Top Ten SD Towns: Brookings, Aberdeen, Pierre… Says California Content Creator

The Movoto Blog tags itself as “The Lighter Side of Real Estate.” I suppose we should thus take lightly  ranking of the top ten places to live in South Dakota. A California content  for Movoto apparently looked at numbers for the 24 South Dakota towns with populations over 3,000 last year and came up with this preference list:

South Dakota towns ranked by Laura Allan, Movoto, 2014.04.18
Best towns in South Dakota?
  1. Brookings
  2. Aberdeen
  3. Pierre
  4. Watertown
  5. Huron
  6. Sioux Falls
  7. Rapid City
  8. Mitchell
  9. Milbank
  10. Lead
  11. Madison
  12. Vermillion
  13. Dell Rapids
  14. Belle Fourche
  15. Brandon
  16. Sturgis
  17. Tea
  18. Yankton
  19. Mobridge
  20. Canton
  21. Spearfish
  22. Box Elder
  23. Harrisburg
  24. Hot Springs

Brookings is a lovely town. SDSU makes it lovelier. I can conceive of reasonable arguments that Brookings could be the comfiest town in South Dakota to work, raise kids, and recreate. From my happy perch in Aberdeen, I can work a little harder and conceive of arguments that say Aberdeen is just about but not quite as nice as Brookings. (Wait a minute: which town has two colleges?)

But Huron over Sioux Falls? Pierre over Rapid City? Lead, Madison, Belle Fourche, and Sturgis over Spearfish?

With all due respect to my hometown of Madison, which I called home for four decades, Spearfish, where I lived and taught for two years, offers better education, jobs, shopping, recreation, and views than Madison. This ranking, along with the general cluster of top rankings in East River, shows the sterile numerical view of a content creator who has never climbed Crow Peak.

Sure to outrage some of our MinneLinc metro mavens is Movoto’s declaration that booming Harrisburg is hardly better than Box Elder:

Hot Springs is hardly a hot spot for job seekers, and has the highest unemployment rate anywhere on our list. Harrisburg had a terrible weather score and crime rate, which brought it to second-to-last, just above Hot Springs. Finishing up our bottom bracket is the whimsically named Box Elder. There’s nothing whimsical about these scores, however: third-worst weather, second-worst amenities, and fifth-worst quality of life keep the small city firmly in the bottom three [Laura Allan, “These Are the Ten Best Places to Live in South Dakota,” Movoto Blog, 2015.06.04].

Such is the madness of numerically distilled click-bait lists versus real experience. Fire away, readers: by stats, experience, or love, how would you rank you favorite South Dakota towns?

23 Responses to Top Ten SD Towns: Brookings, Aberdeen, Pierre… Says California Content Creator

  1. larry kurtz

    Hot Springs and Yankton are the only towns in southern Dakota worth living in: all the rest could just fall victim to the Yellowstone supervolcano.

  2. Brookings is on top.
    The bottom is for Hot Springs.
    Did Bob affect this?

  3. Funny: Bob was telling me on Facebook that he couldn’t figure how Brookings came out on top with Pat Powers there.

    Larry, I do like Hot Springs and Yankton. But I’m not ready to give up the rest of the state.

  4. Wade Brandis

    No surprise that Winner didn’t make this list. I have been living in Winner ever since I was born, but we don’t really have the recreation or shopping that Spearfish or Pierre have. Even our annual Labor Day celebration is slowly becoming boring with fewer carnival rides and a shrinking parade.

    The town that I would like to live in is… Madison. I no longer attend DSU, but I grew to love Madison the five odd years I was there. It may not have the views of Spearfish, or the shopping selection, but Madison does have many more choices than Winner.

    As for Recreation and Education in Madison… Madison does have the lakes. I never went to the lakes for recreation, but I went by them once in a while while heading home or to Brookings. I even went to Lake Herman with two classmates on a very cold morning just to film a project for video editing class. They appear to be nice lakes and provide a good amount of recreation to the area, I feel.

