I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
July 26, 2016
It’s time to add Sioux Falls to your vacation bucket list. Check out this list of things to do with kids in Sioux Falls and you’ll understand why.
My family and I went to Sioux Falls, South Dakota last month and it’s been on our minds– and in our hearts– ever since.
“Sioux Falls?” people ask us when we tell them. “Really? Why?”
Oh, friends. Visit Sioux Falls and you’ll understand. It has all the bells and whistles of a big city– innovative restaurants with world-famous chefs, a vibrant downtown scene, an amazing children’s museum, a symphony, a zoo, a 25-mile greenway and much, much more– yet the warmth of its residents and ease of getting from place to place give it an incredibly charming, small town feel. Drive a few minutes outside the downtown area and you’ll head straight into a Laura Ingalls Wilder novel– vast expanses of billowing prairie grass, 200-year-old Burr Oaks and a meandering river with sandy banks that you can totally imagine being crossed by a team of horses and covered wagon, Pa at the reins. In fact, my family took one of the most beautiful hikes of our lives in Sioux Falls, and we can’t wait now to go back and explore all the things we missed on our first visit.
And lest you think it’s too far away, consider this: We left the Nashville airport bound for Chicago at 7:20am, switched planes and arrived in Sioux Falls by 11:30am. We retrieved our luggage and rental car with ease in Sioux Falls’ immaculate airport and were downtown by noon, with the whole day ahead of us. Sioux Falls is an easy drive from most midwestern cities and you can fly directly to Sioux Falls from lots of cities, including Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas and Orlando.
All things considered, Sioux Falls is a perfect destination for families. Check out my 35 favorite things to do with kids and I bet you’ll agree with me!
Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History (805 S. Kiwanis Ave.)
Trust me when I say this zoo is a must-see if you’re traveling with children. It might not be the biggest zoo in the country, but it’s certainly one of the most carefully curated. With over 1,000 animals from around the world, this 45-acre zoo has animals you generally won’t see in larger zoos, including tigers, rhinos, wolves, giraffes, bears, foxes, and several kinds of primates—The snow monkey exhibit was a favorite of ours. The park-like grounds include plenty of shade trees and lush scenery, and when we grew tired of walking, the 15-minute train ride around the park gave us a chance to relax and get new views of the animals.
Included in the cost of admission is the Delbridge Museum of Natural History, a unique collection of 150 mounted animals, including 38 “vanishing species.” The museum is a great place to cool off on a hot day or take shelter from a sudden rainstorm.
Queen City Bakery (324 E. 8th Street)
My entire family fell head over heels in love with this delightful downtown bakery and coffee shop. The highly inventive baked goods are made from scratch each day, using fresh local fruits and vegetables—and the results are truly phenomenal. You might find Guava cream cheese/strawberry rhubarb/ham Béchamel turnovers here one day and apricot bostock the next– Trust me, everything’s delicious! And whatever you do, don’t leave without taking some cookies to go! I highly recommend the Jammie Dodger, a heart-shaped shortbread cookie loaded with house-made strawberry jam.
The Big Sioux River Recreation Trail
One of the most exciting features of Sioux Falls is the Big Sioux River Recreation Trail, a 25-mile paved loop that starts at Falls Park and winds around the city. Rent bikes and ride a portion of the trail, starting on the Downtown Greenway, which runs alongside the river.
If the day is particularly warm, you’ll appreciate the ‘interactive water feature’ (I’d call it a splash pad) that’s located right in front of the Hilton Garden Inn downtown. Or, you may opt to rent kayaks and see the city from the river—The Downtown Greenway includes a kayak landing that makes river exploration easy.
Phillips Avenue Diner (121 S. Phillips Ave.)
Located in the heart of Sioux Falls’ eclectic downtown shopping district, the popular Phillips Avenue Diner is worth the wait in line for a table. The milkshakes are phenomenal and I have to say my Chicken and Waffles were probably the best meal I had in Sioux Falls.
