Hit the Road to Indy with the Kids
What if I told you it’s only about four hours from Grand Rapids to Indianapolis? And that this city is bigger than you probably imagined? If you’re looking for a new big city to explore and don’t want to put too many miles on the car, head to Indianapolis with the kids.
My friend Katy runs Indy with Kids and she helped me sort out the best to-do list for kids in Indy. And now that I’ve experienced a lot of what they have to offer, here’s my take on doing Indianapolis with Kids.
1- CHILDREN’S MUSEUM of INDIANAPOLIS
Welcome to the World’s Largest Children’s Museum!
With five floors of fun, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is number one on our list of Things to Do with Kids in Indianapolis.
First time visitors should plan on spending the whole day exploring the museum.
The museum has done a great job crafting exhibits for various age groups and interests. Here are just a few examples of what you can explore…
Babies, toddlers and preschoolers will love Playscape, where playing in water and sand is encouraged alongside making art and exploring music. Private nursing areas and family restrooms are located here, too.
Treasures of the Earth turns your kids into Indiana Jones sidekick material. From a bumpy elevator ride to an archeology dig, kids are put into the roles of adventurer and archeologist and given mysteries to solve. All ages will enjoy putting together the mummy sarcophagus and checking out the working archaeology lab.
Beyond that, the Dinosphere is a must for any dino-lovers out there, and China really does make you feel like you’re on another continent. All Aboard has full-size trains you can go in and out of as well as miniature trains, too. Kids can touch and experiment with things everywhere you look. Fantastic.
Seriously, if I outlined all of the things you can do with your kids at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, you would be here all day reading about it instead of GOING there. And that would just be wrong. Instead, let me suggest using this cool tool on their website, where you input your family’s info and then check out the suggestions. This way, you’ll be updated on all of the temporary exhibits at the museum as well.
Children’s Museum of Indianapolis Details
2- 100 ACRES AT INDIANAPOLIS MUSEUM OF ART
This gorgeous outdoor art sanctuary at the Indianapolis Museum of Art is a complete blessing for families.
100 acres of natural beauty married to art that kids can climb on makes for happy parents any day. Add the word FREE to the equation and you might get downright giddy.
The park is open from dawn to dusk and features walking trails, a visitor’s pavilion with restrooms and unique sculptures and artwork your kids will want to interact with. Plan on spending 1-2 hours at this destination or longer if your kids really like to hike.
100 Acres at Indianapolis Museum of Art Details
- Parking: Park at the Museum and follow the walking path to the 100 Acres or drive and park in the 100 Acres lot.
- Tickets: FREE admission; no tickets needed.
- Contact: 4000 Michigan Road, Indianapolis, IN 46208-332 | 317-923-1331| Facebook
3- RHYTHM DISCOVERY CENTER
Tucked away in downtown Indianapolis, near Center Circle Mall, is Rhythm Discovery Center.
Interactive is not a strong enough word for this percussion museum. Kids are encouraged to put their hands on a huge variety of professional instruments from around the world and through the ages. Little do they know they are learning as they pound out a beat or play in a drum circle.
If your kids are musically inclined, they will take to this place instantly. If they like to knock sticks together or tap their feet, or if they like to make a lot of noise, they’ll like this place, too. I was astonished at the wide variety of percussion instruments and all of the things kids were allowed to do. And the price was great, too. Plan on spending 1-2 hours at this location.
Rhythm Discovery Center Details
- Tickets: $12 for adults, $6 for kids 6-16, free for ages 5 and under.
- Contact: 110 W Washington St, Indianapolis, IN 46204 | 317-275-9030| Facebook
4- ICONIC INDY SIGNS & DOWTOWN ADVENTURES
Various spots around Indy have signs begging you to become the “I” in Indy. What a perfect way to capture your Indy memories.
The weather was atypically scary the weekend we happened to be in town (raining/snowing sideways and 30-40 degrees,) so we weren’t able to explore Monument Circle or the beautiful Canal Walk. We also really wish we could have rented a four-wheel surrey bike from Wheel Fun Rentals in White River State Park, so now those action items are on the TOP of our list for our next Indy trip.
Photo courtesy of VisitIndy.com
5- ACTION & ATOMIC DUCKPIN BOWLING
Bowling is fun any time of year at a regular bowling alley, but retro bowling is even more fun.
