Indiana is full of cool things to see and do. From must-try restaurants to off-the-beaten path destinations and road trips, here is the quintessential list of “must do” items to add to your Hoosier State bucket list.
There’s a lot to get through, so we’ve grouped the list by category, including: things to do (with kids and without); museums; arts and theater; restaurants; trails; sports venues; festivals and events; and road trips around the state.
Things to do with kids
Atomic Bowl Duckpin
At Atomic Bowl Duckpin in Fountain Square, you’ll hurl a skee-ball sized bowling ball at pint-sized pins. Strikes and spares are hard to score, which is why you get three bowls on each turn instead of two. Scoring is a throwback to the pre-computer days – paper only (so brush up on your math skills or have your phone handy).
Details: Action & Atomic Duckpin Bowl
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
You can spend an entire day at this sprawling complex, which was named “best museum for families” in the 2017 USA TODAY 10Best Reader’s Choice poll. The museum features 29 acres of exhibit space, and it recently opened a $38.5 million, 7.5-acre outdoor expansion. The new Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience features a small-scale baseball field, a mini-replica of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, basketball hoops, a hockey rink, a miniature football field and a massive tree house.
Details: The Children’s Museum
Located just north of Indianapolis in Fishers, Conner Prairie is the ultimate kids paradise for fun and learning. Step back in time at Prairietown, soar among the clouds with a hot air balloon ride, pet and play with livestock, create and design in the Craft Corner and more. One of the largest and most-visited museums will entertain the whole family for hours. There is bonus fun on the weekends for the adults, so be sure to check the latest event offerings.
Details: Conner Prairie
The Indianapolis Zoo, a Midwest marvel in its own right with a $21.5 million International Orangutan Center (and skyride!), a shark-stroking experience (so leathery!) and 12-foot-tall underwater dolphin viewing dome (hi, Flipper!), added an addictive new adventure this summer: flamingo feeding. The blurs of bobbing pink necks are distinctly woodpecker-like in their chaotic, slurp-tastic quest for krill. Feedings are daily at 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. Pro tip: Buy more than one $3 ticket the first go-around. You’ll immediately want to do it again.
Details: The Indianapolis Zoo
Rhythm Discovery Center
Get your beat on at the Rhythm Discovery Center in the heart of Downtown. This museum, run by the Percussive Arts Society, displays a range of percussion instruments from around the world, many of which you can actually play. Try your hand at a huge gong or slip into one of the soundproof practice rooms and let your inner drummer take over. Or participate in one of the frequently scheduled drum circles or other programs offered. Admission: $12 for adults and $6 for children.
Details: Rhythm Discovery Center
Museums, libraries and attractions
Crown Hill Cemetery
True Hoosiers know the best birds-eye view of Downtown Indy comes from the top of Strawberry Hill at Crown Hill Cemetery. Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley is buried there, in an ionic-columned memorial that evokes the Parthenon in miniature. If you’ve got a few hours to stroll, stick around before or after sunset – the cemetery also offers award-winning tours that will take you past the graves of notable Hoosiers such as bank robber John Dillinger and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Booth Tarkington.
Details: Crown Hill Cemetery
Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art
Contemporary Western and Native American art is the bread-and-butter of this canal-side museum that counts Georgia O’Keeffe and Andy Warhol pieces among its collection. Pop by in December for the annual “Jingle Rails” train showcase that turns Indianapolis landmarks such as Lucas Oil Stadium and Monument Circle into miniature railside sets. And check the events calendar: Big-name acts such as Bill Miller, the Grammy-winning flutist featured in “Colors of the Wind” from the “Pocahontas” soundtrack, occasionally perform.
This south-side Indianapolis park is the perfect spot to watch the sun sink below the trees amid a fountain-filled sunken garden that evokes European elegance. A 10,000-square-foot tropical conservatory boasts banana, coffee and cacao trees alongside a cascading waterfall. And in the summer? Concerts, symphonies and Shakespeare plays fill the Garfield Park Arts Center and McAllister Amphitheater. There’s also a wonderful holiday decorations display at Conservatory Crossing.
Details: Garfield Park Conservatory
Butler University boasts the ninth-largest telescope east of the Mississippi River: a 38-inch Cassegrain reflector (about the length of a guitar). You can stargaze starting at 9:45 p.m. on most Friday and Saturday evenings – check the website for exact dates. Arrive an hour earlier, and you can also catch a $5 planetarium show tailored to showcase the current evening’s sky.
