You might think it would take a trip around the world to witness the Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an, China, penguins of Antarctica, African lions basking on the grassland, engage in conversation with pioneers of the American prairie and walk among legends from the sporting world of auto racing, yet on one road trip, to one Midwestern town you can share these experiences, and then some. Indianapolis, known as the capital city of the Hoosier State of Indiana, is loaded with family attractions and adventures making a vacation to this city a family trip to remember.
White River State Park
Located within downtown Indianapolis is White River State Park, an urban state park with 250 acres of green space, a 1.5 mile canal walk and home to many special events and concerts. Numerous cultural and recreational attractions call the park home including:
- Museums – Indiana State Museum and IMAX Theater, NCAA Hall of Champions Museum, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian & Western Art – families will not want to miss the lower level of the Eiteljorg Museum for hands on fun.
- Sporting Events – Indianapolis Indians at Victory Field – a Triple A professional baseball team affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates – fans will want to check out the special promotions schedule that includes Dollar Mondays and Fireworks Fridays.
- Indianapolis Zoo and White River Gardens — small enough to experience in one day, the Zoo is also large enough not to seem over crowded, with exhibits that promote life for the animals in their natural habitat, yet allow great visibility to visitors. The recently unveiled A Tiger Forest joins other favorites like the elephant bath time, feeding the giraffes and the Shark Touch Pool where, with a little luck and a little patience, guests can touch a Dog Shark as they slowly glide by. Guests wishing to see the Dolphin Show, will be given a timed ticket upon entering the zoo.
Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has appeared on numerous Top 10 lists, but don’t let the word children fool you. It’s full of educational fun, and as the largest children’s museum in the world is a fascinating place for all ages. View permanent and classic exhibits like Dale Chihuly’s Fireworks of Glass, or look for new ones like National Geographic Treasures of the Earth which showcases the science of archeology with an ancient Egyptian tomb, undersea shipwrecks and hidden Chinese warriors. Another exhibit, Barbie, The Fashion Experience had me giddily reminiscing over the dolls of my childhood.
There is a cafe serving a variety of family friendly food and snack items as well as places to enjoy food brought from home. A visit can last from several hours to an entire day, and to really see and do it all guests will want to take in a show at SpaceQuest Planetarium and the Lilly Theater. Be sure to schedule enough time to visit the gift shop offering — the usual trinkets and souvenirs, but educational games and toys as well.
Where to Eat
Downtown Indianapolis offers a wide variety of restaurants for all tastes and budgets.
- Classics and chain restaurants serving family favorites include Old Spaghetti Factory, Buca Di Beppo, TGI Fridays, Hard Rock Cafe, Chammps Americana and Weber Grill Restaurant.
- The artfully decorated Creation Cafe provides a creative collection of breakfast, lunch and dinner selections. Don’t miss the Fruit Panini, Hoity-Toity Mother Clucker, or Ma-Cheese-Mo Ravioli. Located on the White River canal, guests can walk off dinner, and for the four-legged members of your family, Creation Cafe offers an extensive “Doggie Menu”.
- Head to a Downtown neighborhood known to locals as ” Mass Ave” for Bazbeaux Pizza. This Massachusetts Avenue pizzeria makes fresh-made pizza with traditional as well as slightly unusual toppings like BBQ shrimp, snow pea pods and Black Bean Dip. Don’t miss the Antipasto Salad that includes shrimp, artichoke hearts and hearts of palm. While in the area, kids and adults will love a visit to Mass Ave Toys.
Where to Stay
- Marriott Place is a grouping of five hotels conveniently located not only to White River State Park but also Lucas Oil Stadium and Conseco Fieldhouse. Travelers can find a room within a variety of price points, meeting a variety of preferences. Among those is the newest and largest JW Marriott which opened March of 2011.
- For families looking for accommodations out of the ordinary, the Crown Plaza at Historic Union Station is just the ticket. Train loving families can spend the night in actual Pullman train car that features period decorations, yet modern amenities.
Venturing West from downtown Indianapolis, guests head to Speedway, Indiana, better known as the Racing Capital of the World. Home to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Hall of Fame Museum. Open daily, the National Historic Landmark houses a diverse collection of antique autos and racing cars from around the world.
Special Grounds Tours are conducted throughout the year, with tour packages that allow access to the museum and a bus tour of the track and various portions of the Motor Speedway generally reserved for the drivers and race officials. My favorite part of the tour was seeing the track from the driver’s point of view and of course, kissing a portion of the track finish line bricks, a right normally reserved for the Indy 500 winner.
About 30 minutes North of Indianapolis, but back more than 200 years stands Conner Prairie, an interactive history park and Smithsonian Institute Affiliate. The site of the original homestead of William Conner, a fur trader and politician who shaped this area, Conner Prairie introduces life through time in a Lenape Indian Camp, an 1836 Prairie community and its newest interpretive area, the 1863 Civil War raid on Indiana by Confederate General John Morgan. The interactive areas are open April through the end of October, while the museum is open year round.
Note: The author was the guest of VisitIndy, and received complimentary admission to area attractions for the purpose of a review, the opinions expressed are strictly those of the author.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of VisitIndy and flickr: Conner Prairie
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Having been transplanted numerous times, I have learned to explore the sites around our new found hometown, uncovering hidden gems and attractions. When vacation time rolls around, I enjoy traveling with my family and the occasional weekend escape with my husband, coming home to share our travel experiences with others. You can follow me on Twitter @JAIngersoll. My top three destinations are Walt Disney World Resort, the Midwest and any beach I can walk along.