The Outdoor Campus (4500 S. Oxbow Avenue)
Located beside the Butterfly House & Marine Cove in Sertoma Park, The Outdoor Campus helps families enjoy the great outdoors without ever having to leave the city. The campus includes two miles of very popular hiking trails, as well as an interactive nature center your children will love—and since it’s funded by the state, it’s all free to the public!
Be sure to check The Outdoor Campus’s program schedule before you come to town, because the programs they offer for children and adults are worth making time for. Outdoor Campus naturalists teach everything from fishing and archery to kayaking and outdoor survival skills.
M.B. Haskett (324 S. Phillips Ave.)
Featuring imaginative and ever-changing breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, M.B. Haskett is an excellent choice for families with older children who are open to trying new things. In addition to a variety of artisan meats and cheeses, the current menu includes crepes for breakfast, muffalettas and brie on baguette for lunch, and ‘comfort pub’ dinners like Walleye Tacos, and Bison Tavern on brioche. Serious foodies will want to make reservations for the three-course Prix Fixe dinner menu, served Friday and Saturday evenings by Chefs Michael Haskett and Sarah Langenfeld.
Falls Park (900 N. Phillips Avenue)
You can’t visit Sioux Falls without spending time at the natural wonder that gave the city its name. The Falls of the Big Sioux River are truly breathtaking, and they run right through the heart of the city! Today, the falls are part of a park covering 123 acres, which includes historic buildings, hiking and biking trails, an observation tower and a café. I recommend briefly reading up on the history of the falls with your family before you go, since knowing the exciting backstory adds a lot to the experience of seeing them. Just be sure and keep a close eye on your kids– The falls are tumultuous and the rocks can be slippery.
Overlook Café (825 North Weber Avenue)
While you’re touring the falls, don’t overlook the Overlook Café. The Café’s Red Velvet Cake in particular is moist, delicious and a perfect complement to the frosting, which is seriously how I would imagine the clouds in heaven must taste.
Good Earth State Park (48072 270th Street)
We did a LOT during our Sioux Falls vacation, but Good Earth State Park has to be one of my favorite experiences. South Dakota’s newest state park isn’t far from downtown and particularly for those of you who have never experienced the prairie in person, it is a must-do family hike, as well as a terrific opportunity for photos. The park currently has six miles of developed trails, with more to come. We walked about a mile and a half and back, making our way through gorgeous grassland, stunning forest with 200-year-old Burr Oaks, and alongside the Big Sioux River. I confess, I heard the Little House on the Prairie theme song in my head throughout the entire walk! Check the park’s Facebook page before your trip to find out if a special program or guided hike is scheduled during your visit.
Parker’s Bistro (210 S. Main Ave.)
For those of you who have older children with a more adventurous palate, Parker’s Bistro is a perfect spot for a celebratory big night out. Everything we tried at this downtown hotspot was delicious, but special mention must go to the Bacon Jam, which included brie and cracklings and the the Bison Meatloaf, a must-order entrée. Parker’s is also known for its cocktail menu, so be sure and try one of its signature drinks. Reservations are highly recommended.
SculptureWalk (Downtown Sioux Falls)
There’s a reason SculptureWalk is ranked on Trip Advisor as the number one thing to do in Sioux Falls—It’s a truly memorable experience! You’ll see a total of 56 sculptures created by artists from around the country along the downtown sidewalks. Grab a SculptureWalk brochure to make sure you see each one, then use the brochure’s ballot to vote for your favorite artwork. The city of Sioux Falls purchases each year’s winning sculpture and gives it a permanent home in Falls Park.
Butterfly House and Marine Cove (S. Oxbow Avenue)
We were absolutely delighted by Sioux Falls’ Butterfly House, where 800 tropical butterflies from around the world fly free in an indoor garden. We also loved the bevy of baby quails scurrying on the garden path, and the turtles making their way in and out of the water.
