July 20, 2015

Try The Buffalo At Dakotah Steakhouse in Rapid City

Dakotah Steakhouse is one of those restaurants that gets high ratings on travel and food sites and you wonder, is it really that good?

Yes, yes it is.

Dakotah Steakhouse is in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Dakotah Steakhouse is in Rapid City, South Dakota.

This Rapid City, South Dakota, restaurant was located across the parking lot from our hotel during our recent stay. The city’s tourism office said it was a place I ought to check out, so they gave me a gift card and off I went with the family.

What to expect

Coolest restaurant art I've seen in a long: The Dakotah buffalo. Side note, order a buffalo dish here.

Coolest restaurant art I’ve seen in a long: The Dakotah buffalo. Side note, order a buffalo dish here.

This was the nicest place we dined at during our Western Nebraska/South Dakota road trip. While you may want to pack something a little nice to wear for dinner, it’s also in a city that attracts tourists, so you won’t be turned away if all you have are shorts, a clean shirt and flip flops. But, I felt more comfortable having changed out of my sweaty, touristy day clothes.

The restaurant has a lodge feel, with a huge fireplace and wood throughout. It was cozy though it actually was quite a spacious restaurant.

The view inside Dakotah Steakhouse. Not super dressy, right?

The view inside Dakotah Steakhouse. Not super dressy, right?

It’s the kind of place that you want to sit back and take your time, perhaps order a bottle of red. Which we did… but we couldn’t sit back and relax because the kids were with us. And it was taking too long for their food to get to the table and they were a ticking time bomb of impatience. Kids…

It is fairly kid-friendly. There is a kids menu and with some activities on it (for kids older than my own). However, it’s like any other steakhouse I’ve been to, in that it takes time to prepare the food.

It’s a great place for a date night, but come prepared to entertain your kids if you’re bringing them along.

What to order

Obviously, the steak is a big draw; it is a steakhouse. But we’re in South Dakota so you kinda have to try the buffalo, right? The buffalo served here is provided by local ranchers.

I was given great advice to try the buffalo skewers, which my whole family scarfed down. Get yourself some of that when you visit!

Buffalo skewers are so good you won't want to share.

Buffalo skewers are so good you won’t want to share.

Entrees: I got a few recommendations of great dishes, from the walleye dinner to the buffalo ribeye, to the elk ravioli. I went for something I couldn’t find in Omaha, and got the ravioli – it was so good!

Mr. Wonderful ordered a KC strip, which the kids ate half of.

For sides, we both got the Three Sisters Soup, and I recommend that one. To come with my dish, I ordered asparagus wrapped in bacon, which is as good as it sounds, and Mr. Wonderful got mashed sweet potatoes. We ordered an additional side to share with the kids, fried macaroni and cheese, and it was hands down, the favorite.

Stuffed, we had no room for dessert.

Cost?

It’s going to be more than most stops for a traveling family, that’s for certain, but most stops aren’t going to be at a steakhouse, amiright? If you splurge on one meal on your South Dakota vacation, you can’t go wrong here.

And get the buffalo.

 

If you go

Dakotah Steakhouse

Where: 1325 N. Elk Vale Road, Rapid City, South Dakota

Website

* * * * *

Planning a trip to South Dakota and Western Nebraska? I wrote a series of posts and reviews of kid-friendly attractions, lodging and a photo-heavy trip recap. Check them out:

Nebraska and South Dakota Adventure With Kids

Canoeing the Niobrara River with Kids

Comfort Suites and Convention Center (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Firehouse Brewing Company (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Reptile Gardens (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

The Hills Inn (Hot Spring, South Dakota)

Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

Mammoth Site (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

Chadron State Park (Chadron, Nebraska)

Fort Robinson State Park (Harrison, Nebraska)

 

 

 

 

July 15, 2015

Getting Up Close At Reptile Gardens

Reptile Gardens in Rapid City was on a USA Today list for Top 10 Roadside Attractions. Roadside attraction?

It may have once been a roadside attraction capitalizing in people’s interest in snakes in 1937, but it has grown into a family-run, kid-friendly destination that educates as well as entertains.

A girl from the audience meets a feathered friend during the bird show at Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, South Dakota.

A girl from the audience meets a feathered friend during the bird show at Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, South Dakota.