Details: Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium
Indiana Medical History Museum
Get an up-close look at human brains, skeletons and organs in the cabinets or venture into the autopsy room at the Indiana Medical History Museum, one of Indianapolis’ strangest spots. Located on the grounds of the former Central State Hospital for the mentally ill (it’s not haunted … probably), the psychological research facility shuttered in 1994 has beakers, bones and brains to spare. Take a guided tour Thursday through Saturday.
Details: Indiana Medical History Museum
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
Located on the grounds of the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the museum not only houses a fantastic collection of winning IndyCars but also an impressive motorsports collection that includes NASCAR, sprint, midget, motorcycles and drag racing. The Gallery showcases racing-themed fine art and photography.
Details: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
Mass Avenue Shopping
There are plenty of cute little shops to find gifts, Indiana tees, unique clothing, kids clothes and more along Mass Avenue. Silver in City, Global Gifts, Nurture Baby, Global Gifts, Homespun and Boomerang BTQ are all must-stops. And that’s just naming a few. The best part is there are plenty of cool restaurants in the area when you need to refuel.
Details: Discover Mass Avenue
It may still be catching on with residents and critics, but the Newfields name was meant to unite all of the different parts that, to this point, have been pinned underneath “Indianapolis Museum of Art.” That includes the IMA, The Garden, The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres, and the Lilly House. It will still host events such as the Penrod Arts Fair and the Summer Nights outdoor film series, as well as newer offerings such as the Spring Blooms exhibition and “Winterlights,” a holiday display of more than 1 million lights. And there is still the IMA’s revolving art exhibits and its permanent collection to peruse, including the 1629 self-portrait by Rembrandt.
Scottish Rite Cathedral
The auditorium of Scottish Rite Cathedral, the neo-Gothic Freemason building in the heart of Downtown, is the long-lost doppelganger of the Ministry of Magic courtrooms in the Harry Potter movies. Resident Freemasons give free guided tours of the Masonic fraternity – that’s right, the cathedral isn’t actually a church – from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Don’t worry, though: They won’t make you face the Wizengamot.
Details: Scottish Rite Cathedral
Soldiers and Sailors Monument
There’s plenty to explore at this iconic 284-foot white limestone spire on Monument Circle. Climb 331 steps to an observation deck at the top of the monument, designated a National Historic Landmark, or an elevator will bring you 90 percent of the way. Built between 1887 and 1902, it celebrates Hoosier veterans from all wars prior to World War I. The Col. Eli Lilly Civil War Museum is on the lower level. Admission is free. The inside of the monument is open from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
Details: Soldier and Sailors Monument
Restaurants, bars, places to eat and drink
Broad Ripple Brew Pub
The cozy, family-friendly English pub in the heart of Broad Ripple is also the OG for craft beer in Indiana. It’s the state’s first brewpub and the oldest operating brewery. And the best part is that it has hardly changed. Find a spot with your dog on the patio in the summer months or curl up next to the fireplace for some winter hygge. The menu has everything from stick-to-your-ribs comfort dishes to fresh vegan burgers and salads. Your best beer choice is the classic IPA or an Extra Special Bitter cask ale.
Details: Broad Ripple Brewpub
Martha Hoover has made her impact on the local food scene and Cafe Patachou is a must-stop for brunch – scratch that – this is the place for brunch in Indianapolis. Sure there is avocado toast, but you’ll toss that healthy millennial trend in a second for a piece of thick, buttered cinnamon toast. Fresh sandwiches and salads round out the lunch menu. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch it on a warm day where you can sit on the patio with the dogs.
Details: Cafe Patachou
Chatterbox Jazz Club
Dusty decorations, checkered-flag pennants and colorful Christmas lights adorn this local jazz bar that oozes diveyness. Trumpet players feet from your ear, knocking back a Raspberry Kiss while bemoaning days gone by with a 20-year regular through a soft music mist. Mass Avenue isn’t a magic planet, but the Chatterbox might be.
Details: Chatterbox Jazz
On the surface, it’s a sprawling market hall teeming with crème brûlée, crêpes, and too many kinds of cookies to count. You can buy a trio of tacos from The Tamale Place for under $10 or spring for a palm-sized Blueberry Steak Bacon Lollypop (feat. a “VERY thick” hunk of bacon doused in blueberry syrup) from Gomez BBQ. But below the stalls and stands is a maze of catacombs, dark corners and maybe even paranormal activity. Take a tour through the dimly lit labyrinth of Roman arches on the first and third Saturdays of the month, May through October. If you’re feeling extra-brave, check out one of the special Halloween paranormal investigation tours.
