Indianapolis is often overshadowed by larger, more “cosmopolitan” coastal cities like New York City and San Francisco. But there’s more to the city than just racing and amateur sports. Here are a few of our favorite places to eat, play, and sleep in one of the Midwest’s most underrated urban hubs.
There’s no denying that racing is interwoven into Indy’s DNA. The unique Indy Racing Experience is the closest any common man will ever get to experiencing the sport like a professional driver. The Ride Experience allows anyone to step into a purpose-built, two-seater IndyCar and lap the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway at up to 185 mph. What’s more: the cars are driven by active and past pro drivers, including Mario Andretti.
For a large city, Indianapolis is surprisingly walkable, but visitors can see so much more on a proper bike tour. Even if you’re not the tour-going type, the folks at Active Indy offer a wealth of information on their customizable biking and running tours. The city’s 8-mile Cultural Trail winds a paved, easily bikeable path through the entire downtown core. For something entirely different (and nerdy), check out Segway Tours of Indiana.
On the tamer side, the Fountain Square Theater Building is a mid-20th-century, all-in-one “funhouse” of sorts in the artsy, up-and-coming Fountain Square district. The historic building occupies a full city block and consists of a boutique hotel, a retro diner, a rooftop deck with stunning skyline views, and an old Vaudeville theater. But the real throwback is the basement duckpin bowling alley where every authentic detail harkens back to the early 1900s.
In the last decade, the city has undergone a culinary renaissance and the tattooed folks at Milktooth believe that “reboot” should include even the lowly breakfast. This one-time auto care garage now serves the city’s most creative early morning meals. The menu changes often, but expect innovative takes on brunch-style entrees like their Belgian waffle (with salted butter, local honey, and parmesan) and their take on steak & eggs (including a grilled ribeye, slow poached egg, horseradish/arugula puree, and local oyster mushrooms). The coffee drinks are even more intriguing — check out the Love Train (espresso, sage, vanilla, coconut, and caramel sticky bun sauce).
Nearby, Bluebeard offers a daily-changing menu of similarly creative dishes, all crafted from a handful of simple ingredients. Small plates like their FPB&J — foie peanut butter, plum and blueberry jam, pullman toast, and frozen milk — are not uncommon. The adjacent Amelia’s Bakery is a must-visit for locals who frequently grab a fresh loaf of hearth-baked bread on their way out.
Head to Tinker Street for a brief, but creative list of desserts. The S’more Pot de Crème — with chocolate mousse, marshmallow topping, and a side of hickory ash — is a house specialty. For an after-dinner tipple, stop at Hotel Tango — the city’s first distillery after changing its Prohibition-era laws in 2013. The rustic, no-frills space offers an excellent craft cocktail menu inspired by the spirits brewed on-site.
The Conrad Indianapolis raises plenty of eyebrows from Indy locals as the city’s swankiest accommodations. In addition to its luxurious, oversized rooms, the hotel is home to an art gallery and a wine tasting bar with one of the city’s best outdoor patios for people-watching. Its location adjacent to the famous Artsgarden and easy walkability to everything downtown both make it an ideal home base for travelers.
For some of the city’s most locally-flavored accommodations, visit The Alexander. A carefully curated collection of local artwork (they work closely with the Indianapolis Museum of Art) adorns the lobby and adjoining halls of this modern boutique hotel. It’s worth a visit — even for non-guests — if only for a cocktail at the chic Plat 99 Mixology Lounge.