The Best Place To Live In South Dakota

If you are seeking the best place to live in South Dakota, look no further than Brookings. It is conveniently located on an interstate highway, 15 miles from the Minnesota border in the eastern part of the state. The city of 24,479 offers affordable housing in a safe environment, the stimulation of a college town, and access to first-class amenities, activities, and scenery. It gets excellent reviews from Niche: It was awarded an A overall, and ranked No.3 for South Dakota's best cities. A favorable balance of home prices to income also earned Brookings a high spot on NewHomeSource's list of the Mount Rushmore State's most affordable cities. Median house prices are an affordable $220,800.

Like South Dakota itself, Brookings is an attractive retirement destination due to having no state or corporate income tax, and there are no inheritance fees. Retirement income is also non-taxable. Per DakotaPost, a retiree can subsist in South Dakota solely on social security. Three hospitals within a mile of the city provide top-quality healthcare to seniors and other Brookings residents. In 2018, Brookings became the first locality in South Dakota to enact non-discrimination legislation that included sexual orientation and gender identity. Brookings works closely with law enforcement agencies, Brookings High School, and South Dakota State University to maintain its status as South Dakota's most inclusive town (per the Human Rights Campaign). 

A safe and affordable South Dakota city

Neighborhood Scout reports that Brookings has less crime than half of the nation's cities. Its rate of 1.63 incidents per 1,000 residents stands in sharp contrast to South Dakota's average of 5.05 crimes. Family-friendly Brookings is South Dakota's second safest city, behind only the Sioux Falls suburb of Brandon, and property crime is 50% lower than average for the rest of the state. Moreover, the cost of living of is 5% less than South Dakota's average, utilities and transportation are relatively inexpensive, and healthcare and housing costs are well below the rest of the state. Brookings' short average commute time adds to its reputation as a great place to live. Per Best Places, it is exactly half that of the nation's average.

Quality, fairly priced healthcare is also readily available — according to Kelo, the Brookings Health System scored better than 99% of other rural hospitals throughout the country. A nursing home, city-owned senior residences, several eye clinics, and a spate of independent healthcare facilities also serve area residents. The Brookings Conservation District works with farmers and landowners in the Big Sioux Valley to protect its wildlife and waterways, conserve natural resources, and take steps to prevent erosion.

Sightseeing in Brookings

Brookings' McCrory Gardens features a 25-acre botanical garden and a 45-acre arboretum. Located on the South Dakota State University campus and managed by its students and faculty, it showcases species capable of withstanding the difficult conditions of the northern Great Plains. Per Tourist Diva, the Agricultural Heritage Museum is another must-see attraction. Housed since 1884 in a landmark building, it is South Dakota's official museum. It illustrates the history of electricity in this isolated part of the country and has a one-of-a-kind collection of farm equipment. 

A stroll down Main Avenue, the center of Brookings' historic commercial district, is a worthwhile diversion. It is a showcase of nearly 60 buildings dating from 1894 and constructed in various classic architectural styles. This section is also where one can enjoy the Downtown Urban Canvas, seven murals created under the auspices of South Dakota's "State of Create" tourism efforts. The Brookings County History Museum, with its collection of 4,500 artifacts, a 150-year-old log cabin, and a one-room schoolhouse, is a tourist highlight. Created on a reclaimed landfill, the Dakota Nature Park is another Brookings favorite. It is beloved for prime snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter, and fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and birding in warmer months. Per Tripadvisor, a tourist should also take in the Children's Museum of South Dakota and its animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex. 

A college town with a literary history

South Dakota State University in Brookings is the state's largest institution for higher education, with approximately 12,000 students. SDSU was founded in 1881 as Dakota Agricultural College. There are nearly 950 public colleges in the country, and U.S. News & World Report ranks SDSU as tied at No. 163. It has an extensive liberal arts program as well as pharmaceutical and agricultural colleges. Since 1912, the school has held the iconic Hobo Day, a schedule of homecoming events that is also South Dakota's largest single-day celebration. Sports fans can spend Fall Saturdays at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium to cheer on the SDSU Jackrabbits.

If you are a history or literature buff, a side trip to DeSmet is recommended. 40 miles from Brookings, it is the site of several of the "Little House on the Prairie" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Laura Ingall's Wilder Historic Homes Tour is a local attraction where 100 volunteers stage an annual Little House-themed pageant. Houses occupied by the Wilder family and the first schools attended by Laura and her sister Carrie are highlights of the popular tour. Returning to downtown, the 11,000-square-foot Bark Park is a Brookings dog's delight — it even has an agility course.

Ample dining and entertainment options in Brookings

Travel Lens singles out two local institutions: Nick's Hamburger Shop, which has been slinging burgers since 1929, and Wooden Legs Brewing Company, the home of 21 local craft beers on tap. Brookings provides another activity for the serious imbiber: Bum's Bike & Brew offers a two-hour sampling tour on a pedaled, 14-passenger vehicle/bar. The Pheasant Restaurant is a Brookings institution that has been serving locals and visitors for almost 75 years. The family-owned restaurant's menu is a compendium of local specialties, including chislic (deep-fried lamb cubes), the "official state nosh."

Brookings' festivals of various types are annual events, including the Arts Council's Festival of Trees. The Brookings Summer Arts Festival is a gathering of 200 artists, with food and crafts booths. The Brookings Kite Festival is another 2-day event, while the Festival of Lights with its downtown parade is in its 27th year, and Frost Fest is a celebration of winter activities. Travel Lens suggests taking a trip to Downtown at Sundown, Brookings' 5-week-long summer music festival. There are nightly helpings of concerts, vendors, food, and socializing.

The South Dakota Art Museum specializes in local artists, and it features 145 works by local legend and Great Plains art icon Harvey Dunn. Brookings' Community Theatre puts on three shows a year, and the Prairie Repertory Theatre has produced 52 seasons of entertainment on the SDSU grounds.

A place with rich history

Dakota Nation tribesmen ceded the land that is now Brookings County to the U.S. government. Initial settlements dispersed after being attacked, but the county was re-established in 1871. According to Brittanica, the name is a tribute to Wilmot Brookings, largely the driving force behind the successful and permanent settlement of the town. According to the terms of the Homestead Act of 1862, heads of households were awarded 160 acres of land as long as they paid the filing fee and lived on it for 5 years.

If you are looking for a big-city version of Brookings, Sioux Falls may be the answer. It shares many of the same attributes as Brookings but in a more tightly packed environment. In fact, Sioux Falls is the state's biggest city (Brookings is the 4th) and the one most densely populated. 30% of South Dakotans call Sioux Falls home, according to Experience Sioux Falls, and it has 10 times the population of Brookings. An ideal situation for some South Dakotans is to live in Brookings for its quality of life and commute the 53 miles to Sioux Falls to benefit from its higher salaries.