The Coolest Big City and Only 4 Hours Away
I have a confession.
I have a big crush on a city and it isn’t Grand Rapids.
Mother’s Day weekend, my family spent 3 days in Indianapolis. Surprisingly, I had never been there and was really excited to check it out. Well, I fell in love and my kids are ready to pack up and move to Indianapolis.
If you haven’t been to Indy, you might be surprised to discover what a cool city it is. I must warn you though, you might just fall in love with it, too.
First Things First: Accommodations
We arrived Friday afternoon and checked into the JW Marriott. From the moment that we arrived we felt like we were receiving the VIP treatment, but as we looked around we noticed everyone was receiving the VIP treatment. That just seems to be the way it works there.
Due to our full schedule, we didn’t spend a lot of time hanging out at the hotel, but the service that we received there was fantastic. They pay attention to even the smallest details. The staff makes you feel like you are their highest priority at the moment and that your comfort is of the highest importance.
Our room was on the 27th floor overlooking an amazing view of downtown. Looking out over the city, Indy reminded be of Grand Rapids, only bigger.
Beautiful scenery, intriguing architecture, very clean and a friendly atmosphere.
After checking into our hotel, we quickly headed over to Newfields, which I can best describe as Meijer Gardens meets the GRAM. This place is huge both inside and out. Four floors of a variety of art works across multiple genres including an interactive Play Space that our kids could have enjoyed for hours.
I wanted to linger for a few hours inside, but our schedule tight so we headed outside to explore the grounds. Explore is just the right word. It seemed everywhere we turned there was a path or stair inviting us to a new discovery and that was just in the gardens. Throw in the Art & Nature Park and there is over 100 acres waiting for you. You can read more about that here.
I was so impressed with all that Newfields had to offer a family. When going over the itinerary before our trip my children were less than enthused to be going to an “art museum.” Once there, they quickly became engrossed in finding new paths, gardens and trails in this beautiful landscape and we would all really like to go and spend several hours wandering the entire campus.
After a couple of hours at Newfields we headed back downtown to have dinner at Burger Study (a sister restaurant to the famous St. Elmo’s Steakhouse). I have eaten at some great burger joints in my life, but they pale in comparison to Burger Study.
Offering both traditional burger fare and slightly out of the box combinations, there was something for everyone to enjoy.
I think that the name says it all. They are true experts in the study of the perfect burger. Beyond burgers, they offered fantastic sides, appetizers and cocktails as well. I may or may not dream about their loaded potato salad. It is a true rarity that I find a restaurant potato salad that is better than homemade!
After dinner we had a leisurely walk taking in the sights of downtown on the way back to our hotel. One of my favorites was the minor league baseball stadium right in the heart of the city. Baseball was at home that particular weekend and it looked like it was a pretty popular event for local families as well.
Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
You may have heard about the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Perhaps you have even been to the Children’s Museum before. If so, you know that it is an incredible museum.
What you may not know is that they just opened the Sports Legends Experience. This immersive outdoor/indoor experience opened in March 2018 at what is already the world’s largest children’s museum. It offers 12 outdoor sports areas and 3 indoor exhibits – all in support of curbing obesity and getting people moving.
We spent almost all of our 2 ½ hours just exploring and playing in this new section.
Amazing doesn’t begin to describe what they have created there.
The attention to detail blew me away. Even the snack areas are made to look like a vendor at a sports arena. There were plenty of employees facilitating each athletic activity and we frequently heard announcements about mini clinic sessions being offered in various sports areas throughout the day.
The outdoor area includes basketball, football, hockey, baseball, soccer, racing, golf, tennis, track and fitness/training. My kids got to experience kicking field goals through full size uprights, scoring a soccer goal, pedaling cars around a racetrack, shooting the puck through a tenders legs, and beating the buzzer to sink the game winning shot. The day we were there, players from the Indianapolis Indians were there to lead the kids in a homerun derby.
True to a great children’s museum, everything was designed to allow kids to try, learn and experience. The area was so large and so well designed that it didn’t even feel chaotic or overly busy despite the fact that it was a gorgeous Saturday.
We will definitely be scheduling a trip back to Indy where we will plan to spend an entire day at the Children’s Museum. They have a large food court where we can eat lunch and continue to explore every inch of this amazing place.
The museum is open daily from 10am – 5pm through early September (the hours adjust after that); however, the Sports Legends Experience section is open until 8pm.
I would recommend purchasing your tickets in advance. Day of prices are always higher than advance ticket prices.
Conner’s Kitchen and Bar
As much as we wanted to continue to play at the Children’s Museum, we were excited to head back downtown to have a late brunch at Conner’s Kitchen and Bar. Located inside the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown, they offer wood fired stoves and a unique take on comfort food in a modern yet relaxed atmosphere.
