Enjoy your storybook adventure in Aberdeen, South Dakota — the state’s third-largest city. The city’s symbol is the fairytale castle in its Storybook Land in Wylie Park. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author, L. Frank Baum, lived there for several years before he published the books, but the Land of Oz is central to the Storybook Land experience.
Wylie Park offers many more activities beyond Storybook Land. Glaciers carved lakes in every direction near Aberdeen. Anglers and boaters could use Aberdeen as a hub city for days on the water. It is a lovely place to enjoy on your own or to bring your grandchildren. Let’s explore the city and its nearby attractions.
Aberdeen is 3 hours northwest of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and 3 hours southwest of Fargo and Bismarck in North Dakota.
Aberdeen hosted me on a press trip, but all opinions are my own.
1. Storybook Land
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your long hair,” the Prince called to his love in the tower. Rapunzel lowered her rope of hair and the Prince climbed inside. The pair escaped and lived happily ever after.
The moral of the story is — escape to Storybook Land. Ride the miniature train to see the park’s layout. When the train enters the Haunted Forest, prepare to dodge the talking trees and the Winged Monkeys. Admission is free, but seasonal rides require a ticket. Download ride coupons here (JPG).
Numerous Mother Goose and Oz characters dwell in the park, like Jack in the Beanstalk and Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater. Bring a picnic lunch and eat inside the giant pumpkin. Buy concessions at the visitor center or next to the Oz Carousel in the Land of Oz. The walks are all flat and paved.
Knights surround the Storybook Land Castle, and Captain Hook’s ship floats in a lagoon behind it. Each summer, the Storybook Land Theatre Company presents children’s plays on stage nearby.
A giant slide built into a shoe-shaped house was the park’s first structure. Of course, the shoe house refers to The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. An accessible playground opened in 2022.
Pro Tip: I remembered my mother reading the Mother Goose stories when I was a child. If your grandchildren don’t know the stories, introduce them to the park’s reading list before your visit.
2. Wylie Park
Storybook Land is central to the Wylie Park experience, but the park includes many more amenities. The Mini Golf Oasis surrounds Thunder Mountain. The fiery faux volcano spews 18-foot-high flames. There are Go-karts, trampolines, and a maze nearby. Rent all types of people-powered vehicles at Roll-Out Bike and Skate Rentals. You’ll need some to get around the 200-acre park’s miles of trails. Fish and swim in Lake Minne-Eho. If you can’t bear to leave, rent one of their 110 campsites or a cabin.
Pro Tip: Anglers over 16 must have a South Dakota fishing license. To buy one, download the app.
3. Fishing In Glacial Lakes
Beginning anglers should try Lake Minne-Eho in Wylie Park. The state stocks it with trout twice a year. More experienced anglers should visit Richmond or Mina recreation areas. (Richmond offers accessible features.) Elm Lake’s terrain is like the Missouri River’s landforms. However, those lakes tend to be crowded. If other water activities are interfering with fishing, head to the 15,000-acre Waubay Lake (PDF), an hour southeast of Aberdeen.
Pro Tip: Fishing is best in the spring when the fish are spawning, and in the late fall when they’re fattening up for winter. Start in the shallows, then head into deeper water. Check the latest fishing report before you go. When winter strikes, try ice fishing.
4. Museum Of Wildlife, Science, And Industry
The Museum of Wildlife, Science, and Industry started as an agricultural showcase an hour southeast of Aberdeen. It opened its first building in 1986 and has since expanded to 23. Five of them hold farming equipment and one contains classic and antique automobiles. A railroad depot, farmhouse, one-room school, blacksmith shop, and telephone office are also on the grounds. The Peterson Building at the entrance contains taxidermy wildlife and the official South Dakota Fishing Museum.
However, the most startling and intriguing building is Mildred O’Neill’s Shoe House. The shoe-shaped building displays more than 11,000 shoe-themed objects. See shoe necklaces, postage stamps, T-shirts, shoemaking equipment, and Christmas ornaments. Fern’s Fashions, a vintage clothing collection, is in a nearby building.
