So You're Traveling to Indianapolis
Traveling to Indianapolis isn't a bragging opportunity in of itself. Likely, you have family here, or you're simply passing through on your way out East or West. You may have been here already for the 2012 Super Bowl, when the city was bustling and filled with attractions not usually around, or during the Indy Comic Con (one of our busiest times of the year). Or maybe you come to Speedway for the Indy 500 as an avid racing fan.
So many small-town features of a mid-western city make Indianapolis an ideal travel spot if you'd like to truly experience the features of what many might unjustly call a fly-over state.
Downtown Eats and Treats
Welcome to Indianapolis! You've just flown in and driven into town from Plainfield, where the airport is located. You're putting your suitcases in the downtown high-rise hotel room, and your stomach starts grumbling. It's just past noon, so you grab your cell phone and start looking for restaurants. You begin to realize, however, that not only are there a lot of places to eat, but that they're all really, really close. Driving across the city is as fast as 15 minutes, and there are too many pizza places to count!
What do you do? Choose the hotel restaurants? Walk over to Wendy's? Please, refrain from eating at one of those cookie-cutter places you can get to in any city, and pick one of these:
Bazbeaux Pizza: 333 Massachusetts Ave.
- Laid-back atmosphere, cheap pizza, and unique toppings
BRU Burger Bar: 410 Massachusetts Ave.
- All-American burgers and craft beers
Dick's Bodacious Bar-B-Q: 50 N. Pennsylvania St.
- Smoked meat, local beers, and top-ranked BBQ by national review
End of the Line: 1105 Prospect Street
- Fountain Square atmosphere, vegetarian/vegan options, and more craft beers
Maxine's Chicken and Waffles: 132 N. East St.
Southern-style foods, comfy, small-town atmosphere
You're full, but not too full? If you're near the circle, walk, if not run, to the Rocket Fizz, a candy shop filled with imported and domestic candies, as well as a huge variety of root beer, birch beer, and unusual bottled drinks. It's always filled with kids as well as adults, so be ready to squeeze past plenty of people as you take in the wares.
If you're having trouble finding more unusual places to eat, go straight to Mass Ave. Ask the first person with a wool cap that you see about his/her favorite restaurant. No doubt they'll have one or two suggestions for you.
The dinner selection is much more diverse. If you're in on the weekend, be prepared to wait at least 20 minutes for the downtown hot spots, like Rock Bottom, Weber Grill, St. Elmo Steak House, and The Rathskeller. All are great places, but the wait may be too long for your hungry spirit. Instead, go to Broad Ripple for a decent bar crawl atmosphere, comedy clubs, and lots of eateries.
10-01 Food and Drink: 1001 Broad Ripple Avenue
- Pub food, bar atmosphere, and kid-friendly
Brugge Brasserie: 1011 Westfield Boulevard
- Belgian food, cozy atmosphere, lots of beer
H2O Sushi: 1912 Broad Ripple Ave
- Not just American food in Indy, high quality and fresh, artful preparations
And of course, while you're in Broad Ripple, you'd be silly not to stop at one of many small craft beer and cocktail bars in the area. Start with the Alley Cat Lounge (literally in an alley), Chumley's, and Triton Tap. If you're into the bigger places, the Vogue is also right down the street. Just make sure you're wearing warm clothes on those cold fall nights, because it definitely gets chilly up there.
If none of this suits your adventurous fancy, your hotel should have a guide to the local spots in the lobby, and in many cases, in each room.
Indy Metropolitan Area
Are you planning this trip with children or without?
Where would you be without your kids? Maybe in Amsterdam or on a nude beach? Well, if you can't just leave them on the train, note that Indy is not without its kid charms. The Indianapolis Zoo, the Children's Museum (the largest in the world), the Rhythm! Discovery Center, Go Ape Treetop Adventure (zip-lining encouraged for children on the northwest side), and lots more!
If you've got spare time, head up to the Conner Prairie history park. There's always something going on, as well as hot air balloon rides. Just make sure you get there early enough to take it all in! Afterwards, you just have to visit Carmel, just a short drive away from the history park. It has been cited as one of America's number one places to live by several major sources. And why not? It's filled with arts, larger-than-life statues, markets, and it's been noted to be one of the best places to start a business.
Carmel will provide you with plenty of food to keep your kids occupied while you drop into the World Market or the expansive Clay Terrace outdoor mall. Undoubtedly, it is the fanciest place around Indy, and you're bound to find something new to take home with you.
After a lunch or dinner, take a short stroll on the Monon Trail, a lovely wooded trail that extends from Carmel all the way to Indianapolis at a total of 15.7 miles one way.
Parks and Recreation
No, not the Indiana-based show! And of course, Pawnee is very much a fictional town. Instead, I will be detailing some of the many parks in the area that may be of interest to you.
