Slow down race fans! Surprisingly family-friendly, Indy is worthy of a four-day visit.
Indianapolis is best known for sports — car racing, football, and basketball. But Indiana’s state capital is so much more than a sports town; it’s also a great city for families. From a world-class children’s museum to 1930s-style duck pin bowling, Indianapolis has something to delight every member of your family. And if you happen to catch a Colts game or the Indianapolis 500 in between all the family fun, all the better!
We’ve road-tested this four-day itinerary for your family to follow. Enjoy!
Photo courtesy: Lavengood Photography
What to do?
Indianapolis offers families a multitude of hands-on activities that will appeal to both kids and parents. The Rhythm Discovery Center (110 W. Washington St.) is a perfect first stop when you arrive in town, letting everyone get out a little bit of the “travel crazy” while also giving kids (and adults) a chance to explore almost every known rhythmic instrument in the world! From a huge gong to full drum sets, everything is hands-on here. The Rhythm Discovery Center is a kid’s musical dream, but it can get loud; so if your child is sensitive to sound, ear plugs will help dull the noise while still allowing exploration. Cost: Youth (5 and under) Free; Youth (6-16) $6; Students (17-26 with valid student ID) $9; Adult $12.
After you’ve lived out your rock star dreams, head over to Atomic and Action Duckpin Bowling (1105 Prospect St.) at Fountain Square. Duckpin bowling uses smaller balls without holes and smaller pins. It originated in Baltimore in the early 1900s and quickly spread across the East Coast and Midwest. The Fountain Square duckpin alley is a fully-restored alley and the only authentic one in the Midwest. Cost: $40/lane/hour; shoe rental and balls are included.
Where to eat?
Between the music, the bowling, and travel, you're likely ready to crash. But before you head to bed, check out Cafe Patachou (225 W. Washington St.) near downtown. The local restaurant has an eclectic menu with homemade desserts, a great bar, and a killer kid’s grilled cheese.
Where to stay?
Time to check into the Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Downtown, Union Station (123 W. Louisiana St.), located in the heart of downtown Indy. It’s an old train station-turned-hotel where much of the old remains, including the spectacular windows, some of the tracks, and even 26 Pullman cars that have been transformed into hotel rooms. The Pullman car rooms are a bit small, but they are located right on the track and are perfect for any train lover or just someone looking for a unique experience. The hotel also has a small indoor pool, which is somewhat rare in downtown hotels. Rooms start at $179/night.
Photo courtesy: Rhythm Discovery Center
What to do? The next morning, wake up early and head over to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (3000 N. Meridian St.). Kids of all ages will delight at the large dinosaurs trying to climb in the building, and that’s just the beginning. Plan on spending the full day here exploring the five levels of science, history, and art experiences. The Children’s Museum offers activities for all ages of kids, including a strictly toddler area and an exhibit on three 20th century children who changed the world- Ryan White, Ruby Bridges, and Anne Frank.
KidTripster Tip: Make sure you grab a program guide when you arrive. Throughout the day, the staff will offer talks, shows, and hands-on experiments in different parts of the museum. My oldest two children are still talking about the cheese making class that they took in the STEM Lab.
There’s free parking at a lot across the street from the museum. The line to get into the parking ramp can be long, but it moves quickly. Inside, there also is a large food court with a variety of options that will appeal to even picky eaters. Cost: Youth (Under 2) Free; Youth (2-17) $16; Adult $19.75.
Where to eat?
The learning doesn’t have to end when you leave the museum. Take a short drive into a more rural part of Indianapolis for an incredible farm-to-table meal. Trader’s Point Creamery (9101 Moore Rd., Zionsville) offers organic food in a homey barn setting. The fresh, delicious, and unique food offerings here will satisfy both young and old. Your kids will be able to walk around the farm before or after their meals and see the cows (and calves, if you time your visit right) that contributed to the making of their ice cream! The cheese also is made in-house, and you can even sit near the cheese locker where the wheels of cheese are maturing.
KidTripster Tip: Try a milkshake. Trust us, try the milkshake.
Photo courtesy: Children's Museum of Indianapolis
What to do?
Don’t let the name scare you away. The Indiana State Museum (650 W. Washington St.) is a fun place for families. My kids may have moaned a bit when they heard “museum,” but their fears were quickly quelled by the giant animated globe that allowed them to explore the solar system with the push of a button. In addition to interactive learning experiences, the Indiana State Museum takes topics your kids have seen many times before on school field trips and presents them in a whole new way.