The friendly owners of Reptile Gardens gave me a family pass to visit so I could tell you about the place. I’m glad we got to go and spend a few hours there – it was certainly one of my kids’ favorite stops.

Let’s talk animals

One of the dozens of resident alligators at Reptile Gardens. This guy is rather famous - he was in a James Bond movie.

One of the dozens of resident alligators at Reptile Gardens. This guy is rather famous – he was in a James Bond movie.

So, with the name Reptile Gardens, you know what to expect. You’ll get your snakes, alligators and lizards, as well as a menagerie of others.

Love the funny signs at Reptile Gardens.

Love the funny signs at Reptile Gardens.

The highlight for my kids (and me, I’ll be honest), were the tortoises. Park visitors are welcome to pet and touch the free roaming behemoths (and I use roaming loosely here, these guys are not speedy).

How to a huge a tortoise.

How to a hug a tortoise.

Hello, photo opportunities.

I could barely get Mooch away from them.

This big tortoise at Reptile Gardens is over a 100 years old.

This big tortoise at Reptile Gardens is over a 100 years old.

If you can get your kids away from the tortoises, head to the Sky Dome. The Sky Dome is home to a pretty tropical jungle with free-roaming parrots and other birds, hanging snakes and other creatures.

Birds, snacks and lizards roam the Sky Dome.

Birds, snacks and lizards roam the Sky Dome.

The dome building actually has three areas you’ll want to see.

The Sky Dome is the prettiest place in Reptile Gardens. I could share a ton of photos take in there...

The Sky Dome is the prettiest place in Reptile Gardens. I could share a ton of photos take in there…

Upstairs there are snakes – highly venomous ones if that interests your kids.

One of the dozens of snakes at Reptile Gardens.

One of the many snakes at Reptile Gardens.

Some display windows were too high for young kids to see without some help. Some of these snakes are pretty rare – the rough-scaled pythons are the only ones in the world outside Australia.

On the ground floor, you’ll find gators and other creepy crawly things.

I guess this little guy falls under "crawly," since he's not very creepy.

I guess this little guy falls under “crawly,” since he’s not very creepy.

This guy isn't creepy or crawly either. I guess I need better adjectives.

This guy isn’t creepy or crawly either. I suppose I need better adjectives.

You’ll find Maniac in that area, a 16-foot saltwater crocodile that you’ll just have to see to believe. I couldn’t fit him into one picture.

Animal shows

Reptile Gardens has three animal shows. You can fit them all in during a three-hour visit, but it’s tight. They’re timed so that you can make it to the next one about 10 minutes before it starts.

You know you want to see the alligator show. Heard of alligator wrestling?

You know you want to see the alligator show. Heard of alligator wrestling?

Word of advice: Show up early for a good view.

The bird show was the most interactive, with a couple kids getting to go “on stage” and help with demonstrations. More than 20 species were part of the show.

The birds like this parrot loved to show off during the bird show.

The birds like this parrot loved to show off during the bird show.

The snake show was packed. The biggies, like the python, excited the youngsters in the crowd the most.

Front row seats to the snake show. (Not actual seats - lots of kids sat on the ground to get a good view)

Front row seats to the snake show. (Not actual seats – lots of kids sat on the ground to get a good view)

The big show of the place is the alligator show. Gator Arena has the most seating, which was needed. There were 37 alligators, crocodiles and caimans in the arena, most laying still in the water (yes, they’re real, the handler confirmed).

The highlight was the alligator wrestling.

Most important survival tip learned during our trip: How to wrestle an alligator. I'm sure it'll be useful someday.

Most important survival tip learned during our trip: How to wrestle an alligator. I’m sure it’ll be useful someday.

The guy who did the alligator show also did the snake show and he was pretty funny. Hope you get him if you see a show here.

The show ends with kids being able to put a baby alligator.

Mooch loved petting the baby alligator.

Mooch loved petting the baby alligator.

Other features

Reptile Gardens has several photo opportunities, which you kinda expect from a tourist attraction, right?

Photo op #1

Photo op #1

They’re fun, though.

Photo op #2

Photo op #2

 

We can’t resist a good photo op.

Photo op #3

Photo op #3

There is also a playground, which isn’t too shaded so on a hot summer day, making it unbearable for parents. Kids love it, of course.

Which leads me to the next spot: A cool off room. It’s between the playground and the tortoises, so it was a nice stopping point for us to sit and, well, cool off.

