A Quirky Adventure Awaits at Wall Drug Store in South Dakota

Nestled in the dusty plains of South Dakota, Wall Drug Store has evolved from a humble pharmacy to a sprawling roadside attraction that embodies the quirky spirit of the American West. With its eclectic mix of shops, eateries, and entertainment options, this iconic destination offers a unique adventure for travelers of all ages. In this article, we’ll explore the multifaceted charm of Wall Drug and provide tips to make your visit truly unforgettable.

Key Takeaways

  • Wall Drug Store began as a small pharmacy and grew into a roadside empire, famous for its offer of free ice water to weary travelers.
  • The store is home to a vast collection of oddities, including jackalopes and a T-Rex, alongside a range of Wild West souvenirs and local artwork.
  • Visitors can indulge in homestyle culinary delights such as the famous Wall Drug doughnut, buffalo burgers, homemade pie, and five-cent coffee.
  • Navigating Wall Drug’s maze of shops and attractions is part of the adventure, with seasonal events and photo opportunities adding to the experience.
  • To make the most of your visit to Wall Drug, consider insider tips such as the best times to visit, hidden gems to seek out, and strategies for avoiding crowds.

Discover the Charm of Wall Drug Store

The Beginnings of a Roadside Empire

The Wall Drug Store story is a testament to the power of ingenuity and marketing in the heart of South Dakota. It all started in 1931, when Ted Hustead purchased a small pharmacy in the sleepy town of Wall. With the Great Depression in full swing, business was slow, and the future uncertain. However, Ted and his wife, Dorothy, hatched a plan that would put Wall Drug on the map.

Their simple yet brilliant idea was to offer free ice water to thirsty travelers heading to the newly established Mount Rushmore. This gesture, advertised by roadside signs, quickly became a sensation. As word spread, more visitors flocked to the store, eager for refreshment and a break from the heat. The Husteads’ strategy not only quenched the thirst of passersby but also transformed their modest drugstore into a burgeoning tourist attraction.

Today, Wall Drug has evolved into one of South Dakota’s top attractions, drawing over two million visitors annually. It’s a sprawling complex of shops, eateries, and entertainment venues that retains its original charm while continuously expanding its offerings. Here’s a quick snapshot of its growth over the years:

  • 1931: Wall Drug opens under Ted and Dorothy Hustead.
  • 1936: Free ice water campaign begins.
  • 1940s: Expansion to include a restaurant and gift shop.
  • 1960s: Further expansion, adding Western art and a chapel.
  • Present: Over 76,000 square feet of retail space.

What’s With the Free Ice Water?

The story of Wall Drug’s free ice water is a testament to the power of clever marketing and understanding the needs of travelers. During the sweltering summer of 1931, when the scorching heat of the South Dakota sun was relentless, the owners of Wall Drug, Ted and Dorothy Hustead, decided to offer free ice water to parched tourists heading to the Black Hills. This simple act of kindness turned into a legendary advertising campaign that put Wall Drug on the map—quite literally.

The free ice water was more than just a refreshing gesture; it was a beacon for weary travelers. The Husteads placed signs along the highway, inviting folks to stop by for a cool drink. The result? A surge in visitors that transformed their modest drugstore into a bustling tourist attraction. Today, the tradition continues, and the free ice water remains a hallmark of the Wall Drug experience.

To better appreciate the scale of Wall Drug’s growth from this humble beginning, consider the following:

  • The Hustead’s original investment: $3,000 in 1931
  • Number of annual visitors today: Over two million
  • Size of Wall Drug Store: 76,000 square feet

For a detailed look at Wall Drug’s layout and attractions, including the free offerings, pick up a copy of the ‘Map of Wall Drug “The Ice Water Store”‘ by Curtis Wright Maps. This handy guide not only delves into the history of the Badlands but also provides a comprehensive plan of the store, ensuring you don’t miss out on any of the fun.

The Backyard: A Treasure Trove of Fun

Step into the backyard of Wall Drug Store, and you’ll find yourself amidst an array of attractions that promise to delight visitors of all ages. The whimsical atmosphere is a perfect backdrop for family-friendly entertainment, offering a unique blend of interactive experiences and visual delights.

The backyard features a variety of activities, including:

  • A life-sized animatronic T-Rex that roars to the amusement of onlookers
  • A mining sluice where kids can pan for gemstones
  • A traveler’s chapel providing a moment of peace and reflection

This outdoor space is not just a place to stretch your legs; it’s an extension of the Wall Drug experience, where the spirit of South Dakota’s natural wonders is echoed in every corner. As you explore the backyard, you’ll feel a connection to the diverse regions and unique experiences that South Dakota offers, much like the attractions at Mount Rushmore and the state’s various parks and hunting grounds.