Once the kids got their fill of butterfly watching, we went next door to Marine Cove, where we got to touch sharks, stingrays, starfish and more. Another unexpected treat was the jellyfish display, where tracked jellyfish development from ‘infancy’ to ‘adulthood.’ Before you leave, be sure and stop by the Butterfly House’s library, where a mother and baby tarantula are on display!
CH Patisserie (309 S. Phillips Ave.)
When Ritz Carlton pastry chef Chris Hanmer won season 2 of Top Chef: Just Desserts, he decided to use the opportunity to open his own place in his wife’s hometown– CH Patisserie was born. French Macarons are his specialty; choose from classics like chocolate and vanilla bean or try more adventurous flavors like Nutella and Fruity Pebbles. You’ll also find European-inspired pastries, cookies, croissants and beignets, as well as decadent desserts ranging from cheesecakes to tarts.
Palisades State Park (25495 485th Avenue, Garretson)
While not technically in Sioux Falls, this breathtaking state park is less than a half-hour away in Garretson, and it’s definitely worth the drive. Split Rock Creek, which flows through the park, has cut through the Sioux quartzite for millions of years, resulting in deep gorges and quartzite spires, which geologists estimate are 1.2 billion years old! Trails twist and turn through these spires, leading to scenic overlooks of the creek’s rushing waters. Download a trail map to plan your hike.
Sanaa’s 8th Street Gourmet (401 E. 8th Street)
This popular downtown restaurant features healthy vegetarian and vegan fare cooked daily from scratch with fresh, seasonal ingredients and freshly ground spices. Have a quick, casual lunch here or enjoy a 10 course buffet every Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening. Gourmet chef Sanaa Abourezk has been featured on the Food Network and in the New York Times; she knows her stuff!
Kid-Friendly Downtown Shopping
Downtown Sioux Falls has lots of unique shops and most of them are kid-friendly. My children were obsessed with Child’s Play Toys (233 S. Phillips Avenue), which features a wide array of educational toys as well as children’s books, clothing and accessories. We also loved Unglued (218 S. Phillips Avenue), where the merchandise has been crafted by 120 local and regional artists. And you definitely won’t want to miss Zandbros Variety (209 S. Phillips Avenue), an old-fashioned emporium filled with toys, books, knick-knacks, jewelry, and more.
And for Sioux Falls souvenirs, I recommend the Gift Shop inside the Falls Park Visitor Information Center (900 N. Phillips Avenue). You’ll find everything from Sioux Falls playing cards to Sioux Falls chapstick here, but we especially loved their Sioux Falls t-shirts, which are super soft and cost only $9 dollars apiece.
Breadico (201 N. Weber Avenue)
Breadico has made a name for itself in Sioux Falls because of its handcrafted sourdough breads, featured in some of Sioux Falls’ finest restaurants. Stop by the bakery Tuesday through Saturday and try some for yourself! Breadico is now offering pizza from a wood fired oven for lunch, as well as dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.
Washington Pavilion (W. 11th St.)
There’s something for everyone at the Washington Pavilion entertainment center in downtown Sioux Falls, but our favorite attraction there was the Kirby Science Discovery Center, a three-story interactive children’s museum with more than 100 interactive exhibits that encourage learning and physical activity. I’ve been to many a children’s museum in my time and can tell you without hesitation that this is one of the best.
Right beside the science center entrance is the Wells Fargo CineDome, a movie theater with a 60-foot wide, four-story screen that offers educational documentaries as well as family-friendly feature films. Tickets are just $5 for adults and $3 for kids, making a CineDome movie a great bargain!
Art lovers won’t want to miss the Visual Arts Center, which features exhibitions of leading regional, national and international artists in seven galleries. Admission is free on Tuesdays and on the first Friday of each month; kids (up to 17) are always free. The Visual Arts Center’s children’s room, which is filled with fun things to do, kept our kids occupied while we were there – Ask for the scavenger hunt at the front desk and your children will be challenged to fill it out while they’re looking at the exhibitions. If they complete the scavenger hunt, they’ll receive a prize at the front desk!