Details: City Market
Food & Wine named this rooftop eatery the most romantic restaurant in Indiana. Located in the Hyatt Regency, Eagle’s Nest couples American cuisine with a 360-degree view of Indianapolis’ skyline. It’s the only revolving restaurant in Indianapolis. Diners will be treated to nearly two full turns with views of the Indiana Statehouse and other Downtown Indianapolis sites during the course of a leisurely meal.
Details: Hyatt Regency
Hotel Tango Whiskey
The veteran-owned distillery was one of the first to open in Indiana. Find the rustic, warehouse-style taproom in the historic Fletcher Place neighborhood just southeast of the city center. There you can taste the Indiana-made rum, vodka and whiskey in cool craft cocktails. Fun fact: Spirits are named following the military phonetic alphabet – Romeo Rum, Victor Vodka, Golf Gin and more.
Details: Hotel Tango Whiskey
Mallow Run Winery
Indiana wines get a bad rep for being too sweet, but this south-side getaway offers varieties for all wine drinkers. Stop in for a quiet tasting and cheese plate or spice things up with a “Pizza and Wine Night” or one of the many concerts on the grassy hill behind the winery’s renovated barn.
Details: Mallow Run Winery
You’ve had brunch – waffles swimming in syrup, bagels coated in cream cheese, last night’s overdone omelet – but you haven’t had Brunch. Culinary connoisseurs travel from across the U.S. to plunk themselves down on spinning stools in a converted Fountain Square garage and commend their morning into Milktooth chef Jonathan Brooks’s masterful hands. Cornmeal Dutch baby pancakes that find their soulmate in strawberry rhubarb, sorghum-glazed bacon and zucchini bread waffles that Eater.com’s Bill Addison described as the best he’s ever eaten. There’s a reason Conde Nast ranked it one of the best restaurants in the world in 2016. But don’t mess with perfection – not that you could, anyway. All modifications are “politely declined.”
Details: Milktooth Indy
Pork Tenderloin Sandwich
No bucket list would be complete without tasting a real Hoosier tenderloin. IndyStar food writer Liz Biro gives a greasy thumbs up to the tenderloin at Castleton’s Metro Diner, but you can find one at diners or mom-and-pop restaurants statewide. Expect a crispy fried piece of pork at least twice the circumference of the bun, dressed up with a tomato slice and lettuce – and sometimes other surprising toppings.
Details: Indiana’s Best Tenderloin Sandwiches
Saraga International Grocery
Yes, Indianapolis now has non-stop flights to more than one international destination, but it’s a longer slog to make it to Asia and Africa. If you only have an afternoon or evening, head to one of the three locations for Saraga International Grocery instead, ideally their 62,000-square-foot signature store on the west side. There, you will find foods from all over the world, some of which will be familiar. Flex your gastro-tourism and see how many different countries you can represent in a single meal.
Details: Saraga International Grocery
This place is basically an Indianapolis rite of passage. Navigate the buffet-style restaurant where you’ll find sandwiches piled high with freshly-sliced meats and all the amazing carb-heavy sides you’d ever want – mac ‘n’ cheese, potato pancakes, potato salad, noodles with sour cream and more. You will eat until you can’t breathe and still have leftovers to last you the next several days.
Slippery Noodle Inn
Indiana’s oldest continually operated bar in the original building, which opened in 1850, has been used for many things over the years, including a luxurious inn, a German club, a bordello and a way station on the Underground Railroad used to help slaves escape to the north before the Civil War. The Depression-era Brady and Dillinger gangs reportedly used a wall in an out building on the property for target practice. Famous musicians – including Luther Allison, Buddy Miles, Matt “Guitar” Murphy and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown – have played at “The Noodle” over the years.
Details: Slippery Noodle Inn
Traders Point Creamery
The dairy farm and artisan creamery in Zionsville is a cheese and ice-cream lover’s dream. The picturesque grounds include livestock, historic barns, a farm store and The Loft Restaurant where you can try the organic, grass-fed dairy products in delicious dishes. The most important stop, though, is The Dairy Bar for the best milkshake you’ve ever tasted.
Details: Traders Point Creamery
St. Elmo Steak House
Your newest frenemy – fresh horseradish – has too much pride to hide. Chunks of it swim boldly in the gleaming, red cocktail sauce that’s slathered all over four jumbo shrimp. No other appetizer will make you crave another bite and cry uncontrollably at the same time. St. Elmo’s Steak House has been a Downtown staple since 1902, so if you make it through that appetizer, stick around for its world-class chops and seafood.
