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A view of South Dakota State University's campus from the Coughlin Campanile.
A view of South Dakota State University's campus from the Coughlin Campanile.

Burgers, Bells, Blooms and Brews

Jul 18, 2013


Brookings was recently named one of America’s ten best small towns by My husband, Mike, and I visited South Dakota’s fourth largest community a few weeks ago. It didn’t take long to see why Brookings was given high marks.

Our first stop was Nick’s Hamburger Shop, a Brookings institution since 1929. The friendly waitress slipped us each a tank-fried Nickburger on a square of waxed paper. As we munched, we watched locals leave with sacks full of the meaty sandwiches. “This is lunch and dinner,” said one. 

Sated for the moment, we walked up and down Brookings’ charming main street, admiring the shops along the way. A friendly postman directed us to the local library a few blocks away, near the Children’s Museum of South Dakota

An exotic aroma lured us up to the library’s second floor, where Mango Tree Coffee was serving Thai vegetable soup. I opted for a rose lassi, a sweet and floral Indian yogurt drink. The Mango Tree is a calm and cozy spot, perfect for library patrons and the local knitters and crocheters who meet there for Brookings Fiber Guild gatherings. My knitting group in Yankton would be jealous if they knew how good Brookings crafters have it!

Our next stop was an odd choice for a couple of acrophobes — the Coughlin Campanile, South Dakota State University’s belltower. After ducking into the Alumni Center for the key, we climbed 185 steps to the viewing area at the top, stopping frequently to admire Brookings from above. There was even more to admire at the nearby South Dakota Art Museum galleries, where works by Harvey Dunn and Oscar Howe and other artists were on display. It was a real thrill to see The Prairie Is My Garden in real life, and marvel at the way Dunn combined blobs and swirls of pigment to create his iconic scene of early Dakota life. Of course, no visit to SDSU is complete without a trip to their Dairy Bar for a dish of butter brickle and a grasshopper fudge cone. 

Mike is an avid gardener, so I had to take him to McCrory Gardens, where we were surprised how much difference a hundred-plus miles makes. The peonies and irises that had already finished blooming in our yard in Yankton were just starting to blossom up north in Brookings. There’s over 25 acres of formal gardens at McCrory plus 45 acres devoted to studying trees and bushes. That’s a lot of plants — all beautifully arranged and tended. 

All that walking and fresh air helped us work up a thirst, which we quenched at Wooden Legs Brewing Company. The bevy of beverage options was dazzling (117 bottled beers and 21 on tap), but sadly, only one of the pub’s homebrews was available. Though we were there a few days before Wooden Legs’ grand opening, the Split Rock Creek Pale Ale, Kühl Blonde Ale, Farmhouse Ale and It’s What We Got IPA were already sold out. “People in this town like to drink,” explained our friendly bartender. We can’t blame them. My pint of Wooden Legs’ Three5Three, a milk stout inspired by Irish brews, was deliciously dark. I would’ve loved another, but we needed to stop by George’s Pizza for gyros and calzones before heading homeward, tired but happy after a busy day of sampling a few of the great things Brookings has to offer.



03:02 pm - Thu, July 18 2013
John Andrews said:
I really enjoyed the seven years I lived in Brookings. A lot of my old haunts are still there, but Brookings has to be one of the most rapidly changing cities in the state. Growth on the SDSU campus is incredible, and the downtown is noticeably different, with new restaurants and the Children's Museum. We visited a few weekends ago, and as I walked through the museum, I kept remembering it as old Central Elementary.
05:38 pm - Thu, July 18 2013
Steven Hovland said:
Always fond memories of my years in Brookings. Jim's Tap. The Lucky Lady. The Ram Pub. All the great restaurants and bars.And Oakwood Lakes State Park. It was a great place to go to college and a great town to live in for those years. I can totally understand how it made the list of the top ten small towns in America.
05:42 am - Fri, July 19 2013
South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum
South Dakota State Agricultural Heritage Museum Logo
The museum is dedicated to preserving our rich agricultural history and rural heritage. Our collections and exhibits depict technology, crops, and livestock. In addition the exhibits examine human experiences, institutions, and cultures that were shaped by the state's rural landscape and diverse environment.
Located on the campus of South Dakota State University at the corner of Medary Avenue and 11th Street the museum is open and free to the public 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday thru Saturday, & 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. The museum is closed Sundays: January - March (winter hours) and all state holidays.
02:19 pm - Fri, July 19 2013
Katie said:
I really need to make a trip up there soon! Thanks for sharing!
12:53 pm - Sun, July 21 2013
Julie Scheel said:
We always said that we wanted see the Harvey Dunn and Oscar Howe works that are there, but now, you tell us, there is butter brickle ice cream, too? Truly, we have been missing out!
11:58 am - Tue, July 23 2013
Thank you for the wonderful write-up, Laura! We're happy you enjoyed your visit to Brookings. As Baby Boomers enter their retirement years, many are looking for a safe, clean, intellectually-stimulating city in which to retire. The Brookings Economic Development Corporation is promoting Brookings as an active adult retirement community because of its many offerings. If you're approaching retirement, consider Brookings! Juicy burgers, lifelong learning, Division I athletics, SDSU ice cream, outstanding healthcare, concerts and theatre, world-class museums, mini-babybel cheese, and a vibrant downtown are some of Brookings' fine features. See more at
01:10 pm - Tue, July 23 2013
Laura said:
Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Steven - Jim's Tap was a favorite of my dad's when he was paying tuition/skipping classes at SDSU. :)

Marie - the SD Agricultural Heritage Museum was on my list — we simply ran out of time!

Julie - Brookings is sort of in between us and Wisconsin...aren't you due for a trip home here before too long?

Ginger - Sounds like Brookings is getting better all the time — it'd be a great place for anyone to live!

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