Whoever said learning was boring has clearly never been to South Dakota. The state is loaded with one-of-a-kind museums that provide fascinating looks at some interesting topics. There’s no better way to learn about the Cold War than to tour a missile silo. Check out the crazy wax figures depicting various presidents in action during some of their most important moments. If your interests are a little more, er…out there, no worries. South Dakota has museums for you, too! Whether you're interested in motorcycles, dinosaurs, or even vinegar, there's no shortage of weird things to see and learn about in the Mount Rushmore State.
If you have any dinosaur enthusiasts in your group, then definitely make sure you stop by Dinosaur Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Providing fun since 1936, Rapid City's Dinosaur Park is the perfect place to stop off and enjoy the views. Oh, yeah… and there are kitschy, larger-than-life dino statues, too! They're perched along stairs leading up a hill that offers panoramic, 100-mile looks at the landscape. Pose for some pictures with the beasts, and admire the fact that these creatures once roamed the area.
International Vinegar Museum
Founded by Lawrence Diggs, aka “The Vinegar Man,” one of the world’s only vinegar museums is housed in a unique and historic building. Stop by this interesting museum to taste different kinds of vinegar, learn how it’s made, and discover the 101 uses for vinegar. Be sure to check out the gift shop which has some fun apparel, artwork, and you guessed it… vinegar for sale. You might leave a proper vinegar connoisseur! Be sure to check the website prior to visiting, as the museum is closed during the winter season.
Stop by the Museum of Wildlife, Science, and Industry in Webster, South Dakota, and prepare to lose track of where the day has gone. With more than 20 buildings to walk through and explore, there are hundreds of antiques, old farm equipment, cars, and replicas from different time periods to keep you entertained. All exhibits have been recently refreshed and polished. Be sure to check out some of the most popular items, including a grocery account book from the early 1900s, and allegedly one of the largest ever hairballs ever recorded. Yes, a real-life, record-breaking hairball; it truly has to be seen to be believed. There’s also a barn in the shape of a shoe with quite the shoe collection.
Built for those who love music, the National Music Museum (NMM) in Vermillion, South Dakota, is a must-see. This is one of the most iconic music locations in the world, and contains music and instruments from virtually every culture and time period. Classical, jazz, blues, and every style of music in between is represented in some shape or form. In addition, the NMM is also home to hundreds of music artifacts, memorabilia, and more. You're bound to stumble across at least a few instruments you've never even heard of, pieces owned by famous musicians, and even a Stradivarius violin.
Who says time machines don’t exist? Head back into time when you step foot in the 1880 Town of South Dakota. With over 30 buildings built between 1880 and the 1920s, and thousands of relics, photographs, and other memorabilia, you’ll get to experience first-hand what the past looked like. Rent costumes for you and your entire group to try on, or explore the exhibit honoring 9-time world champion rodeo champion Casey Tibbs; there’s plenty of fun for everyone. Be sure to say hi to Otis the Camel when you stop by.
Designed to highlight the historical significance of the Cold War and the arms race, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is the perfect stop for any group that enjoys history, American or otherwise. It's the site of one of six missile complexes built during the Cold War as a deterrent to a nuclear strike by the Soviet Union. You can see a real-life decommissioned nuclear missile in the Delta-09 silo, which is a rare opportunity. This historic site offers very small guided tours of the Delta-01 Launch Facility (reserved for 6 people) where you can see the control room up close and personal. Book those in advance! If you don't snag tickets, fear not; the visitor center has loads of exhibits, films, and other info that will scratch your itch for learning about America's nuclear history.
The Journey Museum & Gardens
Looking for a one-stop shop to learn virtually everything about South Dakota? The Journey Museum & Gardens is a great place to start. The museum in Rapid City, South Dakota, has over 7 acres of gardens and historical exhibits walking you through the distant past of South Dakota up to present day. Learn about the Native American creation stories, and the billions years of history responsible for creating the beautiful rock formations you see throughout the Black Hills. In addition to the rock and geology exhibits, the learning center has an Aviary Room, a flood exhibit, and a display dedicated to the Black Hills Forests that gives you a taste for how magical the woodlands of this area are.
National Presidential Wax Museum
The National Presidential Wax Museum is one of South Dakota’s best-kept secrets. In the shadow of (and a great companion to) Mount Rushmore, this museum provides hours of fun and historical insight from our nation's past presidents. With over 100 lifelike wax figures of all 45 US presidents posed on real-life sets, you can go inside defining moments from each presidency. There are assorted audio tours explaining the context of each exhibit, and you’ll walk away not only impressed by the incredibly designed wax figures, but with a much better understanding of the presidents that shaped the US. Want to know what it’s like to give a briefing for the president? Snag a photo or two in the press briefing room. Plus, is there anything as classic as a wax museum?
The perfect stop for both adults and kids, thanks to its wide variety of artifacts, the Adams Museum is a fantastic place to spend a few hours of your day. Learn more about the historic town of Deadwood, South Dakota, and get an in-depth look at some of the characters that helped create it. Adams Museum is the oldest Black Hills museum, and the informative displays about this infamous town won't disappoint. If visiting with little kids, be sure to check out the schoolhouse on the lower floor. The one can't-miss display? The recording of Tootsie the Singing Coyote. In 1947, a Deadwood native named Ollie Wiswell found a stray coyote cub at Custer State Park. Fred Borsch and his wife adopted the cub, dubbing her Tootsie, and it didn't take long for Fred to teach Tootsie how to change the pitch of her howls to match his. Soon enough, the two were the talk of the town, performing across the state, appearing in parades, and even singing for President Eisenhower. Tootsie was almost memorialized on the state's license plate, although Mount Rushmore beat her out. She died in 1959, but the display about her at the Adams Museum ensures that her vocal stylings will be remembered.
Saloon No. 10
It's not every day you get to enjoy a cold whiskey at a museum, but Saloon No. 10 allows you to do just that. At "the only museum in the world with a bar," you can learn about the history of Deadwood while enjoying an adult beverage or two. Here, you'll find thousands of artifacts from Deadwood's storied and formerly lawless history, including the chair in which Wild Bill was shot. Add in nightly live music, re-enactments of gunfights, gambling, 171 whiskeys to sample, and a killer dining room upstairs, you could easily spend an evening here.
Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame
The Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame is dedicated to sharing the sport and culture of motorcycle riding with the world. A popular Black Hills attraction, the museum boasts an impressive collection of vintage and modern-day motorcycles and a wide selection of motorcycle memorabilia. From motorcycling's early days to the British invasion, there's a lot of history covered here. Even if you don't ride yourself, you can still appreciate the history and aesthetics of the bikes on display. Plus, Sturgis is a motorcycle mecca, with the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (held in town since the 1930s) bringing in half a million people during the first full week in August. That's a sight to see in and of itself, and a story for another day!
It's not every day you can explore such a wide range of history and museums in such a short stretch of land. With a couple days in South Dakota, you can learn about the history and culture of motorcycles, classical musical instruments, the Cold War, and the Wild West. With a little bit of something for everyone, this handful of museums all but guarantees great memories for you and your entire group.
In just a few hours, you can journey from the mighty Missouri river to the legendary Black Hills. Then, drift through Deadwood, roll through the Badlands, or parade past Mount Rushmore. There are many paths to each great place. Start planning for South Dakota - the ultimate American road trip.
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