5. International Vinegar Museum
Lawrence Diggs, “The Vinegar Man,” started the International Vinegar Museum in Roslyn — 15 minutes north of Webster. The museum explains everything you wanted to know about vinegar but never knew how to ask. For example, an exhibit tells you how to read a vinegar label, the different styles of making vinegar, and the ways vinegar promotes health.
Shop the vinegar selections in the museum store after you try a tasting. Roslyn holds the Vinegar Festival each June and crowns the Vinegar Queen.
Pro Tip: The museum is open seasonally.
6. James Valley Model Railroad Association
Like Storybook Land, the James Valley Model Railroad Association is for the young and young at heart. Four operating train layouts with trains from varied roads and eras are ready to delight you. Some of the members operate the Storyland Express. Find them in the former Milwaukee Road depot’s basement — a block north of the Dacotah Prairie Museum.
7. Dacotah Prairie Museum
The 1889 Northwestern Bank Building currently houses the Dacotah Prairie Museum. Exhibits explain Brown County’s history from its Indigenous people to its present day. L. Frank Baum greets guests in the Baum’s Bazaar exhibit. The museum’s upper floors house rotating exhibits.
Pro Tip: Baum may have based Dorothy’s Kansas on his Aberdeen experiences. Baum’s Bazaar was at 402 South Main — currently the Brown County Health Department. After the store closed, he edited The Saturday Aberdeen Pioneer at 222 South Main, now Three22 Kitchen and Cocktails. The family lived at 205 Ninth Avenue SE, then moved to 511 South Kline — now Family Dental Care.
8. Downtown Aberdeen
Once a month during the summer, downtown Aberdeen hosts the Summer Concert Series in the Malchow Plaza. A different business hosts the public each Third Thursday. Events range from pub crawls to style shows. Shop for deals during the Summer and Winter Downtown Days. Check the calendar for the full event schedule.
9. Kuhnert Arboretum
Contemplate a beautiful garden at the 20-acre Kuhnert Arboretum. Children lifting a flower garland welcome guests at the entrance. Scattered plantings adorn the paved walking trail. Let your grandkids play in the children’s area while you examine the beautiful trees and flowers, including the rose garden. Play an impromptu concert on the outdoor instruments or listen to performers on the stage.
10. Capitol Cinema
The French Art Deco-style Capitol Theatre opened in January 1927. The Green Hat: A Play with a Punch was its first event followed by the silent movie Kid Boots (1926). The next year, Capitol installed a sound system, but unfortunately, it was closed in 1990.
Two years later, however, the Aberdeen Community Theatre (ACT) moved in and renovated the marquee in 1997. Capitol Cinema has many roles now. It shows Hollywood productions nightly and is the home of ACT and the Young People’s Theatre. Besides a heavy live performance schedule, the theater hosts the South Dakota Film Festival every September.
Pro Tip: Enjoy 65 annual performances at Northern State University’s Johnson Fine Arts Center.
11. Brown County Speedway
Hear the engines roar at the Brown County Speedway, a 0.3-mile, high-banked clay track. The season runs from May–September with five classes of cars.
Where To Eat In Aberdeen
Start your morning at Red Rooster Coffee House. We recommend the miel — a honey and cinnamon steamer — and the hummus sandwich. Weather permitting, enjoy your breakfast outside on Malchow Plaza. Colorful parasols hanging from the ceiling greet you at Palm Garden Thai Cuisine. Eat the salmon curry and the pad thai.
You must try chislic in South Dakota. State Legislature named the appetizer the official state nosh (snack) in 2018. The word chislic probably comes from the Turkish “shashlik.” Originally, the dish was cubes of skewered meat grilled over an open fire. Now, the seasoned meat cubes may be skewered with a toothpick. Think shish kebabs without the skewer. Chislic pairs well with beer and Pounders has plenty of craft brew options. After the chislic, eat a French dip burger with a side of waffle fries. Finish with M&M chocolate cookies and a glass of milk. If you eat on the patio, admire the beer tap fountain. Unfortunately, those taps pour water instead of beer.
No Aberdeen visit is complete without Twist Cone’s ice cream and Italian ices. They make their ice cream novelties in-house. Like most ice cream stores, they’re open seasonally.
Write your story in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and enjoy many happy endings.