After melting at the playground, Mr. Wonderful and I insisted the kids take a break in this cooling room.

After melting at the playground, Mr. Wonderful and I insisted the kids take a break in this cooling room.

Reptile Gardens also has a bald eagle exhibit, Prairie Dog Town, and Japanese Garden & Turtle Pond.

There are a couple places in Reptile Gardens to get a snack or full meal, or a drink, plus a massive gift shop.

Mooch would not leave without getting herself a tortoise, which she carried around with her the rest of the trip.

 

How does it compare to Omaha’s zoo?

Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, South Dakota (OK, it's about 6 miles south of it).

Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, South Dakota (OK, it’s about 6 miles south of it).

It has more species of reptiles than our zoo – in fact, no other zoo or park in the world has as many species.

It’s not nearly as big, and the jungle in the Sky Dome doesn’t compete with our indoor rain forest. But it’s still pretty cool and you get a lot closer to some of the animals at Reptile Gardens.

We don't get this close to giant tortoises in Omaha.

We don’t get this close to giant tortoises in Omaha.

During our visit, I learned Reptile Gardens has a working relationship with the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. Keepers from our zoo come to Reptile Gardens to learn from the poisonous snakes expert – cool, huh?

 

If you go

Reptile Gardens

Where: 8955 S. Highway 16, Rapid City, South Dakota

Hours: April 1 to Dec. 31, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily in the summer (call for spring and fall hours)

Phone: 800-335-0275

Cost: Summer admission is $17, adults; $15, seniors; $11 ages 5-12; FREE ages 4 and under. Spring and fall admission is less (see here).

Website

Tip: Plan on at least two hours here if you rush things. Three hours will allow to see most exhibits and all three animal shows.

* * * * *

 

Planning a trip to South Dakota and Western Nebraska? I wrote a series of posts and reviews of kid-friendly attractions, lodging and a photo-heavy trip recap. Check them out:

Nebraska and South Dakota Adventure With Kids

Canoeing the Niobrara River with Kids

Comfort Suites and Convention Center (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Firehouse Brewing Company (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Dakotah Steakhouse (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

The Hills Inn (Hot Spring, South Dakota)

Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

Mammoth Site (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

Chadron State Park (Chadron, Nebraska)

Fort Robinson State Park (Harrison, Nebraska)

 

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July 14, 2015

Cheers To Firehouse Brewing Co. In Rapid City

To get a feel of the real Rapid City, you’ll want to head to the downtown area, particularly Main Street.

You’ll find antique stores, boutiques and plenty of dining options. There’s also a plaza that attracts kids like moths to a flame. Be sure to have a change of clothes on hand for the little ones.

Kids will love playing in the plaza's sprayground. There are shops around the plaza where you could grab a coffee, smoothie or ice cream to enjoy while you sit and watch the fun.

Kids will love playing in the plaza’s sprayground. There are shops around the plaza where you could grab a coffee, smoothie or ice cream to enjoy while you sit and watch the fun. The tents aren’t always there – we went on a Sunday night in the summer, there were some free activities during the event.

Our family was hungry when we rolled into town, so the fountains had to wait while we sought some good eats.

We were invited to have lunch at Firehouse Brewery Company Brew Pub, appropriately named since they brew their own beer and are housed in the former firehouse that dates back to 1915. It’s a cool looking place, and not surprisingly, the building is listed on the National Historic Register.

Firehouse Brewing Co. is located on Main Street of downtown Rapid City, South Dakota.

Firehouse Brewing Co. is located on Main Street of downtown Rapid City, South Dakota.

Plus, another historic note: It’s South Dakota’s first brew pub – how could I resist?

Firehouse Brewery Co. turned out to be a win for both parents and kids. Food was terrific and arrived promptly – so no impatient kids.

The beer?

Saddle up to the bar and order one of the local brews.

Saddle up to the bar and order one of the local brews.

It’s a great selection of house-made beer. Order by the pint or try a flight.

Kid loved the firehouse memorabilia.

Firehouse memorabilia decorates the walls of Firehouse Brewing Co.

Firehouse memorabilia decorates the walls of Firehouse Brewing Co.

There’s a stage on the patio that also appealed to my daughter. If you time it right, you may catch an evening performance – musicians play Wednesdays through Saturday nights from May 20 to Sept. 5.

