Sioux Falls – a dozen top recommendations for visitors
Traveling east? Traveling west? If so, chances are you may be following Interstate 90. And if you are, you owe it to yourself to plan a couple days in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
I’m in Sioux Falls right now and I’d love to share some recommendations for a great two days.
Grab a bike
Sioux Falls is a wonderfully bikeable city, and with big blue skies and clean country air, this is a great place to ride. Just about my first stop in Sioux Falls was to Spoke-N-Sport (2019 South Minnesota Ave.; Sioux Falls, SD 57105; 605.275.2453), a very complete bike shop with a nice rental fleet.
You could choose from comfort bikes, tandem bikes or road bikes. I opted for a nice lightweight Giant bike, that came with helmet and lock. It was my ticket to anywhere I wanted to go in Sioux Falls.
If you bike into town, there’s a downtown favorite you won’t want to miss called Phillip’s Avenue Diner (121 South Phillips Avenue; Sioux Falls, SD 57104; 605.335.4977). As the name suggests, this is a 50’s style diner, complete with malt shop vibe.
They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner; in fact, you can also get breakfast for lunch or dinner. I went with the Strawberry Spinach Salad with chicken breast, candied pecans and gorgonzola cheese crumbles that was wonderful.
Sertoma Butterfly House
If you are looking for someplace to de-stress after a hectic travel schedule, Sertoma Butterfly House and Marine Cove (4320 Oxbow Avenue; Sioux Falls, SD 57106; 605.334.9466) could be the place. There’s just something relaxing about watching 800 live butterflies flitting from plant to plant in search of nectar. In all, you’ll have a chance to see 60 to 80 different species from around the world.
Executive Director Audrey Willard says they receive 250 to 500 new chrysalises each week from across the globe. Each is hung in the “emergence window” where visitors can watch as the new butterflies emerge.
The butterflies share their 3,600 square-feet of space with 10 cute little Button Quail which run around at will and love to play in the dirt. You’ll also find some turtles sunning themselves in the pond. Multiple benches throughout are there for you to relax and the butterflies are happy to provide the entertainment.
Outside the butterfly enclosure is a wonderful aquarium called Marine Cove. With 10,000 gallons of aquariums, you’re going to see a lot of fish and coral and anemone and so much more.
The colors were the thing that struck me initially, so vibrant and intense. Willard explained that they have actually been pioneering the use of LED illumination for their aquariums, which makes a big difference in how you perceive the hues of the various species.
Kids will love the “hands on” experience in the Shark and Stingray Tank. Down at a child’s level, they can reach in and touch both the Horn & Bamboo sharks and the three curious and friendly Southern stingrays.
Step up to the tide pool and touch a star fish or sea urchin. Marvel at the beauty of the green anemone and the fish eating anemone. Even parents can help but touch these unusual but intriguing characters.
The Butterfly House is just one of number of attractions at Sertoma Park, which itself is just one of many dozens of city parks in Sioux Falls. Each has its own personality and amenities. At Sertoma, you also find the Outdoor Campus – a wonderful resource manned by the South Dakota Dept. of Game Fish and Parks & the City of Sioux Falls Parks & Recreation Department.
Whisper Dishes – let you project your voice across a field with giant parabolic reflectors. If the kids still have energy to spare, send them off to climb the giant geodesic dome climbing gym.
Encircling the entire city is an easy to ride bike trail. Paralleling the Big Sioux River, the bike path is actually the top of the levee built on either side of the river for a good portion of the trail. Multiple access points are available at major cross streets, but you’ll either ride your bike down under the streets, so you never have to stop for traffic. Multiple abandoned train bridges cross the river and have now been lined with wooden roadways for bikes to be able to cross from side to side.
Portions of the bike path are shaded, but most is open to the sky, so put some sunscreen on under that helmet. You’ll pass through multiple city parks and go through a couple golf courses if you ride the 19-mile loop around town. With side trails to explore as well, there’s a total of 26 miles of bike path to enjoy.
I exited the path at the Sanford Sports Complex, a huge recreation area with multiple fields for football, soccer, and baseball, as well as courts for basketball, tennis and volleyball. It had been a long day and I was headed for my hotel. First it was a quick stop though at Beef ‘O’Brady’s, located immediately across from the hotel. Time to unwind from the bike trip with a fish and chips and a tall cold one. Coming from a rather cold Cleveland, it was great to be able to sit on their patio and actually enjoy spring weather.
Fairfield Inn and Suites
The highly rated Fairfield Inn & Suites Sioux Falls Airport is relatively new, but has already won many of Marriott’s top awards. The staff is super friendly, and on a first name basis with many of the hotel’s regular guests. From the front desk to the housekeepers, they were all wonderful to deal with.
There were no bike racks on property, but they happily opened a locked storage room for me each night to park my bike and helmet. Heading back to my room, I got a chance to peak into the workout room and the very inviting pool area.
I stayed on the fourth floor in room 421. Super quiet and comfortable, this room was set up with a king bed and a well-lit desk/dresser/TV area with a half-dozen outlets for recharging all my batteries and electronics. It’s the first hotel I’ve stayed in recently where I didn’t have to get out my little traveling power strip for all my gadgets.
