If your family just found out that you’re moving to Rapid City and getting stationed at Ellsworth AFB soon you’re in the right place.
Don’t expect to find out what schools are the best, where you should live, or the best doctor. Instead, you’ll find things in this Duty Station Spotlight like awesome day trips, radio stations you should tune into, and all the delicious places to eat when living in Rapid City.
Moving to Rapid City: The Basics
So, you’re moving to Ellsworth AFB and will be living in Rapid City, but did you know that it’s known as the “Gateway to the Black Hill”? This vibrant city, with its friendly atmosphere, is nestled right at the foot of the majestic Black Hills.
Not only is the famous Mount Rushmore National Memorial just a stone’s throw away (30 minutes from Rapid City and 45 minutes from Ellsworth), but Rapid City’s also a gateway to the incredible Badlands National Park, where you can explore ancient fossils and learn about prehistoric creatures.
With its mix of natural wonders, historical landmarks, and warm-hearted people, Rapid City is a fantastic place to visit.
Meet the Author of this Post: Beth!
Beth and her husband have been married for seven years and have two kids. She’s a social worker, and he’s on active duty in the Air Force; they currently live in the Netherlands.
While Beth hasn’t been working since living overseas, she says all that free time just leaves more time for traveling.
Beth, What were your first impressions of Rapid City and Ellsworth AFB?
I actually grew up in Eastern South Dakota and moved to Rapid City after undergrad in 2015. This is where my husband and I met as he was stationed at Ellsworth.
Rapid City is bigger than I had been used to, so I was nervous when I first moved there. I remember being in awe of how beautiful it was though as it is nestled right in the Black Hills.
How did you feel at the end of the tour? Did your impressions change?
I still believe Rapid City and the surrounding area are gorgeous and really an underrated tourist destination. There is something there for everyone.
What is ONE THING you wish you had known before moving to Rapid City?
I wish I knew about fire season, including fires in neighboring states. One year while I was living there, Montana was experiencing a lot of serious fires and smoke drifted all the way into South Dakota impacting the air quality quite a bit.
It is definitely a good idea to own an air purifier here. (I also wish I knew I had an allergy to pine pollen before I moved here, there is pine everywhere!)
Good (and Local) Eats Around Rapid City
pictured above: Pancakes from Tally’s Silver Spoon and fried pickles from Dairy Twist
Imagine a Friend is coming out to visit. What are your top 3 Restaurants in Rapid City?
Number one has to be the Alpine Steak House in Hill City, SD (just about 30 minutes outside of Rapid City).
Their lunch menu is full of delicious German food options, and their dinner menu is incredibly simple with the choice of steak (6 or 9oz bacon-wrapped filet mignon with a slice of Texas toast, a baked potato, and a wedge of lettuce with their homemade ranch) or a vegetarian option (pasta primavera I believe).
Not to mention, their desserts are so big and cheap too! Honestly, the whole menu is super affordable.
You really can’t go wrong, to this day the best steak I have ever had has been at the Alpine Inn! (It’s also an Inn like the name states, but I’ve never stayed there.)
Next up would be Murphy’s Pub right in downtown Rapid City. They have great food and a chill atmosphere, which includes seasonal outdoor seating.
Lastly, I would recommend Sickies Garage for some of the best burgers there are!
Favorite place(s) for coffee and/or dessert?
Alternative Fuel Coffee House was my go-to because they also had some delicious quiches.
As for dessert, I’m an ice cream fiend and Rapid City has some great options. For soft serve, Armadillos Ice Cream Shoppe is the best there is. If soft serve isn’t your style, I definitely recommend Silver Lining Creamery! They have classic and creative flavors, my favorite was always the spicy chocolate one!
I also have to give an honorable mention to Dairy Twist (again about 30 minutes out of the city); they have the best classic malts AND the best fried pickle spears ever!)
Is there a farmer’s market scene in Rapid City? Tell us about it!
There is a year-round farmers market called Black Hills Farmers Market that is open Wednesdays and Saturdays with fresh produce, baked goods, honey (always had to have this!), etc. Everything is made locally.
