Three hours to the west, Indianapolis has everything you need for an active and cultivated itinerary.
U.S. census reports show that in 2016 Columbus first surpassed the population of Indianapolis and secured the rank of 14th largest city in the country, while Indianapolis is 15 years old. But these two Midwestern state capitals have a lot more in common than just size and stature. For an easily accessible getaway, Buckeyes find Circle City full of familiar but distinctive destinations and delicacies, all served with a heaping helping of Hoosier hospitality.
If you want: The Short North Arts District
You will love it: the districts of the culture trail
Short North’s fashionable boutiques, galleries, and restaurants have their own caché, as does the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, a prime bicycle and pedestrian street that runs through downtown. To mark its fifth anniversary in 2018, the 8-mile city project has won national raves for its innovative design and content.
Of the five cultural districts it connects, Mass Ave draws the greatest comparisons with the short north, populated with locally owned shops and trendy restaurants. Here, visitors to the Indy Reads bookstore, where all proceeds support local adult literacy programs, can browse an inventory that is well worth feeling good about. Then you can grab a few Indiana-themed souvenirs at Homespun: Modern Handmade, before filling up with creative food and drink in the Union 50, Black, market or the garden table.
The fun and funky neighborhood of Fountain Square / Fletcher Place is home to killer music venues, East Coast-style action & atomic duckpin bowling at the historic Fountain Square Theater, and renowned restaurants like Milktooth and Bluebeard.
With 29 stations and 251 bikes, the Indiana Pacers Bikeshare System provides a convenient way to visit the Indiana State Museum, the Eiteljorg Museum of Native American and Western Art, the NCAA Hall of Champions, and the Indianapolis Zoo in sprawling White River State Park. Take a lap along the Canal Walk for breathtaking views of the skyline, paddle boats, and gondolas. (Yes, in Indianapolis.)
Along the way, skilfully designed public art installations reflect those of the short north and offer contemplative opportunities to rest for a minute and catch your breath.
If you want: restaurants started by Liz Lessner
You will love it: Martha Hoover’s restaurants
Former Columbus restaurateur Liz Lessner built her culinary reputation on the diverse restaurants she opened through the Columbus Food League. Her Indianapolis counterpart, Martha Hoover, named one of Fortune magazine’s Most Innovative Food and Drink Women in 2017, has also established herself as the doyenne superior of the city with a growing Patachou empire.
Hoover opened her original Cafe Patachou in 1989 to feed others the way she feeds her own family, introducing the local restaurant scene with a farm-to-table sensitivity that was ahead of its time. Nowadays, a handful of Café Patachous – casual, self-proclaimed “adult student unions” – offer self-serve coffee and hearty, healthy breakfast and lunch dishes made with locally sourced organic ingredients. You can’t go wrong with the quirkily named omelets or the “Broken Yolk” sandwiches and indulge yourself in the cinnamon toast – huge brioche platters marinated in butter, sugar and spices.
Several Napolese artisanal pizzerias and petite chou bistros / champagne bars have expanded Hoover’s offerings over the past decade, along with the public greens: Urban Kitchen with a Mission, a forward-thinking cafeteria-style restaurant on the Monon Trail with gardens who have favourited a frequently changing menu of soups, salads and starters. Every penny of the public green profits goes back to the Patachou Foundation to feed local, vulnerable children.
With just 16 seats, the sophisticated One Fourteen bar is one of the most popular places in town for essential cocktails and sophisticated bar snacks. Across 49th Street, Hoover’s son David Hoover occupies the kitchen of the newly introduced Crispy Bird, cooking some of the best fried chicken and soulful dishes in town.
If you want: The Scioto Mile Greenways Trail and the Olentangy Trail
You will love it: The Monon Rail Trail
Over the past decade, Columbus residents have watched the riverside downtown transform into the attractive, accessible Scioto Mile Greenways Trail for cycling, running, and other outdoor recreational activities. The connection to the Olentangy Trail increases the range even further. The first leg of Indy’s popular Monon Rail Trail opened in 1996 and has become a 23-mile paved trail that winds north from downtown to Carmel and on to Westfield.