Details: St. Elmo Steak House
Sun King Brewing Co.
The resurgence of local craft beer in Indianapolis began when these guys opened in 2009. Since then, Indiana-made beers have been swarming local taps. Sun King is also a leader in canning craft beer. The tasting room in an old warehouse space began with just filling growlers and Hot Pockets on the menu. Now it’s a spot for pints, tons of cool merchandise and the attached café Oca serves pork belly to pair with the brewery’s popular Osiris Pale Ale, Sunlight Cream Ale and Wee Mac Scottish-style Ale. Sun King also has a tap room in Fishers and a distillery in Carmel.
Details: Sun King Brewing
This is like a museum, but it’s actually a bar/restaurant. This west-side Indianapolis diner known for its hamburgers served how they were served in around 1953, which means they are thin and crispy on the edges and fantastic. The WMF has been in the same family since it opened its doors – in 1918.
Details: Workingman’s Friend
Music, art and theater
First Friday Galleries
You’ve climbed to the top of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, choked down your first St. Elmo shrimp cocktail (those are tears of joy, right?), and taken in your first Indy 500. But have you explored Indy’s thriving art scene? On the first Friday of every month, approximately 15 galleries across the city open their doors for a free night of noshing, sipping, and painting pondering, often accompanied by concerts or spoken word artists. From June through October, the First Friday Food Truck Festival in the Old National Centre parking lot offers a perfect pre-art appetizer.
Details: First Friday Galleries
Indiana Repertory Theatre
This is the place to go to see classic, layered plays. Productions like “Dial ‘M’ for Murder” and “Raisin in the Sun” mingle with works like “Pipeline,” Dominique Morisseau’s drama that chronicles a mother’s fight against race, class and money as she tries to bring her son through a broken education system. The works are staged in one of the most ornate buildings Downtown – the former Indiana Theatre movie palace. Make time to check out the lobby ceiling and white-glazed terra cotta.
Details: IRT Live
Indianapolis Shakespeare Co.
Food trucks, Sun King beer, and sword fights? Count us in. Pumpkin pants and tights? Not so much. The Indianapolis Shakespeare Company puts on a free modern-dress, two-hours-or-less Shakespeare play each summer in the White River State Park amphitheater. The stage provides a picture-perfect frame as the sun sinks over the White River (don’t forget your sunglasses!), and the stellar acting is just a bonus.
Details: Indianapolis Shakespeare Company
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
One of the country’s best orchestras, the versatile Indianapolis Symphony, is known for its precise interpretations of classical works and its swinging renditions of pops. Most of its season, which includes the nationally renowned IPL Yuletide celebration in December, is performed at the Hilbert Circle Theatre on Monument Circle Downtown. If you’re around during the summer, hit up a Kroger Symphony on the Prairie concert. You can set up a picnic on the grass at Conner Prairie while you listen to musical stylings by Beethoven, the Beatles, Abba and more.
Details: Indianapolis Symphony
Old National Centre
David Bowie, Prince and touring productions of “The Book of Mormon” and “Wicked” have graced the stage of the Murat Theatre in Old National Centre. Built in 1909 as the Downtown Indianapolis headquarters for the Murat Shriners, Old National Centre was renovated in the mid-1990s by the same concert company, Sunshine Promotions, that built Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center in rural Noblesville. Entertainment at Old National Centre isn’t confined to a single room: You can catch bands, comedians and more at the upstairs Egyptian Room or subterranean Deluxe.
Details: Old National Centre
Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center
This venue’s name has been fluid across 30 summers, but music superstars reliably visit the Noblesville amphitheater known first as Deer Creek Music Center. The Dave Matthews Band recently performed its 40th show at the 24,000-capacity venue that has also been called Verizon Wireless, Klipsch and Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center. The live-music destination hosted the Farm Aid benefit in 2001 as well as the opening date of Lollapalooza in 2003 – the final touring edition of the festival now identified with Chicago.
Details: Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center
The Cabaret, Indy’s posh landing pad for Broadway stars on Pennsylvania Street, has hosted big names such as Ramin Karimloo, Mandy Gonzalez, Jennifer Holliday and Norm Lewis. With a seating capacity of 180, it promises intimate encounters with the performers, with meet-and-greets after most gigs. Bonus: If you’re under 35, a ticket in the high cocktail section can run as low as $40, or $25 if you’re a student.
