Falls Park, Sioux Falls
photos by Sioux Falls CVB
For decades, I zipped past the I-90 exits to Sioux Falls, always hurrying west to the hills and mountains. I adored Minnesota’s tumbling North Shore falls and thought Sioux Falls couldn’t compare. I was wrong.
On a balmy day in early spring, Sioux Falls’ 123-acre Falls Park fills with people radiating the relief of winter-weary Midwesterners. Our 21st-century twin tween girls in neon-pink hoodies happily climb a rugged, rocky gash of pink quartzite above and below the waterfalls. They shriek from the overspray, explore side pools, and seek scenic nooks for selfies.
You could spend hours watching the Big Sioux River tumbling 100 feet over a series of drops, either from a 50-foot observation tower or a bridge to the 1908 Light and Power Company building that’s now the Overlook Cafe. Nearby are Queen Bee Mill ruins.
Runners and cyclists whisk by on the 19-mile Big Sioux River and Recreation Trail & Greenway. It’s less than a mile to the heart of downtown, anchored by Phillips Avenue and lined with more than 50 sculptures. A bustling stretch of boutiques, restaurants, and breweries beckons. New construction seems constant in this city of 178,000 residents.
You can start Friday happy hour at Paramount Studio Cocktails and Food with a plate of chislic (South Dakota’s fried steak tips) or a buffalo burger on brioche while listening to live music and sipping a deliciously fragrant strawberry-and-basil martini dusted with black pepper. Less than a block away, Parker’s Bistro offers an ideal date night, with white tablecloths, brick walls, low lights, and seasonal twists on pheasant with risotto, seafood, and vegan entrées. For dessert, save room for CH Patisserie’s exquisite pastries.
Aromas from yeasty beers and garlicky pastas to smoky pork and savory steaks waft up and down Phillips Avenue, west of the river. Find more tasty temptations on the East Bank. Meat pies seasoned with onion and pomegranate molasses, fatayer (Mediterranean calzones), vegan salads, and pastries line the cases at Sanaa’s for weekday lunch, while Friday nights and Saturday lunches offer exotic 10-course buffets beneath vibrant textiles.
Across the street, the historic quartzite building is ideal to grab a local flight from Hill City winery or a beer from its Miner Brewing Company. At Prairie Berry East Bank, pair drinks with charcuterie and cheeses from the epicurean bar; pizzas, sandwiches, and soups from its kitchen. Next door, Monks House of Ale Repute serves more than 75 styles of craft beer.
Families should head south to the Butterfly House and Aquarium, where observation bubbles put kids eye-to-eye with neon fish. At the 45-acre Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History, see 150 mounted animals in life-size dioramas from across the globe before heading outside to watch giraffes, snow monkeys, and rhinos, or pet and feed farm animals.
If the weather stays warm and dry, head back to Falls Park. The setting sun deepens the pink quartzite, the falls keeps rumbling, and the wide-open space welcomes the coming spring.
Eat, Play, Stay
Washington Pavilion houses several attractions on the edge of downtown. Look for Northern Plains Tribal Art at the Visual Arts Center, catch the symphony or a musical at the 1,800-seat Husby Performing Arts Center, see 100 hands-on exhibits at Kirby Science Discovery Center, or watch a movie projected onto the 60-foot-wide screen at the Wells Fargo CineDome.
Find even bigger rock formations 10 miles off I-90 on the return to Minnesota at Palisades State Park.