Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Our Fall Vacation To South Dakota, Day 1, Part 2: Al's Oasis, Wall Drug, and Rapid City

This is a continuation of a travel series to South Dakota.  If you'd like to start at the beginning, go HERE!

In last week's travel post I started a new series of our trip to South Dakota we took in September.  I started with the Badlands because that was our first stop other than for lunch at Al's Oasis.  I debated whether to cover Al's Oasis, Wall Drug, and Rapid City, because they seemed so insignificant but then I realized most people road trip when they take a vacation to South Dakota and might appreciate the  road side tips.

Almost everyone visiting South Dakota's main attractions will travel on I-90.  Now, I've spent a lot of time in the car road tripping with my husband over the years, and never had too much of a problem with long car rides; we've had a lot of very long days of driving.  On this trip, our first pit stop for the night was Rapid City:  that's only 9 hours and 49 minutes from my house.  Easy Peasy, right?  Not really, because the drive on 1-90 was probably the most boring drive of my life.  There is nothing out there folks.  So my first tip: make sure your car is tuned up because if you have a break down it might be a long walk for you.  I will say South Dakota has a lot of humor for they know everyone is traveling this road to get to see Custer State Park or Mt. Rushmore, so they provide a lot of funny billboards to entertain you along the way.  My favorite one was the first Wall Drug sign I saw.  I think it said "It's not far now....only 201 miles left to go!"  ha-ha! I read that Wall Drug has over 300 billboards along the 650 mile long interstate of I90.  Most of them are pretty funny, and by the time you reach Wall Drug, you really want that free glass of ice water and 5 cent cup of coffee (yes, it's really a thing!).

But before you reach Wall Drug (if coming from the Eastern part of the United States) there is Al's Oasis.  Not that I'd have to pull your arm or anything as by this point you will be dying to get out of your car and stretch your legs, but this place is worth the stop if only for a piece of pie!

It's a super cute faux western town.  It's main attraction is the restaurant, which is always busy.  Be prepared to wait for a table.  There are also gift shops, nice restrooms, and some fun statues out front for pictures.

I did not think the menu had a lot of options, so my husband and I ordered the same thing:  roast beef and mashed potatoes.  It was very good and reasonably priced.  It's not something I normally eat, but again, the menu was very small.

The best part of this restaurant is the pie!  If I took this trip again, I would only stop and get the pie and wait to eat dinner at Wall Drug or one of the other towns along the way.  This pie was so good!  We both got Banana Cream and loved it, but their strawberry pie looked great too!

After we ate, we walked outside and took our pictures by the "Welcome" sign and the buffalo statues.  I love to do that, do you?  Especially if it is a state I've never been to before.  This was my first trip to South Dakota so I was pretty happy to scratch another state off my bucket list.

After we had lunch we headed to the Badlands!  It was only a two hour drive from Al's Oasis.  I should also mention that there is a cute western town to explore on I90 but we didn't have time to stop,  next time we will.

I already covered The Badlands in last week's post, so I will move on to Wall  which is located right next to The Badlands.  Most people, when visiting The Badlands, stay in Wall  for it's the closest town.

I apologize so much for these pictures.  We had put away our DSLR at this point so I only used my IPhone.  The sun was really intense the time of day we were here and it seemed to really affect my phone camera.

Here is one of the streets in Wall.  I was pleasantly surprised at how cute it was.  These are gift shops located directly across the street from Wall Drug.

This is the exterior of Wall Drug Store.  It covers an entire city block.  It is so huge;  I felt I was in a maze walking through it.  There was so much to see, do and buy!

Now you're probably wondering by now, what is the big deal about a drug store?  I know I was wondering that.  And why did this town get the strange name of "Wall"?  I'll give you a little history of each.

The Badlands area is divided into two prairies:  the lower prairie and the upper prairie.  The lower prairie lies along the floodplain of the White River and is a sod-covered expanse dotted with scattered buttes.  The upper prairie varies from great grassy flats to gentle grassy undulations.  "The Wall" stands between the lower and upper prairie, serving as a barrier to travel north and south.  It is a rugged strip a half mile to three miles wide, a succession of tinted spires and ridges with twisting gullies.  The town of Wall, South Dakota gets its name from this "Wall".

Wall Drug was the only drugstore in Wall in 1931 when Dorothy and Ted Hustead purchased it. By the summer of 1936, business had not grown much., but they were seeing a lot of jalopies driving across the prairie and  going by without stopping.  So on a hot summer day, Dorothy came up with the idea of putting up signs offering free ice water.  The rest is history!

Wall Drug has everything!  A pharmacy, gift shops galore, a restaurant (famous for their 5 Cent coffee, donuts, and hot beef!), an arcade, a splash pad, even a museum!  We didn't have a whole lot of time to spend there as we needed to make it to Rapid City for the night, so we walked around quickly.  I did enjoy a cup of coffee, and on our return trip we tried their donuts and a pecan roll (both were amazing!  Do not visit Wall Drug without buying a donut!)  I found this cute Native American style bracelet for only $13.99.  I thought it was so pretty, and I loved the metal clasp.  I also purchased some fudge from their candy shop.  It was so good, and very reasonably priced too!