Details: The Cabaret
Open since 2011 and touted by its founders to “last 500 years or more,” the Renaissance-influenced Palladium makes a flashy architectural mark in Carmel. Inside, it’s a concert hall that’s hosted acts ranging from Joshua Bell to “Weird Al” Yankovic. Beyond performances, the venue is home to the Great American Songbook Foundation and its collection of artifacts related to jazz standards, Broadway shows and Hollywood musicals.
Details: The Center for the Performing Arts
It is a universally acknowledged truth that art is better when paired with classic cars and concerts. The Stutz building, a shuttered 400,000-square-foot car factory that produced the 1914 Stutz Bearcat car that drove in the first Indianapolis 500, is a labyrinth of still-lined hallways and lampposts. Nowadays, more than 80 artists call the studios home. The Stutz Artists Association hosts events throughout the year, including an annual open house each April. It may be a yellow-bricked building, but there’s no yellow brick road to the exit – grab a map!
Details: The Stutz
Colts, Pacers and other sporting events
Bankers Life Fieldhouse
The arena, which opened in 1999 with a cutting-edge design that gave a nod to the high school basketball fieldhouses seen around Indiana, is home to the NBA’s Indiana Pacers and WNBA’s Indiana Fever. Though it was designed primarily for basketball, it also can accommodate an NHL-sized ice rink inside. It is now the location for the Indiana high school boys and girls championships, but it also has hosted everything from short course swimming to arena football to bull riding to professional wrestling.
Details: Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Built in 1928 with an original seating capacity of 15,000, Hinkle Fieldhouse was the largest basketball arena in the country until 1950. Nicknamed “Indiana’s Basketball Cathedral,” it hosted the state’s high school basketball championship for decades, including the “Milan Miracle,” the 1954 victory of tiny Milan High School over Muncie Central High School, which later helped inspire the movie “Hoosiers.” It’s now a National Historic Landmark and is home to the nationally renowned Butler Bulldogs, who still play on the original floor.
Details: Hinkle Fieldhouse
There is a reason they call it the “greatest spectacle in racing” because, well, it is. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is huge – it can easily house every Big Ten Conference Football Stadium within its two-and-a-half-mile oval. And capacity? Race day regularly attracts a crowd of 300,000. And they pack the house for the traditions: the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana,” the fly-over during the National Anthem, the balloons, the milk, the kissing of the bricks. Did we mention the 200-lap race at speeds over 150 mph? This event should land on every bucket list, not just an Indiana one.
Details: Indy 500
Victory Field has been recognized as one of the best ballparks in the minor leagues by Baseball America, Sports Illustrated and Midwest Living. The lawn seating in the outfield makes for an ideal evening out for families with young kids. Tickets range from $11 to $17 and the team offers promotions, such as Dollar Menu (Mondays), Craft Bear Nights, 2-for-1 tickets (Tuesday) and Kids Eat Free (Sunday), as well as the one-offs with bobbleheads and super heroes.
Details: Indianapolis Indians
Lucas Oil Stadium
Cheer on the Indianapolis Colts – and hopefully watch quarterbacking phenom Andrew Luck throw many more touchdowns – at the cavernous multipurpose stadium, which seats 67,000 and covers nearly 2 million square feet. Lucas Oil opened in 2008 and is sometimes referred to by fans as “The House That Peyton Built,” after legendary Colts Quarterback Peyton Manning. It features a retractable roof that can open and close in about 10 minutes.
Details: Lucas Oil Stadium
Notre Dame Football Game
Sports fanatics know you can’t pass through Indiana without stopping in South Bend for a Notre Dame football game. But even if you care more about French fries than field goals, you’ll want to watch the drum major of the “Oldest Band in the Land” lead the marchers onto the field, feet flying higher than the Rockettes’. Pro tip: Leaving before snapping a photo with the “Touchdown Jesus” mural on the side of the library is like walking out of a Marvel movie before the credits.
Details: University of Notre Dame
Trails, parks and other thrills
Bad Axe Throwing
Hit a pothole? Break up with your boyfriend? Lose out on the last piece of cheesy bread at Yats? Bad Axe Throwing has an axe for that. For around $40 per person, you can launch axes at wooden bullseyes at this Meridian Street space. If you’re feeling particularly vehement, you can even bring your own axe (darts are so last decade).
Details: Bad Axe Throwing
This is the single key ingredient to beating the “I’m-new-to-Downtown-Indy-and-I-don’t-know-how-to-navigate” feeling. The Cultural Trail is an urban bike and pedestrian path that connects neighborhoods around the center of the city. Follow it to find the best restaurants, art galleries, theaters, venues and retail shops.
