18 Great Things About Brookings, South Dakota

18 Great Things About Brookings, South Dakota

After spending the last five years in Brookings, SD while pursuing my degrees, I definitely became attached to the community. My husband and I met there, had our wedding there, bought a house there, have lots of friends still living there… it’s safe to say that the decision to move away was a big one! We were ready for new jobs and a new location, but there are still some things that I’ll miss about Brookings. As friends of ours are heading back to that area for school this fall, I thought it would be fun to do a post about the 18 things I’ll miss the most about the Brookings community!

Brookings Book Company

1. BROOKINGS BOOK COMPANY & SPENSER

Brookings Book Company is a fantastic used book (and comic book) store in downtown Brookings. They specialize in hard-to-find and out-of-print books and I’ve purchased a lot of used classics there for cheap over the years. The staff has always been really friendly and helpful, but my favorite thing about going there was seeing Spenser, the adopted three-legged cat who lives at the store!

Dakota Nature Park, Brookings, SD

2. DAKOTA NATURE PARK

The Dakota Nature Park didn’t exist when I first moved to Brookings five years ago, but now it’s a really great place to enjoy the outdoors! The land was the former city dump but they’ve transformed it into an expansive nature park. This past year I walked about three miles on the trails there with a friend once a week, but you can also rent kayaks or canoes, go fishing, and, in the winter, rent cross-country skis or snowshoes. There’s also the new Outdoor Adventure Center on the property, which includes an archery and a gun range, as well as rooms for other activities. It really is a “nature park” too–I’ve often seen birds, frogs, and turtles there, and in the spring there are always Canadian goose families with adorable goslings!

Touchdown Jesus

3. TOUCHDOWN JESUS

“Touchdown Jesus” as he is called, is not so much an attraction as a local landmark, or maybe a piece of art. He adorns First Lutheran Church in Brookings and is visible from most places along Main Street. You’d often hear him mentioned when someone was giving directions (e.g. “Go two blocks west of Touchdown Jesus and turn and you’ll be at my house”). If you can’t tell by the picture, he’s called Touchdown Jesus because his arms are held in the familiar goalpost pose.

Brookings SD Nightlife

4. NIGHTLIFE

Being a college town, Brookings has a pretty thriving nightlife scene, which is something we definitely didn’t expect to miss so much when we left! Whatever your kind of bar or pub, you can find it in Brookings. Ryan and I were fond of Wooden Legs for the beer they brew there, live music, and delicious macaroni pizza, but we also really enjoyed the mellow vibes, good deals on drinks and even better burgers at P’s & Q’s. We also occasionally frequented Jim’s Tap for backpackers and the Medieval decor or Skinner’s for the turn-of-the-century architecture inside and the free pizza (from #6!) that’s offered around 6pm on Fridays. If you need a pick-me-up after a night on the town, stop by George’s Pizza as late as 2am on weekends for a slice of their delicious “window pizza”. Other options downtown are the 9 for dancing, Main Street Pub for karaoke, or Cubby’s to watch sports (and eat nachos). However you enjoy spending your evenings, Brookings has an option for you!

SDSU Campanile in Brookings

5. CLIMBING THE CAMPANILE

One could say that the Campanile is to Brookings as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. It’s the highest point in the area and has become a symbol of the city and the university. Back in my day (as a freshman) you were rewarded with free ice cream for making the 180-step climb to the top, but that’s sadly no longer the case. However, you can still climb this 1929-built Brookings icon for great views of campus, the city, and–on a clear day–the surrounding countryside. And, hey, you can always just buy yourself some ice cream (#18) as an award anyway.

Pizza King

6. PIZZA KING’S

Pizza King’s is sort of a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint in downtown Brookings that I would call a “hidden gem”. A lot of people who live in Brookings haven’t even eaten there, but it was hands-down our favorite pizza in town. If you can get past the decor (probably last updated in the early 90’s) and the fact that they don’t take credit cards, you’ll be rewarded with deliciously greasy thin-crust pizza. The secret recipes for the dough and sauce (which has a slightly fruity note to it) were sold with the business. Check it out for the best pizza in Brookings!

Brookings SD

7. HOBO DAY

Hobo Day is often billed as “The Largest One-Day Event in the Dakotas”, but it’s also known as South Dakota State University’s homecoming celebration. Why is it hobo-themed when our mascot is the jackrabbit? Basically, because it’s a tradition that’s been going on for over 100 years! The characters Weary Wil and Dirty Lil are the faces of Hobo Day, and there are now bronze sculptures of both of them on campus near the Union. The day itself features a parade, tailgating, the football game, dances and a general night of revelry downtown, but there are plenty of events in the week leading up to it too. Even after five years in school, I hadn’t managed to participate in all of them! There’s Rally at the Rails, the Bum-Over (in which a shanty town of cardboard shelters is constructed by teams of students), Cavorts (a talent show), Bum-A-Meal (in which students dressed as hobos can visit homes of faculty and community members for a free meal), Miss Homelycoming (a “beauty pageant” of sorts featuring cross-dressed men basically making fools of themselves in the name of comedy), and more. There’s plenty of stuff to do that week, but the best part is probably being able to dress up as a hobo for a whole week if you desire!

McCrory Gardens Brookings

8. MCCRORY GARDENS

McCrory Gardens is a large garden on campus at SDSU. It used to be free to the whole community, but now (controversy alert!) it’s gated off and they charge admission (though it’s still free for college students). It is really gorgeous though, and features a wide variety of plants, a little waterfall, fountains, a hedge maze for kids, thousands of tulips in the spring… The venue there is also one of the best places in town to have a wedding! It makes for a lovely stroll in any season but winter.

