Even the most prideful Hoosier would admit, in an honest moment, that theirs isn’t the hippest of tourist destinations.
You’ll get no “oohs” and “aahs” upon announcing to your Facebook friends that you’re “off to Indiana!” for vacation. This, however, does not mean that your family should skip past this Midwestern state and its capital city on your way to Chicago and St. Louis, or to Philly, NYC, and D.C.
We spent the opening weekend of our three-week, cross-country road trip in 2015 in Indy – a Fourth of July in the heartland – and came away extremely impressed with the modern urban culture of Indiana’s capitol city and the unique experiences available in the southern part of the state.
Here’s the best of what we saw, ate and did in Indiana while celebrating our nation’s independence. Get ready for fun when touring Indianapolis with kids!
Top Indianapolis Attractions for Families
Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
This staple of Indy family life should not, under any circumstances, be skipped during your Indiana vacation! In fact, leave an entire day open to explore, learn, laugh and play in this massive childhood wonderland. Enjoy an epic dinosaur encounter, a first-class ticket to China, hands-on science exhibits, theatre and planetarium shows, plus a rotating roster of branded experiences with Hot Wheels, Transformers, and coming this fall, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
We’re generally leery of zoos because the balance of human entertainment versus animal welfare rarely feels right. The Indianapolis Zoo, however, has an ironclad conservation mission and is home to the International Orangutan Center, making it an ideal zoo to visit with kids who want to learn about animals and habitats, not simply tap on the glass before zooming away to a face painting booth.
Conner Prairie Interactive History Park
With a colorful mix of 1830’s prairie life, Lenape Native American culture, and Civil War history, Conner Prairie is where the mid-19th century comes alive for 21st-century families. The views are impressive too, whether you’re up 377 feet in the tethered balloon or watching your kids become inspired by hands-on engineering projects in the welcome center.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Even if you aren’t a racing fan, a visit to Indiana wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Take a ride around the track, stroll through the museum or go big with a VIP racing experience.
Indianapolis Indians Baseball
The Triple A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates play downtown at Victory Field, a quintessential minor league ballpark with affordable prices, family-friendly activities, outfield picnic areas and the chance to get super close to the next crop of big leaguers.
*Baseball not your thing? Catch an Indy Eleven NASL soccer match instead!
See a gorgeous working steam clock and two woolly mammoth statues as your family walks, takes a leisurely four-person pedal boat cruise, or get a group workout on a surrey bike, along the downtown canal.
Good Family Eats In Indianapolis
This cash-only bakery is an Indy tradition worth a quick diet detour. Tip: request the warm, just-out-of-the-oven donuts!
This local favorite breakfast and lunch chain with several locations in and around Indianapolis is an affordable and delicious option for family dining.
Three items of note at Scotty’s: Tater Tots! Bacon Mac-n-Cheese! And kids eat free on Sundays and Tuesdays! With locations all over the state, eating at Scotty’s is an easy way save money while exploring Indiana with kids.
Traders Point Creamery
This farm-to-table restaurant and dairy bar located 20 minutes north of downtown is well worth the drive, especially if you are fortunate enough to experience Fridays on the Farm, a weekly summer event with live music, petting zoo and all-natural cuisine (vegetarian and kids’ options are available) served on the shaded outdoor patio.
Great Indianapolis Hotels for Families
The gilded age meets the Wi-Fi world in the historic 1914 building that’s now home to the Hilton Garden Inn Indianapolis Downtown. Not many of these glorious ladies remain – with all that polished brass, marble and tasseled drapery — so it’s nice to show kids what fancy looked like “back in the day.” The location is perfect too – just steps from the stunning Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument and the downtown outpost of La Peep!
The Residence Inn Indianapolis Downtown on the Canal is another terrific Indianapolis hotel, where your kids can grab a free baggie of bread to feed the ducks during your family’s paddleboat ride or canal walk towards Victory Field. Of course you’ve got that classic free breakfast too. Really, this is THEE prime comfortable hotel for families in the city.
Off the Radar Away From Indianapolis!
Head about 2.5 hours south for a free tour of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana, the gargantuan factory in Princeton, Indiana, where the Sienna, Highlander and Sequoia are produced. Did you know that the Sienna minivan is the second most American made car?
You’ll see many of those Swagger Wagons being assembled “The Toyota Way” and your kids will manufacture free Toyota keepsakes in the impressive visitor’s center.
Continue down the road another 40 minutes to New Harmony, a curious 1914 settlement with a shockingly modern visitor’s center. Rent a golf cart to drive over to Sara’s Bistro for a slice of quiche and a craft root beer, and then wind your way around the town’s famous hedge labyrinth.
Finally, backtrack an hour east to the best-named city in America — Santa Claus, Indiana — and spend a day riding wooden coasters and getting soaked at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari.
We unfortunately didn’t get up there this time, but if your travel plans take you along the northern portion of Indiana, you must check out the sand dunes in Indiana Dunes State Park! And of course, stop off in South Bend to buy a Notre Dame memento for the Fighting Irish fan in your life (every family has at least one!).
Before you pack up the family for a road trip to Indiana, make sure you’ve prepped your car for a road trip!