Unusual Finds and Eclectic Souvenirs

From Jackalopes to T-Rex: The Oddities Collection

Wall Drug Store is a place where the whimsical and the wild come to life. Among its many attractions, the Oddities Collection stands out as a must-see for visitors with a taste for the unusual. Step into a world where the fantastical creatures of folklore meet the giants of prehistory.

The collection boasts a range of curiosities, from the mythical jackalope, a rabbit with antlers, to a life-sized T-Rex that transports you back to the Cretaceous period. Each piece in the collection has its own story, often rooted in the rich tapestry of American folklore and history.

  • Jackalope: The mythical creature of the American West
  • T-Rex: A towering replica that roars to life
  • Two-headed calf: A rare specimen that sparks curiosity
  • Giant sea turtle: A reminder of the ancient creatures that once roamed the earth

While exploring the Oddities Collection, you’ll find that each exhibit is more than just a display; it’s an invitation to delve into the stories and legends that have shaped the cultural landscape. Not far from Wall Drug, the Jewel Cave National Monument beckons with its own underground wonders, while the iconic Mount Rushmore and the rugged beauty of Badlands National Park are just a short drive away, offering a full itinerary for those looking to explore the unique regions of South Dakota.

Take Home a Piece of the Wild West

Wall Drug Store offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the spirit of the Wild West with its vast selection of regional memorabilia and authentic souvenirs. Step back in time as you browse through the array of items that capture the essence of South Dakota’s rich history.

From handcrafted leather goods to Native American crafts, the store is a treasure chest for those looking to take home a tangible piece of Americana. Here’s a glimpse of what you can find:

  • Native American pottery and jewelry: Exquisite pieces that reflect the artistry of the local tribes.
  • Western wear: Cowboy hats, boots, and belts to complete your frontier look.
  • Local food products: Jams, jellies, and other delicacies made from regional ingredients.

Ranked as a top destination among the THE 10 BEST South Dakota Gift & Specialty Shops, Wall Drug is more than just a stop on the road; it’s a cultural experience. Whether you’re seeking a memento for yourself or gifts for loved ones, you’ll find something that resonates with the spirit of the prairie.

The Art Gallery: Local Artistry on Display

Wall Drug Store isn’t just a place to find quirky souvenirs; it’s also a vibrant showcase for local artists. The art gallery within Wall Drug offers visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the region’s creative spirit. Discover a diverse array of artworks, ranging from traditional Native American crafts to contemporary paintings that reflect the rugged beauty of South Dakota’s landscapes.

The gallery features a rotating selection of pieces, ensuring that each visit offers something new. Here’s a glimpse of what you might find:

  • Handcrafted pottery and jewelry
  • Original paintings and prints
  • Sculptures inspired by local wildlife and history

Not only does the art gallery provide a platform for local talent, but it also gives travelers a unique opportunity to take home a piece of South Dakota’s rich cultural tapestry. Whether you’re an art aficionado or simply looking for a meaningful memento, the Wall Drug art gallery is a must-visit destination on your quirky adventure.

Satisfy Your Cravings with Homestyle Eats

The Famous Wall Drug Doughnut

Amidst the myriad of homestyle eats at Wall Drug Store, the famous Wall Drug doughnut stands out as a must-try delicacy. These doughnuts have garnered a reputation that stretches far beyond South Dakota’s borders, enticing travelers with their sweet, fluffy goodness. Each doughnut is a testament to Wall Drug’s commitment to traditional baking techniques, ensuring a consistent taste that has remained unchanged for decades.

The secret to their irresistible appeal lies in the balance of flavors and textures. A golden, crispy exterior gives way to a soft, airy center, creating a delightful sensory experience with every bite. Visitors often pair their doughnut with Wall Drug’s renowned five cent coffee, making for a classic combination that’s hard to beat.

While the doughnut itself is a star attraction, it’s also a gateway to the wider culinary landscape of Wall Drug. From here, you can explore diverse dining options in the store, ranging from hearty buffalo burgers to homemade pies, reflecting the rich tapestry of South Dakota’s food scene. Whether you’re starting your day with a sweet treat or capping off an afternoon of shopping, the Wall Drug doughnut is a tradition that continues to charm and satisfy.

Buffalo Burgers and Homemade Pie

At Wall Drug Store, the culinary adventure is as rich as its history. Sink your teeth into the hearty flavors of the Midwest with a buffalo burger, a leaner and often more flavorful alternative to traditional beef. These burgers are not only a nod to the region’s wildlife but also a taste of local ranching practices.

