Are you looking for a summer vacation that will please the whole family? Preferably one where you don't have to drive to get to every site you want to see? Say you want to take in a baseball game, go to the zoo, visit a park, and eat great food on the go. What place has all this within walking distance? Indianapolis, Indiana.
Surprised? Indianapolis may be most readily associated with the 500 Race and Pacers basketball, but it offers a lot more than that. Downtown Indy is a vibrant, safe, family-friendly spot with enough attractions to please everyone in your brood.
For ease of navigation, downtown Indianapolis is divided into "quads." Here's a quick walking tour of just a slice of one quad. Within the space of a few blocks, you can catch a baseball game, go to a world-renowned zoo, see botanical gardens, catch an IMAX movie, tour museums, and eat any type of cuisine you'd care to name.
Hotels in all price ranges abound downtown. The Crowne Plaza Hotel in Union Station is fun and central to our walking tour. For more intimate accommodations, try one of the half-dozen bed-and-breakfast inns in the heart of downtown.
Park your bags and forget the car for the rest of your stay. Now you're walking. Let's start at the world-famous Indianapolis Zoo. Everyone will love the Dolphin Adventure, the world's first totally submerged dolphin viewing experience and the Midwest's only human-dolphin interaction program. A train ride can ease tired feet. And when you get tired of seeing 350 animal species in natural habitats, you can choose from many varieties of lunch fare.
The Indianapolis Zoo is part of White River Park, a unique urban park that hosts many summer social events. When you exit the zoo, you're immediately in the park. One portion of the park houses White River Gardens, a breathtaking combination of indoor and outdoor gardens, with a gift shop, restaurant overlooking the river, and a helpful gardening resource center. Make sure you walk through the indoor multistory garden. It houses tropical plants and thousands of butterflies―many of which will fly right past you! Because some of them are rare, you'll need to stop for inspection as you exit―to make sure one doesn't hitchhike on your shirt! The outdoor areas span acres of spectacular formal and informal gardens. Beyond that is an outdoor amphitheater and access to more of the park.
Walk across the bridge that spans White River to get to the NCAA Hall of Champions. This mecca of college sports will awe dad and entertain the rest of the family. Three theaters, interactive exhibits, and a turn-of-the-century gym are just a few of the engaging ways to learn what being a 'champion' truly means.
A few steps east of that are the Indiana State Museum and IMAX Theater adjoining it. The state museum is full of interactive exhibits that tell the history of the land (from prehistoric times to the present) as well as the state's development. The IMAX reels in a steady stream of first-run movies and shows made especially for the REALLY big screen. Feel the thunder of a space shuttle liftoff or get dizzy soaring with Harry Potter on a hippogriff―all on a six-story screen with "you-are-IN-it" intensity.
Just next door is the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. Mom will love the gift store's authentic handmade jewelry. Depending on when you go, you may catch the Indian Festival, which occupies much of the outdoor grounds of the museum.
The summer heat may coax you to take a paddleboat ride along what remains of Indiana Central Canal (which was never completed). The north shore of the canal is home to the Congressional Medal of Honor Monument, a unique set of curved glass walls that memorialize the 3,410 Americans who received our country's highest award for military valor. The heroes' names and 15 conflicts dating back to the Civil War are etched on the glass. At dusk each night, a portion of the monument lights up, accompanied by taped narration from Medal of Honor recipients. Hear their first-hand accounts of uncommon courage displayed in a particular battle.
Two blocks south is Victory Field, which Sports Illustrated dubbed 'the Best Minor League Ballpark in America'. The Indianapolis Indians AAA baseball team usually wins, and the stadium has a 'down home', intimate feeling, despite housing more than 17,000 seats. Every seat is on a slight angle and offset from the row ahead of it―so you don't need to crane your neck to see around the people in front of you. You can also sit on the grass behind the outfield, if you want. Every seat offers stunning views of the downtown skyline. Tickets and food are very reasonably priced, and special events usually precede the game.
If you really want to beat the heat, walk a couple blocks east to Circle Center Mall, carved out of several city blocks in each direction. You can shop till you drop through almost 100 stores. When that fuels your appetite, take your pick of formal or informal dining experiences in and around the mall: from bistros and barbecue to Pacific fusion, Thai, and Tibetan. Skywalks connect the mall directly with several area hotels.
The longest walk is a few blocks away to the Indiana Repertory Theater, which provides a year-round mélange of offerings. Discount packages are available for hotel-attraction combinations and groups of attractions. Enjoy Hoosier hospitality at its best!