When you live in the South, it’s easy to get stuck in a vacation rut. With so many charming beach communities, sleepy Southern hamlets and Spanish moss-draped historic towns all within driving distance, you’re more than likely to come to the end of each getaway with a bunch of vacation pictures that are pretty much identical to the Facebook cover photos of every Mary Pat, Grace Anne and Willa Lee in town.
Sure, you’d like to branch out and see more of our nation and its people. The trouble is, you don’t know where to start, or what to do when you get there. Allow me to submit Sioux Falls, South Dakota for your consideration.
South Dakota’s largest city is filled with arts, culture, a growing craft beer scene and restaurants that are getting national attention — yet it still manages to exude a folksy, small-town charm. During our visit, we gained a new appreciation for Midwestern hospitality. Everywhere we went, locals were friendly and curious about where we were from and what brought us to Sioux Falls. I now have no doubt that if I were to have fallen in the street while we were there, 10 South Dakotans would have immediately rushed to help me up, dust me off and repeatedly ask if I was okay.
Sioux Falls is an easy flight from most Southern airports. We left Nashville, TN at 8 a.m., arrived at the Sioux Falls airport by noon, secured our luggage and rental car within 15 minutes and made it to downtown Sioux Falls by 12:30 p.m., ready for a full day of fun. Better yet, most of Sioux Falls’ attractions are within walking distance of any downtown hotel. Nearly everything else you might want to see is a drive of less than 10 minutes.
Check out my favorite Sioux Falls attractions below. Whether you’re in the market for a romantic getaway, a unique girls’ trip, or an adventurous family vacation, there’s plenty to discover.
WHERE TO PLAY
Indulge your wild side at the Great Plains Zoo. This small but beautifully landscaped zoo will thoroughly charm you and your family. Here, you’ll find more than 1,000 carefully curated animals from around the world, including animals you won’t often find in other zoos, like rhinos, wolves, foxes, and snow monkeys. Be sure to ride a camel — and the train that circles the lush grounds — while you’re there.
Walk among nature’s most beautiful insects at the Butterfly House & Aquarium, where more than 800 butterflies from around the world fly free in an indoor tropical garden. Next door, you can pet stingrays and sharks at Marine Cove, home to hundreds of different species of fish and coral. Both attractions are definitely worth a visit, especially if you have kids.
Learn and have fun at Child’s Play Toys. This locally owned toy shop in downtown Sioux Falls was a favorite with my kids. With a thoughtfully chosen selection of educational toys, games and accessories and friendly, helpful employees, we considered the kids’ souvenir money well spent here.
Get your science on at Kirby Science Discovery Center. With more than 100 interactive exhibits, this children’s museum is like the ultimate indoor playground, and it’s just as much fun for adults as it is for kids. Stand inside a simulated tornado, make electricity, ride virtual reality bicycles, find out how owls hear and a whole lot more. We could have spent an entire day there.
Scale what has to be one of the world’s largest climbing domes at Sertoma Park. This oversized outdoor playground is guaranteed to help little ones burn off some energy. The ginormous climbing dome alone is awe-inspiring, and a pile of soft wood shavings underneath means a soft landing for anyone who happens to slip and fall. Don’t leave without trying out the sound tube, which encircles a human sundial and solar system display. Whisper in one side and your words will travel all the way around and out the other end!
WHERE TO EXPLORE
See the natural wonder that gave Sioux Falls its name at Falls Park. The Big Sioux River and its mighty falls run right through the heart of the city, and people travel from miles around to see them. In addition to the falls, the park is also home to historic buildings, hiking and biking trails, an observation tower and the Overlook Café, where you’ll find slices of one of the best red velvet cakes I’ve ever tasted.
Indulge your inner outdoors(wo)man at The Outdoor Campus. This gem in the heart of Sioux Falls includes two miles of well-trodden hiking trails and an interactive nature center, as well as lessons in fishing, archery, kayaking, outdoor survival skills and more. Check the schedule the next time you’re in town as you’re likely to find something fun for everyone in your party.
