Our recent visit to Sioux Falls, the largest city (population wise) in South Dakota, was suppose to be a quick overnight, with dinner by the famous falls. But the more we researched, the list of places we “had” to visit grew longer and the more we crowdsourced, the list of places where we “needed” to dine for a meal or special treat grew larger. We ended up spending almost three full days of fun in the southeastern part of South Dakota and having so much fun!
We loved Sioux Falls for all the public parks, green spaces, and walking and biking trails; the rich history and preserved historic homes and buildings open to the public; the daily calendar of events tailored to families at the zoo and science center and butterfly garden and aquarium; and the kind, friendly people who ALWAYS stopped to let the pedestrian tourists cross the street (such a pedestrian friendly city- motorists actually do stop!) and who always had a tip about getting around road work, a recommendation for the best ice cream flavor, and a personal story of hometown pride.
A great place to begin planning a trip to Sioux Falls is ExperienceSiouxFalls.com. The website is well organized by Things to Do, Where to Stay, and Special Events, along with many themed itineraries like family events, festivals, and breweries. The Visitor Guide is a great resource for everything Sioux Falls related and is available online and in print form. We found copies just about everywhere we went, but visitors can also head to the Falls Park Visitor Center and for personalized help from the enthusiastic staff, as well as hard copies of overviews of every activity. Each week, Experience Sioux Falls publishes the “Sioux Falls Scene”, a comprehensive list of activities- check here for updates online and look for printed copies of the weekly bulletin around town.
We enjoyed so many places for dining throughout the city that we’re devoting a whole post to 10 places to eat in Sioux Falls- check it out here. Experience Sioux Falls has a great index and descriptions here. We were able to explore nine spots throughout the city (and one just over the state line) that we know the whole family will enjoy and are including six more spots if you’re in town for a while:
10 Fun Summertime Activities in Sioux Falls:
1. Walk across the famous Sioux Falls at Falls Park. The Sioux Quartzite featured in the park is some of the oldest rock formations in South Dakota, and the Big Sioux River has been flowing over it for over 10,000 years. Take the bridge so you can see the falls from every angle- there are plenty of viewing areas and benches. There is also a lot of green space to picnic (as well as picnic tables) and let kids burn off energy. Leave time to peek inside the Historic Queen Bee Mill, built in 1881 with some remains still standing at the sight of the most powerful point of the Falls. Make sure to walk to the top of the Observation Tower (82 stairs and there is elevator) and stop in the Visitor Center for restrooms, t shirts, and souvenirs. There are also 34 miles of paved trails that begin at Falls Park and follow along the river.
Kids will enjoy getting ice cream from Stensland Farms at the Overlook Café and running through the green grass park setting.
Adults will enjoy marveling at the falls and checking out the numerous viewing areas.
Travel Tips: Falls Park is FREE to visit every day of the year; hours for the Visitor Center and Observation Tower here; parking is available at several lots; the Overlook Café is open from 11am-6pm during summer and serves a wide variety of lunch, dinner, and ice cream options (see the menu here), as well as selling a few souvenirs; plan on an hour minutes to explore the whole park.
2. Study the agricultural history of Sioux Falls at the Stockyards AG Experience. Located behind the Visitor Center at Falls Park and housed in an old horse barn, the museum showcases the impressive history of the Sioux Falls Stockyards, which were in operation from 1917 through 2009 and were the hub of the entire city. At its peak, the stockyard sold up to 10,000 cattle a day. There is a special exhibit devoted to the John Morrell and Company, the single largest employer in South Dakota during the 20th century, and several interactive displays and film footage.
Kids will enjoy assembling the parts of a pig and cow, climbing inside a farming truck, sorting fruits and vegetables, and scanning bar codes to learn about various canned food in the Farm to Table Story exhibit.
Adults will enjoy the trivia about corn and soybeans, the top crops of South Dakota; learning about the 13 commission firms that operated the stockyards, and seeing collectibles and promotional items from past decades.
Travel Tips: The museum is FREE to visit (closed on Tuesday)- more information on hours here. The museum has two levels of exhibit space and is handicap accessible via an elevator. Restrooms are located on the lower level. Plenty of free parking outside the museum. Plan on 45-60 minutes to fully explore the exhibits.