Historic Fountain Square, part of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, is home to Action & Atomic Duckpin Bowling. Duckpin bowling is a bowling variety that uses smaller balls and pins. The game originated in Baltimore and eventually spread along the east coast. Fountain Square is the only authentic duckpin bowling alley in the midwest and has been restored to look just like a 1930’s era duckpin bowling alley.
Because there are only eight lanes available, reservations are highly recommended. Lanes book by the hour. We had four people on our lane and it took us one hour to play one game (I’m sure the 5 year old slowed us down, though…)
Action & Atomic Duckpin Bowling
- Parking: Parking is FREE in Fountain Square. On street parking is free, with a two hour restriction Monday – Friday from 9am – 6pm.
Do not park in the Family Dollar lot on the north side of their building; you will be towed.
- Tickets: Open bowling is $30 per hour per lane. Reservations are recommended. Bowling shoes are provided for free.
- Contact: 1105 Prospect St, Fountain Square Theatre Building, Indianapolis, IN 46203 | 317-686-6006| Facebook
6- INDIANA STATE MUSEUM
When you hear things like…
“It’s a field trip museum.”
“You won’t like it if you’re not from Indiana.”
…from your friends, you wonder what you’re getting into.
Let me set the record strait: The Indiana State Museum is COOL.
It’s not the IMAX theatre that earns it the cool award – although that helps! Rather, it’s the imaginative way the museum draws visitors into topics they’ve seen a hundred times before. Seriously. How many times is a kid taught about the solar system in school? Studying the planets is something everyone does, and has been doing for eons. The topic suffers from “been there, done that” syndrome, and that’s hard to overcome. Indiana State Museum makes understanding our universe interesting and accessible.
The giant animated globe that morphs from one planet to the next, plotting earthquakes and other features along the way, is just one example. Kids are in the driver’s seat here, and it’s easy to see why they would want to spend a long time fiddling around with technology.
Other topics get the same treatment.
Be sure to budget lots of time for the Foucalt Pendulum.
This photo was taken at the top of a very large spiral staircase looking down. This simple device proves that the earth is rotating by tipping over carefully placed tiles (they look like dominoes.) The pendulum is reset each day at 8am and it is truly mesmerizing to watch the bob swing back and forth.
Many more snippets of time are captured and explored at the Indiana State Museum. Budget time according to your kids’ attention span. Some will spend an hour, some will spend a day.
Indiana State Museum Details
- Parking: Parking is available in the attached White River State Park underground parking garage on Washington Street and in nearby garages, or in the White River State Parks’ South Lot. For more information about other parking locations in the area, visit the Indianapolis Downtown parking site. Parking is $3 per car with the purchase of a ticket to the Indiana State Museum.
- Tickets: Adults are $13, kids ages 3-17 are $8.50. Grand Rapids Public Museum members, your membership (via the ASTC passport) gets two adults and dependent children age 21 and under into the Indiana State Museum for free. Excludes special traveling exhibits. IMAX tickets require additional fee.
- Contact: 650 West Washington St. Indianapolis, IN 46204 | 317.232.1637| Facebook
7- INDIANAPOLIS ZOO
Allow a half a day or more for the Indianapolis Zoo – there is a lot to see and do!
Housing orangutans, dolphins, elephants, baby animals and more, this zoo is ranks #11 on TripAdvisor’s list of things to do in Indianapolis for a reason. Make sure you get your free tickets to the dolphin show at the entrance. Since the dolphin shows have open seating, you’ll want to arrive early to get a prime spot. There are splash zones, too, if you feel like getting a little wet during the 15-minute show.
When you’re done watching the dolphins jump, head below and get a glimpse of the dolphins in the underwater viewing area.
Another favorite here is the International Orangutan Center, especially important since orangutans are critically endangered with only 6,500 left in the wild. The center houses eight orangutans- including a baby. The exhibit is huge, with a cathedral ceiling high enough to send my heart aflutter. This Orangutan Center is considered essential in the preservation of these apes.
As you make your way through the zoo you’ll encounter many more animals to delight: tigers, polar bears, sea lions, walrus, zebra, rhinoceros, and SO many more.
There are many opportunities to purchase add-ons for your Indianapolis Zoo experience. Choose from the 4-D theater, carousel, Kōmbo coaster, Skyline gondola rides, White River Junction train, shark touch tank, bird and giraffe feedings.
