If you’re moving to a new town or visiting a city on holiday be sure to check out My City (with kids!), a series of guest blog posts that are written by local blogging moms who love to explore their home town with their own kids… and inspire other families to enjoy their favourite places too!
Today’s My City (with kids!) features a host of things to do in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA and is written by Heather Vergara, a former PepsiCo marketing executive who left the corporate world to be a mom and never went back. She lives with her husband, two kids and 2 furry dogs in Zionsville, Indiana.
My City: Indianapolis
I have no idea where I’m from because I’ve moved around so much. I grew up in rural North Carolina, hightailed it to historic Washington DC after college, then moved to Bloomington, Indiana for grad school with a pit stop in Pittsburgh for work – until finally landing in the big city of Chicago for 16 years where I thought I would stay.
After growing up in such a small town, I fully intended to stay in or near a big city for the rest of my life, and Chicago fit the bill.
So, when my husband had a career opportunity in Indianapolis, I fought it like a petulant toddler. But life can throw you curveballs, and mine decided I wasn’t finished with Indiana. We packed up and moved three hours south to a charming town called Zionsville in the cornfields of Indiana. And thank goodness we did, because life is much sweeter and easier here in Indiana. I guess this is where I’m from now!
Our life in Indiana began five years ago when my son was 7 and getting ready to start 1st grade, and my daughter was just 3 years old. It seems like a lifetime ago as my son is now almost a teenager and my daughter has only two more years left of elementary school. We had no family or support system here – just a job for Daddy – requiring us to navigate the new world on our own and find our tribe.
We chose the village of Zionsville for its picturesque, tree-lined downtown that seems out of a storybook, its award-winning school system, its affordable homes and friendly neighborhoods, and its proximity to downtown Indianapolis and all the city has to offer. Which is why you’re here reading this story about my city of Indianapolis!
Coming from Chicago, we were used to having the world at our fingertips – even if we didn’t take advantage as often as we’d like trying to work around the naptimes of two little ones. But with the kids being older, we were ready to start exploring Indy!
Things to do in Indianapolis (with kids!)
Indianapolis Children’s Museum
First on our list was the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, the largest children’s museum in the world – and it’s in our new hometown! There are five floors of fun indoors including exhibits like Dinosphere, Chihuly’s Fireworks of Glass, Scienceworks, Beyond Spaceship Earth and Playscape, as well as ever-changing exhibits like American POP, the Chocolate Slide, and Mo Willems’ Pigeon and Pals. Play 12 outdoor sports at the newish Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience. When we first moved here, the indoor Children’s Museum was one of my kids’ favorite things to do in Indy. Then they opened the Sports Experience and it’s one of their favorite things to do anywhere! Soccer, baseball, basketball, football, tennis, hockey, golf, drag racing, Indy 500, and a treehouse to play in! This museum is definitely a full day’s worth of fun. If it’s nice outside, you can spend two days here – one indoors and one out! Adult tickets online $24, children’s $19. Parking is free!
Colts Canal Playspace and Paddle-boating the Canal
While there’s plenty of other great attractions, my kids’ second favorite Indy activity is smaller in scale and cost – the Colts Canal Playspace and paddle-boating the canal! The Colts Playspace is a new playground right on the canal, a gorgeous setting for strolling and watching the kids play. But the playground is so unique and tempting, I was inspired to climb with my kids. Luckily, no trips to the ER for this old lady! Once the kids finished playing, we walked the canal to the boathouse and rented a paddleboat and cruised the canal. The first time we visited, we came twice in one week because we loved it so much! After boating, we popped into the courtyard of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art where they were having an outdoor concert. We grabbed a drink at the outdoor concession stand and watched the show. The building is beautiful and worth a stop if you have time. If you’re hungry and museum food isn’t your thing, several restaurants on the canal with outdoor seating will suit your fancy.
My daughter is an animal lover, so she never passes up any zoo opportunity. The Indy Zoo is big enough to enthrall kids of all ages but small enough to walk the whole zoo in part of a day and see tons of animals without being totally exhausted. Our favorite exhibits are the shark touch pool (although I don’t think my kids have had the guts to actually touch a shark), the dolphin show, Flights of Fancy (amazing bird houses you walk through that will delight even non-bird lovers like me), and the huge elephant habitats that seem to be spread out through a wide swatch of the zoo. You also can’t miss the Orangutan Center with gigantic platforms the orangutans climb and hang over you.
Looking for more culture?