3. Get up close to over 100 species of animals at the Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History. The zoo has six major exhibit spaces for dozens of animals and signage explain the heritage and fun trivia facts of each species. The paths are wide and paved, and often shaded. The Delbridge Museum includes 150 mounted animals, many of which belonged to Henry Brockhouse, a Sioux falls businessman who hunted during the mid 20th century and displayed his collection in his Sioux Falls hardware store. After his death, the Delbridge family purchased the collection and donated it the city to be included in the zoo complex. They are now on display, organized by continent.
Little kids will enjoy the Face to Face Farm, the carousel, and seeing the primates being fed.
Older kids will enjoy the larger animals from around the world: giraffes, camels, bears, rhinos, pandas, and zebras.
Travel Tips: Information on hours and admissions here and a great map of the zoo here. Wear closed toe shoes, as some exhibit spaces allow guests to go inside barns. Guests can rent strollers, wagons, wheelchairs, and scooters- more information here. There are daily zookeeper chats and animal feedings- check here for the schedule. There are additional fees for the carousel and Savannah Express train The zoo is part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, so you may have reciprocity privileges with your local zoo membership. The Roar Café sells hot and cold lunch meals, snacks, and drinks. Souvenirs and snacks are available at kiosks throughout the park and in the gift shop near the exit. Restrooms (and nursing rooms) are located in the museum and in the middle of the zoo. Plenty of free parking available in front of the zoo. Plan on three hours to fully explore the zoo and museum. The zoo is adjacent to Sherman Park, which has playgrounds, fields, ice skating and hockey rinks, trails, and restrooms.
4. Learn about the history of Sioux Falls at the Old Courthouse Museum. The restored building is a National Historic Landmark, built in 1890 as the county courthouse and used until 1962 and then opened as a museum in 1974. There are both permanent exhibits showcasing the Siouxland region and rotating exhibits about special interests.
Kids will enjoy the Toys exhibit, watching old toy commercials, and voting in an old voting machine.
Adults will enjoy the tornado history of Sioux Falls and exhibit on tribal groups, the 1908 Farwick Flyer car, and the third floor courtroom balcony.
Travel Tips: The museum is FREE to visit and open from 8am-5pm during the weekend and shorter hours on the weekend- more information on hours here. Free two-hour parking is available behind the museum and metered street parking is available on adjacent streets. The three floors of the museum are handicap accessible. Check out the list of free Friday summer concert series, free Thursday Kids Activity Days, and guided tours (nominal fees apply). Restrooms located on first and second floors. Plan on 60 minutes to explore the exhibits.
5. Check out the former home of the Pettigrew family at the Pettigrew Home and Museum. Built in 1889 for the McMartins, it was later purchased by Senator Richard Pettigrew who worked to build and promote the city of Sioux Falls. He loved collecting various items from his travels around the world, and he opened part of his home as a museum in 1925 to showcase items related to Sioux Falls’ settlement and his personal travels. Upon his death in 1926, he bequeathed the home and museum to the city with a promise to keep the museum free and open to the public. Today, visitors can explore two floors of exhibits in an added museum space and take a guided tour of most of the house, decorated almost entirely as the Pettigrew family left it.
Kids will enjoy rebuilding the city of Sioux Falls with wooden blocks and learning about schooling during Pettigrew’s time in the museum exhibits
Adults will enjoy seeing the décor of the 1910s when the Pettigrew family updated parts of the house (check out the bathroom!) and the outdoor walking tour of the grounds.
Travel Tips: The house and museum are FREE to visit; information on hours here; 20 minute guided tours of the house are given every half hour; the museum and home are handicap accessible via an elevator; restrooms and a water fountain are located near the admission desk on the first floor; two-hour free parking is available on the street; plan on 45-60 minutes to take the tour and fully explore the museum exhibits.
