My first glimpse of South Dakota was in the town of Vermillion. It is home to the University of South Dakota (USD) and checked all the boxes I typically have for a really great town: friendly locals, good food, a variety of attractions, community spirit, and murals. Here’s are six things to love about Vermillion that stood out for this first-timer.
Have a Delicious Coffee
You can tell a lot about a town by the local coffee shop and its patrons, and I could tell the locals love being at The Bean. The Bean Community Coffeehouse is a cute venue with indoor/outdoor seating, great coffee/cold brew/espresso (including seasonal drinks), Bubble tea, and Italian sodas. You’ll find cookies, scones, and a variety of pastries, as well as lots of cool merchandise and mugs. Excellent job on the sweet cream cold brew; I enjoyed it.
Tour a World-Class Museum
Vermillion’s National Music Museum is one of the wonders of the Midwest. This powerful, outrageously valuable collection could be anywhere in the world, but Vermillion was chosen to be its home. Ran by the USD, the National Music Museum is undergoing a mega renovation and has been disassembled for now. I was privy to have a tour of the merchandise in its storage area.
Its renowned collections, which include more than 14,800 American, European and non-Western instruments from virtually all cultures and historical periods, are the most inclusive anywhere. – National Music Museum
The beautiful clavichord, looking like something from British royalty, was one of the most unique items in the National Music Museum’s collection. The clavichord pre-dates the piano, and this is the earliest one ever recorded. Collections include stringed instruments, horns, and other musical instrument families, each item having its own remarkable story and history.
Another special feature at the museum is the Orchestrion, a “whole band—in a box”. This player piano of the 1850s can play different instruments on its own. It reminds me of a jukebox, but looks like an oak cabinet with art glass windows.
Having visited the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, a similar attraction, I know this will be impressive as can be when it is done. Stay tuned.
Eat the Best Sandwich Ever!
Entering the local Vermillion ACE Hardware store, I wasn’t expecting to find a sandwich shop that would produce one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever tasted. Mister Smith’s, a gourmet bread maker and sandwich shop, delivers a delicious sandwich.
The Philly Cheese, with roast beef, green peppers, and onions, is smothered with American cheese and seems to be made especially for the billowy sub roll that holds it. I’m not even exaggerating when I say this was truly one of the best sandwiches ever and pretty sure it was less than $7.
Mister Smith’s has other things on the menu, including Fried Chicken, gourmet salads, soup, melts, wraps, and even a big vegetarian section. Examples of the house-made breads for sale are peasant loaf, honey oat, salted baguette, cinnamon raisin, whole wheat, and cheddar loaf, to name a few.
Fun fact: This is a restaurant Oprah has bragged about.
‘O,’ The Oprah Magazine called Mister Smith’s Bakery home of “the best bread in the world” in 2002
Tour a Pristine Campus
Vermillion is home to the University of South Dakota, South Dakota’s 274-acre flagship university and home of the “Yotes,” pronounced like goats. Don’t even think about calling their coyote mascot a “Yot-ee” as you will get the evil eye. USD’s campus is pristine and stunning, with stately architecturally beautiful buildings popping between the manicured lawns and blue Midwest skies. Old Main is the most prominent and photographed building.
On my visit, we happened upon USD’s Head Basketball Coach, Todd Lee, as we were touring the stadium. We also went to see the DakotaDome, an indoor domed stadium.
The University of South Dakota has graduate and undergraduate programs and excellent medical and law programs, the Sanford School of Medicine, and the USD Knudson School of Law. Approximately 10,000 students attend the university.
An Adorable Downtown
Vermillion is an adorable town filled with planters of blooming flowers, spacious parks, and well-maintained greenery. I’m told there are five bars in town, ones that have been serving the needs of USD students, alumni, and locals for many years, the Char Bar being one of them. You’ll find a handful of locally-owned shops, pubs, and restaurants, but in reality, the street art is what makes the downtown shine.
Colorful, eye-catching building walls depicting Native Americans, breathing life, storybooks, rebirth, and much more are some that you will quickly take note of. The pocket park in town is particularly adorable.
Downtown also features a Sculpture Walk with 12 pieces available. My favorites were Big Easy, Doc Farber, Power of Three, and Legacy (USD’s coyote). In the summer months, live music can be heard every Thursday on the Platz. Vermillion’s historic downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Fun Fact: Vermillion is in close proximity to Nebraska and Iowa.
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
You’ll have no trouble finding several delicious food items on the menu at the Dakota Brick House, in the heart of downtown. Y’all—this place has a whole “Dips” menu. Like I have died and gone to heaven. I had up with the Artichoke Skillet Dip with spinach, garlic, and gruyère with housemate tortilla chips, which was 10/10 delicious (and even better the next morning for breakfast!).
For dinner, I chose the Smoked Chicken Mac and Cheese with a smoked gouda cheese sauce, but you can also choose tacos, steaks, burgers, wood-fired pizzas, and more.
Dakota Brick House offers 20 rotating craft beers, pre-Prohibition style alcoholic beverages, and stellar iced tea. The restaurant hosts trivia on Tuesday nights and live music (weather permitting) on Thursdays. Enjoy dining inside or out on the pet-friendly patio.
Where to Stay in Vermillion
The Red Roof Inn Vermillion provided great accommodations for our visit to South Dakota. This award-winning property, a 100% smoke-free budget hotel, features free parking, Wifi, and comfortable, clean rooms with plenty of space. Red Roof Inn prides themselves on their RediClean program, enhanced cleaning protocols and safety measures, and I can see it is working in their favor.
The Red Roof Vermillion is convenient to downtown and the university, has excellent customer service, and is pet friendly. I loved having a desk and ergonomic chair to do a little work during my stay.
Vermillion was a great place to add to my Midwest road trip. I’m glad I got to experience a small part of it and learn more about this part of South Dakota.
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