Nick's Hamburgers in Brookings SD

9. NICK’S HAMBURGERS

Nick’s Hamburgers is another classic Brookings restaurant. The building is very recognizable, and inside you’ll find a 50’s-style diner where you can get shakes, delicious pie, and tasty little burgers, grilled right in front of you!

Brookings Summer Arts Festival

10. SUMMER ARTS FESTIVAL

Every summer I looked forward to the Brookings Summer Arts Festival. One weekend in July every year, Pioneer Park in Brookings is filled with vendors selling antiques, jewelry, paintings, sculpture, and other handicrafts, music performances, and typical fair food. I always found new home decor items or jewelry there, and enjoyed perusing everything for sale with friends on a nice summer day.
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11. SOUTH DAKOTA ART MUSEUM

The South Dakota Art Museum isn’t a large one by any means, but I always enjoyed a visit there. They have a few permanent exhibits of South Dakota art (like a room of Native American art and some pioneer-inspired Harvey Dunns), but the other exhibits change pretty often so there was always something new and interesting to see there. The gift shop is really well-stocked; I’ve bought many beads for making jewelry and even handicrafts from Africa there. Best of all, the museum is free–probably my favorite free (indoor) thing to do in Brookings!

Highway 81 South Dakota

12. THE DRIVE ON HIGHWAYS 14 & 81 TO MADISON

Being from Madison, I often drove between Brookings and Madison to visit family. I would always take Highways 14 & 81 instead of the Interstate because I found it so pretty. There are a few farms along the way (one with llamas, which you might spot if you look closely!) and it’s really cool because for a lot of Highway 81 the road is surrounded by water and you are basically driving through a lake! There’s always something to see, whether it’s ice fishermen in the winter, pelicans swimming and diving, or the old abandoned farmhouse just off the water. I’ve driven that same road many times, and I always found it beautiful, whether the water was frozen and the fields were sparkly with snow or the birds that roost in the long dried-out trees were silhouetted in the sunrise. Sometimes it’s little things like that which make the place we live beautiful to us.

SDSU theatre Spamalot
Photo credit

13. SEEING MUSICALS & PLAYS AT SDSU

I can’t keep track of how many musicals and plays I attended while at SDSU–I know I’ve seen Rocky Horror Picture Show, Legally Blonde the Musical, Spamalot, Almost, Maine, and at least two performances of Capers (the student-written comedy performed every January), but there have probably been more! All of the ones I attended were fantastic and I’m going to miss being able to go to shows like that for free now that I’ve graduated!

Cottonwood Coffee shop in Brookings South Dakota

14. COTTONWOOD COFFEE

Basically every Saturday, Ryan and I would get drinks from Cottonwood Coffee in Brookings. Having both worked as baristas before, it’s safe to say that we are pretty picky about our chais and breves, but Cottonwood never disappoints! They’re a great place to study as well, with nice seating and local artists’ works for sale on the walls. They make great scones too, and once in a while they’ll have the state dessert, kuchen. If you’re in Brookings and you need some kind of coffee or latte, this is definitely the best place to get it!

Animatronic dinosaur at South Dakota Children's Museum

15. CHILDREN’S MUSEUM

The Children’s Museum of South Dakota is a pretty popular place to visit in Brookings for anyone with kids. I used to take my mentee there a few times a year, and she always loved playing in the kid-sized “city”, making artwork, harvesting vegetables on the “farm”, checking out the tipi, log cabin, and African hut, and playing in the large outdoor area. The best part of the outdoor play area? A life-size T-rex that roars and moves!

Dancer at Nepal Nite
Dancer at Nepal Nite

16. SDSU CULTURAL NIGHTS

Every spring semester, SDSU has various cultural nights every few weekends. Student groups organize the nights to show off the culture and cuisine of their country, and they’re usually really well-done! A ticket gets you a delicious meal, and then you can enjoy the different traditional outfits, skits, presentations, music, and dances that are performed at the event. I attended Nepal Nite twice while in school and India Night once… I was really hoping to visit Arabia Night, China Night, and Africa Night too, but it never worked out with my schedule. Most recently, (I think this year) a Bangladesh night was added. I always thought this was a cool way to celebrate culture and diversity in Brookings, and I’m excited that every year seems to add new cultural nights to the roster!

Brookings Veteran Memorial

17. VETERAN’S MEMORIAL

The veteran’s memorial in Brookings is a large roughly dome-shaped structure on the west edge of Brookings. I used to go running near there sometimes, and the benches there are a nice, peaceful place to watch the sunset!

SDSU Cookies and Cream
Photo credit 

18. SDSU ICE CREAM

SDSU makes its own ice cream, and it’s completely wonderful. They’re always inventing new flavors, which are served at the Dairy Bar on campus, at concessions for different sports, and even at the grocery stores in town. Probably the most popular flavor is Cookies N’ Cream, which legend has it was invented right there at SDSU!


The list could probably go on–I could explain why Threads of Memories is my favorite of the three antique stores in downtown Brookings, or mourn the loss of Ryan’s and my weekly tradition of eating buffet at Flavor Indian Cuisine–but I think ice cream is a good place to stop. 🙂

We’re enjoying some of the new opportunities we’ve had in Minnesota–better access to state parks and hiking, cultural events only an hour away in Minneapolis–but I do find myself missing some of the things Brookings has to offer. I think it’s safe to say that it will always have a special place in my heart!

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