My boys especially enjoyed the section on pioneer life and all the decisions and issues that went into deciding to move to Indiana. Through a computer system attached to a covered wagon, you - as a would-be pioneer - are able to decide what items you need to bring, what items you need to leave behind, and what will help you best survive the journey. Once your wagon is packed (taking the weight into consideration), it’s time to head out and see if you can make it to Indiana (spoiler alert: you aren’t always successful). After you’ve finished your journey, you can learn to churn butter, chop wood, and even work a two-person saw. Cost: Youth (2 and under) Free; Youth (3-17) $8.50; Adult $13.
KidTripster Tip: To enhance your visit, ask about the family backpacks and fossils family backpacks filled with interactive extras at the ticket counter!
Don’t miss the IMAX theater that is attached to the Indiana State Museum. Tickets are an additional charge, but you can get a discount with your museum admission. The theater offers educational (but fun) films as well as traditional Hollywood movies. Cost: Youth (2 and under) Free; Youth (3-12) $8-$13; Adult (13 and over) $10-$16.
While the Indiana State Museum is a fun place, it’s still a museum, and kids need to use indoor voices. If your crew is ready to run off some energy and be loud, head over to The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park: 100 Acres at Newfields, formerly known as the Indianapolis Museum of Art (4000 N. Michigan Rd.). This outdoor art sanctuary is free and offers plenty of space to run, jump, and explore. The park is open from dusk to dawn and has walking trails as well as sculptures that are meant to be touched and even climbed. Cost: Free.
Where to eat?
Now that everyone has worked up an appetite, drive to Mug and Bun (5211 W. 10th St.), located near the Indianapolis Speedway. This classic drive-in restaurant has no seating; you park, and the waitstaff comes to your car to take your order and brings your food. The menu isn’t extensive, but the offerings -hamburgers, hot dogs, and fish ‘n chips - are kid-friendly.
KidTripster Tip: The root beer is housemade, so go all out and order the float!
Photo courtesy: Newfields
What to do?
A visit to Indianapolis wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Indianapolis Zoo (1200 W. Washington St.). The zoo houses elephants, rhinos, giraffes, and more. But this zoo isn’t just a place where you can see animals; you also get to interact with them. Included with your admission is the chance to pet sharks and for an extra fee, feed giraffes or birds.
KidTripster TIp: When you arrive at the Indianapolis Zoo, make sure you get your free tickets to the daily dolphin show. Offered several times each day, the show features a live dolphin performance along with information about dolphin training and how dolphins are like humans. The tickets are free, but they do sell out, so get them early. It’s open seating, so arrive at least 15 minutes ahead of time for the best seats. Be aware of the splash sections; you will get wet in these areas.
The Indianapolis Zoo also offers a small rollercoaster for those looking for an adrenaline rush, a carousel for younger kids, and a sky ride that takes you high above the zoo and offers views of downtown Indianapolis. The rides do have an additional cost, but you can purchase tickets that include the extras, as well as a stop in the 4D theater. Cost: Youth (2 and under) Free; Youth (2-12) $15.20; Adult (13 and up) $19.95.
KidTripster Tip: The Indianapolis Zoo is spread out, so make sure you have a stroller for little legs or be prepared for lots of stops. The playground is a great place for kids to run off steam, and the splash pad, which is only open during the summer months, offers a reprieve from the heat.
Where to eat?
No need to leave the zoo to grab a bite to eat. It offers several eateries with above average food. We picked Cafe on the Commons for our lunch and were honestly blown away by the options. The menu offers traditional kids' food (chicken tenders, grilled cheese) but also a Build-Your-Own Farm-to-Table Salad option (for just $8.99) or a turkey cranberry sandwich (for $6.99). It would be hard to pick a favorite, but I think the sweet chili chicken wrap may have won the day. The cafe doesn't serve burgers, pizza or hot dogs, but those can be found nearby at the Westside Cafe or Nana’s Gourmet Snack Shop.
Indianapolis is located in central Indiana. It's a 2-hour drive from Cincinnati, 3-hour drive from Chicago, 4-hour drive from St. Louis and 5-hour drive from Detroit.
Former journalist Jamie Farber lives in West Michigan with her husband and three sons, ages 2, 8, and 11. Her English degree has somehow led her to a career planning Disney vacations with Mickey Travels. In her spare time, she enjoys planning her family's many trips around the U.S. and the Caribbean.
This writer received some complimentary activities for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.