I never expected to find the Berlin Wall, or much evidence of gender inclusivity in South Dakota. I only half-expected to be underwhelmed by four, dead, white guys. All three occurred in Rapid City, South Dakota, which revealed itself to be a veritable gem tucked away in the Midwest. When I was solo road-tripping from Minnesota to Los Angeles, I knew Rapid City would be just an overnight stop. I picked out the things I most wanted to see, and I set out to do them.
Here they are.
Berlin Wall Exhibit
I am a bit of a history buff. So when I found out that this exhibit has a permanent home in a loverly Rapid City park, I was excited. I enjoy sad things. The Berlin Wall has such a long, depressing history, and it is so relevant to current times. My day began with an hour walk to Memorial Park from my hotel. Rapid Creek runs through the park, and just off to one side is the Berlin Wall Exhibit. Its collection offers a brief but concise history of the Wall, with pictures and stories of citizens and soldiers who fought to bring the Berlin Wall down. There are two pieces of the wall included; it was haunting and jarring to see them standing in the sun, when they had seen such darkness.
Prairie Trading Co. & Gallery
I did find this on lists of what to do in Rapid City, but the descriptions and reviews didn’t do it justice. It is in a large building, over 100 years old, with original hardwood floors. The building is perfect for all ya’ll ethical travelers out there who want authentic art and souvenirs without appropriating Native American culture. It has beaded works, carvings, furniture, books, and music. If you go upstairs, there is an gallery with some really stunning pieces (and pricey) pieces for sale. Every piece that is handcrafted by a Native American lists not only the name, but their tribe. Super cool way to show your appreciation of the Native American culture, history and voice without appropriating or harming anybody!
Read this: What is Ethical Travel?
I was most excited for this. An alley in the middle of South Dakota, dedicated to graffiti art? In the middle of a city with statues of U.S. presidents peppering the street corners? It seemed so out of place, until I met an artist at work, an artist who had been a Rapid City resident all his life. Art Alley is another piece that makes Rapid City so unique, interesting and worth checking out. Artists have to obtain licenses to work and paint, and so the artwork is ever-changing (I believe). I look forward to returning, and seeing how it has evolved!
Check out more pics of Art Alley here.
tip: If you need a lift to the city center, know that Rideshare apps have zero stakes in Rapid City (no Uber, no Lyft). If you don’t have your own car (rental or otherwise), check out City Cab. Fast, friendly service!
Historic Elks Theatre
I am a movie junkie. I love going to the movies, and seeing flicks on the big screen, as they were intended to be viewed. Elks Theatre is a super affordable option, with $5 dollar tickets for adults, and $4 tickets for children ages 2-12 (kids under two get in for free). There are only a few movies playing at a time, with set playing times in the afternoon and evening. The reason the tickets are cheap is because the movies showing are ones that have recently left main movie theaters. Elks Theatre is thus a great option for a second reason: seeing movies you may have missed on the big screen! Elks Theatre has been open in some form for over a century. Check out the full chronology on their website!
Tally’s Silver Spoon
I found Tally’s via an internet search of vegetarian and vegan dining options in Rapid City. It had/has hella good reviews, and is within walking distance of EVERYTHING on this list, with the exception of Mount Rushmore, so there is no reason why you shouldn’t stop in for a bite. I ordered the MOST DELICIOUS French toast, and for an extra $1.50, I received a scoop of vanilla ice cream instead of butter (I am so good at being a grown-up). The fresh fruit, hash browns and hot chocolate were also scrumptious. There was a vegan pasta I wanted to try, but didn’t have the time or the stomach for it.
It was quite busy when I went around one in the afternoon. Groups of two or more had a twenty minute+ wait. As a solo diner, I was seated at the bar almost immediately. When I went to use the restroom at the end of my meal, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the restaurant was taking a stance on the gender issues:
I could gush more about Tally’s, but I must write on. Make sure to stop in – the French toast is so. So. GOOD.
Approach with caution: Firehouse Brewery Company
Two separate Rapid City locals warned me away from the Firehouse Brewery Company. It was unsolicited advice they offered when they found out I was only in town for 24 hours. They said it was a typical tourist trap (which can be fun!), gimmicky (which can be funny!), and offered overpriced, mediocre food (I got nothing). If I had more time in Rapid City, I probably would have checked it out. But if you find yourself in Rapid City for only a day or two, I would listen to the locals and find another restaurant to try (Tally’s Silver Spoon, anyone?).
everything thus far is within walking distance of each other. So you can hit it all in a day, like I did!
I was somewhat excited to see this monument, but I also aimed to see it out of a misguided sense of obligation. As an American, as someone on a road trip through the Midwest, and through South Dakota in particular, how could I not stop in and have a look? So I drove the 45 minutes from Rapid City to the monument. It was a beautiful, scenic drive, up and down mountain roads surrounded by lush forest. There is a small collection of lodges, restaurants and shops just before you reach the Mount Rushmore parking ramp and the site itself. As I visited in the off-season, all of this was closed. On the plus side, it being the off-season meant that it wasn’t very crowded.
I was underwhelmed by the Mount Rushmore experience. Four dead, white, racist men. Who needs ’em? But I don’t regret going and I still believe it is worth going and learning about the sculptor and his process of shaping those giant heads, and seeing the heads for what they are: art.
tip: watch out for deer on the drive up to Mount Rushmore – I saw four separate families of deer along the side of the road!
So that’s it – I only saw a small chunk of what Rapid City has to offer, and I would definitely love to go back for at least a few more days to explore the rest of it!