If culture is your thing, check out the Indiana State Museum and Newfields Museum of Art. The Indiana State Museum, located on the canal in White River State park, is ever-changing and is worth a look online to see if any of the current exhibits or special programs interest you. The permanent exhibits are mostly focused on Indiana history. We’ve gone twice – for the Star Wars exhibit, Cardboard Engineering, and The Art of the Brick (for LEGO lovers) – and stayed for an IMAX movie and play in the big, beautiful lobby. The building itself is a work of art! Current exhibits include The World of Hilarious Invention and Symphony in Color.
Newfields is a huge, beautiful campus that includes the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Lilly House and Garden, Miller House and Garden, the Beer Garden, and Fairbanks Park or 100 Acres, an outdoor nature park and sculpture garden. Everything except for 100 Acres is accessible from the same parking lot and requires an admission ticket. 100 Acres is free and is a favorite warm weather destination for our kids and dogs! The park surrounds a lake and is adjacent to the White River, so there’s water all around for rock-skipping and getting toes and paws wet. All the sculptures are climb-able as well! Around the holidays, Newfields is transformed into a winter wonderland with millions of lights all throughout the gardens and campus. It’s an annual tradition for our family! Buy tickets ahead online as there’s no walk-ins for this popular event.
If you’re game to travel outside of Indy, Conner Prairie is not to be missed! This Smithsonian outdoor museum allows you to immerse yourself in life in the 1800s, including Prairie town, Civil War Journey, Indian camp, hot air balloon rides, a 4-story treehouse and more! If you love outdoor concerts, check out the schedule for Symphony on the Prairie.
For Nature Lovers
In addition to 100 Acres, Indianapolis and the surrounding towns are a nature lovers’ dream! In Indianapolis, White River State Park and the canal as well as Holliday Park and Marott Park right near downtown provide ample room to roam, hike, creek stomp, and play on the playgrounds. About 10 miles outside of downtown, Eagle Creek State Park is the largest park in Indy with 1400 acres of water and 3900 acres of land for hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, sailing and ziplining. And if you still haven’t had enough nature and are up for an hour drive, Turkey Run State Park is our favorite summer spot for tubing. They also have hiking, cool suspension bridges, horseback riding, camping, fishing, and playgrounds.
Getting Around in Indianapolis
Indy is an easy city for tourists – friendly, safe, clean, no major traffic worries. Bring your car because you’ll want to get out of downtown at some point and it’s easy to drive and park in the area.
Places to Stay in Indianapolis
Stay downtown and you have lots of places of interest within walking distance. My favorite hotels are The Alexander, an artsy boutique hotel in the heart of downtown, and the JW Marriott, a fancy hotel adjacent to the Indiana Indians minor league baseball stadium.
Places to Eat in Indianapolis
I wouldn’t call Indianapolis an epicurean’s city, but I also wouldn’t call my kids culinary connoisseurs, so I’ll give you the rundown of some our family favorites. If you’re up for exploring, Mass Ave is Indy’s version of restaurant row.
• Old Spaghetti Factory – ask for the trolley car
• Cake Bake Shop – Broadripple and Carmel locations. My kids carbo-load on the baguette bread, noodles and desserts. I love the soups, salads, and bread!
• Napolese Pizzeria – one near Butler University and one in the Keystone Mall.
• Nada in downtown Indy for cocktails and tacos. More for adults but they do have a kids menu.
• If your kids like Hibachi, Hino Oishi in Carmel or Hibachi Grill outside Indy are yummy!
• Subzero Ice Cream – on Mass Ave in Indy and in downtown Carmel. Amazing ice cream they make right in front of you – like a science experiment!
If you have extra time while you’re visiting Indy, stop by our charming little town of Zionsville, about 20 miles from Indy. The brick streets of our village are the home of many yummy restaurants, charming boutiques, and a bustling Saturday Farmers Market in the warmer months. When you’re tired of strolling, pop into The Scoop for an ice cream cone and walk down the hill to Lions Park, the heart of our town, for hours of play on multiple playgrounds and ball fields.
About the Author
Heather Vergara is a former PepsiCo marketing executive who left the corporate world to be a Mom and never went back. In addition to family, Heather is passionate about kindness, community, travel and adventure, real food, and sweating every day. Heather has an MBA in Marketing from Indiana University and a BA in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She lives with her husband, two kids and 2 furry dogs in Zionsville, Indiana.
Check out her family travel blog at https://showthemtheworld.net/.