In an attempt to broaden our horizons, we reached out to other city-focused blogs across the Midwest. Our goal is to provide a quality tour guide for city-lovers in each large Midwestern city. We asked each of our writers recommend around 10 things that can be done in their city and to orientate the guide around someone staying at a downtown hotel without a car (including transit options if anything was outside of walking distance). Each guide author took things in a slightly different direction, and the resulting collection of articles has something for everyone.
Our first profile is of Indianapolis, and is written by urbanOut author Greg Meckstroth. As he describes himself…
My name is Greg Meckstroth and I am a mid-twenty something living in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana. I am originally an Ohio boy and have recently moved to Indianapolis for work. As a true blue urbanist, I am interested in seeing our urban cores revitalize in sustainable ways – socially, economically, and physically. I also love urban exploration, taking every chance I have to get out and explore urban ‘hoods throughout the Midwest or where ever I happen to be. I decided to start this site as a way to elaborate my urban point-of-view as well as discuss other issues that affect my daily life.
Indianapolis might be one of the most misunderstood Midwestern cities, as most people only associate the City with cars, Colts, and conventions. But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover what makes Indianapolis a true heartland destination: its thriving downtown, unique cultural districts, and beautiful urban neighborhoods. For urban lovers like myself, there are numerous things to do and places to explore, most notably around downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods. Outlined below is my recommended ‘Top 10 Things to Do and See’ in Indianapolis. Whether it is a historic neighborhood walking tour, paddleboats in the canal, or a day at the Museum of Art, this list provides something for all city enthusiasts to enjoy, all the while introducing you to urban Indianapolis. Enjoy!
Downtown Walking Tour
Overview – The one-square mile CBD features numerous restaurants, shopping, and nightlife destinations and is easily one of the Midwest’s most thriving downtown’s. The built environment is relatively dense, especially along South Meridian Street and Illinois Street. The CBD is a regional destination for sporting events and a national destination for large, year-round conventions. There are also numerous events and festivals held throughout the year. Enjoy downtown Indianapolis! www.indydt.com
Where – Bounded by North Street to the north, East Street to the east, South Street to the south, West Street to the West.
How to get there – walk or bike around.
What to see
- Monument Circle lies at the center of downtown and is a must see. If you have time, walk climb to the top of the Monument and enjoy great views of downtown. The Hilbert Circle Theatre is also on the Circle where the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra plays.
- Market Street is a brick bookended on the west by the Indiana State Capitol Building. On the east side of the street you’ll find City Market, a must see and a great place to find local artisan foods. Check out their Farmers Market in the summer months. (www.indycm.com)
- Check out South Meridian Street for downtown’s bets collection of architecture, a thriving downtown indoor mall (Circle Centre) and downtown’s nightlife hub.
- Illinois Street between Georgia Street and Ohio Street features downtown’s best ‘urban canyon’ and along with numerous restaurants with outdoor seating and a movie theatre.
- Washington Street between and Senate features 19th and early 20th century skyscraper gems, most notably at the intersection with South Meridian. The street also contains a Border’s bookstore, the beautiful Indiana Repertory Theatre, and a vintage Dunkin Donuts.
Places to Eat
- Breakfast/Brunch: Café Patachou on the Park – amazing cinnamon toast and omelet’s www.cafepatachou.com
- Lunch: Scotty’s Brewhouse – great sports bar atmosphere www.scottysbrewhouse.com
- Dinner: Ambrosia – the best Italian in town. www.ambrosiaitalian.com
Mass Ave Walking Tour
Overview – Mass Ave is the Art & Theatre District of Indianapolis. This linear district that runs 45 degrees to the typical street grid features downtown’s premiere eateries, galleries, theatres, public art, shopping, and entertainment venues. The district also features downtown’s only grocery store. Enjoy Mass Ave! www.discovermassave.com
Where – Northeast of Monument Circle, Mass Ave. starts at the intersection of New York St. and Delaware St. and runs at a 45 degree angle to the grid, dead ending at I-65/I-70. Surrounding neighborhoods of Lockerbie Square, Chatham Arch, and St. Joseph.
How to get there – walk or bike.
What to see
- Start at the intersection of New York and Delaware Streets and head northeast along Mass Ave. and enjoy the unique restaurants, shops, galleries, and theatres. The intersection of Mass Ave. and Alabama features Indianapolis’s only downtown grocery store, a great pocket park with restaurant seating flowing onto it, and a great public art piece: Ann Dancing.