After the savory, make room for the sweet. Wall Drug’s homemade pies are a slice of heaven, with flaky crusts and fillings made from scratch. Whether you’re craving the tang of a cherry pie or the sweetness of apple, there’s a variety to satisfy every palate. Pair your meal with a side of history, as these recipes have been passed down through generations, ensuring an authentic taste of South Dakota.

While enjoying your meal, consider the array of attractions nearby. Wall Drug is a perfect pit stop for those exploring South Dakota’s campgrounds, scenic drives, and the majestic Black Hills. It’s an ideal refueling station for adventurers heading to see wildlife, historic landmarks, or simply soaking in the local culture.

The Five Cent Coffee Tradition

In an era where coffee prices are soaring, Wall Drug Store holds fast to a tradition that harkens back to simpler times. The five cent coffee deal is not just a bargain; it’s a slice of Americana. Since its inception, this offer has been a cornerstone of the Wall Drug experience, symbolizing the store’s commitment to value and hospitality.

The cost of coffee elsewhere might fluctuate, but here, the price is as steady as the stream of travelers who’ve sipped on Wall Drug’s brew over the decades. It’s not just about the caffeine kick; it’s about being part of a tradition that has welcomed visitors since 1931. Below is a quick look at how this compares to average coffee costs today:

Year Average Coffee Cost Wall Drug Price
2021 $1.38 $0.05
2022 $1.50 $0.05
2023 $1.55 $0.05

Whether you’re a coffee connoisseur or just in need of a warm cup to continue your journey, Wall Drug’s five cent coffee is a must-try. It’s a warm reminder that some things never change, and in the fast-paced world we live in, that’s a comforting thought.

Navigating the Maze of Shops and Attractions

Finding Your Way Around Wall Drug

Navigating the sprawling complex of Wall Drug Store can be as adventurous as exploring the Black Hills area itself. With its maze of shops and attractions, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. To ensure you make the most of your visit, start by picking up a store map at the entrance. This handy guide will be your compass, pointing you towards the various departments, eateries, and entertainment spots.

Here’s a quick rundown to help you orient yourself:

  • Main Store: The heart of Wall Drug, where you’ll find a range of souvenirs and the famous free ice water.
  • Backyard: A family-friendly area with animated dinosaurs, a splash park, and photo opportunities.
  • Art Gallery: Showcases local artistry and is a quieter spot for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle.
  • Dining Area: Home to the legendary Wall Drug doughnut, buffalo burgers, and the five cent coffee.

Remember, Wall Drug is more than just a store; it’s a unique experience that reflects the spirit of the Wild West. Take your time to wander through the various sections, and don’t hesitate to ask the friendly staff for directions or recommendations. They’re as much a part of the Wall Drug charm as the attractions themselves.

Seasonal Events Not to Miss

Wall Drug Store is not just a year-round destination; it’s a hub of seasonal festivities that reflect the vibrant culture of South Dakota. As the seasons change, so does the lineup of events, offering visitors a fresh experience with each visit. In the spring, the Easter celebration brings a whimsical touch with an egg hunt that’s fun for the whole family. Summer ushers in the much-anticipated Cowboy Christmas, complete with a rodeo and live country music, encapsulating the spirit of the Wild West.

Fall at Wall Drug is a sight to behold, with Halloween festivities that include pumpkin carving contests and costume parades. As winter rolls in, the store transforms into a holiday wonderland, featuring a visit from Santa Claus and a dazzling display of lights. To ensure you don’t miss out on these unique experiences, here’s a quick guide to the annual events:

  • Spring: Easter Egg Hunt & Spring Celebration
  • Summer: Cowboy Christmas & Rodeo Days
  • Fall: Halloween Festivities & Pumpkin Carving
  • Winter: Santa’s Visit & Holiday Lights Display

Each event is steeped in local tradition and offers a glimpse into the regional heritage. Whether you’re looking to immerse yourself in the arts and entertainment scene or explore the historical aspects of the Midwest, Wall Drug’s seasonal events are a perfect addition to your itinerary. Remember, while the store is a fantastic place to stay and shop, the surrounding regions of South Dakota are ripe with museums, parks, and outdoor activities that can enrich your visit.

Photo Ops with Iconic Wall Drug Backdrops

Wall Drug Store is not just a place to shop and dine; it’s a photographer’s paradise with its iconic backdrops that have become synonymous with the American road trip experience. Capture the essence of your visit with a photo at one of the many whimsical and historic scenes scattered throughout the store. From the vintage Americana to the quirky installations, each photo op tells a story of the rich cultural tapestry that Wall Drug weaves.