Details: Indy Cultural Trail
You haven’t seen Indianapolis until you’ve seen it from the water. Work your feet on a pedal boat or your arms on a kayak. Either way, you can propel yourself along the three-mile canal and back. Pedal boats, which seat four, are $35 and bike rentals, which start at $25, can fit three people and two small children in the front basket.
Details: Wheel Fun Rentals
At 58 miles in length, the rugged Knobstone Trail is Indiana’s longest hiking trail. From a trailhead 15 miles north of Louisville, the trail winds through state forest land in Clark, Scott and Washington counties. The nearly 20,000 feet in elevation changes make it a popular training trail for area hikers hoping to attempt the storied Appalachian Trail.
Details: Knobstone Trail
The Monon Trail is rightfully lauded for how easy it makes riding a bike or walking up to Broad Ripple and parts north, but if you’re looking for something different, the White River/Wapahani Trail and Central Canal Towpath are much more scenic and far less crowded. (It’s a great way to travel up to the IMA for Penrod!) Your enjoyment in riding on the dirt/clay trail next to the central canal will vary inversely to how long ago it last rained, but don’t let the creepy trees and plants to the side scare you away.
Speedway Indoor Karting
Former IndyCar driver Sarah Fisher’s place is a blazing bastion of Indy 500 history. The 14-turn, two-level road course brings out the maniac in even the most composed ‘karter, and the banked oval calls to mind a scaled-down Speedway (sans, sadly, a pint-sized Yard of Bricks). To refuel after your race, check out the onsite 1911 Grill, where you can grab soft pretzel sticks, burgers and, of course, Hoosier tenderloins the size of your hand (okay, two hands). That is, assuming your organs have stopped vibrating by then.
Details: Speedway Indoor Karting
Turkey Run State Park
Trail 3 at beautiful Turkey Run State Park near Rockville is the ultimate family challenge for weekend hikers. You traverse a suspension bridge, navigate bluffs overlooking Sugar Creek, climb a set of ladders and wade a shallow stream through a narrow gorge. It’s easy enough for elementary-age children to conquer but challenging enough for parents to feel like they’ve completed a workout. Cool off in the nearby Turkey Run Inn after your trek through a slice of Indiana’s back country.
Details: Turkey Run State Park
Festivals, events and conventions
Circle City Classic
More than 25 years ago, Rev. Charles Williams, then head of Indiana Black Expo, started an annual football game, showcasing two HBCUs. Proceeds from the Circle City Classic game, played in Lucas Oil Stadium, go to scholarships. But even if you’re not a football fan, you can participate by attending the parade that precedes the game. Lasting almost two hours, the parade includes high school bands, local organizations and plenty of showmanship and spirit.
Details: Circle City Classic
Circus City Festival
Peru is known as the Circus City, because several large circuses used to spend the winters there. This museum contains (among many other things, including songwriter Cole Porter’s 1955 Cadillac), the skull of a once-beloved circus elephant named Charley who became reviled after turning on his trainer and drowning him in the Mississinewa River. The elephant was later destroyed. Every summer, the town puts on its own amateur circus during an eight-day festival in mid-July.
Details: Circus City Festival
Pennsylvania likes to claim the first corn maze in the United States, but each fall, Central Indiana gives the Keystone State a run for its money. Take your pick of corn mazes in which to lose yourself. One of our favorites is the Conner Prairie corn maze northeast of Indianapolis. There’s nothing like wandering a verdant labyrinth, dried out husks crunching beneath your feet, to make it feel like fall. Once you escape – assuming you escape – celebrate your success with an apple-y treat; there’s sure to be one available at whatever farm you’ve found to test your maze-solving ability.
Details: Conner Prairie Corn Maze
Covered Bridge Festival
Parke County in West Central Indiana is home to 31 rustic covered bridges, each with its own charming past. Each fall, the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival in Rockville – which will be celebrated from Oct. 12-21, 2018 – celebrates that unique heritage with free entertainment, shopping and food vendors. Guided bus tours are offered from the Rockville Courthouse Square, and you also can order a free brochure with a map and five suggested driving routes here. Beware that the festival and nearby roads can be crowded, so leave yourself plenty of time to enjoy yourself.