Channel Little House on the Prairie at Good Earth State Park. Located just a few minutes outside Sioux Falls, this brand new state park is not to be missed. The land has been preserved not just for its natural wonders, but also because of its rich cultural history — this was a popular ceremonial gathering site for tribes between 1300 and 1700 A.D. With six miles (and more to come) of trails, you’ll hike through stunning grasslands into a forest filled with 200-year-old Burr Oaks before emerging alongside the Big Sioux River. Don’t be surprised to find yourself secretly looking for Charles Ingalls around every corner.
See more of the city from The Big Sioux River Recreation Trail and Greenway. This 26-mile trail starts at Falls Park and winds around the city. Rent bikes and ride on the Downtown Greenway, which runs alongside the Big Sioux River, or rent kayaks and check out the view from the water.
Vote for your favorite artwork on a SculptureWalk through Sioux Falls. You can’t go far downtown without coming across a work of art — that’s SculptureWalk, 56 sculptures created by artists from across the country and displayed downtown for one year. Grab a SculptureWalk brochure to make sure you see them all, then vote for your favorite on the brochure’s ballot. The city of Sioux Falls purchases the winning sculpture each year for permanent display in Falls Park.
Explore the breathtaking scenery at Palisades State Park. This park in nearby Garretson has to be one of the most Instagramable places in South Dakota. Over millions of years, Split Rock Creek has eroded the Sioux quartzite here, creating deep gorges and spires that geologists believe to be 1.2 billion years old! Trails will help you find your way through the rocks up to some lovely scenic overlooks.
WHERE TO LEARN
Check out the regional arts scene at the Visual Arts Center. Housed inside the Washington Pavilion, this downtown museum includes exhibitions of regional, national and international artists in seven galleries. Admission is free on Tuesdays and on the first Friday of each month. Kids up to age 17 always have free admission.
Get an inside look at South Dakota history at the Pettigrew Home & Museum. South Dakota’s first full-term U.S. Senator Richard F. Pettigrew donated his 1889 Queen Anne home to the city when he died in 1926. Today, it’s open to the public at no charge. Visitors love the guided tours of the home, which offer a glimpse into life in South Dakota at the turn of the century.
Learn about the struggles between settlers and Native Americans at the Old Courthouse Museum. Built in the 1890s from South Dakota’s iconic pink quartzite, this downtown museum houses permanent and changing exhibits focusing on the natural and cultural histories of the Siouxland region. This museum is another visitor favorite, and admission and parking are free.
The Cathedral of St. Joseph, a massive turn-of-the-century cathedral, is the centerpiece of Sioux Falls, and it’s as beautiful inside as it is on the outside. Self-guided tours are available from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Guided tours can be taken from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. with one week’s notice/confirmation. Call (605) 336-7392 to request a tour.
WHERE TO EAT
Choose your morning meal from an ever-changing selection of pastries at Queen City Bakery, a place we frequented multiple times during our Sioux Falls stay. On any given day, you might find selections like apple and quince cream cheese turnovers or muffins loaded with roasted pepper, feta and kale. It’s all delicious and made fresh each morning with as many locally sourced fruits and vegetables as owners (and husband and wife) Mitch Jackson and Kristine Moberg can find.
Get in line for breakfast, lunch or dinner at the retro Phillips Avenue Diner downtown, where the phenomenal milkshakes, fluffy waffles and oversized sandwiches are worth the wait. Feeling adventurous? Try the chicken and waffles. This entrée was one of the best meals I had in Sioux Falls, and that’s saying something!
Head out to local favorite M.B. Haskett, an eclectic downtown delicatessen serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a showstopping three-course prix fixe dinner on Friday and Saturday nights. Here, you’ll find both savory and sweet crepes for breakfast; muffalettas, deli sandwiches and brie on baguette for lunch; and “comfort pub” dinners like Walleye Tacos and Bison Tavern on brioche.
