There is a lot to do in Indianapolis, and more often than not it is free or nominally priced. What you want to do in Indianapolis depends on what kind of person you are. Bicycle nuts, for example, love the Cultural Trail and the Monon Trail, while geeks and nerds find a second home at Game Paradise, the city’s only board game library. Here are the top ten things a tourist in Indianapolis must do.
10. Drink Coffee at a Local Coffee Shop
Look out, Seattle, downtown Indianapolis takes its independent coffee seriously. The downtown area is home to several independent coffee shops, each with java that competes with the chains. Four of the five best places to get a unique cup of coffee are located downtown–the Sol Rey at Bee Coffee Roasters is a must-try. Want to simply kick back with a bottomless cup of joe while you surf the Internet? Quill’s Coffee, located on the Canal, is the perfect place to kill an hour or two.
9. Enjoy a Craft Beer
Indiana is known for its craft beer industry, and locals are passionate about which brewery, winery, or meadery (yes, we have a place that makes mead, it’s New Day Meadery) they get their libations from. The best place to get local beer in Indianapolis is the Tomlinson Tap Room, located in Indianapolis City Market, as it sells only local beer. However, many of the breweries, wineries, and the meadery offer free or low-cost samples so you can try them before you buy. Popular breweries include Sun King, Fountain Square Brewing, BIER Brewery and Tap Room, Union Brewing Company(which features a cinnamon roll beer), Triton Brewing Company, and Flat 12 Bierworks.
8. Tour the Canal Walk
There are many ways to do this, ranging from walking to riding a Segway. An ambitious project that bankrupted the state (the goal was for the Canal to connect the Erie Canal to the Ohio River–stop laughing! We aim high in Indianapolis!), this is one of the best-kept secrets in town. When the weather is nice, you have the option of riding a gondola or renting a paddleboat or kayak. Especially worth visiting is the U.S.S. Indianapolis Memorial, located on the Canal’s North end, commemorates the lives lost in the worst disaster in U.S. Navy history.
7. Eat a Tenderloin
A pork tenderloin sandwich is the unofficial state dish, and if you want to start an argument in Indianapolis, ask where to get the best tenderloin. Ideally, the pork loin should be pounded paper-thin with a mallet (just go with it), breaded, deep-fried, and served on a bun only one-fourth to one-half the size of the meat. There is a 1998 documentary about tenderloins titled In Search of the Famous Hoosier Breaded Tenderloin (Mug-N-Bun Drive-In is located in Indy) and the dish was born at Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington. Another guaranteed way to start an argument is to ask what goes on a tenderloin–if you want to look like a local, absolutely nothing, but a little mayo is acceptable. Vegetarian or vegan? No problem! You can enjoy a tenderloin made from seitan at Three Carrots Restaurant in Indianapolis City Market.
6. Visit the Anne Frank Peace Garden at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum
If you have children, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum is a must-visit, although it can be expensive. The museum is the world’s largest children’s museum, with five floors of interactive exhibits ranging from an Egyptian mummy to an exhibit that lets you dig for dinosaur bones. But the best-kept secret part of the museum is the Anne Frank Peace Garden, which is located just off the path to the main entrance and is free. In addition to a statue of a page of her diary and a sapling of the tree she saw from the Secret Annex, there are several child-size statues of world-famous monuments, ranging from the Great Sphinx to the Great Wall of China.
5. Visit Monument Circle
The heart of the Circle City, Monument Circle is home to several landmarks, the best-known being the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. You can take an elevator to the top for a decent 360-degree view of downtown, and the Col. Eli Lilly Civil War Museum in the basement is a must-visit. Fun fact: Only Washington, D.C. has more war memorials than Indianapolis. South Bend Chocolate Company has the best hot chocolate in town; they melt one of their chocolate bars and add syrup to the milk. The hot chocolate is also available with mint or with cinnamon and chile.
4. Visit City-County Building’s Observation Deck
One of downtown’s best-kept secrets, the City-County Building’s Observation Deck offers the best view of the city. Look west to view most of the city’s landmarks, east to view the heliport, and north to see the Pyramids office buildings featured on the introduction of the Eighties sitcom One Day at a Time.
3. Explore the Cultural Trail
The Cultural Trail connects six of the downtown cultural districts: Wholesale District, Indiana Avenue, The Canal and White River State Park, Broad Ripple (via the Monon Trail), Massachusetts Avenue (“Mass Ave” to locals), and Fountain Square. It also connects to the historic Fletcher Place neighborhood. The Cultural Trail is very bike-friendly, but the Pacers Bike Share program gets expensive quickly as you have to check the bike in every half hour or be penalized. You’re better off going to Bicycle Garage Indy where you can rent a bike for the day for a flat rate. Popular destinations include New Day Meadery in Fountain Square, the Indianapolis Zoo, White River Gardens, the Indiana State Museum, and the Canal.
2. Take a Lap Around Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Going for a ride on the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum will get you marked as a tourist, but it’s worth it, especially if you’re a fan of what locals call “The Race” (the Indianapolis 500). Prices vary, with the basic one-lap narrated tour on an IMS bus being the cheapest option. Faster options are more expensive. One option even lets you drive the car yourself at a top speed of 130 mph. Go to IndyRacingExperience.com for more information.
1. Visit White River State Park
So we’re 1,000+ miles from the nearest ocean–that doesn’t mean you can’t pet a shark or interact with dolphins underwater at the Indianapolis Zoo! So it’s the Twenty-First Century–that doesn’t mean you can’t learn about how cowboys and Native Americans lived and expressed themselves at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art! So you don’t know what a Foucault pendulum is–go to the Indiana State Museum to see one in action. There’s plenty to do in the park’s 250 acres, such as take in an Indianapolis Indians baseball game, visit the NCAA Hall of Champions, enjoy a concert on Farm Bureau Insurance Lawn, or catch a movie at the IMAX Theater. You’re really limited only by your imagination.