15 Best Things to Do in Brookings, SD

Brookings, SD skyline
Jacob Boomsma / shutterstock.com

Expect no dull moment in a visit to Brookings, the fourth largest city in South Dakota.

Also the seat of its namesake county, Brookings has developed many points of interest since it was founded in 1879.

This city was named after Judge Wilmot W. Brookings, an early pioneer and promoter of the settlement of the Dakota Territory.

Brookings’ growth initially rode on its location along the railroad route of the territory, emerging as the hub of a diversified agricultural region.

With agriculture firmly in place, manufacturing companies later came into Brookings to further fortify its lofty eastern South Dakota standing.

Early on, too, Brookings stood out as an academic center, with the South Dakota State University setting up in 1881 its campus in the city.

There is always something to do in Brookings!

If you’re looking for nightlife or nature, historical stops, or unique shopping, you can find fun here.

With its rich lifestyle mix, the city promises its visitors an eclectic experience that you can have a peek at the following list of things to do in Brookings.

Tour the South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum

Front exterior of South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum
Jake DeGroot, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This museum is located on 11th Street at the South Dakota State University campus.

It is South Dakota’s official museum devoted not only to the history and science of agriculture in the state but also to its rural life.

Aptly enough, the museum is housed in the 1925 Stock Judging Pavilion, a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Side view of South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum's exterior
Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The museum’s collection includes thousands of agricultural and mechanical tools and equipment, as well as building furnishings.

It also features personal and recreational items plus communications and documentary artifacts like maps, prints, photos, and agricultural business advertising.

The museum opened in 1884 with a zoological collection which was later expanded to include farming equipment from 1880 to 1950.

More items were added starting in 2014 to include artifacts from the time of the domestication of plants and animals in South Dakota up to the present.

Get Your Game Going on Arrowhead Park

This multi-purpose park on Indian Hills Road spreads over 16.1 acres, nestled amid a residential neighborhood.

Residents and visitors can enjoy Arrowhead Park’s extensive green space suited for outdoor team games like tag football.

In addition, the park provides an outdoor basketball court, a tennis court, and playground equipment.

The Arrowhead Park has picnic tables and restrooms, as well as a recreational trail for biking and walking.

This pathway links to the Brookings trail system and the Indian Hills trail meandering around the park’s neighboring community.

Visit the South Dakota Art Museum

Exterior of South Dakota Art Museum
AlexiusHoratius, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Opened in 1970, this museum features, among other exhibits, the works of famous visual artists of South Dakota.

It is situated on Medary Avenue at the campus of South Dakota State University and features seven spacious galleries.

Art gallery in South Dakota Art Museum
Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock.com

The museum’s cornerstone exhibit is the 146-piece collection of the works of Harvey Dunn, famed for his art pieces depicting the great plains of America's Midwest.

All told, the museum's permanent collection is composed of almost 7,000 items, including paintings.

The museum also exhibits artworks on paper, textiles, jewelry, Native American pieces, sculpture, and ceramics.

Framed art in South Dakota Art Museum
Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock.com

Play Disc Golf at Larson Park

A 20-hole disc golf course redesigned in 2020 is among the attractions in Larson Park on 22nd Avenue.

The course features multiple pin placements and concrete tee pads, with varying challenges at each hole.

One tricky section is on the southeast side of the course, where you may need a few extra discs as you have to shoot over the park’s lagoon.

Overall, though, the course is easy to navigate, and you will enjoy the gorgeous scenery of Larson Park while playing.

Besides the disc golf course, the multi-purpose park also provides a winding walking and bike trail, a basketball court, and playground equipment.

Larsen Park, in addition, has spacious grassy areas for a picnic or a pick-up game of tag football.

Watch a Game at the SouthBrook Softball Complex

This sports facility on 22nd Avenue South hosts state softball tournaments, among other events.

The SouthBrook Softball Complex flaunts five lighted softball diamonds for adult and youth sports, as well as tournament play.