Make a pit stop to admire the charming shops, restaurants, and art venues of Broad Ripple Village, located about halfway between downtown Indy and 96th Street, bordered by the scenic White River and lined with residential bungalow streets . Some of the particularly cute restaurants, galleries, and gift stores on 54th Street in South Broad Ripple – “SoBro” if you want to sound like a local – include locally grown gardens, the gallery pastry shop, Mama Carolla’s Italian mansion, Mass Ave Toys, Tiny Home treats and a lot of lifestyle. For a fun photo, find the Angel Wings murals created by local artists Jamie Locke and Megan Jefferson to pose in front of them.
In Carmel, take some time to admire the stylish galleries and boutiques of the Arts & Design District, adorned with more than a dozen incredibly lifelike statues by J. Seward Johnson. Hungry? Attack the “Big Ugly” at Bub’s Burgers and Ice Cream if you dare – while it’s not a Thurmanator, it’s still a full pound of made-to-order food with all the ingredients.
If you want: COSI
You’ll Love It: The Indianapolis Children’s Museum
Since 1964, Columbus’s valued science and industry center has made learning fun by blurring the lines between education and entertainment for teens and adults. Likewise, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum is a must-see for curious children of all ages and the young at heart.
TCM, the largest children’s museum in the world, was originally founded in 1925. 1.25 million visitors come through the doors of the five-story, nearly 473,000-square-foot facility each year to enjoy a spectacular array of educational exhibits and hands-on activities. Most popular features include the Dinosphere, a stunning Beyond Spaceship Earth exhibit, a handy ScienceWorks area, a PlayScape area for visitors under 5, a soaring Dale Chihuly sculpture, and a still-working carousel Wishes and Dreams dates back to the year 1917. Don’t miss the opportunity to be moved by a gallery titled The Power of Children: Making a Difference, which highlights the extraordinary lives of Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges and Ryan White.
The Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience joins the party this spring, offering an additional 7.5 acres of indoor / outdoor space on museum grounds, as well as a range of fitness-themed activities that include basketball, auto racing, hockey and soccer. Tennis, golf and soccer.
If you want: North Market
You will love it: city market
Columbus residents have been visiting North Market since 1876 for locally produced groceries from a bustling list of vendors. The historic brick structure that houses the town market in the heart of downtown Indy was built not long after, in 1886, as a community meeting place and remains a comprehensive stop for anything edible (and delicious). Of the 34 merchants in the residence, 28 serve food and / or drinks; A shoe shine stand, a cell phone repair shop, a hairdresser, a bodega, a florist and a boutique round off the appeal.
A busy downtown business location. Mezzanine seating is the perfect spot to watch the bustling stalls below. (Fun fact: the cozy Tomlinson Tap Room in the southwest corner serves a rotating beer list consisting entirely of Indiana-made craft brews.) When the weather is nice, customers covet the outdoor tables for lunch with live music and a new rain garden and Boccia courts have been added thanks to a “Heart of the Community” grant from Southwest Airlines in collaboration with Project for Public Spaces in Manhattan and Indy’s own Big Car Collaborative.
Other local grocery producers line the brick street on Wednesdays from May to October to further enhance the commitment to Indy’s Original Farmers Market, and the Indiana Landmarks organization runs seasonal tours of the mysterious catacombs that run beneath the property.
If you want: the historic charm of the Ohio Statehouse
You’ll love it: Indy’s war memorials
While the pretty Ohio Statehouse cuts a fine figure, Indianapolis ranks second after Washington DC for the number of memorials and memorials dedicated to veterans and military conflict. If you count the Civil War graves in Crown Hill Cemetery, no other city in the United States devotes more space to honoring those who served.
History buffs can pay their respects at 41 memorials scattered downtown, from the Indiana War Memorial Museum and the sprawling American Legion Mall to the USS Indianapolis Memorial on the Canal and Veterans Memorial Plaza. At the heart of the collection, administered by the Indiana War Memorials Commission, is the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which anchors Monument Circle. The limestone tower soars 284 feet into the sky and offers a 360-degree view at the top for those brave enough to climb the 331 steps required to reach the observation deck. (Or you can skip the first 300 steps on the elevator.)
Inaugurated in 1902, the memorial is just 15 feet from the Statue of Liberty. It turns into the “largest Christmas tree in the world” every year when it is wrapped in fairy lights during the “Circle of Lights” holiday festival presented by the IBEW # 481 union.
Amy Lynch is an Indianapolis-based freelance writer who specializes in getting poetic about food and travel.