Explore the Hoosier State through local recommendations
Indiana is a state that is full of surprises that you must experience for yourself. From local kids who build their dreams among the fields to innovators who see the potential for big things in small cities, the Hoosier State motto is “Crossroads of America,” and like any crossroads, it’s more multifaceted than you might imagine. And, if you don’t know what a Hoosier is, feel free to ask anyone you meet. This is a place where state pride and friendliness both run strong.
Going Downtown in Indianapolis
Smack in the physical center of Indiana, the city of Indianapolis is also the state’s cultural hub, around which smaller cities dot the farmland like satellites. Long known for its famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway and passionate fans of Indy’s many professional and amateur sports teams, the city has plenty of other offerings. Visitors may not expect a thriving arts scene buoyed by arts centers and artist studios, maker spaces, and historic cultural institutions, like Madam Walker Legacy Center (founded by another Walker, who was the country’s first female African American millionaire), with deep roots in Hoosier identity.
Follow Massachusetts or Kentucky Avenue to where they meet at Mile Square, the original footprint of a planned state capital modeled off Washington, D.C. The tidy grid overflows with museums, memorials, monuments and grand Queen Ann Victorian architecture. Indianapolis actually has the most monuments in the USA outside Washington, D.C. Downtown is home to most of Indianapolis’ major contemporary art institutions, but it’s the area’s colorful cityscape – including some 50 street art-style murals adorning downtown’s historic buildings – that locals (and Instagramming visitors) love to photograph.
Exterior of the Harrison Center, a local organization that promotes art in the city through events, exhibits and more
The city’s Cultural Trail is an 12.9-kilometer urban bike route that winds through some of Indianapolis’ most culturally rich neighborhoods. The trail ends southeast of downtown in Fountain Square, an area that buzzes with outdoor cafes, live music venues and quirky little bars. Among the spots beloved by locals for their off-beat charm and eccentricity are the Atomic Bowl Duckpin, which celebrates a more challenging, lesser-known variation on the contemporary style of bowling (featuring smaller balls without finger holes). There’s also Tappers Arcade Bar, a 21-plus bar where guests can indulge their inner child with free pinball and retro arcade games while simultaneously indulging in adult beverages. Fountain Square’s White Rabbit Cabaret has a following for its something-for-everyone line-up of standup comedy, cult movie screenings, cabaret and burlesque. Nearby, Hi-Fi is the place for a steady stream of indie music heavy-hitters and an Indianapolis favorite: spoken word poetry. Do yourself a favor while you’re there, and walk around the corner to Turchetti’s, the only USDA Salumeria in the USA that is also a restaurant and happens to serve sandwiches that are jaw-droppingly good.
Hi-Fi, a popular indie music venue in Fountain Square
The 62-hectare Newfields, which dubs itself “a place for nature and art” is home to the massive Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, along with a beer garden, the historic Lilly House mansion, a full day’s worth art exhibitions, kid’s classes, tours and even yoga. Classical music lovers will want to schedule a visit to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, which is one of just a dozen symphonies in the country and one of the Midwest’s great cultural institutions. And foodies should not miss brunch – served six days a week – at Milktooth, a humble garage-turned-restaurant that’s consistently named one of the country’s top dining destinations by big name food publications.
Charming Americana in Nearby Bloomington
Heading south 82 kilometers (or about 1 hour) into the beautiful rolling hills of Southern Indiana, you’ll find a quaint college town with heavyweight international appeal. This is Bloomington. The city attracts people from around the world, from Buddhist monks at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center to visiting academics to the immigrant chefs cooking the food of their native lands along 4th Street’s bustling restaurant row and at spots like Anatolia (Turkish) and Samira (Afghan). With roughly half of its population tied to the 40,000-student Indiana University, Bloomington is wonderfully multicultural. But unlike a major metropolis, it’s easy to escape the crowds with a quick trip into the surrounding countryside or Lake Monroe, where locals love to rent pontoon boats or go water skiing during the warm months. “Within 10 minutes, you’re out in nature,” the locals love to boast.
A monk at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center
College Town Cool
Blocks from Indiana University’s historic campus, The Square could pass as a Hollywood set for a classic college town (think stone buildings, quirky little shops and narrow, walkable streets bustling with youthful energy). It’s where you’ll find the restaurants that visiting parents take their college-aged kids to treat them to a nice dinner. Locals recommend FARMbloomington, which serves an eclectic mix of farm-to-table dishes – things like Southern Indiana buttermilk biscuits and the Lugar Burger, which is made with local bison, grass-fed within 80 kilometer of Bloomington. For Cajun-inspired food, The Uptown Cafe is a longtime Bloomington institution that locals joke has "an ‘old people’ side” (for alumni, post grads and parents) and “a ‘young people’ side” for the many students that call Bloomington home.
Meet the Local Makers
Bloomington’s innovative artisan scene has exploded in recent years, with new maker spaces, woodshops and arts studios supporting the city’s growing creative community. Most of these spots are open to visitors, who can not only buy crafts, but also learn from local artisans and watch them at work. At Siosi, an ultra-creative bespoke woodworking studio owned by two women (accompanied by their dog, Arrow) you’ll find chairs, tables, beds and other furnishings that are more art than craft. Artisan Alley is a nonprofit that works to support the work of up-and-coming makers with a tool library, art studios, classes and community – including open workshops and First Friday gallery receptions that are open to all. The Mill – a century-old, 1,765-square-meter building that has been reborn as a coworking/maker space that incubates small businesses – hosts events, has a podcast studio and will happily show you around (with a reservation).
Outside Hopscotch Coffee, a popular spot for espresso, coffee, tea and pastries
One of Indiana’s most celebrated craft breweries, Upland Brewing Company, is based in Bloomington and has several spots there, including the “Wood Shop,” where sour ales are brewed and wood-aged. Revered by locals since 1927, Nick’s English Hut serves classic Midwestern comfort food like iceberg wedge salad and baked potatoes alongside Italian-American red sauce classics like Stromboli and mozzarella sticks. If you go, you’re sure to find current students or returning alumni playing rounds of “Sink the Biz,” a local pub game that’s been a pastime at Nick’s for nearly a hundred years. Saddle up to the bar and join in!