- The Murat Centre – an entertainment venue and the largest Shrine temple in North America. The building is themed after Islamic temples found in the Middle East and Egypt.
- Athenaeum – a beautiful 19th Century building at the corner of Mass Ave and Michigan Street. The building features a YMCA, the Rathskeller, a German restaurant and biergarten, and the American Cabaret Theatre.
- Theatre on the Square – a professionally managed theatre started in September 1998. www.tots.org
- Mass Ave Video – a great collection of the cult, foreign, and/or strange movie that you can’t find anywhere else. Go all the way to the end of Mass Ave and you’ll find this local secret.
- Cultural Trail – A world class bike and pedestrian multi-use path that connects downtown’s cultural districts, including Mass Ave. The trail is a significant policy move, as it has taken out numerous car travel lanes and parking spots to make way for a pedestrian oriented pathway. www.indyculturaltrail.org
Places to Eat
- Breakfast/Brunch: Hoaglin’s To Go – incredible omelet’s http://www.hoaglinfinecatering.com/
- Lunch: Bazbeaux Pizza – amazing pizza, obviously. www.bazbeaux.com/
- Dinner: Forty Five Degrees – amazing sushi. www.fortyfiveindy.com/
Places to Drink
- The Rathskeller – You have to experience the biergarten. www.rathskeller.com/.
- Chatham Tap – an English pub in the heart of the theatre district. www.chathamtap.com
- Metro Nightclub – a gay bar with a classic pub feel. www.metro-indy.com/
Broad Ripple exploration
Overview – Broad Ripple has become Indianapolis’s best known and most popular urban neighborhood as it contains many of Indianapolis’ premier locally-owned restaurants, independent art galleries, small boutiques, and has great access to the Monon Trail. The neighborhood is the premiere nighttime destination for college-aged students, especially along Broad Ripple Avenue. In recent years, the surrounding residential areas have become quite yuppified. Enjoy Broad Ripple! www.discoverbroadripplevillage.com
Where – 6 miles north of downtown Indianapolis, centered on the intersection of College Avenue and Broad Ripple Avenue.
How to get there – a long bike ride or short bus ride: (bus # 17 – www.indygo.net/PDF/maps/17-College.pdf)
What to See
- Neighborhood Walk – While in the village, make sure to walk along Broad Ripple Avenue from College Avenue to the Monon Trail. Along the way, you’ll see numerous bars, nightclubs, restaurants, galleries, and boutiques. Be sure to head north and check out Westfiled Boulevard – the center of ‘young professional/yuppie’ Broad Ripple. Head north still and check out 64th, 65th, Guilford, Ferguson, Carrollton, and Cornell Streets – all with a mixed use, village feel.
- The Monon Trail – an old rail line turned into a 16.7 mile recreation trail that connects downtown Indianapolis to the northern suburb of Westifeld and runs right through Broad Ripple. www.indianatrails.org/Monon_Indy.htm
- Indianapolis Art Center – a great community anchor that has numerous classes and educational opportunities. Also features the ARTSPARK, a Michael Graves designed 12 acre space that features interactive sculptures and landscapes in a natural setting. www.indplsartcenter.org
- The Vogue Theater- An entertainment destination since 1938, this neighborhood anchor features great concerts and themed dance parties. www.thevogue.com
- Gallery hop along 65th Street – A significant of art galleries are centered on 65th Street. These include the Hoosier Gallery of Fine Art, The Thompson Collection, Potter’s House, Edited Limited Gallery of Art, and McMurray Fine Art.
- Central Canal Tow Path – a 5 mile urban greenway along the Central Canal that runs from 30th Street right through Broad Ripple and connects to the Monon Trail.
Where to Eat
- Breakfast/Brunch: Perk Up Café – a great local café known for their in-house roasted coffee, artisan bread, and pastries. www.perkupindy.com
- Lunch: Ripple Bagel & Deli – Amazing bagel style sandwiches with an extensive menu. www.ripplebageldeli.com.
- Dinner: Brugge Brasserie – Amazing frites, crepes, and mitraillettes. www.bruggebrasserie.com
Where to Drink
- The Northside Social – A new restaurant that also has great cocktails and a wine bar. www.northsidesocial.com
- Union Jack – a local English styled pub. www.unionjackpub-broadripple.com/
- Corner Wine Bar – A great wine bar with regular tastings/ Also has an extensive food menu. www.cornerwinebar.com
- There are also a lot of nightclubs and bars that cater to the college crowd. If you’re interested in that scene, check out Rock Lobster, Mineshaft, and Landsharks.