The shower was my first priority after biking most of the day, and the one here was quite large with full height glass wall and door. Four giant plush towels awaited on the rack and I was a new person in nothing flat.
Free Wi-Fi completed the package as far as I was concerned and I was able to upload, download and keep caught up on all my social media. I’ve noticed a number of hotels dialing down the flow of broadband in their rooms recently, but I had no such problem here at the Fairfield.
Each room comes with a very usable mini-refrigerator, coffee pot and a microwave oven. I had picked up a pack of microwave popcorn and some pop from their lobby convenience store, so I enjoyed a late night snack before falling quickly asleep on their pillow-top mattress.
Tomorrow I’m off to explore more of the bike trail system and visit the zoo. Join me as we continue to explore all Sioux Falls has to offer.
Day two in Sioux Falls started with a nice (also free) breakfast at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Sioux Falls Airport. Their dining area had a couple entrée items that changed daily, and offered a decent selection of all the breakfast basics. Having a good breakfast is something I really enjoy when traveling as it can keep me going through lunch if need be.
Grabbing my bike from their lock-up room, I was off to meet Kylee at the Great Plains Zoo.
Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History
Sioux Falls has the distinction of having a combined zoo and natural history museum. Called the Great Plains Zoo and the Delbridge Museum of Natural History (805 S. Kiwanis Avenue, Sioux Falls, SD 57104; 605-367-7003), one trip is perfect to take in both.
If you have older kids, you already probably know the disappointment of arriving at your child’s favorite animal’s display, only to find out that they are sleeping or hiding in their enclosure. No longer a problem. With the fabulous display at the Delbridge Museum of Natural History, chances are you’ll find a finely mounted specimen of the same animal. They may not be moving, but they are most cooperative for taking selfies.
Kylee Breems, Director of Marketing Communications, explained that the entire group of 150 mounted animals were originally collected by Mr. Delbridge, years ago, when hunting and collecting wild animals was legal. Through his generous donation, everyone can now enjoy them year-round. Each is placed in a geographically correct diorama of sorts, along with other animals found in similar environments. Having them side-by-side, it becomes much easier to tell the difference between a Kudo and a Bongo.
The zoo offers a special children’s petting area as well as displaying traditional “don’t even think about petting” animals. Divided into environmentally diverse sections, the 1,000 live animals include a featured Snow Monkey exhibit – one of only 13 in the country, and a special Rare Rhinos of Africa exhibit.
Plans to spend some time at the Snow Monkey exhibit. “They tend to be quite naughty and fun to watch” explained Kylee. She was right. They were quite the crowd pleasers as kids could get face-to-face with them through a heavy plastic, shaded enclosure.
The zoo is open year round but many animals are off display during winter hours. Despite following signs to the cheetah enclosure….
all I found outside at the end of April was the Leopard Tortoise. Despite the name, they are nowhere near as quick.
Arriving at the bison enclosure, the animals were all at the back of the fenced in area, close to the bike trail which passes just outside the zoo.
Grab a bench like I did, and give them 15 minutes, and they eventually wandered right up front for a great close-up view.
Photographers tip: Take a manual focus camera with the fastest lens available (preferably f2.8) as you’ll be shooting through numerous single and double fences for many of the potentially dangerous mammals. With a simple point and shoot camera, you are going to get a lot more fence than Black Bear.
After shooting 750 shots of live and once-live animals, it was time for a late lunch or early dinner. Someone recommended a Sioux Falls tradition, so I was off in search of Bob’s Cafe.
Bob’s Carry Out and Delivery
Bob’s building has been around since the dawn of time (at least since 1944 when it was the Pickle Palace) and I’m guessing the exterior looked just the same back then. It was actually built from lumber from a destroyed building in downtown Sioux Falls.
But what’s inside is what’s important, and Bob’s Carry Out & Delivery (1312 W 12th St.; Sioux Falls, SD 57104; 605-336-7260) is a neighborhood favorite.
After perusing the menu, I decided on the Chicken and Ribs combo, with fries and coleslaw. Not unique, but it was mouthwatering good. The juicy, broasted chicken had that classic crunch and the rib meat was off the bone. Very enjoyable and filling.
It seems to be “the” carryout spot in town, as no less than a dozen people came in for large carryout orders while I was there.
Nourished and full, I needed to work off some calories, so it was off to Falls Park, the signature natural attraction in downtown Sioux Falls. Ever since the city was founded in 1856, the series of cascading falls is a magnet for young and old alike.
Unique to many waterfall locations, you can actually climb around and get close to these falls. Walkways for the less adventurous are available, but kids and the young-at-heart can be seen bounding from rock to rock for a better view. Photographers must fall in that later category, as I found myself climbing for a better perch from which to photograph the falls.
Soak up some city history by visiting and reading about the historic Queen Bee Mill, one of the city’s first big enterprises. Then head over to the Light and Power Company Building which now houses the Falls Overlook Café and don’t miss the Visitor Information Center with its 50’-tall viewing tower which offers the best panoramic view of the falls.
Falls Park Farmers Market is open here on Saturday mornings during the summer/fall months and is worth a trip if your schedule permits.
Disclosure: Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau assisted me with this trip, but all opinions and descriptions are strictly my own.
Also published on Medium.