Best place for brunch? And your favorite thing to order, please!
Tally’s Silver Spoon is easily the best brunch spot, but make a reservation or get there early because everyone else in town agrees.
I always went for the smoked salmon benedict or the whole wheat oatmeal waffles, and always with a mimosa!
How about a fun night out on the town for a date night?
My husband and I loved Press Start, an arcade with wall-to-wall classic games and delicious inexpensive drinks! In fact, our second date was there and I destroyed him at Mortal Combat.
We also frequented the Black Hills Escape Rooms (and still hold the record for the fastest time escaping a room).
Get Around (and out of) Town
Top five favorite things to do around Rapid City:
A fun activity for the whole family would be to complete a scavenger hunt for presidents, Rapid City is nicknamed the city of presidents after all.
Picture this: You have a whole weekend to go somewhere within driving distance: Where are you going and what are you doing?
I definitely recommend heading to the best-advertised tourist trap, Wall Drug, to get your 10-cent cup of coffee and a picture on top of the jackalope (yes, that’s really what it’s called) statue.
From there, drive to the Badlands National Park, do some hiking, and admire the wildlife. You might also want to check out Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, or Custer State Park (just DON’T try to pet the buffalo!).
In the fall, you’ve gotta check out the town of Deadwood or take a drive through Spearfish Canyon in the fall.
What was your favorite park in town?
My favorite was Dinosaur Park! It’s literally a handful of giant dinosaur statues located on top of a large hill right in the middle of the city. I loved going up there to climb on dinosaurs (you’re never too old), cruise skyline drive, or watch the city lights at night time. It’s also a great place to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July!
Are there any museums worth checking out?
South Dakota Air and Space Museum is right on base! Also, check out the Journey Museum and Chapel in the Hills. Oh and if you’re willing to go a little further, visit the Mammoth Site Museum in Hot Springs (around 45 min away).
All the Extras Around Ellsworth AFB
Favorite radio station?
My favorite was always Hot 93.1
Info on your favorite hair salon/hairdresser, please, and thank you.
I always went to the Sola Salons for both hair and nails. There are so many talented individuals there, and it is a one-on-one atmosphere where each stylist, nail artist, massage therapist, etc. has their own spot to provide services.
Like a Local
pictures above: Art Alley downtown and Hippie Hole
Were there any instagramers, bloggers, or specific non-military affiliated Facebook groups you followed?
Visit Rapid City is fantastic.
Are any festivals, fairs, or events in/Near Rapid City worth checking out?
Every year in August is the Central States Fair.
I also recommend checking out the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally at least once, imagine a town with a population of like 4,000 normally packed with closer to 100,000 people for one week.
Rapid City also has “Summer Nights” every Thursday night during the summer with live music and entertainment for the whole family downtown.
Tell us about the weather.
The weather is actually pretty mild considering its location.
Definitely expect a cold winter, but snow typically melts within a day or two after falling. Summers are hot, but it is more of a dry heat. I’d say fall is the best time of the year, temperatures are favorable around the 60s/70s most days and there are so many beautiful colors!
Is there anything else you’d like to mention about moving to Rapid City, for someone who is heading there soon?
There are actually a lot of great wineries in the area with wine made right on-site. South Dakota is too cold for most grapes to survive, but other fruits are fair game! Check out Prairie Berry in Hill City and try their famous Red Ass Rhubarb wine, or the Firehouse Wine Cellars right in downtown Rapid City.
Also, I totally recommend doing the Crazy Horse volksmarch. It happens twice a year and is the absolute best way to experience the historic monument. We have done it multiple times and it’s worth it every time to hike right up to the top of Crazy Horse’s arm and stand face-to-face with him.
Other places to check out – are the Cosmos Mystery Area, Hippie Hole (a hike that’s a little tough to find but so worth it), Art Alley in downtown rapid city, take the steam train in Hill City around Christmas time to see Santa, see a movie at the Elks Movie Theatre, visit Lake Pactola, go to a Rapid City Rush hockey game, etc.
If you’ve been stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base, or have lived in Rapid City, please share your favorites in the comments!