The modest town of Stanley is a gem along western North Dakota's Highway 2, bursting with family-friendly activities and friendly faces. My family took an impromptu trip to Stanley recently (a short 45-minute drive from our hometown of Minot) and found three places that will have you wanting to plan your own day trip to this quant community very soon.
Ina Mae Rude Aquatic & Fitness Center
The warm water indoor pool at the Ina Mae Rude Aquatic & Fitness Center is a state-of-the-art water therapy facility—and has quickly become one of my kids' favorite places to visit. The pool is just the right temperature (92 degrees) for even the littlest of visitors; my kids happily spent a solid two hours in the water, and would have stayed longer if they hadn't gotten hungry.
There's a locker full of toys the kids are welcome to use, a bubbling spa, and even a basketball hoop for water games. It's a comfortable, bright, and airy space that's well designed and welcoming.
The Aquatic & Fitness center adds real value to Stanley and surrounding communities. The morning we were there, we visited with a woman from New Town who'd driven up to exercise with a friend. We chatted with a family from Tioga who routinely brings their one-year-old daughter to the pool to familiarize her with the water. We also talked with a special needs worker from Minot who had driven a client out for therapy, who marveled at how completely the warm water relaxes and calms those with various physical and mental disabilities.
The facility is also available to rent for birthday parties and other gatherings. For $60/hour, guests get exclusive use of the pool and adjacent party room with kitchenette. Memberships are also available.
When your hostess quadruples as the server, the dishwasher, and the cashier, you know you're in for an authentic small-town diner experience—and that's just what we had at Joyce's Cafe on Main Street. While it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in classic American food and fantastic service. The prices are reasonable, too; our family of five ate for about $30. The regulars recommended the bacon cheeseburger, and we weren't disappointed.
Dakota Drug Co.
Main Street is also home to Dakota Drug Co., the locally-owned pharmacy and drug store that might just be my new favorite spot to shop. The store itself sells everything from shampoo to squirt guns, and our kids loved picking out their own little treasures from the non-Target toy aisle.
But what is probably Dakota Drug's biggest claim to fame isn't what's for sale on the shelves—it's the throwback soda fountain tucked inside, one of the only places in the world where you can enjoy a Whirl-a-Whip. What makes a Whirl-a-Whip so special? The seemingly endless and unique flavor combinations (bacon bits, watermelon, or a little dill pickle anyone?) mixed while you wait are a delight for kids of any age.
The machines that do the mixing are true relics, manufactured in the late 1930s and early 1940s. By the 1970s, Whirl-a-Whip machines had been phased out of most small-town drugstores as they remodeled and removed their soda fountains, but the machines in Stanley remain, and are believed to be the only ones left in service in the United States. It's a must-try for anyone who loves ice cream, both for the delicious treat and the nostalgic charm.
Tip: There's a great park at the end of Main Street, too. Make sure to stop there with the kids!
This post is sponsored by a grant from North Dakota Tourism. All opinions are my own.