My first time in South Dakota, my husband and I were greeted crossing the southwestern border with the famous “Great Faces, Great Places” slogan. “Cute!” I thought, realizing that what many people, myself included, knew about the Great Plains state boiled down to those four famed faces etched into granite. “What an inventive way to capitalize on such an iconic monument.”
On our return last month, though, I learned that there’s far more to South Dakota and its motto than a couple of rocks bearing the identities of former presidents. If ever a place personified its state tagline, it’s Sioux Falls (or the whole of South Dakota, really).
Our first time, we stayed near Custer State Park in Hot Springs and Rapid City on our inaugural South Dakota vacation back in 2011. It was a particularly wet that year—not only across the entire region, but the country at large. Badlands National Park wasn’t open, so we stuck close to our campground, spent our days photographing bison and prairie dogs, stole away to motorcycle mecca Sturgis to take photos with its prominent sign.
Our most recent visit last month may not have been any less damp, but a token of a great trip is that the weather doesn’t even matter one bit. We were greeted by the locals of Sioux Falls with such warmth and enthusiasm, at times I had to double-check I wasn’t actually back in my native Southern habitat. In fact, Nashville could learn a thing or two about hospitality from the fine folks of Sioux Falls: We were summoned for coffee by entrepreneur/musician/photographer Wes Eisenhauer over Twitter, asked by chef/nutritionist Sanaa Abourezk to partake in the weekly dinner feast at her eponymous restaurant and invited to join a pair of local children’s pastors for a Guatemalan-style dinner at Jacky’s when the line was particularly long one brisk Friday night.
Every time we’d pop into a coffee shop—and in Sioux Falls, there are many—the barista would inquire where we’re from, some even going as far as to scribble down their favorite insider-y recommendations on a Post-It for us to take with us (thanks, Kylie!). Everywhere we went, complete strangers became friends; we couldn’t have felt anymore welcome had we both grown up in the area.
We’d been in California visiting family, so we arrived in Sioux Falls from San Francisco. The first thing that struck us as awesome was the convenience of the airport; not only was it one of the easiest terminals to get in and out of—and the rental car process a breeze, taking all of three minutes—but we’d only been driving two miles when all of a sudden, BAM, we were in the heart of Sioux Falls.
Our hotel, the new Hilton Garden Inn Sioux Falls Downtown, was situated right over the river, in the trendy 8th Street corridor, and we pretty much hit up every restaurant along that stretch of real estate in the next four days: craft brews and wine tastings at Prairie Berry East Bank, lattes and homemade pop-tarts at Josiah’s Coffeehouse (twice), even more beer and mashed potato pizza(!) at Monk’s House of Ale Repute.
Then, there was lunch at Sanaa’s Gourmet Mediterranean, which was a true treat—particularly as the sassy namesake herself came and joined us for a spell (sadly, we weren’t able to accept her dinner invitation as we were on our way back to Tennessee).
Each morning, I was torn between returning to Josiah’s or grabbing breakfast on the go from Breadico or Queen City Bakery—they’re both local favorites and just a couple blocks apart—so we bit the bullet and tried each spot (for the sake of “work,” y’all).
For more about what we consider the best restaurants and bars in Sioux Falls, continue on to the next page…
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