Details: Covered Bridge Festival
Downtown Indianapolis is often taken over by conventioneers, but few have the pageantry and style of Gen Con, the annual gaming convention. Even if you don’t have a ticket or pass, roaming the Indiana Convention Center makes for wonderful people-watching. Actually have a ticket? Get ready to fall into the orbit of people who love games – board games, RPGs, video games.
Details: Gen Con
Each October, the Athenaeum pits dachshund against dachshund in a snappy sprint for the canine crown (a.k.a. a handful of treats) at GermanFest. The actual racetrack is only about 45 feet long, but the lederhosen, bandana and tutu-clad dogs turn it into an NYC-caliber runway. Not all the dogs finish (hey, hay bales can be downright distracting), but they’re stinking cute even when they’re going for the glory tail-first.
Details: GermanFest at the Athenaeum
Indiana State Fair
Around 900,000 people go to the fair each year. If you’ve lived in Indiana through at least one August, there’s no doubt you were one of them. The Indiana State Fair has something for everyone. Like animals and don’t mind the smell? Step inside the Swine Barn. Thrill seeker? Try the amusement games and rides along the Midway. Gourmand – but not too picky? The fair offers a range of treats from lemon shakeups to grilled corn to all things fried, including butter. In the exhibition halls, you can marvel at your neighbors’ ability to paint a sunset, bake a cake or grow a gourd. No wonder there are more than two weeks to take it all in.
Details: Indiana State Fair
Irvington Halloween Festival
Wouldn’t it be great if Christmas lasted for an entire week? That’s what happens when Irvington, an Indianapolis neighborhood about 15 minutes east of Monument Circle, hosts a spookily spectacular eight-day Halloween celebration. You don’t have to cross the pond – or land a time machine – to step into Victorian London. Just hit up the Masquerade Ball. After surviving Jack the Ripper’s rampage, put some spook in your spokes with a zombie bike ride, or play it safe by hitting up a street fair with more than 120 vendors.
Details: Irvington Halloween
Lotus World Music Festival
Bloomington’s four-day international music and arts fest flies you to Belgium, Russia and Germany sans plane, boat or train – only instruments. More than 12,000 music-lovers rock out at venues ranging from night clubs to churches. And don’t worry if you don’t know any of the acts on the bill – no one does. The goal is to experience music from around the world, not mainline Justin Bieber for a weekend.
Details: Lotus Fest
Mecum Car Auction
Each May, the auto auction house Mecum brings hundreds of high-end vintage cars to the Indiana State Fairgrounds and sells them to the highest bidder. Watching people buy cars might not seem like entertainment, but the museum-quality cars are so cool, it works – the auction is televised! There’s an air of celebrity to it, too. Last year, for instance, Reggie Jackson, the 1970s baseball star known as “Mr. October,” sold 18 of his own cars, including a 1961 Chevrolet Corvette with just 29,300 miles on it.
Details: Mecum Auctions
Symphony on the Prairie
Every city’s arts community brings the indoors outdoors in the summer and Indy is no exception. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra heads to Conner Prairie (and brings along some guests) in Fishers each summer for a two-month series of concerts al fresco. And Newfields host its own movie series under the stars in Indianapolis with a lineup ranging from the classics to the Heartland Film Festival. So you can choose whether to picnic your way through Prokofiev or Puccini. Just don’t forget the bug spray.
Details: Symphony on the Prairie and Newfields’ Summer Nights Film Series
You don’t need to be a world-class athlete, or even in particularly great shape, to participate in the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon. The race, on the first Saturday of May each year, draws thousands of weekend warriors who want to gain the satisfaction of completing 13.1 miles, often with friends and family. The course includes a lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and more than a few participants stop to kiss the bricks as they pass the famed Pagoda.
Details: Indianapolis 500 Festival Mini-Marathon
You don’t need to ski or skate to speed the winter away. Make the most of winter with a visit to the Toboggan Run at Pokagon State Park near Angola. You’ll whiz down the quarter-mile track at a speed that drops 90 vertical feet. You can squeeze four people onto a toboggan, but keep in mind extra weight may slow the ride. The top recorded speed on the run is 42 miles per hour. And because the track is refrigerated, you don’t even need snow to enjoy the fun.
Details: Toboggan Run at Pokagon State Park
The clip-clop of the horses and black buggies let you know when you’ve entered Amish country in Northeastern Indiana. Sit down to a family style meal at the massive Das Dutchman Essenhaus restaurant in Middlebury, bid on a cow at the cattle auction or find a bargain at the massive Shipshewana Flea Market. You can experience life on an Amish farm at Amish Acres in Nappanee. The Amish are known for their quilts, baking and beautiful flower gardens, all of which you can find here.
