It’s the classic American road trip: a rambling drive along Interstate 90 in South Dakota, stopping at such iconic sights as Mt. Rushmore and Wall Drug along the way. The route also passes directly through Rapid City, which offers a mix of history and Old West charm, along with a roster of thoroughly up-to-date restaurants, shops, and places to stay. Here’s why you should consider adding a stop -- or an overnight -- to your South Dakota drive.
If you’re looking for a place to lay your head after many hours on the road, start at the Hotel Alex Johnson. Newly added to Hilton’s Curio Collection -- so you can use Hilton Hhonors points to book -- this property was built in the 1920s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's also home to the city's first rooftop bar. Throughout the property, you’ll see the influence of both South Dakota's Native American tribes, as well as the Germanic immigrants who settled in the area -- especially in the hunting-lodge-style lobby. Beyond its history, the hotel is known for its association with the supernatural: It is mentioned many times in Alfred Hitchcock’s film North By Northwest, and is thought to be haunted. For a more modern experience, stay around the corner at the Rushmore Hotel and Suites. Our favorite rooms are those in the Dakota Signature Collection, which mix reclaimed wood, Native American patterns, and outsized American iconography. More subdued travelers might want to try the newly renovated suites, which feel like peaceful, modern apartments.
For lunch, the only place to be in Rapid City is Tally’s Silver Spoon, as the crowds will attest -- although they serve breakfast and dinner, too. In operation since the 1930s, Tally’s offers a witty, sophisticated spin on typical diner-style food. Try the Donald and Porky, with shaved ham, foie gras, and swiss; or a turkey and arugula sandwich with jalapeño-peach jam and avocado. For dinner, make your way to Kol, which is situated in an expansive space and is named for its 10-foot coal-fired oven. Naturally, its pizzas -- with names like The Notorious P.I.G. (think lots of pork…) and Humpty Dumpty Fell On a Pie (gouda, sweet onion, sausage, and an egg) -- are the star attraction, but the restaurant also serves sushi made with overnighted seafood, and twenty signature cocktails. Try the Magic Mojito, which has a dramatic presentation with cotton candy, or the Honey Bear Bees Knees, with gin, cointreau, and honey -- and served in a honey bear glass. For after-dinner drinks, try to snag a reservation at the Blind Lion, a speakeasy located within Murphy’s Pub and Grill. (Check their Facebook page for details.) If they’re full, head to Press Start, a video game-themed bar directly below Kol, where you can join the lively, beer-guzzling crowd for pinball, Pac-Man, and dozens of other vintage games.
The most noticeable attraction in Rapid City rather prominently lines its downtown streets. On each street corner, you’ll see a life-size bronze sculpture of a past American president. Take a selfie with your favorite, or simply see if you can identify some of the more obscure subjects (Do you know what Rutherford B. Hayes looks like? How about Chester Arthur?). Stop by the information center on Main Street to pick up a map, read some presidential history, and see small-scale versions of the sculptures.
While you’re walking around town, spend some time in its most unique shops. It’ll take more than just a few minutes to browse Prairie Edge Trading Co., which houses both a large store and a beautiful gallery of Native American and western art. Shop for jewelry, Pendleton blankets, music, and much more. Plus, its bookstore offers hundreds of titles that examine the history, language, spirituality, and culture of Native American communities. At Shaviq Studio and Gallery, you’ll find work by more than 75 South Dakota artists, all of whom are painting, sculpting, sewing, and building well outside the boundaries of what’s considered traditional western art. The best part is that there’s something for every budget, and exploring the gallery’s two packed floors is half the fun.
No walk around downtown Rapid City is complete without a stop at Art Alley, the city’s legally sanctioned street art zone. Stop by for a look at what’s new, and what’s evolving on the alley’s brightly spray-painted walls. You may even see an artist or two at work, developing the latest masterpiece.
Rapid City is located in South Dakota’s Black Hills, in the southeastern part of the state. Rapid City Regional Airport is served by American, Delta, and United Airlines. Interstate 90 passes directly through town. The city is a 30-minute drive from Mt. Rushmore, a 48-minute drive from the Crazy Horse Memorial, a 51-minute drive from Wall Drug, and a one-hour drive from Badlands National Park.