Finding yourself in Rapid City for a day and not sure what to do? Rapid City is worth the stop, even for just an afternoon. Here’s what you can do in one day in Rapid City.
Traveling and working full-time in an RV as digital nomads has led us to all sorts of unexpected stops around the country. We were planning to just pass through Rapid City on our way to Chicago from Canada, but we are glad we made a whole day out of it. Whether you are passing through or deciding what route to take, here’s how to visit for a day in Rapid City and see the highlights.
Downtown Rapid City Main Street Square
We started directly in the heart of downtown Rapid City – Main Street Square – at the corner of 5th and Main. Jumping fountains, playing children, and music in the air from the large outdoor amphitheater filled the area where we stopped to plan the rest of our afternoon.
Downtown Rapid City Public Bathroom
It may seem odd to begin our tour of a city with public washrooms, but hey, isn’t it really the first thing anyone wants to know when heading somewhere new?
The bathrooms had a large sign adjacent to the main square with an open entrance that will make you feel safe. The men’s room appeared well-maintained, smelled reasonably clean, and showed no signs of neglect.
Lunch at Bashful Bison
Scanning the square, we saw a restaurant across the street with outdoor seating and a fun name invoking local fare – The Bashful Bison.
Outdoor dog-friendly seating is essential to us, as Brutus’ barking when left home alone means he travels with us almost everywhere.
We stepped inside to a crisp market and modern deli counter environment. Scanning the chalkboard menu, it is clear that sandwiches – named after local cities or landmarks – are their specialty. While you wait for your sandwich, make sure not to forget to grab a jar of local pickled green beans from the market.
Our diet is primarily plant-based, but we decided to treat ourselves to The Pine Ridge bison pastrami sandwich. On the side, you’ll love a bag of Dakota Style Honey Mustard Chips and a big glass of by-the-ounce fresh kombucha on tap.
We got one sandwich to split, knowing we would probably be tasting more of Downtown Rapid City’s food selections throughout the afternoon. It was a bit spicy, which we weren’t expecting, but enjoyed. Must have been that homemade mustard.
The City of Presidents
Across the street from The Bashful Bison in Main Street Square is a coffee shop. But, after reading this blogger’s review of her time in Rapid City, we knew we had to make the short three-block walk to Harriet & Oak for our mandatory after-lunch beverage.
It’s not the cutest walk, but we learned why Rapid City is known as the City of Presidents along the way. Throughout downtown, there are bronze statues of every past U.S. president. We love unexpected public art, and we especially enjoyed how there is no rhyme or reason behind the placement of these life-size tributes to history all throughout Rapid City.
First, we passed our great 21st President Chester Arthur, in front of a tire shop. With one hand on the book and his other hand raised in the air as if being inaugurated, it wasn’t the best look these days for us to mimic the pose and take a picture with him.
We don’t know much about Chester’s politics, but he had the nicknames Gentleman Boss and Elegant Arthur in his personal life. He reportedly owned 80 pairs of pants.
Should Daddy Arthur’s wrist be a little more bent in the sculpture? Let’s just say we know he loved to host rummage sales in the White House and took frequent fishing trips with his Senator buddy.
On the next block was William McKinley, indisputably best known as the namesake of Lima, Ohio’s “gayest high school” William McKinley High in Glee.
We also wondered about Mister McKinley’s disposition. We know he wore a red carnation boutonniere in his lapel at all times, and kept a bouquet of carnations on his desk. But then again, red carnations are about the straightest flower out there, right? Oscar Wilde had declared green carnations specifically as the homosignal just years before.
We forgot to grab a photo with Sir McKinley, so here’s Benji tipping his hat with Calvin Coolidge. We decline to comment on how cool Sir Coolidge really was.
Harriet and Oak for Coffee
After pretending actually to know anything about Presidential history for three blocks, we arrived at Harriet and Oak. Outdoor seating on both sides of the corner cafe gave us a delightful view of South Dakota’s crisp blue sky with bright white fluffy clouds.
Harriet and Oak Cafe & Roaster was as delightful as any high-end coffee shop in any major city. Plus, with all the space available, they have room for this vintage Oakswagen inside!
We usually indulge in a black cold brew, but the selection of teas inspired us to go for an iced latte.
Brendon ordered an Iced Dirty Chai Latte with shots of espresso, while Benji sipped on the non-dirty version. Five stars.
South Dakota Public Broadcasting Studio
The walk to Harriet and Oak takes you a block or two out of the heart of downtown Rapid City. Being New Yorkers, that wasn’t even a consideration for us. We love walking everywhere.
Before we got on the road full-time, we lived in Downtown Manhattan – right of Wall Street. Listening to WNYC local public radio was one of our favorite activities.
You can peer in the window or step into the lobby to see their local business office, radio studio, TV studio, and screening area. If you ask nicely, you may walk out with a bumper sticker.
Shop Everything at Prairie Edge
Walk back toward Main and 5th, and you’ll see Prairie Edge and Sioux Trading Post across the street from the fountains. With floor-to-ceiling oversize window displays, you can’t miss it.
Some think of us as a Native American art gallery; others see us as an authentic trading post reminiscent of days gone by, but everyone who visits us leaves with the same thing…an experience that lasts forever.
Ray Hillenbrand established the Prairie Edge concept in the early 1980s with two primary purposes:
- Educate the public about and preserve the heritage and culture of the Northern Plains Indians.
