Rapid City, South Dakota: Presidential statues, cool Main Street, and a Haunted Hotel
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Exploring Downtown Rapid CityIf it was the national history, interest in the presidents, or exploring the country's pride that brought you to Mount Rushmore and through the city, Rapid City won't disappoint your quest. Suitably referred to as The City of Presidents, the city is literally filled with statues of past presidents. Dozens of life-sized bronze statues line the streets and depict various presidents giving speeches, smiling, or sitting on a bench. There are maps available for you to visit each president.
The president statues have been in the city since 2000 when the privately funded project wanted to show further appreciation for the American presidents. Besides the presidential history, there is the energetic downtown. What was so unique about the city, is that despite it being a destination filled with tourists, it just didn't have that touristy feel. Instead of being bombarded with gimmicked activities and souvenir shops, the downtown streets are lined with art galleries, music and book stores, a brewery, and a plethora of shops and even some with a Native American flare line the streets as well. There is also a playhouse and a theatre.
Main Street SquareThe gem of the downtown is the beautiful Main Street Square. Residents and visitors gather in the area to people watch, shop, and sit down to enjoy a cup of coffee or a picnic lunch. I visited in summer, when the Main Street Square was bustling with a large farmer's market that happens every Saturday when the weather allows. Products special to the area, including coffee and wine made in South Dakota, make the market a good place to check out if you're looking to get a true and literal taste for the local flare. Many vendors offer free samples or tastes of their products, and besides the coffee and wine, there was also caramel covered apples, cookies, cupcakes, and a variety of paintings, jewelry, and other art work and crafts.
Majestic fountains can easily capture visitor's attention as well as people watching since it's a very busy part of the city. In spring and summer, music performers entertain in this area. During fall and winter months, the Main Street Square is still the place to be with holiday concerts and an outdoor ice skating rink.
Brews and BitesCulinary excellence might not initially come to mind when thinking about South Dakota, but there are dozens of restaurants throughout the city that can change your mind. Never heading towards the western region of the United States, my first thought was it was going to be a very basic, game meat filled menu. But I was surprised to find the city had a eclectic style including Mexican, Tapas, and as as a beer writer, something of special interest to me -- a brewery. Firehouse Brewing is South Dakota's first brewpub, and it has been opened since 1991. What was once the city's firehouse, was transformed into a successful brewery serving not only great beers but good food, too.
Driving into South Dakota, signs for this brewpub starting appearing hundreds of miles away along the road. Literal fire trucks holding the billboards are bound to catch anyone's eye. Patio style seating allows diners to still get a good view of those passing by and the rest of the city. As far as the beers go, they have a handful of beers readily available including an India Pale Ale that is robust but still refreshing. They also make a robust tasting Smoke Jumper Stout, which has a distinct flavor of roast coffee.
Not Your Typical Hotel AccommodationsSure, you can find the average hotel chain sprinkled throughout the outskirts of the downtown area and along the highways leading to Rapid City. But if while visiting such a unique place, what better option is there than to stay at a hotel that is just as special.
For starters, if you're a history buff, The Hotel Alex Johnson may have what you're looking for. The antique looking hotel is listed as one of the United States National Register of Historic Places. Something about the hotel that either draws visitors or makes them stay back, is the fact that the hotel is rumored to be haunted. Hotel guests have claimed that strange things have happened throughout the hotel including items moving, strange knocks at the door at late hours, or even sightings of the "Lady in White", who is said to still roam the halls until this day. The hotel was even featured on an episode of "Ghost Hunters".
From presidential statues to cool hotels, Rapid City is a destination all its own.
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Kristen Kuchar feels the only thing better than cheese, beer, and travel is combining them together. The freelance food writer lives in Chicago with her husband where they are always cooking, eating, and planning their next adventure. She writes for dozens of travel and food publications and has a Journalism and Magazine Writing and Editing degree from Columbia College. You can follow her on Twitter @KristenKuchar
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author