In addition to these fields, the complex has a full complement of support facilities, including aluminum bleacher seating, concessions, and restrooms.

You can bring the whole family to this complex, as it has numerous picnic shelters plus a large, gravel, off-street parking lot.

The complex, moreover, nestles among lush trees providing shade to players and spectators.

Enjoy the Outdoors at the Dakota Nature Park

Exterior of Dakota Nature Park's visitor center
Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This 135-acre park, a former landfill, is an example of a successful environmental restoration project.

After it was capped, the site was developed as a park which has met the environmental monitoring standards of the South Dakota authorities.

The park now features lush vegetation and mature trees, which provide habitat to native birds and animals.

Recreation trails, a mix of primitive and paved pathways loop throughout the park, enabling the enjoyment of nature observation and birdwatching.

The park also has a series of small connecting ponds, which not only adds to the park’s scenic beauty.

These water features, which are connected by a metal bridge, are also perfect for kayaking as well as fishing.

The park also provides a 5,300 square-foot facility—the Larson Nature Center—where visitors can rent outdoor gear like fishing rods, canoes, kayaks, snowshoes, adaptive bikes, binoculars, and GPS units.

In addition, the northeast of the park boasts an Outdoor Learning Center plus a target range focusing on BB and pellet gun shooting and archery.

Swing to the Beat of Downtown at Sundown

Downtown at Sundown is a five-week outdoor summer music festival held in Brookings from July to August.

Admission is free to this nightly concert series held on 5th Street and Main Avenue in Downtown Brookings.

The activities each night open with vendors’ shops opening at 5:30 p.m., soon followed at 6:00 p.m. by the performance of the headliner band.

Besides food and music, locals and visitors can enjoy shopping, yard games, inflatables, and face-painting, among other engaging activities during the Downtown at Sundown.

Smell the Flowers at the McCrory Gardens

Trees and flowers at McCrory Gardens
Rackshaw, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The South Dakota State University campus is home to this Brookings green attraction and its kin, the South Dakota State Arboretum.

Located on 22nd Avenue, the McCrory Gardens flaunts more than 25 acres of harmoniously developed plots displaying a wide variety of flowers, shrubs, grasses, and trees.

The north side of McCrory Gardens features the 45-acre South Dakota Arboretum, which is home to the various trees and shrubs which have adapted to the South Dakota climate.

The arboretum is also a testing ground for new selections of shrubs and trees on their adaptability to local conditions.

Pet-friendly, McCrory Gardens likewise runs an Education and Visitor Center, which hosts events, lectures, meetings, conferences, banquets, and weddings year-round.

Take the Kids to the Children's Museum of South Dakota

The circa1936 Central Elementary School houses this museum at the corner of 5th Avenue and Kidoodle Way.

Besides its 44,000 square feet for indoor exhibits, this museum also features 4 acres of prairie land.

It boasts 5,000 interactive exhibits, including a life-size animation of Mama T. Rex with her baby.

The museum holds 550 books to promote lifelong learning among kids and adults through discovery and exploration.

The only one of its kind in South Dakota, the Children’s Museum of South Dakota, is where kids can experience harvesting crops and moving them from farm to market.

Its hands-on exhibits and classes combine with the Outdoor Prairie and Cafe Coteau in the museum to make it a must-stop when visiting Brookings.

Have Fun at the Brookings Summer Arts Festival

Planning a trip to Brookings sometime in early July would be a great idea, as it is around this time that the city holds its annual Summer Arts Festival.

More than 200 artists from across the country, representing various art disciplines, join this juried art festival.

This event also has an Edibles and Naturals area featuring artisans offering packed cottage food items for gourmet tastes and natural skin products.

In addition, the Brookings Summer Arts Festival celebrates the city’s heritage in booths with antique and historical displays.

Brookings’ Pioneer Park on 6thStreet hosts this festival, including a children’s area offering educational activities and fun to kids.

During the festival, entertainers perform at the park’s bandshell and side stages.