Where to shop
- Broad Ripple Vintage – a great, small vintage store with unique clothing, floor to ceiling. Literally. www.broadripplevintage.com
- Indy CD & Vinyl – Indiana’s largest independent record store. www.indycdandvinyl.com
- Marigold Contemporary Clothing – Quirky, community oriented clothing store. www.marigoldclothing.com
Downtown Historic Residential Neighborhood Walks
Overview – These neighborhoods, primarily residential in character and use, showcase the great historic neighborhoods of downtown Indianapolis. Mostly single family with a few row houses thrown in; these neighborhoods are the best Indianapolis has to offer in terms of urban living.
Where – St. Joseph, Chatham Arch, and Lockerbie Square, all Northeast of Monument Circle in downtown.
How to get there – Short to long walk or short bike ride.
What to see
- St. Joseph: This neighborhood is centered on Alabama Street between St. Clair and the I-65 overpass. Alabama Street is one of the best urban streets in downtown, with a relative mix of uses and great ambiance. Also, be sure to check out every street that intersects Alabama, all full of great single family historic homes and brick streets. www.stjoeneighborhood.org
- Chatham Arch: This neighborhood is just north of Mass Ave. and features great single family cottage homes. Make sure to check out Broadway St. and Park St. and the surrounding areas, both just north of Mass. Ave. www.chathamarch.org
- Lockerbie Square: Bounded by Michigan Street to the north, College Avenue to the east, New York Street to the south, and East Street to the west, this small historic neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Places and packs a big punch as it is Indianapolis’s most quaint historic district. The stone and brick streets, old growth street trees, and beautiful historic homes make this area a treat. Be sure to check out Lockerbie Street and Park Avenue in the district. www.lockerbiesquare.org
White River State Park and Canal Walk
Overview – Taken together, the White River State Park and the Canal combine to create a unique and dynamic public space in the heart of Indianapolis.
Where – West edge of downtown
How to get there – Short walk or bike ride.
What to see
- White River State Park – The beautifully designed park is home to the Indianapolis Zoo, White River Gardens, Indiana State Museum, IMAX® Theater, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, NCAA Hall of Champions, Victory Field and the Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial. www.in.gov/whiteriver/index.html
- Be sure to cross the Old Washington Street pedestrian bridge over White River Park. Once across, head south along the river to a lookout pavilion which provides great views of the park and the Indianapolis skyline. The Indianapolis Zoo is also nearby. Notice the new JW Marriott hotel being constructed nearby – the big blue behemoth set apart from the rest of downtown.
- Central Canal – Originally constructed to connect the Erie and a Wabash canal to the Ohio River, the canal of today 1.5 mile long (3 mile loop) linear recreation hotspot and is a popular urban respite for fitness enthusiasts and serenity-seekers alike. This Downtown waterfront is dotted with pedal boats and gondolas, bicycles and surreys. The Canal cuts through numerous institutions and museums, Military Park, and features numerous residential condos and apartments, all with waterfront property. The canal’s northern terminus features Buggs Temple, one of the oldest church buildings in downtown. Today, it features two outstanding restaurants: Creation Café and Euphoria. www.indycanalwalk.org
Old Northside Walking Tour
Overview – This mainly residential neighborhood can be found on the National Register of Historic Places. This mainly residential neighborhood features grand Victorians and other stately mansions that make the area one of the premiere historic districts in the Midwest. Enjoy the Old Northside! www.oldnorthside.org
Where – Just north of downtown. Bounded by 16th Street to the north, the Monon Trail to the east, I-65 to the south, and Pennsylvania Street to the west.
How to get there – a long walk, short bike ride, or a short bus ride (bus route #19 – www.indygo.net/PDF/maps/19-Castleton.pdf)
What to see
- While every street is quite beautiful, specific streets to check out include Alabama Street, New Jersey Street, Park Avenue, and Broadway Street, all between the I-65 overpass and 16th Street. www.oldnorthside.org
- President Benjamin Harrison Home. Located at 1230 N. Delaware Street. www.presidentbenjaminharrison.org/.
