kitsch – n. something cheap and gaudy, usually with sentimental or popular appeal.
That pretty well sums up Wall Drug. This crazy gift shop, named one of the Kitschiest Roadside Attractions in America by Travel+Leisure magazine, is one of those places that makes road trips fun. We stopped by Wall Drug after a day in South Dakota’s Badlands National Park. Its home is the small town of Wall, S.D., but with signs advertising “free ice water” for miles around, Wall Drug is difficult to miss.
This now-popular attraction was on the verge of closing forever in 1936, when the owner’s wife came up with the idea to put up a sign on the highway offering weary travelers free ice water. That’s when everything turned around. On the day we visited, the parking lot was full of cars from all over the U.S. and Canada. This is where we checked off Maine on our license plate game.
There isn’t just one word that describes Wall Drug. Once upon a time, it was a pharmacy. Today, it is a gift mall where tourists can find everything from toys to collectibles to Black Hills gold jewelry. Between shops, free photo opportunities abound. The biggest and best are in the courtyard where the giant jackalope statue resides. He has a saddle, so climb right up. A few steps away, an animatronic T-Rex roars at visitors every few minutes.
Wall Drug also has a restaurant and soda fountain. We didn’t try the food, but the ice cream cones and floats were a delicious mid-afternoon treat. Don’t forget, there’s free ice water too.
As we walked back to our car after an our or two exploring Wall Drug, a hip young couple from California asked us, “Is it as kitschy as we’ve heard?” Yes it is.