Here’s a quick guide to some of the most picture-perfect spots:

  • The Giant Jackalope: An absolute must for a fun and memorable snapshot.
  • The Wall Drug Dinosaur: Step back in time with a photo alongside this prehistoric giant.
  • The Traveler’s Chapel: Reflect and capture a moment of peace in this serene setting.
  • Mount Rushmore Backdrop: No need to travel far; get your group photo with the presidents right here.

Remember to check the lighting and angle to get that perfect shot, and don’t hesitate to ask a fellow visitor to take a photo for you and your group. Sharing your photos on social media? Tag them with #WallDrug for a chance to be featured on their platforms. For more tips on exploring South Dakota, including camping, wildlife, and landmarks, visit SouthDakota.com. And if you have any privacy concerns or need additional information, their contact page is a helpful resource.

Insider Tips for the Ultimate Wall Drug Experience

Best Times to Visit for Smaller Crowds

To fully enjoy the quirky charm of Wall Drug without the hustle and bustle, timing your visit can make all the difference. Early mornings are a haven of tranquility at Wall Drug, allowing you to meander through the maze of shops and attractions with ease. The store opens its doors at 7 AM, offering a serene shopping experience before the crowds roll in.

Late afternoons also present a quieter atmosphere, as the tour buses and family caravans have usually moved on to their next destination. Visiting after 3 PM means you’ll have more space to explore the eclectic mix of souvenirs and enjoy the attractions without the wait. For those looking to capture the essence of Wall Drug without the interference of a bustling crowd, these off-peak hours are ideal.

While weekends and holidays are typically the busiest times, weekdays offer a more laid-back vibe. Here’s a quick guide to help you plan your visit:

  • Monday to Thursday: Least crowded, with mornings and late afternoons being the quietest.
  • Friday: Starts to get busier in the afternoon.
  • Weekend: Expect more visitors, especially midday.

Remember, the best time to visit also depends on the season. Summer months see the highest foot traffic, so consider a trip during the shoulder seasons of spring or fall for a more personal experience.

Hidden Gems Within the Store

Beyond the well-trodden paths of Wall Drug Store lies a world of hidden gems that offer a unique slice of Americana. These treasures are often overlooked by the casual visitor but are well worth the detour for those in the know.

One such gem is the vintage photo booth, tucked away in a quiet corner. It’s the perfect spot to capture a timeless memory of your visit. Nearby, you’ll find a collection of rare books and maps, offering a glimpse into the history of the region and the evolution of travel culture.

For music enthusiasts, the antique piano is a must-see. This instrument has serenaded guests for decades and continues to be a centerpiece for impromptu performances. And don’t miss the local artist corner, where you can find one-of-a-kind pieces that embody the spirit of South Dakota.

  • Vintage Photo Booth
  • Rare Books and Maps Collection
  • Antique Piano
  • Local Artist Corner

Each of these spots invites you to slow down and appreciate the quirky charm that Wall Drug has cultivated over the years. Remember, it’s these offbeat experiences that often make for the most memorable stories—much like the 52 Cool and Unusual Things to Do in South Dakota listed by Atlas Obscura.

Making the Most of Your Visit

To truly maximize your experience at Wall Drug, it’s essential to plan ahead. Check the event calendar before you go to catch any special happenings that might coincide with your visit. Wall Drug is more than just a store; it’s a cultural hub with events that often reflect the rich history and vibrant community spirit of South Dakota.

Here’s a quick checklist to ensure you don’t miss out on anything:

  • Arrive early to beat the crowds and enjoy a more leisurely exploration.
  • Allocate enough time to wander through the various sections; there’s a lot to see!
  • Don’t skip the backyard; it’s perfect for a family photo and a breath of fresh air.
  • Keep an eye out for the hidden gems mentioned in travel guides; they often lead to the most memorable moments.
  • Save room for a doughnut or a piece of pie, and remember, the coffee is just five cents!

Remember, Wall Drug is a unique destination with a charm that’s best appreciated when you take your time. Whether you’re browsing through quirky souvenirs, enjoying the local art, or savoring homestyle eats, let curiosity be your guide. And for those looking to capture the essence of their journey, the title ‘WALL DRUG – All You Need to Know BEFORE You Go (with Photos)’ suggests that bringing a camera for those iconic photo ops is a must. After all, according to Tripadvisor travellers, immersing yourself in the local culture and history is among the best ways to experience Wall Drug.

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Great Faces. Great Places.

South Dakota is an incredibly unique state in that each region offers a completely different experience then the others. Check out each of the regions to see what each has to offer!

Badlands

Western South Dakota

Featuring the Black Hills, Badlands, the Sturgis Rally. This region tends to be the most popular.

CENTRAL REGION

This region of South Dakota offers some of the best hunting and fishing in the entire central US. 

Eastern Region

The eastern region is home to the largest city in the state and provides visitors with a true "prairie" experience.