- Provide Northern Plains Indian artists an outlet for their finest work (at a fair price to them).
Located on the corner of 6th Street and Main in downtown Rapid City, Prairie Edge stands two stories high and stretches for half a block. The brick, wood, and glass storefront has been restored to its original 19th-century glory.
Inside, the hardwood floors and polished cabinetry bring to mind the spirit of the Old West, while the distinct smell of sage and sweetgrass, as well as the soft sound of a Lakota flute, evoke the mystique of the Great Plains Indian.
South Dakota, much like almost all of the land we enjoy throughout our travels, has had and continues to have a deep connection with the native communities. We try always to respect this history and make a point of engaging with tribal-owned businesses.
Prairie Edge is a Native-owned and -operated store with everything a visitor to the area might want. The front is filled with smartly merchandised tchotchkes, printed tourist souvenirs, unique handcrafted housewares, and delightful food options. All throughout is unique art for purchase, all with an indigenous flair.
Step further back into the store, and you’ll find yourself in the Sioux Trading Post. Here you can buy any type of bead, fabric, and pelt to make your own traditional crafts.
The vibe of the store and all of the employees we met made us feel that it was a queer-welcoming experience. There is great respect for the concept of Two-Spirit individuals within the Indigenous community.
The term Two-Spirit reflects complex Indigenous understandings of gender roles, spirituality, and the long history of sexual and gender diversity in Indigenous cultures.
On the other edge of the store is where you can see a robust gallery of Native art, sculpture, hydes, structures, and other significant pieces to browse.
Art Alley of Rapid City
Members of the community are invited to paint sections of this immersive urban art landscape.
Cross the street from Prairie Edge and step into Art Alley, where you will find unique painted and spray-painted murals.
Ice Cream in the Square
After immersing yourself in the colors and energy of Art Alley, it’s time to begin winding down your afternoon in Rapid City with the best ice cream in the square at The Silver Lining Creamery.
To make your way back to this regional ice cream shop, take a new route by exiting Art Alley on 6th Ave and walking around the hotel. Stop at the vintage shops along this route, in case you get inspired to shop. On 7th Ave is the Rapid City clock, and an interesting plaque about the city’s history.
Turning onto Main Street, head toward the square. Turn onto Main Street, and walk toward the square. Stop at the art galleries along the way, where you’ll see Pride flags in the windows welcoming you to browse.
When you get back to the square, don’t forget to use those clean public restrooms before stopping at Silver Lining Creamery for a big scoop.
Memorial Park and The Berlin Wall in downtown Rapid City
You could sit around the fountains of Main Street Square with your ice cream cone, but why not find a more scenic setting for your tasty snack – and you’ll be able to take in a bit of unique world history with it.
From Main Street Square, it’s just a two-block walk to the beautiful Memorial Park. Look around, and you’ll see a big building that says The Monument in the distance. Follow the sidewalk, pass ity Hall, walk over the train tracks, and you’ll be at the entrance to the park.
As you enter the park, you’ll see a variety of sculptures every way you look. Another excellent showing for public art in Rapid City! There are multiple new and sophisticated-looking playgrounds within sight if you’re traveling with the kiddos. Plenty of benches to sit and relax, and sections of freshly cut green grass are available if you want to sit. But we recommend you continue to walk forward to the pond.
As you pass the ducks, families playing in the small waterfall, and groups enjoying some light fishing, you’ll see a large grey wall in the distance. Walk over there to experience an original, genuine piece of the Berlin Wall.
Rapid City, in partnership with sister cities in Germany, has been the lucky recipient of this unique piece of world history.
Follow the plaques counter-clockwise from the far end to read your way through a history of Berlin, Germany, and the Cold War.
Propaganda Warning: the plaques are full of factual historical information, but in our opinion, also full of nonsense imperialist propaganda. It is unfortunate that phrases were included such as (paraphrasing,) “The United States couldn’t stand by while freedom was being withheld from anyone.” The history presented here is an incredible introduction to the experience of the Berlin Wall, and if you are interested in more, we recommend you find other more balanced sources.
We especially enjoyed seeing the anti-tank hardware, with a dedication to the Chaplains of the war, including the Jewish Star of David.
Also, the same signs you still see today if you visit Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, warning of where you leave the American sector.
Home to KOA of Rapid City / Black Hills
We wound down our day by heading back to our RV at the KOA of Rapid City/Black Hills by hopping in a Lyft rideshare. It was less than a 10-minute ride home, which we appreciated after an exhausting day of touring Rapid City
KOAs are a reliable, predictable, standardized chain of campgrounds that never disappoints. We stay at KOAs rarely, as they aren’t always the most convenient for us to bike or walk around a city. We often stay at Harvest Hosts or on the side of the road between our major stops. But when we do stop at a KOA, we enjoy it.
This KOA was highly focused on tent sites, which we appreciate as it brings a genuine camping spirit to the campground. There were also plenty of cabins, all types of RV spots with full services, a clean pool with fountains, and a well-maintained laundry room.
Our favorite, though, was the KOA fenced-in dog park, Kamp K9. This one had an agility course, which Brutus excelled at, except when we tried to get some video of him going through the obstacles.
Conclusion about a Friday in Rapid City SD
Overall, we are thrilled we made the decision to stop in Rapid City for a day, and you should too. You can have a great day of walking around and exploring the city, without having a car, in just the downtown area. You could probably add a second day to your trip, and visit some of the museums and eat at the famous Firehouse restaurant as well.