If you don’t feel like pulling out your wallet every few minutes, get the Total Adventure Package (TAP). It makes the zoo an “all-inclusive” experience and is worth it if you can afford it.
And, if it’s hot, bring your bathing suit and towel. There is a splash play area that will be sure to cool – and drench – you.
One criticism Indianapolis Zoo hears again and again? It’s expensive. With adult tickets between $16-$22 and kids at $13-16, you are going to pay a bit to gain entrance to the zoo. Why is this zoo so much when the St. Louis Zoo is free? The answer is simple: funding. The Indianapolis Zoo is financed by private money and as such, receives no direct tax support. The zoo operates an endowment to protect its legacy, but it also must charge visitors a higher price than some other zoos to remain operational.
In other words, your higher ticket prices go to help run and support the zoo, as well as help with the zoo’s animal conservation efforts around the world.
White River Gardens
Entrance to White River Gardens is included with your Indianapolis Zoo admission. This lovely indoor/outdoor space is worth a short visit, especially if you’re looking for a quiet place to unwind.
Indianapolis Zoo Details
- Parking: Parking is $6.
- Tickets: Pricing is based on demand. Days projected to be busier command a higher price. Use the online pricing tool to determine your price.
- Contact: 1200 W. Washington St., Indinapolis, IN 46222 | 317-630-2001 | Facebook
8- CONNER PRAIRIE
How impressed would you be if your gadget-loving tween got excited about history? That’s exactly what happened to me.
I went into Conner Prairie thinking it was just a historical museum. A place where old buildings and artifacts were on display, waiting for me to interpret and make them interesting for my kids.
I was 50% right. Yes, there are a ton of artifacts and old places at Conner Prairie. But the museum signs I expected – they weren’t there. Instead, there were people in their place acting out what might have appeared on a sign in a different museum. I found myself drawn in and learning about pioneer life right along side my kids.
You see, the Prairietown village is set up as if it were 1836. Every character in the town has a role to play and a house to live in or a place to work. The characters all know each other and talk about each other. My three kids were captivated by the three women in the doctor’s house. They sat and chit-chatted with the characters for at least 15 minutes, and would’ve stayed longer if time would have allowed.
This photo below shows the carpenter telling how to carve a bowl. He also tried to enlist my 11-year old son as an apprentice. We could’ve visited my son once a year, he’d get a good education, room and board, and learn a trade. Sounds like a good deal to me!
Aspects of Conner Prairie, apart from village life, include a petting farm, a Civil War area, a hot-air balloon, and an indoor hands-on experimental center.
We spent a few hours at Conner Prairie. It would have been longer if the museum didn’t close on us while we were experimenting! I’d plan a half day for this adventure, at least.
Candle-dipping and other pioneer activities are also available. Some have a fee.
Conner Prairie Details
- Parking: Free
- Tickets: Open Thurs – Sun, from 10 am – 5 pm. $17 for adults, $16 for seniors, $12 for youth 2 to 12 and free for those younger than 2.
- Contact: 13400 Allisonville Rd, Fishers, IN | (317) 776-6000 | Facebook
9- GLOW GOLF
If the weather goes south and you need something fun to do, consider Glow Golf.
This downtown attraction is tucked away on Level 4 in Circle Center mall. Although the holes are nothing like what you’d see at an outdoor putt-putt course, the novelty of glow-in-the-dark golf was enough for 90 minute of fun.
The facility also offers a laser maze challenge, although we did not try that out.
- Tickets: 54 holes at $6 for kids, $8 for adults.
- Contact: 49 West Maryland Street #H03B, Indianapolis, IN 46204 | 317.955.2808 | Facebook
In a city the size of Indianapolis, there a million places to take your kids out to eat. In fact, this list of places where kids eat free is a stellar resource. I just have two local food destinations to recommend however, as my kids chose to dine at Costco one evening (don’t ask!) and Chick-fil-a another. I insisted that we had to sample local fare at least a few times on our trip and the places we ended up did not disappoint.
Tasty, healthy, and with gluten-free options. And grilled cheese with cheese that goes on for miles. This place was delicious.
Iconic burgers, fries, and milkshakes. Hard to go wrong here.
410 Massachusetts Avenue, Indianapolis, IN 46204 | 317-635-4BRU (4278)
So- that’s a wrap!
Have you visited Indianapolis with kids? What did we miss? What tips can you share? Would LOVE to hear about your experiences!