If you’re looking for a fun destination where you can take the family for a last-minute weekend getaway, pack your bags and plug “Indianapolis” into Waze. Though the “Circle City,” as it’s known, was not even on my radar, a recent weekend there revealed a haven of beautiful architecture, rich history and plenty of activities and exploration to fill up a weekend itinerary.
When you’re ready to escape for a fun, family-friendly weekend, here’s how to spend a weekend in Indianapolis.
Depending on where you’re coming from, your arrival time will vary. We drove up from Nashville, a short 4-hour, 20-minute drive. When we arrived, we checked in at the Conrad Indianapolis, which is centrally located and convenient for exploring the downtown area on foot. A boutique Hilton-brand hotel, the Conrad is incredibly comfortable and highly accommodating. The hotel is an escape in and of Itself, with clean and spacious rooms, and an indoor pool. Not to mention, the Capital Grille is next door, which serves the most amazing Eggs Benedict with fresh Maine lobster for breakfast!
Drop your bags and head out to explore. A quick walk around the corner leads you to Monument Circle. Businesses surround this bustling area — it’s not uncommon to see business people enjoying their lunch break on the monument steps. This historic area is also home to various events that take place there throughout the year. Right across from the monument is Rocket Fizz, a candy store that’s equal parts sugar and nostalgia. Stop in and peruse the exhaustive selection of sodas and thousands of candy options. All ages will surely find something that tempts their tastebuds!
When you’re ready to think about dinner, Burger Study is a short walk from both Monument Circle and the Conrad. A casual dining option from the folks behind the city’s beloved St. Elmo’s Steak House, the menu has a playful, educational twist with burger names like the Freshman, the Double Major, the Walk of Fame, the Ivy League and so forth. Start your meal with the fried avocado wedges, which come hot and crispy with a side of house-made lime ranch for dipping. For something slightly more sinful, the beer cheese tots are divine and come topped with bacon and chives. They also happen to be slathered in an unbelievable beer cheese sauce. To. Die. For! From there, options run the gamut from salads and sandwiches to the aforementioned burger menu. For dessert, get the kids a shake while the adults enjoy wine or something more powerful from the cocktail list.
After dinner, you can check out the attached Circle Centre Mall, or walk back to the hotel for a post-dinner swim and a nightcap. Then hit the hay — a big day awaits tomorrow!
Start your day with a delicious and convenient breakfast at the Capital Grille. Trust me on the previously mentioned Eggs Benedict, but kid-friendly fare is also available. Afterward, let the day begin at White River State Park, the nation’s only cultural urban state park. This 250-acre parcel offers green space and attractions worth exploring — be it on foot or by bike. Rent a surrey and casually pedal around the Canal Walk, which is bustling with joggers, strollers, bikes, trikes and every other mode of transportation in between. On the water, you’ll likely spot a paddleboat, kayak or even an authentic Italian gondola escorting guests along the canal.
During your ride, you’ll pass some dining options, a delightful (and large) playground and the Indiana State Museum, which on our visit, had a selection of tantalizing toys just outside the entrance. A short walk just off the canal route, you’ll find additional cultural attractions, one of which is the NCAA Hall of Champions. The sports fans in our family enjoyed checking out the interactive sports simulators and exhibits and testing their knowledge of NCAA sports.
When tummies start grumbling for lunch, jump in the car and head to Newfields (aka The Indianapolis Museum of Art), where the current “Seasons of Japan” exhibit also brings with it Pop Up: Noodle Shop. Take a seat, make your noodle and beer selections (water or tea for the kids), and experience a close-to-authentic Japanese dining experience. Afterward, venture out into the museum to explore the “Seasons” exhibit or any of the other inspiring displays; “Meadow” was a personal favorite — a mesmerizing overhead display that is as calming as it is captivating. Two must-sees include the original Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture and the interactive and entertaining children’s area. Don’t forget to head outdoors to experience the gardens, where you’ll find unbelievable sculptures and plant life. Check the calendar of events for upcoming exhibits and seasonal events.
After lunch, make plans to check out the Indiana Medical History Museum, a building that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Only open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the last tour starting at 3 p.m., this experience requires you to plan accordingly. This fascinating walk back in time is not ideal for wiggly toddlers but is appropriate for perhaps 6 years and older, who will find it as educational as it is eerie. The hour-long tour invites guests to learn about the history of the facility, the work that was done there — mental illness research, primarily — and its carefully preserved artifacts, which include iron lungs, a cadaver draining table, preserved body parts and more.
After your tour, get back in the car and head to Massachusetts Avenue, or “Mass Ave.”, one of Indianapolis’ six cultural districts. Check out the many retail establishments and perhaps pick up a souvenir before you head to dinner at Bazbeaux. Once there, you’ll find a menu of award-winning pizzas, sandwiches, salads, desserts, wine and beer. Start with the garlic bread with cheese and a side of red sauce for dipping. The Tchoupitoulas pizza was a hit, featuring Cajun shrimp, house-roasted red pepper, green pepper, red onion, andouille sausage and fresh garlic. The non-meat-eaters enjoyed The Garden, which includes artichoke hearts, avocado, spinach, green pepper, red onion, black olive and ricotta. The kids kept it simple with cheese and pepperoni.
Full bellies and tired bodies call for an early bedtime. Sweet dreams!
Start your day with a killer breakfast at 3 Sisters in the nearby Broad Ripple neighborhood. This adorable cottage packs a full house thanks to its fast service, amazing food and friendly atmosphere. If you’re super hungry and feeling kind of naughty, go for the house-recommended Mr. Bob’s Breakfast, which is named after a 3 Sisters regular. This dish includes a two egg and white cheddar omelet, a side of home fries and toast, and your choice of bacon or sausage. UNBELIEVABLE! For those who prefer sweet over savory, the dark chocolate Belgian waffles come covered in strawberries and whipped cream with a delightful display of chocolate sauce. Also a winner!
Before you head for home, a stop at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is a must. It is, after all, the largest children’s museum in the world (Who knew?!), and you’ll recognize it because of the huge dinosaurs climbing into and atop the building. Five floors are filled to the brim with interactive displays and interesting exhibits for the young and young at heart. Particularly poignant for this gal was “The Power of Children: Making a Difference” exhibit. Three carefully recreated displays invite guests to immerse themselves in the lives of Ruby Bridges, Anne Frank and Ryan White — three young people who inspired in me an even deeper appreciation for how far we’ve come as a human species, and who make us realize just how much work we still need to do.
Outdoors, the 7.5-acre “Sports Legends Experience” awaits and encourages activity and interest in sports of all sorts. Only open March through November, the exhibits include football, golf, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and so much more. It’s the ideal way for kids to try their hand at a new sport, show off their skills for a current one and generally burn off steam before heading for home after a well-spent weekend.
When you’re ready to plan your trip to Indianapolis, visit VisitIndy.com to learn more.
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