Presidents, a trail of statues of presidents dotted around the city. It was fun to track them all down, including my favorite, Jimmy Carter. And in case you’re wondering, they haven’t yet put up a statue of Barack Obama or 45.
An Alley of Street Art?
I’m a lover of street art everywhere, but I was surprised to find it in Rapid City. Art Alley is a city-sanctioned place for artists to cover the walls, but you have to have a permit. I loved the colorful pieces and the familiar faces of Groot and Justin Bieber (naturally). I also appreciated the pro-Native American pieces, especially in light of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Craft Beer Scene?
And, of course, what would a trip of mine be without craft beer? I started with lunch at Firehouse Brewing Company, the state’s oldest operating brewery set in a historic fire station. Later in the day, I tried Hay Camp Brewing Company for a pre-dinner pint. There were a few more that I didn’t make it to during my stay.
So are you convinced that Rapid City is worth a detour?
If You Go
I stayed at an Airbnb in town because I had credit to use, but otherwise, I would have stayed at The Hotel Alex Johnson, an Ascend Collection hotel or The Rushmore Hotel, two of the popular options downtown. Most of the attractions are walkable, but you’ll need to take a bus or borrow a car to get to the Dinosaur Park or the Chapel in the Hills.