By Ron Stern | Global Gumshoe
South Dakota’s two largest cities are on opposite sides of the state, connected by Interstate 90 that runs east/west between them. Many people will know of Rapid City, since that’s the gateway to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. Follow I-90 east to the southeast corner of the state and you’ll find Sioux Falls.
A city of 160,000 people (about 100,000 more than Rapid City), Sioux Falls has plenty of scenic beauty of its own, as well as a thriving economy, abundant arts and culture venues, and more than 650 restaurants offering cuisine from all over the world.
The Big Sioux River runs through the city, and visitors can take in the beauty of the waterfalls in Falls Park, which is only a few blocks from downtown, with an entrance on Phillips Avenue. Nature lovers will enjoy not only the dramatic scenery but also the sound of the rushing water as it pours 100 feet down the cascade of the Upper and Main Falls.
This is an ideal first stop for visitors, as there is a Visitor Information Center, as well as a viewing tower that is five stories high and delivers panoramic sights of the city, and the Falls Overlook Café, situated beside the Lower Falls. There are also several permanent sculptures placed at specific spots in the park, including a magnificent reclining buffalo titled Monarch of the Plains.
Falls Park also provides access to the River Greenway — a multipurpose path for walkers and bikers that follows the river in a loop through the city.
The River Greenway is part of the Big Sioux River Recreational Trail, a 26-mile, paved off-street walking and biking path. Sioux Falls has over 70 parks and greenways, many of which provide access to the Recreational Trail.
Sioux Falls is justifiably proud of its SculptureWalk, an annual show of over 50 outdoor sculptures located throughout downtown. Sculptors can place their work in the show for one year, and each piece is available for purchase. As a result, there are many new sculptures every year for people to enjoy.
When it comes to cultural events, the Washington Pavilion is the artistic hub of the city.
Within this building – sections of which are over 100 years old, is the Visual Arts Center. This consists of a sculpture garden, seven multimedia galleries, studios for painters and sculptors in clay, with one of these reserved for children to indulge in artistic activities.
The Kirby Science Discovery Center is a hands-on science center filling three floors on the south side of the Pavilion building. The interactive exhibits include everything from aerodynamics to dinosaurs to space exploration.
Both children and adults love to visit Stan, a 65-million-year-old skeleton of a Tyrannosaurs Rex that was discovered in the Hell Creek Formation in South Dakota in 1987. It is the largest and most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found.
The keystone of the Washington Pavilion is the Husby Performing Arts Center, which features the Mary W. Sommervold Hall with 1,900 seats and the Belbas Theater with 300 seats. Touring Broadway plays come to the Sommervold Hall, and it is the performance space for the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra.
Another popular attraction is the Wells Fargo CineDome, which shows the latest movies and documentaries on a screen that’s 60 feet wide and four stories high.
Sertoma Butterfly House and Marine Cove
The Sertona Butterfly House and Marine Cove are located at 4320 Oxbow Ave., and is open year-round except for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. This beautiful location is especially popular during the wintertime, as it maintains a constant temperature of 80 to 85 degrees to keep the butterflies happy. Over 800 butterflies from around the world hover and fly inside the indoor 3,600-square-foot tropical garden.
The Marine Cove features aquariums with over 10,000 square feet of water to provide a home for salt-water creatures such as sea horses, clownfish, tangs, sharks and sting rays, which swim and dart around a variety of corals. There’s also a touch pool for kids and adults who’d like to experience the sandpapery feel of shark skin and the smooth sliminess that covers the fins of stingrays. Within the Pacific Tide Pool are sea cucumbers, anemones, sea stars and lots more.
Cuisines from around the world can be found in the over 650 restaurants that dot the city. There’s everything from American fare to Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese and Mediterranean.
Dessert lovers will want to visit CH Patisserie on South Phillips Avenue. Pastry Chef Chris Hanmer has won a host of awards (such as one of the Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America, and Top Chef of “Top Chef: Just Desserts” (season two). He’s famed for his neon-colored French macaroons.
A sweet tooth can also be satisfied at Oh My Cupcakes! on South Western Avenue. Their motto is “To shine God’s love and make people smile … with cupcakes.”