Enjoy a meal that’s both healthy and delicious from Sanaa’s 8th Street Gourmet, where well-known gourmet chef Sanaa Abourezk cooks up healthy vegetarian and vegan fare each day with fresh, seasonal ingredients and freshly ground spices. Opt for a casual lunch or go all out for the 10 course buffet Sanaa offers each Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
Make reservations for a romantic dinner at cozy Parker’s Bistro, housed in a lovely historic building in the heart of downtown. Every item on the menu is made from scratch in house each day, including the bistro’s signature bison meatloaf. We loved this restaurant. Or, savor the fresh sourdough breads and wood-fired pizzas over lunch at Breadico, a wildly popular bakery that now also offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. And save room for a sweet treat from CH Patisserie, a delightful European-inspired bakery headed up by Top Chef Just Desserts season two winner Chris Hanmer. Here, you’ll find a delectable selection of French macarons, as well as fresh-baked croissants, beignets, caramel brioche, tarts, cheesecakes and much more.
WHERE TO DRINK
Get a taste of South Dakota at Prairie Berry East Bank in downtown Sioux Falls, where the fermentation bar offers some of the Black Hills’ best craft beers and wines on tap. And we’re not talking Boone’s Farm-quality. The family behind Prairie Berry Winery has been making wine since 1876 and has won more than 850 awards for its wines since 2001.
Sample beers you won’t taste anywhere else at Monks House of Ale Repute. South Dakota’s original craft beer bar has 39 taps that change daily and feature beers from around the region. It’s also home to Gandy Dancer Brew Works, a “nano-brewery” that produces specialty beers for Monk’s and Monk’s alone.
Head to the picturesque Strawbale Winery on the outskirts of town to sample more than 20 different varieties of wine made from assorted fruits … and even a few vegetables! The winery is named for the strawbale-compacted panels used to build the production building, tasting room and gift shop. Thursday evenings from May to September, Strawbale hosts a Summer Porch Series, featuring live music, local artisans and food trucks.
Rock out at Hydra Beer Company, where heavy metal and craft beers combine for a unique take on the typical taproom experience. You’ll find local craft beers here, as well as handcrafted sodas and nitro coffee — that’s cold-brewed coffee infused with nitrogen and poured from a tap.
Sip on an exquisitely prepared latte at Coffea Roasterie, where a barista told us she worked six months and then underwent testing before a panel of sensory judges before she was deemed worthy to serve an actual customer. The highly trained staff has paid off! Try a butterscotch latte, and you’ll see what I mean.
WHERE TO STAY
Sleep in the center of it all at the Hilton Garden Inn downtown. We found this hotel to be clean and comfortable, and we loved our view of the Big Sioux River just outside. The Hilton Garden Inn is within walking distance from everything downtown and a short 10-minute drive from the airport.
Also a short walk from downtown is the popular Victorian Bed & Breakfast, a restored 1888 home with four bedrooms, each with their own private bathroom. The Victorian is also kid-friendly, and the owners will even help you with childcare on request.
Meanwhile, the Jasper Stone Bed & Breakfast is a 1913 Arts & Crafts bungalow just two blocks from town and also gets rave reviews. Book the entire house for a big family gathering or just a room or two for a smaller party. Guests love the proximity to downtown as well as the delicious breakfasts prepared by owner Karen Johnson each morning.
WHERE TO SHOP
Shop for home decor at Simply Perfect. Locals adore this 8,000-square-foot store owned and operated by interior designer Penny Klinedinst. She’s filled the space with furniture, textiles, accessories, bed and bath items, artwork and clothing. Everything reflects the values of simplicity, balance and beauty.
Buy local at Unglued, which features the products of more than 120 local and regional artists and was by far our favorite shop in Sioux Falls. My husband found a new hand-stitched leather wallet there, while I fell in love with the “Hot Dish” t-shirts, South Dakotans’ term for what we Southerners know to be casserole.
Find something for just about anyone at Zandbroz Variety, an old-fashioned emporium with toys, books and new and vintage curiosities, all in a turn-of-the-century building in the heart of downtown.
Score a one-of-a-kind conversation piece at Urban Archaeology. “Eclectic” is the first word that comes to mind at this shop filled with finds from abandoned buildings, neighborhood rummage sales and auctions. You never know what you’ll find here, and that’s just how the owners like it.
Discover jewelry, home goods, clothing and more from local artisans at Sticks and Steel. Located in the East Bank neighborhood of Sioux Falls, Sticks and Steel takes buying local to another level.
When you’re ready to bypass the beach and enjoy a new vacation destination, consider Sioux Falls, South Dakota!
Love to travel? So do we! See where else we’ve been in our travel archives.