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6 travel secrets of Rapid City, South Dakota

Written By | Mar 4, 2016

RAPID CITY, S.D., March 4, 2016 – Rapid City, with its roughly 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, given 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 established as a mining town in the late 1870s. By the 1890s, it had already become a tourist destination due to the scenic attractions of its surrounding area. Because of this, the city’s officials long knew that tourism would ultimately be their economic life-blood and were always looking for ways to ensure that an influx of visitors to their city would continue. The dramatic carving of four president’s heads into Mount Rushmore, a project that 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 draw 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.

1. Video arcade brings back nostaligia

Located in the basement of the kōl restaurant at 504 Mount Rushmore Road is Press Start, a video arcade whose clientele is not children, as you might expect, but adults. Gamesters, many of whom played these classic arcade video games like Mario Brothers and Galaga as teens, love the atmosphere, nostalgia and thrill of playing games with a full-sized screen and joystick. They can also enjoy a beer or other adult beverage while they play.

Press Start is open from 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday. Saturday is the day when kids are welcomed. They’re not open on Sunday.

@Ron Stern All rights reserved

@Ron Stern All rights reserved

2. Secret bar in Rapid City

Take a walk to 510 Ninth St., and ask the folks in the upstairs restaurant how to find the Blind Lion. You’ll be given a code to use and directions to find it.

You’ll eventually come to a rather nondescript door marked “Employees Entrance.” Enter and go down some stairs leading to a vault door. Type in the code on the keypad, and you’ll be able to walk into a jumping gin joint that offers Prohibition-era cocktails and live entertainment.

@Ron Stern All rights reserved

@Ron Stern All rights reserved

3. The road to the Wizard of Oz leads through Rapid City

The Colonial House Restaurant and Bar, located at 2315 Mount Rushmore Road, has long been popular with its clientele, who regularly enjoy ordering from the establishment’s breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.

But the ambiance of the Colonial Restaurant has something to offer movie-lovers too. There are four paintings, specially commissioned by the owners of the restaurant, depicting scenes from the famous movie The Wizard of Oz. There’s the Gale house and the Wicked Witch caught up in the cyclone, the flying monkeys, Dorothy and the Good Witch Glinda with the Munchkins, and the four companions dancing down the Yellow Brick Road toward the Emerald City.

@Ron Stern All rights reserved

@Ron Stern All rights reserved

4. Thomas Jefferson ice cream at Mt. Rushmore

Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, was the main author of the Declaration of Independence. Not a lot of people know that he was also the first to write down an ice cream recipe in the United States, way back in the 1780s. That exact recipe (except that today the eggs and creams are pasteurized) is made by Pride Dairy, which produces limited edition versions of TJ Ice Cream for sale at Mount Rushmore.

@Ron Stern All rights reserved

@Ron Stern All rights reserved

5. There’s gold in the Black Hills but not what you might expect

Gold used to craft Black Hills Gold jewelry doesn’t actually come from the Black Hills, but the distinctive design is ideostrictly original to this area. Whether it’s a ring, a bracelet or a necklace you fancy, it will always feature a grape leaf, or a three-color design of grapes flanked by delicate leaves in pink, green and gold.

This grape-and-leaf motif was established by a French jewelry designer, Henri LeBeau. Like so many other people, he came to the Black Hills during the 1870s gold rush in order to make his fortune. But en route, he became lost in the Badlands and almost died of starvation until he chanced upon a crop of wild grapes that gave him sustenance.

The Mount Rushmore Black Hills Gold Jewelry Factory at 2707 Mt. Rushmore Road offers free tours of their facility and an outlet store.

@Ron Stern All rights reserved

@Ron Stern All rights reserved

6. Delivery in 30 minutes — anywhere in the world. 

The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, with its visitor center situated at 24545 Cottonwood Road in Philip, is the first national park featuring the history of the Cold War.

Several tours of the site are offered each day because only six people can take the tour at one time. The Visitor Center provides a history of the Cold War and the Minuteman Missiles that were buried under ground (to protect them from enemy attack. If the order was given, they could reach anywhere in the world – in 30 minutes.

Leaving the Visitor Center, the small group is taken out into the prairie to Delta 1, an actual launch control building. A tiny elevator will take them 30 feet below ground where the stark whiteness of the missile launch control center is on view.

If they desire, members of the group can then drive a few miles to see a missile silo – complete with a Minuteman II missile.

It’s a fascinating look at the little-discussed period in American-Soviet Union history.

Where to Stay

The Rushmore Hotel and Suites (formerly, the Adoba Hotel) at 445 Mount Rushmore Road is an eco-friendly hotel with LED lighting, carbon-nano technology in the wall paint, which pulls bacteria from the air and comfortable bedding made from recycled materials.

The Comfort Suites Hotel & Convention Center, at 1333 North Elk Vale Road, provides guests with a variety of suite options. Guests can also take advantage of their fitness room, pool and guest laundry.

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Ron Stern

Ron Stern aka "The Global Gumshoe," I am a travel photojournalist and the author of hundreds of international and domestic travel articles. I am the Denver City Guide Editor for The Daily Meal, and a staff writer for Communities Digital News. My articles have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, San Diego Union-Tribune, Sun Sentinel, Yahoo News, MSN, and others. Magazines include Shape, Cruise, AAA Motorist, Visit Los Cabos Guide, Destinations West, Key Biscayne and La Jolla Today. My contributions have been noted by PBS, Mobil Travel Guides and my photography/ videography has been used extensively by entities such as tourism boards and public relations firms.