10 Secrets of Rapid City, S.D.
Rapid City, with some 70,000 inhabitants, is the largest city in South Dakota after Sioux Falls. Situated in the southwestern part of the state, it is a major tourist destination due to its nearness to Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, and the Crazy Horse Memorial. The city is also home to Ellsworth Air Force Base which was founded at the beginning of World War II and played an important role during the Cold War.
Rapid City was founded as a mining town in the late 1870s, but by the 1890s had already become a tourist destination due to the attraction of its surrounding scenery. The city’s officials long knew that tourism would be their economic life blood and were always looking for ways to ensure that an influx of visitors to their city would continue. The carving of four president’s heads into Mount Rushmore, which began in 1927, was a local project designed to bring yet more tourists to the region.
Today, with its striking landscapes and national parks, Rapid City and its environs draws people from all over the world. While the natural and man-made wonders are the main attraction, the city itself offers tourists some little-known gems.
There’s only one restaurant in South Dakota that cooks its food in a coal-fired oven, and that’s kōl, located at 504 Mt. Rushmore Road in Rapid City. Patrons of this restaurant can watch their pizza and other food items sizzle away at 1200 degrees in the open kitchen.
Their pièce de résistance is the pizza they call Notorious P.I.G., made with sweet potato pudding, bacon, mustard pork belly, pork sausage & arugula.
2. Video Arcades (With Booze)!
Video arcades are making their comeback as “arcade bars” catering to folks who like to drink adult beverages while they rescue Princess Peach or battle Space Invaders.
Press Start located in the basement of the building that houses Kol has 200 classic video games and is open from 4 p.m. until midnight, with earlier opening times on Saturdays for kids.
3. What’s through that vault door?
As you open a rather nondescript door marked “Employees Entrance” you will descend some stairs leading to a vault door and a keypad. Enter the code, and the door will open into a little piece of the 1920s, a speakeasy called The Blind Lion.
You’ll find it at 510 9th St., a place to order Prohibition-era cocktails, relax, and listen to live entertainment playing such standards as “Ain’t Misbehavin.”
To get into this fashionably secret establishment, simply ask a staff member on the ground floor to give you the code and point you in the right direction.
4. The Road to Oz detours through Rapid City
The Colonial House Restaurant and Bar, at 2315 Mount Rushmore Road, is a family-welcoming restaurant with a loyal clientele who love their unique breakfast, lunch, and dinner comfort-food offerings.
Their signature dinner dishes, for example, are southern fried chicken breast, grilled pork chops, saloon steak, and St. Louis-cut barbecue pork ribs.
If you or your children are a fan of the iconic movie The Wizard of Oz, you’ll love the four specially-commissioned paintings on its wall. Each one of these features a scene or character from that movie –the tornado, the flying monkeys, Dorothy with the Munchkins, and the four companions walking down the Yellow Brick Road toward the Emerald City.
5. What president crafted the first ice cream recipe in the U.S.?
Third president Thomas Jefferson not only penned the Declaration of Independence but also the first ice cream recipe in the United States, way back in the 1780s. Today, Pride Dairy churns out a select amount of TJ Ice Cream to that same recipe. It is sold only at Mount Rushmore and a few other places across the country.
TJ Ice Cream is rich, creamy, and laced with tasty strands of Madagascar vanilla beans. The only difference between this ice cream and the kind that Jefferson and his family would have savored is that his eggs and cream were unpasteurized.
6. A carved-mountain sculpture larger than Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore honors four iconic American leaders: Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln.
A group of Native Americans wished one of their own heroes to be immortalized in stone in the same way. In 1948, Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski acquired private land in the Black Hills for the Crazy Horse project with the goal of carving the respected Oglala Lakota war chief out of solid rock. When completed, the sculpture will feature the head and torso of Crazy Horse, and may be one of the largest sculptures in the world. The design encapsulates Crazy Horse’s poignant words, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”
Ziolkowski died in 1982 but his wife and children have carried on with the project. The Crazy Horse monument features a visitor’s center which displays Native American history and culture.
7. They do everything bigger in South Dakota.
Most bagels, especially the mass-produced kind you get in grocery stores, weigh 3-and-a-half ounces. At Black Hills Bagels, founded in 1997, customers can enjoy one of 28 varieties of bagels, which weigh in at a dominating 5-and-a-half ounces!
Black Hills Bagels also crafts its own 18 flavors of cream cheese, using ingredients such as fresh fruit and vegetables.
8.The Secret ingredient in Wall’s cake donuts
Wall is a tiny South Dakota town near Rapid City. In the 1930s, its pharmacy, Wall Drug, owned by the husband-and-wife team of Ted and Dorothy Hustead, was struggling. Ted was ready to give up but his wife conceived the brilliant idea of putting billboards on the “main drag” offering free ice water at their establishment. Thirsty travelers began to take the nearest exit for Wall and the rest is history.
Today Wall Drug is famous for many things, but as far as foodies are concerned, it’s their cake donuts and hot beef sandwiches. How do they get their donuts so crisp on the outside and so moist on the inside? The crispness comes from a secret ingredient: 7-Up.
9. There’s gold in them thar hills- but not what you might expect
Jewelry bearing the name of Black Hills Gold doesn’t actually consist of gold mined in the Black Hills. Artisans acquire this precious metal on the open market.
It’s the design, not the sourcing, that makes this jewelry unique.
Black Hills Gold jewelry will always contain a leaf, or more popularly, a tri-color design with leaves and grapes in the colors of pink, green and gold. This tradition stems from the work of a French jewelry designer, Henri LeBeau, who came to the Black Hills during the 1870s gold rush, and got lost in the wilderness. He was facing starvation until he found a mass of wild grapes that saved his life. In gratitude, he began creating what he called “good luck” jewelry featuring this grape design.
Visit the Mount Rushmore Black Hills Gold Jewelry Factory at 2707 Mt Rushmore Rd, to take a free tour.
10. There’s something big buried near Rapid City
And it isn’t the bones of a gigantic dinosaur.
The first, and so far only National Park devoted to illustrating the history of the Cold War is the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, located at 24545 Cottonwood Rd in Philip.
During summer, eager tourists start lining up at 7:30 am for spots on the tour, which consists of only 6 people at a time. After strolling through the visitor’s center and purchasing a few Atomic Fireball cinnamon candies, the small group is taken several miles into the prairie to the remote launch control building Delta 1. Here they will descend thirty feet below the surface to a capsule guarded by a huge blast door. Within is a 1960s-state-of-the-art missile launch control center which was manned in 24-hour shifts by two missileers.
In addition to the equipment in the launch control room, the group can then self-drive a few miles away to get a look at the top of a glass-enclosed silo to view a Minuteman II missile (warhead removed, of course!).
Where to Stay
The Rushmore Hotel and Suites (formerly the Adoba Hotel) at 445 Mount Rushmore Road features LED lighting in every room, carbon-nano technology in the wall paint which pulls bacteria from the air and soft and comfortable bedding made from recycled plastic bottles and other natural materials – to list just a few of its eco-friendly features.
The Comfort Suites Hotel & Convention Center, at 1333 North Elk Vale Road, features luxurious all-suite accommodations and offers guests a 24-hour fitness room, as well as access to a pool. There’s also a guest laundry. A deluxe hot breakfast is included!