Indianapolis has lots of small, neighborhood parks, but only a select few are big enough to spend a few hours exploring.
Garfield Park Conservatory & Sunken Garden: 2505 Conservatory Drive
- Growing up down the street from this lovely city park, I always had the opportunity to come down and see the activities planned weekly for the stage and the conservatory. There is much to see on the trails and the sunken garden. Flowers are everywhere, and of course, so are the squirrels. Many are fed solely on the humans that walk through. Not the healthiest diet, but the begging is just too cute to pass up for many. Often, you'll see a wedding or reception at the tall gazebo toward the center of the park. The pool is also open during the summer months.
White River State Park: 801 West Washington Street
- Containing the Zoo, the Eiteljorg Museum, and Victory Field, this downtown park provides an excellent view of the White River and the downtown skyline. And plenty to do! Take a walk down the canal, see a movie at the IMAX, or have a picnic in the vast green spaces in between.
Eagle Creek Park: Pike Township
Trails, trails, fishing lakes, and plenty more trails is what you'll find at this northwest side park. The Earth discovery center will give the kids some hands-on fun while you relax in the woods. Bird-watching is very prevalent here, as well. Make sure you take the man-made water trail across the lake. Its serene view will have you wanting to take a nap at the water's edge. It too is a popular place to fish.
Are you looking to take a day trip to one of the big state parks? Brown County State Park is one of the most traveled-to parks in the state. With its breath-taking (for us Midwesterners) views and endless trails, and the near-by art-filled Nashville, you'll need more than just a day to explore. Monroe Lake is just miles away, and from there Bloomington, a hip college town, is just waiting to be explored.
Who could forget Turkey Run State Park? Large rocky overhangs and free-range style trails give the option to take the less-traveled road. You're guaranteed to get some alone time in the forest here. Just don't forget bug spray and a big bottle of water.
Mounds State Park in Anderson is home to quite a few American Indian burial grounds, as well as some historic buildings and quite wooded areas. It's not the biggest state park around, but it is very pretty.
If you didn't know, Indianapolis is a big of a manly state. It ranks in the top twenty consistently. So you're probably wondering if there is much shopping to be had in Colts territory. Well, don't fear! There is much to see and buy here in Naptown, as the locals affectionately refer to the Circle City.
Downtown, there is the Circle Centre Mall, which stretches a few city blocks to encompass quite a few shops and restaurants such as Forever 21, Nine West, California Pizza Kitchen, and more.
The Fashion Mall at Keystone on the north side plays host to quite a few luxury shops, such as Burberry, Coach, Tiffany & Co, Raleigh Limited Menswear, BCBG, Kate Spade, Apple, and more.
In Greenwood, a large middle class town filled with store after store, the Greenwood Park Mall sits in the center of other places like Guitar Center and plenty of familiar shops from your home town.
If you're in the market for groceries, well, you probably won't be too surprised to see the Midwestern hallmark that is WalMart Supercenter. We've got plenty of other grocery stores, though, so don't worry. If you're familiar with Fred Meyer, you'll recognize the same products in Kroger. Small town business comes in the form of Marsh, and Meijer plays a big roll in our everyday shopping.
Looking for a unique giant hardware store experience, West-coasters? Find a Menards. They host thousands of products, including a small grocery section of highly discounted products, including milk and snacks.
If none of those are your style, I suggest heading up to Carmel. With a World Market, Whole Foods, and a Trader Baker's, you won't have to worry about finding vegetarian options in what used to be a very biased, typical Midwest state.
In addition to all the normal shopping places, I'd like to make a note that you Goodwill shoppers should really take a look at our local Central Indiana stores. They are the most organized, well-run stores in the country. I worked for the company, and I know you'll never find a more well-kept, classy-looking Goodwill than those around Indianapolis.
VisitIndy Tour Video
No doubt you've already checked the weather before you started your trip, but you might not know the subtleties of Indiana weather that aren't very evident from just a weather map. Once, while in Southern California, I was asked where I came from, and when I said "Indiana," they grimaced and responded, "Isn't it cold there?"
Well, yes and no. It has four very well-rounded seasons, and they can get a little intense. It gets very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter, and spring is often accompanied by lots of tornadoes. So make sure you keep this in mind when you come out. Bring an umbrella, just in case, and don't be surprised if you didn't pack the right shoes.
Driving is also your best way to get around. And when I say that, I mean it's probably best to not assume you can just take a cab everywhere. This is not a walking city unless you're downtown. Drive to Indianapolis or rent a car. Don't walk!
If you have decided to come to Indianapolis, hopefully you've found some new ideas for your trip, and if not, I'd be happy to answer any questions left in the comments. Thanks so much for reading, and welcome to my city!