With fresh juices, starters like Loaded Breakfast Nachos, and plates like Thick-Cut Bacon and Eggs Benedict, it was just what we needed to recharge after a very active morning. The hardest part was deciding what to order. Everything looked and sounded delicious and creative.
Whatever dish you do decide on leave room for dessert. Their take on a family style ice cream sundae was my favorite.
We enjoyed the brunch and I can’t wait to go back and try the dinner menu.
After lunch, we drove a few miles north of Indy to Fishers, Indiana to check out Conner Prairie. Based on Melody’s article about Indianapolis, I knew that this was more than just a historical museum. Conner Prairie is better described as a living history park that will take you back in time to experience the history that you have only read about.
This Smithsonian Affiliate spans hundreds of acres and offers various outdoor, historically themed destinations and indoor experiential learning spaces that combine history and art with science, technology, engineering and math to offer an authentic look into the history that shapes society today.
One example of this living history is the blacksmith in the 1836 Prairie town. My kids stood fascinated as he forged iron into the start of a ladle, explaining the process as he worked. While we watched he let us in on a little of the local gossip of the town as well.
All of the residents of each town or area stay in character the entire time. Case in point, as we were still at the Blacksmith Shop, I told my kids that we needed to move on to the Civil War town. The blacksmith just shook his head muttering, “Civil war? Who ever heard of a civil war?”
We only had two hours available to explore and it wasn’t even close to enough time. I would plan to stay half a day at least. They have a lovely cafe area to grab lunch if you want to make it a day of exploring and experiencing history.
The Loft at Trader’s Point Creamery
After a busy day of experiencing the greater Indianapolis area, we were ready for a relaxing dinner. The Loft at Trader’s Point Creamery in Zionsville (on the north side of Indy) provided just that restful, idyllic setting.
This family-owned artisan creamery produces yogurt for Whole Foods nationwide. It is a working organic dairy farm offering great seasonal, family-friendly events. You can enjoy self-guide hikes, guided tours and the public is always welcome for the evening cow milking.
The Loft Restaurant is housed in a historic 1860s barn and offers a rustically elegant farm-to-table dining experience. Many of the ingredients come from their own farm, garden, and creamery.
As a self-proclaimed foodie, I was in love with their menu offerings and I really wanted to try everything. I would describe it as traditional fare with a perfect twist of “out of the box” elegance.
We capped off dinner with their award-winning housemade ice cream made from their organic, 100% grass fed milk. Yes, it was as delicious as it sounds.
White River State Park
Sunday morning, we checked out of the JW Marriot and took some time to explore downtown Indy a little more. First we took a walk to explore White River State Park. The 250-acre urban greenspace is home to the Central Canal that is packed with Italian-imported gondolas, paddle boats and kayaks.
There are also seven family friendly museums that create a border around the park, including the Indianapolis Zoo, Eiteljorg Museum, Indiana State Museum, Victory Field (home of the AAA Indianapolis Indians baseball team), a concert venue, and more.
We rented a four-wheel surrey bike from Wheel Fun Rentals in order to tour the Central Canal Walk. It was the perfect family activity for a little sightseeing tour of the canal.
After working up an appetite pedaling along the canal, we headed to Cafe Patachou for brunch.
This health-conscious, delicious cafe offers incredible gluten friendly as well a vegan options. They source local ingredients and prepare fresh, healthy dishes. My gluten free son declared that these were the best gluten free waffles that he has ever eaten.
They only serve breakfast and lunch, but their menu is vast. As usual, I wanted to try everything.
The Indianapolis Zoo
After brunch, we headed over the river to the Indianapolis Zoo. This zoo may not be huge, but there is a lot to see and do. Allow several hours to explore.
Named a top ten zoo by Trip Advisor, it features the world’s largest shark touch tank, a 360-degree dolphin dome and an International Orangutan Center with nine orangutans (including 2 babies) that each have unique and incredible personalities.
To say Orangutan Center does not really capture what sits at the heart of this zoo. There is a large enclosure that allows you to view the Orangutan’s interacting from all sides.
Surrounding this are a dozen towers connected by cables that the Orangutans can climb and swing along, over the heads of the visitors out in the park. For a closer look there is a gondola-style ride that brings you even closer to with these beautiful animals as they move along the cables.
Surrounding this center attraction is an extensive aquarium and an African safari region where you can see rhinos and race cheetahs. The variety of animals and enclosures makes this zoo a must see when visiting Indy.
Like the Children’s Museum, prices online are cheaper than day of prices at the gate. So, if you are planning a trip, purchase your tickets in advance to save a bit of money.
You Could Spend a lot More than 48 Hours in Indianapolis
So there you have it, a 48 hour whirlwind through a city that has our family longing to return.
From exploring the beautiful sights and enjoying delicious food to interacting with the friendly people, I could write a novel about our amazing time in Indy.
We saw a lot in a very short time and now, I really want to go back and experience it again and spend so much more time exploring. I would highly recommend taking your family to explore Indy too.