6. Test your science knowledge and investigation skills at the Kirby Science Discovery Center, located in the Washington Pavilion. The Pavilion, a former high school, has over 250,000 square feet of performing arts, visual arts, and museum space under one roof: Husby Performing Arts Center is home to two theaters (a 1881 seat hall and 290 seat theater), the Visual Arts Center has eight galleries of exhibition space and the Visitor Center to the Sculpture Walk and outdoor Sculpture Garden, and the CineDome shows a variety of short films on the 60 foot domed screen (and has super comfy, reclining seats!). Leonardo’s Café, both a full service café and catering company, is also on site. We spent a majority of our time at the Kirby Science Discovery Center, a three floor museum with over 100 hands on exhibits and activities. We’ll have a full post on the center in a few weeks.
Younger kids will enjoy Room to Grow with a playground and water tables; the dig site in the 3rd floor Dinosaur Discovery exhibit; marketplace and indoor playscape on the 3rd floor, and the toddler area on the 4th floor in the Health Quest exhibit.
Older kids will enjoy the touch screens and trivia contests in the Dinosaur and Explore South Dakota exhibits; Glowing Gallery; going in Tornado Alley; reaction time contests, brain challenges, and the rock climbing wall in the fit Zone exhibit and the Prehistoric Adventure Climber in the Health Quest exhibit.
Travel Tips: Information on admission fees and hours here; restrooms located on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd floors; parking is available several lots and on the street- more information here ; small concession stand (snacks and drinks for ClineDome shows) available on the 2nd floor; plan on at least two hours to fully explore all three floors of exhibits and more time to watch a show ($2 surcharge) in the ClineDome- schedule here
7. Watch a performance of the StoryLand Theater Company at McKennan Park. The theater troupe performs every Tuesday and Thursday at 10am and 7pm. McKennan Park is named for Helen Gale McKennan, who was a land speculator in Sioux Falls who donated her home and the 20 acres of adjacent land which is now the park to the city. The park includes a splash pad and wading pool, large playground, tennis, shuffleboard, and basketball courts, horseshoe pits, picnic tables, tons of open (and often shaded) space to run around, and restrooms. Most parking is on the street (2 hour limits) with a small lot next to the restrooms and splash pad.
8. Feed a butterfly and get up close to stingrays, jellyfish and more sea life at Butterfly House and Aquarium. The Butterfly House is home to over 800 free flying butterflies from around the world. The 3,600 square foot garden stays at a balmy 80 degrees all year long. The attached aquarium was added in 2011 when a local donated many of species of sea life. There are several aquariums that showcase jelly fish, sea horses, coral reefs, and lionfish, with touch tanks for sting rays (currently closed due to pandemic restrictions to protect the stingrays from hand sanitizer).
Kids will enjoy peeking under and inside the Indo-Pacific Coral Reef, the Discovery Den with a sandbox dig, and feeding the butterflies.
Adults will enjoy learning about the life cycle of a butterfly and feeding the butterflies.
Travel tips: Information on hours and admissions here. Both locations are housed in one building with plans to expand exhibition space in the near future. No outer wear, hooded sweatshirts, backpacks, or strollers are allowed in the Butterfly Garden. Wear sneakers as the Butterfly Conservatory is damp and slippery. There are restrooms and a gift shop near the exit. Plenty of free parking in front of the building. Check here for fun activity and coloring sheets to print at home. Plan on 60 minutes to explore all exhibits. The adjacent Sertoma Park has a pavilion with tons of picnic tables, a large playground, large climbing structure, and restrooms.
9. Learn about the USS South Dakota Battleship 57, which served in World War II, at the Museum located in Sherman Park. Guests can see the perimeter of the ship which is outlined outside around the museum. The ship was built and launched in New Jersey in 1941 and decommissioned in 1947. It participated in 13 major battles in the Pacific during World War II. A group of South Dakotans formed a battleship memorial nonprofit to save parts of the ship and the memorial opened in 1969.
Kids will enjoy walking the outline of the ship (almost 700 feet!), seeing the scale model of the ship (1/2” equals 1’) and seeing the technician ratings for the badges of sailors
Parents will enjoy the 30 minute video that provided a background of the battleship with interviews from sailors and the numerous personal effects of sailors (letters, badges, medals) donated to the museum.