- Morris-Butler House. A museum that shows you how an upper-middle-class family and their servants lived in the Victorian era. www.historiclandmarks.org/historicsitestoursevents/morrisbutler/pages/default.aspx
- Harrison Center for the Arts – Located at 1505 N. Delaware Street, this is a great community arts center that features open galleries for the public, open Monday-Friday 9:00am – 5:00pm. www.harrisoncenter.org
Fountain Square Exploration
Overview – Fountain square features one of Indianapolis’s most intact neighborhood business districts that was designated a historic district in 1984. Today, the neighborhood is best known for it’s unique restaurants, art galleries and studios, live entertainment, antiques, and small professional offices. Enjoy Fountain Square! www.discoverfountainsquare.com
Where – Directly Southeast of downtown Indianapolis
How to get there – Long walk, short bike ride, or short bus ride (Bus # 12 – www.indygo.net/PDF/maps/12-Beechcrest.pdf)
What to See
- Neighborhood walk – Be sure to check out Virginia Avenue from the I-70 overpass south to the center of the square at the intersection of Prospect Street and Shelby Street. Head east on Prospect Street a ways until the district ends. Along the way, you’ll notice numerous galleries, specialty shops, theatres, and cafes.
- Duckpin Bowling – the only authentic Duckpin Bowling in the Midwest and a unique and fun entertainment option.
- Fountain Square Theatre – a beautiful theatre built in 1928 that is decorated with an Italian garden theme and highlighted with a forty foot dome ceiling.
- Radio Radio – Fountain Square’s best concert venue with a full bar that takes on a retro vibe. www.futureshock.net
Places to eat
- Breakfast/Brunch: Shelbi Street Café & Bistro in the Fountain Square Theatre Building (weekends only) – A small eatery that offers unique food in a contemporary atmosphere. www.fountainsquareindy.com
- Lunch: Siam Square – the best Thai food in Indianapolis, hands down. www.siamsquaryindy.com
- Dinner: Santorini Greek Kitchen – The best Greek food in Indianapolis and one of the bets overall restaurants as well. Nice outdoor seating as well. www.facebook.com/pages/Indianapolis-IN/Santorini-Greek-Kitchen/128988963823
Places to Drink
- The Brass Ring Lounge – A bit of an ‘artsy’ bar that considers itself a vintage neighborhood lounge and restaurant with outdoor seating. www.thebrassringlounge.com
- Imbibe – Serves classic cocktails, craft brew beers by the bottle and on draft, and wines by the glass. www.fountainsquareindy.com
The Indiana World War Memorial Plaza
Overview – Designated a National Historic Landmark District. This collection of linear public open space is quite monumental and very impressive and European in scale. www.in.gov/iwm/
Where – Downtown, bounded by St. Clair Street to the north, Pennsylvania Street to the east, New York Street to the south, and Meridian Street to the west.
How to get there – a short walk or bike ride
What to see
- American Legion Mall – features a large lawn that is used for varying activities including pick-up flag football and numerous events.
- Obelisk Square – a picturesque square with a large obelisk and accompanying fountain centering the space.
- Indiana War Memorial – A beautiful Neoclassical building inspired by the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the seven wonders of the world. Within is a military museum, the Shrine Room, and an auditorium.
- University Park – A beautiful intimate park filled with numerous statues and a centerpiece fountain – the Depew Memorial Fountain.
Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art
Overview – Contains one of the world’s best Native American and Western Art collections and is one of two such museums east of the Mississippi.
Where – 500 W. Washington, Street. In the White River State Park – West Downtown.
How to get there – Short walk or bike ride.
Hours – Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm; Sunday, 12 noon to 5 pm. Public Tours given at 1 PM Saturday and Sunday
Contact – www.eiteljorg.org
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Overview – One of the nations largest and oldest general art museums, this sprawling complex sits on 152 acres of gardens and grounds. The museum’s permanent collection spans a significant range of cultures and eras, and numbers more than 50,000 works (including one of the nation’s largest collections of Asian art.) Elsewhere on the grounds, you can tour the historic Oldsfields estate and accompanying gardens, sculpture parks, and an Art & Nature Park.
Where – 4000 N. Michigan Rd., NW Indianapolis.
How to get there – by car or bus (Bus # 34). Route information: www.indygo.net/PDF/maps/34-Michigan_Rd.pdf
Hours – Tuesday – 11am to 5pm Wednesday – 11 am to 5 pm Thursday – 11 am to 9 pm Friday – 11 am to 9 pm Saturday – 11 am to 5 pm Sunday – noon to 5 pm Closed Mondays.
Contact – www.imamuseum.org
Thanks to Greg Meckstroth at urbanOut for preparing this guide.