When tourists head to South Dakota, it’s inevitable that attractions such as Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park will be at the top of their bucket lists. Rapid City may not be the first location you think about visiting but it is a convenient spot for visitors to stay overnight before exploring either of the aforementioned attractions. Known as ‘The City of Presidents’, Rapid City is a gorgeous location filled with beautiful architecture and many reasons to inspire visitors to get out and explore.
If you are planning on visiting Rapid City for the first time, it is conveniently located on I-90 on the southwestern corner of South Dakota. It is about 30 minutes from Mount Rushmore and a little over an hour from the entrance to Badlands National Park. One of the most iconic aspects of Rapid City is the self-guided presidential walking tour which we decided to experience at 7:00AM on a gorgeous Saturday morning.
Where to Stay?
Staying at the beautiful, historic Hotel Alex Johnson in the heart of the city, we were conveniently located to the City of Presidents walking tour which is located on two parallel streets. If you love history and want to stay at a luxury hotel for a reasonable price, this is the perfect option.
The exterior of the building exudes the historic legacy of this hotel which dates back to the 1920s. Entering the hotel, you are presented with a glamorous lobby area with ornate furnishings and a warm welcome. Our room was clean and also maintained the rich history that is apparent throughout the hotel.
But undoubtedly the best aspect of this hotel is the Vertex Sky Bar which offers stunning panoramic views across Rapid City and the nearby Black Hills. Located on the top two floors of the Hotel Alex Johnson, all guests staying here gain access to this venue and have the opportunity to purchase cocktails, appetizers, and other delicious looking dishes.
City of Presidents Walking Tour
Who would have thought that a number of presidential monuments would create such an awesome walking tour? This is exactly what has happened in the heart of Rapid City, South Dakota! A series of life-size bronze statues commemorating the nation’s past 42 presidents are visible on the corners of intersecting streets along Main Street and St. Joseph Street.
Grab a map of the presidential statue locations and head out on the short walk because this really is a rewarding experience. We spent a couple of hours wandering around learning about the history of each of these iconic individuals who lead the American nation over the past 200+ years.
Each president is depicted showing an iconic pose along with a plaque commemorating their reign at the helm of the White House. I was interested to see if there was any sort of order or structure to where each of the statues was located around Rapid City. However, it’s obvious that this was just a random organization to eliminate any sense of favoritism.
The history of US presidents of course dates back to the late 18th century when President George Washington became the first to lead this historic nation.
Find Your Favorite President
We were fortunate to see all of the statues except for two or three which we assumed were being cleaned or repaired. Heather was immediately attracted to John F. Kennedy’s statue and she couldn’t resist taking a selfie with her favorite former president.
The history of this project dates back to the turn of the century when the decision was made by Rapid City to promote the history of US presidents. Abraham Lincoln was the first president to be displayed but soon after, a number of different sculptors collaborated to create the 42 that we see today.
The walking tour is a great way to see Rapid City but also gives you an opportunity to learn about your favorite president. Some of the lesser known presidents like Millard Fillmore and Chester Arthur can be found here and if you have any interest in American history/politics, Rapid City is the perfect location for you!
President Obama will have a statue created shortly after he leaves office so it will be interesting to see where Rapid City chooses to place his among the greats that preceded him.
Arts and Culture Scene
Taking the self-guided presidential walking tour also enables you to experience everything else downtown Rapid City has to offer. This part of South Dakota has a wealth of art and culture and this is on display throughout the city.
The iconic Art Alley may at first glance appear to be a spot you would want to avoid but since 2005 an art project has blossomed here creating a unique location displaying local artists’ creativity.
If you love perusing artistic murals, Rapid City is definitely a city you will enjoy walking around. There are multiple facades depicting artistic flair, the most interesting being the one at the Firehouse Brewing Company.
This historic restaurant is one of the most popular spots for visitors to grab a bite to eat and I love how this firehouse has been renovated and transformed into what we see today.
Main Street Square
For locals and tourists alike, the main heartbeat of Rapid City can be found in the Main Street Square. This public space has a fountain, grassy area and a myriad of restaurants, boutiques, and galleries.
If you need a spot to relax after exploring the presidential walking tour, Main Street Square is a great location to enjoy your favorite beverage while thinking about your next trip (there is a signpost in the corner of this plaza with distances to iconic global locations like London and Rome).
Rapid City has well and truly been placed on the US map due to the creation of this awesome City of Presidents walking tour. It’s an ingenious idea and relates perfectly for visitors who plan to visit Mount Rushmore during their same visit to the Black Hills region of South Dakota.
The Hotel Alex Johnson is an affordable yet luxury accommodation in the heart of downtown Rapid City. We can attest that this hotel is a perfect option to experience everything Rapid City has to offer. Once you start walking around downtown, you will quickly realize why we were so excited to spend time here.
Have you visited Rapid City and experienced the City of Presidents walking tour?