Travel Tips: The museum is FREE to visit and is open from May 1st through the end of September. Plenty of parking in front of the museum. Restrooms are available and the museum is all on one floor for easy accessibility. Keep a close eye on little ones, as some artifacts are out in the open with only a sign reminding people not to touch. More information on visiting here. Plan on 60 minutes to fully explore indoor exhibits and outdoor artifacts.
10. Feed a baby calf and watch the cows being milked at Stensland Family Farms in Larchwood, Iowa. Established in 1915, there are 4 generations of the Stensland family currently working on the farm. The farm includes 1650 acres of crops and a “small” herd of 170 cows that produce over 1600 gallons of milk a day. The company produces ice cream, aged and fresh cheese, and frozen pizza with their famous, homemade sourdough bread crust. Family members give guided tours of the farm, which include short videos of the history of the farm and family, a peak into the robotic milking system, the chance to visit with cows and calves, and samples of the farm’s ice cream.
Kids will enjoy feeding the baby calves, seeing the cows up close, and sampling the famous Stensland ice cream.
Adults will enjoy learning about the technology that tracks the weight, health, and milking of the cows and the process of aging cheese, churning butter, and homogenizing milk.
Travel tips: Wear closed toe shoes. Information on pricing and scheduling a tour here. A small gift shop (with restroom) sells apparel, gifts, and Stensland ice cream and cheese treats. Most of the tour is handicap accessible. Plan on 60-75 minutes for a full tour.
More Summer Fun:
Good Earth State Park, one of the newest South Dakota State Parks, with a 11,000 square foot visitor center, eight miles of hiking trails, plenty of bird watching and fishing, and areas to picnic. The park is adjacent to the Big Sioux River and encompasses 600 acres of tallgrass prairies, oak woodlands, and river floodplains.
The Arc of Dreams, a stainless steel sculpture that crosses over the Big Sioux River between 6th and 8th Streets. There is a 15 foot gap in the middle of the arc, 70 feet above the river.
SculptureWalk and the Paladino Hohm Sculpture Garden located near the Washington Pavilion. SculptureWalk includes over 60 sculptures on display for one year throughout the downtown area- map here– and an annual “People’s Choice” contest. There is a SculptureWalk Visitor Center inside the Washington Pavilion. The Hohm Sculpture Garden features sculptures, water fountain, and space for outdoor performances.
The Falls Park Farmer’s Market, held in the Open Air Shelter across the street from the Stockyards AG Experience, open Saturday mornings from May through October, and featuring almost 30 vendors.
The Sioux Falls Canaries, a member of the North Division of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, with almost 50 home games at Sioux Falls Stadium, with a capacity of 4,400, and tons of special events and promotions.
Getting around town: There are plenty of parking garages in the downtown area-see this map– in addition to metered street parking and two hour free street parking. Another great option is the Historic Trolley Tour, which offers hop on and off service throughout the downtown area for $2 per person per day, kids 12 and under are free. See the route map and hours here.
Saying Local: We usually choose to stay at Marriott properties whenever we travel. We find the locations to be ideal, the amenities helpful for families, and rates and policies fair and reasonable. The Residence Inn Sioux Falls fit these criteria perfectly. The hotel was less than 10 minutes from just about every place we visited (save our trip to the farm in Iowa) and tucked away off a busy main road (convenient for travel but not directly on the noisy main road). The hotels has over 60 rooms that include one bedroom and two bedroom suites with full kitchen (with table), living room area (with desk and pull out sofa), separate bedroom, and full bathroom. There is an indoor pool and hot tub, exercise room, outdoor patio with fire pit, basketball quarter court, and laundry room. As with all Residence Inns, there is a common reception room with full breakfast every morning (hot eggs, meat, waffles, and potatoes as well as plenty of pastries, cereals, fruit and yogurts) and evening snacks during the week. The staff was helpful with extra supplies, and their dining recommendations and advice on avoiding rush hour traffic was spot on. The hotel was clean (and common areas cleaned frequently in the short time we were in those spaces) and well-kept and we hope to return for a future stay.
Disclaimer: My family was hosted by Experience Sioux Falls. All opinions expressed are my own.