While at the park, you can also visit the Pioneer Cabin, built in 1989, to celebrate South Dakota’s centennial.

Sample the Downtown’s Beers and Burgers

Exterior of Nick’s Hamburger Shop
AlexiusHoratius, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The quadrant of 5th Street and Main Avenue in downtown Brookings is a great place for beer and burgers.

You can choose from 21 taps of regional and local craft beers from the Wooden Legs Brewing Company, a South Dakota original founded in 2010.

Its kitchen also offers pizza, hoagies, and fresh deli sandwiches to pair with your brew of choice.

For the sheer pleasure of having a hamburger, a restaurant nearby has been serving this staple since 1929.

This burger lovers’ destination is Nick’s Hamburger Shop, famous for its two-ounce mini burgers in several options.

Beer isn’t served at Nick’s, but it offers delicious shakes, which you can also pair with this burger shop’s homemade pies.

Fire a Few Rounds at Brookings’ Range

Test your aim at the Brookings County Outdoor Adventure Center on 22nd Avenue.

It offers a 12-lane state-of-the-art shooting range and an Olympic-length archery range.

The gun range is open to shooters from 21 years old and above.

The climate-controlled gun range boasts a cutting-edge ventilation system and an automatic retrieval system of up to 25 yards.

The Olympic-sized archery range features 32 lanes of up to 30 yards with 3-D targets, professional-grade targets, and mobile props on wheels.

The center offers rental firearms for those with no gun or who want to try out a new or special firearm.

Scoop a Treat at the SDSU Dairy Bar

This dairy bar of the South Dakota State University, located on College Avenue, offers one of South Dakota’s best ice cream treats.

SDSU students manufacture the 60 ice cream flavors in the dairy bar using a cow-to-cone process.

The SDSU Dairy Bar is attached to the Davis Dairy Plant, so you can watch the ice-cream-making process while having a treat here.

You can choose from 16 ice cream flavors served in the dairy bar daily along with milk, coffee, and snacks.

Its coolers are also stored with cheese, butter, and half-gallon ice cream tubs available for purchase.

Play Long or Short at Edgebrook Golf Course

Accessible via 22nd Avenue, the Edgebrook Golf Course features two layouts, with one offering a short 9-hole plan and the other the full 18-hole route.

The 18-hole course opened in 1972 and plays par 70 over 6,200 yards from the longest tees.

The front nine is a par 36 with two par-five holes and two par 3s, while the back nine plays a little shorter but has water hazards along its one par-five holes and three par 3s holes.

Edgebrook’s 9-hole layout is just north of the 18-hole course and is regarded as one of the best in the area.

Opened in 2010, the nine holes of this short course are par 3s, with their longest at 124 yards.

Some of the tee boxes and greens of this 9-hole layout are positioned within the tree line.

A full line of golf equipment suited for advanced or beginning players is accessible at the EdgeBrook Golf Course.

It has a fleet of 40 golf carts, a driving range, a green grass tee-stand, and large putting and chipping greens.

Food items are available at the Edgebrook Clubhouse, such as beer, cola, and snacks.

Ride a Mountain Bike at the Pump Park

This mountain bikers’ haven stretches for about two miles starting from the south end of the Southbrook Softball Complex.

Pump Park is also accessible via the recreational trail, which loops the Dakota Nature Park.

Pump Park provides three different tracks designed for varying biker abilities and ages.

One of these paths is a strider track for children between the ages of two and five.

As in all pump parks, the trails here are designed so that riders use more of their body weight and the wheels of the bike rather than the pedals.

A Single Track Trail was also developed here, traversing a single-file and one-direction path.

It offers varying surface textures, quick turns, and elevations to allow mountain bike riders perfect their skills.

Final Thoughts

With all the various points of interest that this city offers, you won’t run out of things to do in Brookings.

A visit to the campus of the city’s South Dakota State University alone should make for a most fulfilling trip to Brookings.