When I arrived in Indianapolis I had this strange feeling; it felt familiar. I looked out over the flat, green landscape and felt like I understood it.
This was the first time I had been back to this part of the Midwest in a very long time. I grew up nearby, in Peoria, IL, a 3-hour drive from Indianapolis. When I left the Midwest 20 years ago I had sort of written it off as I started to experience what larger cities like San Francisco and NYC had to offer in the way of art, nature, food, and experiences and I hadn’t looked back.
This trip to Indianapolis was my chance to see what had happened to Midwestern cities in the last 20 years, and I was excited to see what Indianapolis had to offer.
Of course I arrived at the same time thousands of other people were descending upon the city for Memorial Day weekend and the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500.
It would be easy to think that Indianapolis wouldn’t have much going on beyond the Indy 500, but I quickly learned that I was oh so wrong.
There were many surprising things to do in Indianapolis. This was a city of fast cars, but it was also a city of creators, innovators, and artists.
Visit Indianapolis Museums
Think outside of the box, Indy isn’t just about the traditional museums; it shows off its artistic side everywhere in the city.
I walked into the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) and looked up. The building was modern and open and I felt as if I had been swallowed by art when I stepped in the front door.
I was there to see the Classic Car Exhibit, a beautiful display of what cutting edge car technology and design looked like through the years. Most of it reminded me of the Jetsons cartoon! After going through the IMA car time warp, I was excited to walk through other areas of the museum and interact with various employees and take in the big space.
Sculptures and outdoor art was spotted all over the city in parks and public spaces. This was not the Midwest that I used to know! If museums make you feel claustrophobic on a summer day, then check out 100 Acres Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park; a part of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
True to its name, this merging of contemporary art in nature is located on 100 acres that includes untamed woodlands, wetlands, meadows and 35-acre lake. The park is one of the largest museum art parks in the country, and features the ongoing commission of site-specific artworks.
The Alexander Hotel is Indy’s hip art hotel curated by the Indianapolis Museum of art. Not only can you get a bed there, you can also get a dose of art.
Indianapolis Trails and Canals
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is all about speed, but I loved slowing down and seeing Indianapolis at a slower pace. There were all kinds of things to do around Indianapolis that kept you in the great outdoors.
The Canal Trail is part of the Indiana Central Canal, which was dug in the early 1800’s. Recently refurbished, the Canal Walk winds through the downtown area as a waterside promenade for walkers, runners, bikers and Segway-ers!
Topping out at 10mph, a Segway is no Indy Car, but a Segway tour is a great way to get around and see downtown Indy. The canal is reminiscent of San Antonio river walk but less commercialized and more family oriented.
Every corner I turned on my Segway revealed a new form of transportation around the canal – family group bike, sitting bike, kayaks, group paddle boats, a Venetian gondola complete with a gondolier singing for you under bridges, skateboarders, and of course our cool Segways.
If you prefer to cover more ground, then check out the 8 mile Indianapolis Cultural Trail (currently vying for the #1 cultural trail in America!). This biking and walking trail connects all six of Indy’s Cultural Districts. From Mass Ave to White River State Park and Fountain Square.
The trail is well maintained and used and has been the driving force behind much of the neighborhood revitalization throughout Indy. As a visitor the best way to experience the trail is by utilizing the easy city bikeshare. Rent a bike for a day or for an hour and get around the whole city while enjoying parks and public art along the way.
Where to eat in Indianapolis
I used to just think that the foodie scenes were only on the coasts, but apparently gastronomy has reached the middle. It appeared that Indianapolis had taken on the local food movement whole hog. As I experienced Indy cafés, fine dining and the classics I was consistently thinking, “wait a minute, where am I again?”
The Classic Restaurant – St. Elmos
A visit to Indy seems to require a stop at St. Elmos where food and the wait staff are an institution. This place is one of those serious old-time restaurants serving traditional foods in big portions; a place where being a waiter is a career path.
Known for the spiciest shrimp cocktail in the world, big steaks, and an equally big menu; it was impossible for me to decide what to order. Our waiter, Dave, was close to retirement and had been working there since 1986. Once I heard this, I trusted Dave with my evening completely.
When I asked him to simply order for me, he surprised me and said, “First, I need to learn about you…” A smile crept across my face as I adore it when someone surprises me with exactly what I want to hear. Now this was a waiter who was more than a waiter, he was a food therapist.
The Hipster Restaurant – Milk Tooth
Built in an old garage, and filled with tattoo-laden chefs and wait staff, one might think that Milk Tooth was a café in Brooklyn. Specializing in morning menus, chef/owner Jonathan Brooks is committed to using only local ingredients and pouring the best coffee in the city. The bright, hip design was the perfect atmosphere for their inventive food and flavor combinations. It was so hard to choose from their brunch menu that we got 3 items between the 2 of use and shared!
Fine Dining and Drinking – Cerulean
If you prefer your food to look like work of art, then head to Cerulean where the plate is like a canvas; just about too pretty to eat. You can get a little of everything with the chef tasting menu or enjoy nibbling the cheese and meat platter. And if you are looking to quench your thirst and your creative side head upstairs to Plat99; a mixology bar where the drink menu rotates regularly. Bartenders look like a crazy scientists as they blend ingredients and flavors you would never imagine drinking.
After my weekend in Indianapolis I learned that the things to do in Indianapolis are never ending. Indy is for everyone; the jock, the artist, the foodie, outdoor enthusiasts, gay, straight, ethnic, hipster, families. Indy welcomes all.
I was a guest of Visit Indy Toursim for the weekend, however all opinions in this article are my own.