If it’s nice out, sit outdoors. Great, low-key atmosphere. Lots of families were seated there. I learned later that even if it isn’t nice out, the outdoor beer garden is heated.

I loved this outdoor space at Firehouse Brewing Co. in Rapid City.

I loved this outdoor space at Firehouse Brewing Co. in Rapid City.

What to order

Our waitress, Tracy, had some great recommendations and we tried most of them and weren’t disappointed.

Appetizers: The popular dish Tracy recommended was the artichoke dip. We had to buck that trend and try the Firehouse Caps, a baked dish of portabella caps topped with cheese and green onions. It had a kick to it, and being mushrooms, we couldn’t get the kids to even try a taste. Oh well, more for us to eat.

Beer: The beer list is long, and rather than guess what is the best of the best, we asked our waitress for the most popular brews and went with those.

The look of a man who just had his first sip of a beer after a long drive in a car.

The look of a man who just had his first sip of a beer after a long drive in a car.

Mr. Wonderful ordered the Firehouse Red, and I went with Honey Badger, a dark beer with a hint of sweetness.

If you like brown ales, that one is darn good. I recommend it.

Ah, Honey Badger. I <3 you.

Ah, Honey Badger. I <3 you.

Kids food: There is the standard hamburger, mac n cheese and chicken tender options (which Mooch tried and devoured). I liked that they had mini versions of some of their popular sandwiches – Farley ordered a BBQ pulled pork sandwich. All come with fries.

Try getting a 3-year-old to wait to grab her chicken tenders for a photo.

Try getting a 3-year-old to wait to grab her chicken tenders for a photo.

Entrees: As you can imagine, there’s the standard brew-pub fare of sandwiches, barbecue and some hearty burgers. Tracy said the burgers were all popular dishes, but had a few additional recommendations.

No burgers for me. I tried the Firehouse Gumbo.

No burgers for me. I tried the Firehouse Gumbo.

I tried the gumbo, which was a Rachel Ray-pick when she visited. It was a filling, spicy dish that went oh-so-well with my beer (Honey Badger).

Mr. Wonderful ordered the fish tacos. I tried a bite and had to hand it to him that he picked a winner.

One of the most satisfying entrees at Firehouse Brewing Co. were the fish tacos.

One of the most satisfying entrees at Firehouse Brewing Co. were the fish tacos.

Dessert: We were really tempted to get the cookie dessert, but who are we kidding, this family is a bunch of chocolate addicts. We took Tracy’s advice and got the Stop Drop and Roll.

Dessert was Stop Drop And Roll, and it was big enough to share. Think of it as a fancy Ho Ho.

Dessert was Stop Drop And Roll, and it was big enough to share. Think of it as a fancy Ho Ho.

It’s plenty large to share, even for a family of four. I’d liken it to the best homemade Ho Ho you’ve ever had.

So is it good for kids?

The outdoor seating area has tables large enough to fit a big group (or big family).

The outdoor seating area has tables large enough to fit a big group (or big family).

Definitely. There’s a kids menu, high chairs, and shareable dessert.

Cost: For a meal for four, including two beers, an appetizer and a dessert, expect to pay about $60-$65. It was a pretty fair price for all that you get.

 

If you go

Firehouse Brewing Co.

Where: 610 Main St., Rapid City, South Dakota

Phone: 605-348-1915

Website

Tip: If you’re not traveling with kids (and you’re 21+), you can take a FREE tour during the summer months. They are at 1, 3, 5 and 7 p.m. daily leaving next door to the restaurant.

Disclaimer: Firehouse Brewing Co. provided a complimentary meal for my family so that I could write about the experience during my stay in Rapid City.

* * * * *

 

Planning a trip to South Dakota and Western Nebraska? I wrote a series of posts and reviews of kid-friendly attractions, lodging and a photo-heavy trip recap. Check them out:

Nebraska and South Dakota Adventure With Kids

Canoeing the Niobrara River with Kids

Comfort Suites and Convention Center (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Reptile Gardens (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Dakotah Steakhouse (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

The Hills Inn (Hot Spring, South Dakota)

Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

Mammoth Site (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

Chadron State Park (Chadron, Nebraska)

Fort Robinson State Park (Harrison, Nebraska)

July 13, 2015

Black Hills Home Base: Comfort Suites In Rapid City

There are no shortages of lodging options in Rapid City. I was flip flopping between staying at a couple places and then settled on Comfort Suites & Convention Center. It had the things I wanted most on our road trip: Space, pool, free hot breakfast and most important, a good location.