    My experience at DSU was also wonderful for the most part. I wanted to go to a technology-based college, and DSU served that need. Is it better than BHSU though? I can’t really say since I never considered attending BHSU. My parents did attend BHSU in the early 1980s, and I think they did get a good education from them.

  5. I love Lake Herman. I grew up by Lake Herman. I ran and biked around (and in winter, across) that lake. I swam and once waterskied in that lake. I painted pictures, played volleyball, and flirted with a few girls in that park. I hosted blog cookouts at that lake. My wife and I took our daughter for nature walks on the trails and swims at the beach when she was just itty-bitty. I saw that lake blue, green, and white. It’s a beautiful lake.

  6. When looking at a place to live being around water being a lake, river or nice creek is a high value for me. Madison is a nice town. The two lakes, historic and distinct main street district unlike the sterile strip malls and big box stores, older homes with character and having a cultural source like a college really helps too. The proximity of Madison to other larger cities and especially being close to the Minnesota border is an added bonus.

    Having a horrible red state day? Escape and feel the relief of crossing over to a blue state even if it is just walking across the border, standing, take a deep breath, exhale and release those stressful and depressing toxins and recharge. :)

  7. Brian Hunhoff

    Interesting list. I certainly agree with Larry K. that Yankton needs to be much closer to the top. ; )
    My Aunt Rosie always insisted the two best places to live in South Dakota were Yankton County and the Black Hills. I would probably add Sioux Falls and Brookings and a few others places to my own short list.
    As far as Wade’s comment about Winner, I believe they were ineligible for the list because they are just under 3,000 population. I thought Custer should be on there, but checked and learned they are also under the 3,000 mark.

  8. Yankton has a lot going for it in geography and history. I’m with Lynn: a nice body of water adds a lot to a town.

  9. larry kurtz

    South Dakotans deserve winter: all six brutal, soul-crushing, frigid months of it.

  10. Yankton should be up much higher.

    Larry “South Dakotans deserve winter: all six brutal, soul-crushing, frigid months of it.”

    Ah! Give it time. The climate change deniers and our naughty corporate “citizens” will help South Dakota have nice balmy winters in the not too distant future. How about a round of gold in December, January or February up in Aberdeen?

  11. *golf*

  12. Interesting discussion. I have lived in several different places in South Dakota: Madison, Box Elder, Sioux Falls, Flandreau, Winner and Watertown.

    I loved Madison when I was there but don’t believe I could go back to living in a smaller town after living in Sioux Falls and Watertown.

    I also loved Flandreau but for the same reason couldn’t see myself moving back there.

    Winner had some great people but 90 miles to the closest WalMart was a bit much for me. Plus, I couldn’t find a Chinese restaurant for 100’s of miles.

    Box Elder…nope, wouldn’t raise my kids there and arguably wouldn’t raise my kids in Rapid either.

    Sioux Falls was nice. A lot to do, but didn’t like the traffic and found myself liking people and in Sioux Falls people just don’t know each other (like they do in smaller towns in SD) so they aren’t as friendly.

    Watertown, has everything a person needs and there is plenty to do. The people are nice, the local government is approachable and hey the President picked it too. They don’t compete with althetic venues and recreational items to a lot of towns of comparable size and some of the streets are tire busters but for all the places I have lived in South Dakota I call this number 1.

    I haven’t lived in Yankton but decided to take a South Dakota family vacation last summer and we picked Yankton because we hadn’t spent much time there. We were really impressed with the city. I could easily see me living there.

    I do a lot of work in Milbank, Also a nice town. Very comparable to Madison…just to small for my taste.

    I do a lot of work in Aberdeen and well I don’t find the people there to be all that friendly. I like NSU and PC but their local government seems at least to me to be a little egocentric. So, nope to Aberdeen too.

    I do a lot of work in Huron too. Huron gets a bad rap. I like Huron for many of the same reasons I like Watertown. Except it is further away from Sioux Falls, Fargo and the cities.

    I have also spent a lot of time in Pierre. Pierre is ok… Housing is expensive. It is so isolated there isn’t a lot to do. Having kids in sports causes a lot of 6 hour round trip drives just to watch the kids play a ballgame. Ugh!