Grille 26 by Minervas (1716 South Western Ave.)
The comfortable atmosphere of this upscale restaurant makes it appropriate for all ages– and all tastes. My son ordered Macaroni and Cheese from the kids’ menu and it was so good, we all had to have a bite. My husband and I shared an excellent Walleye fillet– but top honors of the night go to the Chislic, a dish served only in South Dakota. Chislic is deep fried, medium rare morsels of steak and we were thrilled to find it on the Grille 26 menu. After one plate, we had to have more, and ordered a second!
Thunder Road (201 N. Kiwanis Avenue)
With go-karts, a laser beam maze, a kid-sized roller coaster, bumper boats, mini golf, laser tag and much more, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Thunder Road. While the go-karts were a highlight of our experience (I loved the fact that they have separate tracks for kids and adults), we had a great time trying all the activities– Lines were short and the staff was very friendly and enthusiastic.
Fiero Pizza (212 S. Phillips Ave.)
This popular downtown pizza joint is ideal for a quick lunch or dinner. Create your own personal pizza as you head through the line and rejoice in the fact that each pizza is ready in just five minutes. Although we enjoyed the variety of toppings and lightning-quick service, we agreed it was the pizza dough that made us want to come back for more. Crispy on the outside and doughy on the inside, we couldn’t get enough! Unless you’re really hungry, one pizza is enough for two adults or three kids.
Pettigrew Home & Museum (131 N. Duluth Avenue)
Catfish Bay (5600 N. Show Place)
Billed as “The Greatest Show on H2O”, this highly-rated entertainment extravaganza features acting, singing, dancing, and amazing water-skiing stunts. Tickets are $12 for adults, $9 for kids ages 4-12, and children three and under are free. COUNT ME IN!
Beaver Creek Nature Area (48351 264th Street)
Just 25 minutes from Sioux Falls, Beaver Creek Nature Area includes a historic site and a 1.5 mile trail along a spring-fed creek that leads to a lovely hilltop view of the forest you’ve just walked through. At the end of your hike, prepare to cross one of South Dakota’s most well-known rural landmarks—a rustic swinging bridge. This thrilling-yet-safe adventure makes for a fun family hike. Check out the trail map to guide you on your way—It also includes a helpful guide detailing the area’s history, geology, and wildlife information.
Coffea Roasterie (200 S. Phillips Ave.)
“You have to go to Coffea,” a woman told us while we were out shopping in downtown Sioux Falls. “I worked there as a barista for six months before they allowed me to serve a customer—and even then, I had to pass a test in front of two baristas and two sensory judges! They know what they’re doing there!” She was right- My husband and I stopped by this hybrid coffee bar/art gallery for lattes and both were out. Of. This. World. My husband claims his Lavender Latte was best, but I’m absolutely certain I’ve never tasted anything better from any coffee shop, anywhere, than my Masala Latte. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.
Sertoma Park (4300 S. Oxbow Avenue)
If you have kids, you shouldn’t leave Sioux Falls without a stop at Sertoma Park. Located next to the Butterfly House & Marine Cove, this park features a large playground with five spacious playpods, as well as one of the state’s largest picnic pavilions.
The main attraction has to be this ginormous climbing dome, which took my kids’ breath away and made for a great photo op on a warm, sunny day. Climbing to the top is a true thrill, but don’t worry too much about your little ones’ safety— Soft mulch is piled high inside the dome so that if a child slips through the bars, they won’t fall far and the landing will be soft.
While you’re there, don’t miss the sound tube, which encircles a ‘human sundial’ and solar system display. Whisper into one end and you’ll be amazed to find your companion can hear every word from the other side!
Prairie Berry East Bank (322 E. 8th Street)
The family-friendly Prairie Berry offers housemade pizzas, sandwiches, soups and more, along with wine and craft beer from a Fermentation Bar. Prairie Berry’s Epicurean Bar features charcuterie meats and cheeses and the Marketplace offers wines, meats, cheeses and jams to take home.