There's so much for the "kids" to do, which is awesome because I'm sure after a long, boring car drive they are anxious to run around.  

This "rabbit" was located in "Wall Drug Backyard" which also features the Train Station Water Show (i.e. a really fun splash pad), a roaring T-Rex, a miniature Mount Rushmore, and a giant Jackalope.

What really surprised me was this beautiful chapel located inside Wall Drug.

After our brief stop at Wall my husband and I realized the next time we come back to the area to explore The Badlands more, we would stay in one of the hotels in Wall so we could spend more time at Wall Drug too!  Don't miss this stop!  You will regret it.

Finally, it was time to get back in the car and finish the last leg of our journey to get to our first hotel of this trip located in Rapid City.  We only had one more hour of driving for the day.

After checking into our hotel when we arrived in Rapid City, we headed downtown to check out a restaurant my husband's co-worker recommended:  Firehouse Brewing Company.  I can't recommend the restaurant because we did not have a great experience there.  I would like to go back and try it again though;  although my husband was so turned off by the experience he never wants to go back.  My husband's friend recommended the place because of the ambiance:  it's located inside an old firehouse.  But the night we were there it was super crowded and we had to wait almost an hour for a table.  No problem, we just walked around downtown and enjoyed the beautiful weather until our table was ready.  Finally we received a text that our table was ready.  We were so excited to see the inside of the firehouse!  Well, the hostess walked us five feet inside and seated us at a bar type table near the bar and right next to the drink station.  We couldn't see the restaurant at all, we don't drink alcohol so we didn't appreciate being seated next to the bar, and on top of all that we couldn't even hear each other speak because the ice machine was right behind me and all the waiters/waitresses kept coming to get ice making a huge racket.  Well, my husband really wanted this evening to be special, so he asked for a different table (we never normally do that), and after all, we waited an hour to be seated and this was the best they could do?  The hostess said the only table she could offer us was outside on the sidewalk, not even in the outdoor seating area, but literally, on the side walk, just a few feet away from the bumper of a car!  My husband was so upset he wanted to go somewhere else.  I at this point just wanted to eat and go back to our hotel to sleep.  It was a very long day.  So we stayed and ordered two hamburgers which cost about $30 after tip and they were absolutely terrible; very dry.  So no, I can't recommend this place.  But if you have ever been there and were seated at a great table, and therefore got to experience the unique ambiance of this restaurant, I'd love to hear from you.  And be sure to tell me what you ordered, because I will never order a burger from this restaurant again.

Here is the outside of the restaurant.  See the red umbrella on the left?  That was where our table was located, right in front of the cars.

The restaurant did have a nicely lit outdoor eating area, but we were not seated there.

Oh well, enough negativity.  I feel stupid telling this story at all with all that's going on in the world, it seems so trivial.  But I felt if I mentioned the restaurant in this post, I had to also mention that I could not recommend it and why.   I would never want anyone going there because they saw it on my blog and they also had a bad experience.

But, with every cloud comes a silver lining.  Because we had to wait so long for a table, we had time to walk around downtown Rapid City and enjoy it's gorgeous architecture.  All the stores were closed already, but I still enjoyed window shopping!

My son is a percussionist so I was very intrigued by this Native American drum store.

Here are some of the drums in the window display.

We were very impressed with downtown Rapid City.  It was very clean and well-kept.  It had a nice mix of historic buildings (all well maintained) and modern elements.  We really loved the town square which had the largest splash pad I have ever seen in my life.  The kids sure seemed to be enjoying it and all I could think of was how much I'd love to bring Alethea here someday.

 I do hope to get back to Rapid City someday, preferably when the stores are open, so I could explore more.  It was so lovely.

 Next week I  will start with Day Two of our South Dakota trip when we visited Deadwood!

Have a Great Day!  Amy

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  1. A great and informative post Amy. I suppose Wall drug is a worth a stop if you have time, but I found it to be a bit of a "tourist trap", plus it was late morning when we go there and I wanted to get to the Badlands so we didn't spend a lot of time there. Would you believe we never did get that free cup of water?

    Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to see that Western Town on I90 either as we didn't even see it until we were on our way home. The food you had along the way looks delicious.
    We only drove through Rapid City as our hotel was in a tiny town close to Custer State Park. Sorry you had a bad experience at that restaurant, and it's really a shame they couldn't offer you a better seat after waiting an hour to be seated.

    1. Oh, I so agree with you that Wall Drug is a tourist trap, I should have made that clear in my post. However, I think it's definitely worth the stop because it's such a great place to stretch your legs and let the kids run around. Especially if you go to the backyard area: the splash pad is so fun and there's so much for the kids there.

  2. I went to Wall Drug as a kid and had so much fun finding souvenirs! I love the bracelet you got!

    1. It is definitely the place to buy souvenirs as the closer you get to the main attractions, the more expensive everything gets!

  3. Your South Dakota trip looks spectacular. The food looks yummy, and your photos make me want to visit :) #MLSTL

  4. Great place dear! i would love visit it!
    I hope you had a great adventure! xx

    La ilusión de Nina -

  5. What a charming place! Thanks for sharing dear!

    Jessica |

  6. I have been reading so much about Wall Drug; it's definitely on our list.

    1. It’s a nice pit stop, especially if you have kids.


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