Columbus, Indiana, (pop. 46,000) has architectural bragging rights to match big cities. The American Institute of Architects ranks it sixth in the nation for architectural innovation and design, right behind Washington, D.C. Irwin Miller, once the head of Cummins Engine Co., offered to help pay for construction costs of new buildings – if the architects came from a short list. The result? More than 70 buildings designed by I.M. Pei, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, and others. Walking and bus tours are available.
Details: Columbus Architecture Tours
Transport yourself back to the height of the industrial age by visiting Madison’s 130-block historic district along the Ohio River, about 100 miles south of Indianapolis. The leafy and lovely downtown features majestic storefronts and homes from the early 1800s to the 1930s, a scenic river walk and plenty of restaurants and shops. Don’t miss touring the Greek Revival splendor of the Lanier Mansion, the trickling waters and hiking trails of Clifty Falls State Park or the spectacular views of the Ohio River from the bluff at nearby Hanover College.
Details: Historic Madison
This southern Indiana theme park is what would happen if that dream (nightmare?) you had about a sunburnt Santa Claus in his swim trunks chasing a turkey through a graveyard came to life. Playing off the town’s real-life name, Santa Claus, Holiday World pays homage to holidays from Halloween to the Fourth of July. And it loves superlatives. The world’s longest water coaster, Mammoth, offers a three-minute shoot through stomach-sinking drops, and the world’s tallest water ride, Pilgrim’s Plunge, dumps riders 131 feet down a hill that looks like a Banker’s Life Fieldhouse-tall straw stuck in a swimming pool. Wooden coasters are plentiful, from the Edgar Allen Poe-inspired Raven to the 4,000-foot-long Headless Horseman hunt, The Legend. Bottomless soft drinks are included with admission – but maybe save those for the Star Spangled Carousel.
Details: Holiday World
“I am not,” you say, “driving an hour south just to shop!” Good news – beautiful Brown County has more than just a labyrinth antique mall, handmade apple butter and handcrafted tables and chairs so charming they’ll turn you off IKEA forever (okay, maybe just until you get a fresh whiff of those Swedish meatballs). Five minutes southeast of the rustic shopping mecca lies Brown County State Park, a hiker’s heaven featuring humming waterfalls, 90-foot fire tower views of misty forests and saffron sunsets, and fall foliage so colorful it’ll make a Katy Perry concert seem drab by comparison.
Details: Brown County
The Pioneer Village at Spring Mill State Park near Mitchell offers a quick trip back to the days when Indiana was still a part of the frontier. You can buy cornmeal from a working grist mill, explore settlers’ homes and shops, and enjoy old-fashioned Hoosier flower gardens. The state park’s other attractions, including hiking trails and guided cave tours, also are worth a drive. Before leaving the area, be sure to check out the Gus Grissom Museum near the park entrance. Grissom, a native of Mitchell, was one of America’s first seven astronauts.
Details: Spring Mill State Park
Spelunking in Southern Indiana
Spelunking was once a risky proposition. But Southern Indiana now has four caves, each distinct, that allow visitors to head underground for some breathtaking experiences. The Indiana Cave Trail encourages visitors to hit all four of these experiences from the mile-long-plus subterranean boat ride in Bluespring Cavern to the stunning stalcites and stalagmites of Marengo Cave. And, on a hot summer day there’s no faster way to cool off than to descend into the depths of the earth. Prices vary from cave to cave, depending on the tour.
Details: Indiana Cave Trail
The Hoosier Gym
Part museum, part gymnasium, the Hoosier Gym in Knightstown is a must-see for fans of Indiana high school hoops and fans of the 1986 classic “Hoosiers” starring Gene Hackman. It’s a short drive from Indianapolis – only about 45 minutes. So grab a ball and see if you can match Jimmy Chitwood’s accuracy or Ollie’s under-hand heave. Other events at the gym include actual games by visiting high school teams, occasional screenings of the movie on the court and other special events.
Details: The Hoosier Gym
Located on over 1,000 acres in Paoli (a two-hour drive south of Indianapolis), Wilstem Ranch offers year-round giraffe and kangaroo encounters. But the real draw here is the elephant spa encounters (through November). Wilstem offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bathe one of three elephants, love on them and learn more about the peaceful pachyderms.
Details: Wilstem Ranch
IndyStar producers Dwight Adams, Amy Haneline and Ethan May and several IndyStar reporters and editors contributed to this story.