Comfort Suites in Rapid City made a great home base for the start of our Black Hills adventure.

Comfort Suites in Rapid City made a great home base for the start of our Black Hills adventure.

 

The hotel invited my family to stay a complimentary night there. For a night, it was perfect for us. It was the best place we stayed the entire road trip, as far as comfortable beds and amenities go. I wished we had planned a longer stay; there is just too much to do in Rapid City to cram into 24 hours.

This Rapid City hotel could easily be home base for your entire Black Hills/Badlands vacation.

Check in was a breeze and I found the front desk clerks to be more helpful than the norm. Super friendly, in fact. Good customer service sets the tone for the whole stay and they do it right there.

The Business Suite

These are the kind of beds you hope to have waiting for you after a long day of hiking. Found them at Comfort Suites in Rapid City.

These are the kind of beds you hope to have waiting for you after a long day of hiking. Found them at Comfort Suites in Rapid City.

So we lucked out and were upgraded to the Executive Suite. If you’re traveling with a large family, this is the way to go: Two queen beds plus a pull-out couch bed in the sitting room… that’s right, sitting room. A door separates the two beds from the sitting room.The room also had a fridge, microwave, sink and a dining room table. Spacious, right?

You can kick back with the kids in a suite at the end of the day. The couch has a pull-out bed.

You can kick back with the kids in a suite at the end of the day. The couch has a pull-out bed.

You can go larger, still, and get a Family Suite.

The hotel features kids like

There is a small pool and hot tub in the hotel, which we splashed around in early in the morning. My kids really enjoyed themselves there.

The breakfast had stuff I enjoyed – fresh fruit, yogurt, good coffee.

The Comfort Suites breakfast buffet includes fresh fruit and yogurt, eggs and sausage, cereal and baked sweets.

The Comfort Suites breakfast buffet includes fresh fruit and yogurt, eggs and sausage, cereal and baked goods.

And the buffet had stuff my kids liked, namely the waffle makers.

My kids would pick hotels based on two things, waffle makers and a pool. Comfort Suites had both.

My kids would pick hotels based on two things, waffle makers and a pool. Comfort Suites had both.

The front desk also had cookies on a platter in the evening, but I’m a terrible mom and did not point them out to my kids, who couldn’t see up that high.

Location

Right off the interstate, it makes it easy to get to Rapid City attractions, especially the ones on our list:

– The downtown area

Rapid City's downtown has a plaza with a spray garden. It's a short drive from the hotel.

Rapid City’s downtown has a plaza with a spray garden. It’s a short drive from the hotel.

– Storybook Island (FREE)

Storybook Island is near Comfort Suites in Rapid City.

Storybook Island is near Comfort Suites in Rapid City.

-Reptile Gardens

One of the dozens of resident alligators at Reptile Gardens.

One of the dozens of resident alligators at Reptile Gardens.

– Dinosaur Park (FREE)

One of the most well-known free attractions in Rapid City, Dinosaur Park, isn't far from Comfort Suites.

One of the most well-known free attractions in Rapid City, Dinosaur Park, isn’t far from Comfort Suites.

– A mall and an outlet mall are even closer.

– It’s also located next to a great steakhouse, Dakotah Steakhouse (which I’ll review soon). Ask the front desk of the hotel for a $5 coupon to the steakhouse.

Want to try buffalo? Head to Dakotah Steakhouse near Comfort Suites in Rapid City.

Want to try buffalo? Head to Dakotah Steakhouse near Comfort Suites in Rapid City.

If you go

Comfort Suites Hotel and Convention Center

 

Where: 1333 North Elk Vale Road, Rapid City, South Dakota

Website

* * * * *

Planning a trip to South Dakota and Western Nebraska? I wrote a series of posts and reviews of kid-friendly attractions, lodging and a photo-heavy trip recap. Check them out:

Nebraska and South Dakota Adventure With Kids

Canoeing the Niobrara River with Kids

Firehouse Brewing Company (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Reptile Gardens (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Dakotah Steakhouse (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

The Hills Inn (Hot Spring, South Dakota)

Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

Mammoth Site (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

Chadron State Park (Chadron, Nebraska)

Fort Robinson State Park (Harrison, Nebraska)