As South Dakota’s fourth-largest city, Brookings has a lot to offer – far more than you might guess for a city of just 24,000 residents. As Brookings is home to South Dakota State University and located just of I-29 north of Sioux Falls, Brookings has more culture, adventure, and history than most people expect. That makes it a perfect place for a getaway off the beaten path in the Great Plains.
If you’re considering a trip to Brookings, know you’ll be passing through, or plan to visit a student there, there are plenty of other things to do in Brookings during your time and to make it worthy of a stop. Below you’ll find 10 of the best things to do in Brookings, a city full of surprises for travelers of all ages and interests.
Featured photo courtesy of Jon Platek via Wikimedia Commons
In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ and Yanktonai peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
1. Visit the Children’s Museum of South Dakota
Let your kids’ imagination soar at the Children’s Museum of South Dakota. As you can tell by the museum’s name, visiting the Children’s Museum of South Dakota is one of the top things to do in Brookings for families. The venue has unique hands-on stations that foster creativity, and there’s something for every age.
The Imagine a House gallery lets you explore the different lifestyles worldwide, like Mozambique and Guatemala. The KidsStreet Community is a wonderful gallery recreating everyday businesses, like supermarkets, and the post office. The miniExplorers gallery features tailor-made exhibits for the youngest visitors (children ages 0-4).
2. Explore McCrory Gardens
A must-visit in Brookings, few places are as beautiful as McCrory Gardens. Located on the South Dakota State University campus, McCrory Gardens is a 25-acre botanical garden and 45-acre arboretum condensing South Dakota’s flora in one place.
The venue is open from dawn to dusk and offers numerous trails where people can jog or bike while discovering the different shrubs and trees. McCrory Gardens is also pet-friendly, allowing pups to wander through the trails (on a leash at all times).
3. Admire the South Dakota Art Museum
Photos courtesy of Travel South Dakota
South Dakota Art Museum is a fabulous Brookings thing to do for art enthusiasts. A small venue just inside South Dakota State University campus, the South Dakota Art Museum houses a variety of 7,000 works of art that will pleasantly surprise any visitor.
There’s a bit of everything, from sculpture to paintings to pottery. Although the museum’s highlight is the Harvey Dunn permanent collection, Dunn’s wartime pieces are worth checking out first if you’re short on time. There are also galleries devoted to Paul Goble’s illustrations and Marghab Linens.
4. Learn History at the Agricultural Heritage Museum
Agriculture has played a pivotal role in South Dakota’s history and economy. You can learn all about it at the Agricultural Heritage Museum. On South Dakota State University campus, the Agricultural Heritage Museum focuses on the evolution of agriculture and the rural way of life in South Dakota.
Its exhibitions are impressive, featuring an enormous 1915 J.I. Case Steam Traction Engine with 65 horsepower, a replica 1915 farmhouse, and an 1862 homestead shanty. The museum is also a cool place to go with small children. It features a hands-on area with legos, toy tractors, toy chickens with eggs, a cow to milk, and a little toy produce market.
5. Try a New Skill at the Brookings County Outdoor Adventure Center
You know what they say, it’s never too late to try something new! Brookings County Outdoor Adventure Center is a 29,530 square-foot facility featuring an indoor gun and archery range. The venue focuses mainly on shooting sports and has twelve shooting lanes where locals and visitors come to hone their shooting skills.
The center also offers archery ranges and classes for adults and kids interested in this peculiar sport. There’s no age limit, and anyone can take their classes.
6. Visit the South Dakota State University Arboretum
Located on the north side of McCrory Gardens, the Arboretum sprawls over 45 acres, featuring a gorgeous collection of trees, grasses, and shrubs. It’s a fantastic alternative to learn more about native tree species, and the efforts specialists make to introduce and naturalize new species in the northern Great Plains. The botanical garden opens from dawn to dusk and features many trails people can use to explore each section.
7. Grab a Cone at the SDSU Dairy Bar
Photos courtesy of SDSU via Youtube
Enjoying a creamy cone at SDSU Dairy Bar has become one of the top things to do in Brookings. The SDSU Dairy Bar features over 60 flavors, and students prepare the ice cream on-site – you can witness the cow-to-cone process right before your eyes!
You can also purchase sherbets and half-gallon containers. The only downside is that their hours are challenging (not open evenings or weekends), but try to visit when you can!
8. Raise a Pint at a Local Craft Brewery
Downtown Brookings is brimming with lovely places to cheer a pint of IPA or any beer style you fancy. Born out of a love for beer, Eponymous Brewing Company is famous for incorporating local ingredients into its beers and for melding traditional brewing techniques with the advances of modern brew science.
Another excellent alternative is Wooden Legs Brewing Company. They serve tip-top beers, including consistent flagships and a large selection of rotating seasonal taps.
9. Get Fresh Air at Dakota Nature Park
The Dakota Nature Park is an excellent thing to do in Brookings on a sunny day. A 135-acre nature reserve, the Dakota Nature Park features a network of trails and a few ponds where people go fishing and kayaking. There are tons of wildlife and flora you can explore. Some people love to come during Fall, one of the most photogenic times of the year. The park is pet-friendly and allows pups to take a swim in the ponds!
10. Go Antiquing in Downtown Brookings
Downtown Brookings has its fill of specialty antique stores where you can lose yourself for hours. The Antique Gallery Mall, a multi-dealer antique mall, is an optimal place to start treasure-hunt sessions. Spanning two levels, the mall has every kind of antique you can imagine, from vintage clothes and comic books to Victorian furniture. It opens Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm.
Where to Stay in Brookings
If you’re sold on spending some time in Brookings, you probably need a place to rest after each day of adventure. There aren’t a ton of options in Brookings – Google and Booking.com both report just 10 hotels in town – but there are enough options to suit any travel style and budget.
- Budget: Quality Inn & Suites (from $62/night)
- Mid-Range: Hampton Inn & Suites (from $111/night)
- Luxe: Holiday Inn Express Hotels & Suites (from $133/night)
- Local Option: Brookings Inn (from $80/night)
Have any other questions about visiting Brookings or things to do while there? Let me know in the comments!