Old Courthouse Museum (200 West 6th Street)
When we visit a city, we like to learn about its history– In this respect, the Old Courthouse Museum is a must-do. Built in the 1890s from South Dakota’s iconic pink quartzite, the museum houses permanent and changing exhibits focusing on the natural and cultural histories of the Siouxland region. Learn about the struggles between South Dakotan settlers and Native Americans, see rare coins from ancient civilizations around the world, learn about the history of ladies’ purses, and find out how pioneers traveled on the plains. Visitors rave about this place! Admission and parking are free.
Great Bear Recreation Park (5901 E. Rice Street)
Known for skiing, snowboarding and snowtubing in winter, Great Bear transforms in summer to a popular spot for impromptu hikes. The 220-acre park is part of the Loess Mountain Range and includes 4 miles of looped hiking trails that wind through hills and valleys, offering spectacular views of Sioux Falls as well as creek splashing opportunities beneath a canopy of majestic Burr Oaks. Hiking at Great bear is free; check out the Summer Trail Guide to plot your family’s path.
The All Day Café by Minervas (2101 W. 41st)
Consider this cafe for a meal if you’re headed to The Outdoor Campus, or the Butterfly House and Marine Cove– It’s right around the corner! No matter what kind of food you’re looking for, you you’re sure to find something you like at The All Day Café. The menu is vast and includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, no matter what time you order. Everything we ordered here surpassed our expectations, but top honors go to my husband’s Beef Tandoori Melt sandwich. Mmmmmmmm.
Wild Water West Waterpark (26767 466th Avenue)
Take it from Charles Ingalls– The prairie sun is no joke. Lucky for you, South Dakota’s largest waterpark and only wavepool is in Sioux Falls. Open from Memorial Day until Labor Day,Wild Water West has a water slide complex, Tornado Alley—a 55-foot tube slide with a vortex in the middle, a Lazy River, and more. Once you’ve dried off, you can choose from go-karts, mini-golf, bumper boats, batting cages and sand volleyball to finish your day.
See the sights of Sioux Falls aboard the downtown trolley, which runs Memorial Day through Labor Day, Monday – Thursday, 11am-7pm and Friday & Saturday 11am-8pm. Board at any of the trolley stop signs located on nearly every block in downtown Sioux Falls or at Falls Park. It’s just $1 per rider, per day. Kids 5 and under ride for FREE!
St. Joseph Cathedral (521 N. Duluth Avenue)
Built between 1915 and 1919, this massive cathedral is truly the centerpiece of Sioux Falls– and it’s as beautiful inside as it is on the outside. You’ll want to at least briefly step inside to check it out– Visitors rate the cathedral as one of the top attractions in the city and some report spending hours wandering around in order to see everything. Self-guided tours are available from 9-11:30 AM and 1-5 PM. Guided tours can be taken from 1-5 PM with one week’s notice/confirmation. Call (605) 336-7392 to request a tour.
Terrace Park (1100 W. 4th Street)
A great stop for family photos, Terrace Park includes walking trails along lovely Covell Lake and the Japanese Gardens, as well as a family aquatic center with multiple pools and slides. You’ll also find a playground, basketball and tennis courts, and the Terrace Park Bandshell, where you can see municipal band concerts in the summertime. It’s no wonder this park is extremely popular with the locals– It could be a great stop-off for your family, as well.
Sky Zone (5129 S. Solberg Avenue)
If your children need to burn off some excess energy before the day is done, consider Sky Zone—Sioux Falls’ own trampoline park. Recommended to me by multiple local moms, Sky Zone offers fun (and fitness!) for the whole family—Bounce to your heart’s delight on multiple trampolines or practice your flips by landing in a pit filled with 10,000 foam cubes.
Thanks to Visit Sioux Falls for hosting us on our South Dakota adventure!
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I wish I had come across this 6 months ago. We were trying to decide where to move and I couldn’t find anything on Sioux Falls for family s I figured nothing was there. Ha now I feel we missed out!