    At one time I had the option of deciding between Mitchell, Brookings and Watertown. I liked all three. DWU is a great school (I’m biased.) in Mitchell. I also like Brookings. It came down to location. I like that Watertown has two lakes very close…just like Madison. I liked its location for being an ESD school. I liked the education system, the neighborhood schools. I liked that there were a lot of jobs available. I liked the friendliness of the people and how the local government asks that their citizens get involved.

    I don’t know a lot about some of the other towns out West but from the towns I am very familiar with it’s hard to go wrong living in South Dakota.

  13. larry kurtz


  14. Wade Brandis

    Heckifino: Winner does have a Chinese restaurant now. We have had one for the past five to six years or so, located in the former A&W building across from McDonald’s. It started out with a confusing name at first… Country Buffet. The name implies a buffet with American food, not the Chinese buffet it actually is. Just about two years ago, they changed the name to China Buffet. It’s a good Chinese buffet, but the decor could use a lot of updating.

    When it comes to Rapid City, I have only been there during family vacations and trips. Many of the people we encountered on those trips were nice, but I did encounter one homeless person outside the Northgate Shopping Center. I also took note of Rapid City’s crime rate mentioned in the Movoto list. I don’t think I would live there myself, but mainly because of the high apartment rents. Same goes for Sioux Falls.

    Part of me wants to stay in Winner, but another part of me wants to move to Madison which is a wonderful little town close enough to Brookings and Sioux Falls.

  15. Deb Geelsdottir

    I’ll take away politics, and start from there:

    RC is my favorite. Spearfish, while a beautiful setting, seems inhabited by cold people. I’ve lived in several small towns and there was lots to like about White. It’s 15 miles northeast of Brookings. There are many things I don’t like about Aberdeen and Huron but, since I’m using my full name, I won’t go into them.

    Watertown and Yankton and Brookings are nice enough. After RC and White, I’d probably go with Yankton because it’s not as cold as the other two. Of course, as Lynn mentioned, that may become irrelevant much too soon.

  16. I was surprised to see Huron on the list. Lived there for 7 years and considered it the armpit of SD even back then.

  17. Larry’s link tells about Greening Vermillion’s (Agenda 21!) push to move Vermillion to the top of the list:

    The group already has helped develop a canoe/kayak trail along the Missouri River and has organizedhikes along it. Several other projects are in the works including outdoor classrooms at two parks, a children’s maze at Spirit Mound, an improved recycling program that reaches more people and accepts more materials, and the planting of more trees to literally make Vermillion more green.

    All good moves! The Green Aberdeen group invites volunteers to join them Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Senior Center to help clean up the Mog. I think we could move Aberdeen to #1 simply by jacking up the north end of Brown County 100 feet to make water drain through the Mog faster.

  18. Heck, good observations! I may not notice the people side of things, the local warmth that you talk about, because I spend so much time in solitary pursuits (biking, running, writing, etc.), but it’s interesting to think that towns of such similar ancestry and history could get different characters. Sioux Falls I can see being a bit more aloof just from size and the corresponding anonymity (though still not like Minneapolis or Vancouver, BC). Deb, how would Spearfish people have become “colder”? Could it come from higher residential turnover, people moving in and out and thus not knowing each other?

  19. Deb Geelsdottir

    Cory, your guesses might be pretty good. I lived in Spearfish 3 years in the late 80s and met some nice people. However, people on the streets and in the shops just didn’t seem very warm or friendly. I don’t know why.

  20. larry kurtz

    Spearditch is snottier than any other town i’ve ever lived in and lived all over the West. Deadwood used to be a great place to live but that’s all over now. Lead’s winters are for idiots and so are Brookings’ when the mosquitoes aren’t biting.

    Hot Springs is going to be something someday tho it’s getting hit with flooding right now.

  21. Larry wouldn’t Dakota Dunes be a nice place to hang your hat?

  22. larry kurtz

    Living in town again is unlikely until it’s time for The Home where sweet nurses from Nicaragua or Mexico will change my diapers and help me load the pipa.