Sweet Grass Restaurant, courtesy Bloomington CVB
If you want to discover the individual personalities of Indiana’s communities, you have to go downtown.
No matter where groups travel, visiting city centers provides them with an incomparable sense of what a destination is all about. On a tour of cities and towns throughout the Hoosier State, groups that take the time to explore downtown districts will discover cuisine, history, architecture and cultural institutions that are the pride of local residents.
In Indiana, downtown Indianapolis leads the way with a variety of attractions and a surge of new developments. Bloomington’s downtown food and wine scene is booming, and the town of Columbus boasts a central district with a wealth of outstanding architecture. Visits to the twin downtowns of Lafayette and West Lafayette provide opportunities for shopping and art appreciation. And in northern Indiana, downtown South Bend blends Notre Dame school spirit with a notable automobile history.
If you have epicureans in your midst, some time in downtown Bloomington should be a part of your Indiana tour.
“In 2012, Bloomington was named as one of USA Today’s best small towns in the country for food,” said Erin Erdmann, spokesperson for Visit Bloomington. “We really promote the food aspect. With wineries and breweries downtown and then all of the restaurants and opportunities for live music, there’s no shortage of activities to fill in an itinerary for a group for 36 hours.”
There are about 114 independent restaurants in Bloomington, and many of them are located around downtown or in the Indiana University area. Groups can arrange for interesting meals and interactive experiences at several of them.
“Oliver Winery has opened a downtown tasting room where they’re serving small plates of amazing food that they’re creating in-house with their chef,” Erdmann said. “They’re doing some wine flights, which really brings the charm of their north-side winery downtown. The building is dressed up with really unique lighting, exposed brick walls and all sorts of local art on display.
“Next door is a new craft-beer bar called the Tap. They have over 55 beers on tap that aren’t your typical domestics. For those palates that enjoy refined beers, it’s a great place to stop.”
Groups that want to make an evening in downtown can also arrange to see a performance at the Bloomington Playwrights Project. The theater group is the only playhouse in Indiana that produces original plays, meaning that the shows are guaranteed to be ones your group has never seen.
Numerous other theatrical and musical performances take place at the nearby Indiana University campus. Most events there are free and open to the public.
There’s always something new going on in downtown Indianapolis thanks to a large-scale expansion in infrastructure and amenities.
“In the last four years, we’ve invested $3 billion in new tourism infrastructure,” said Chris Gahl, vice president of marketing and communications at Visit Indy. “We’ve had about $130 million in hotel renovations over the last four years. A lot of that was due to hotels coming online when we hosted the Super Bowl in 2012.”
In addition to new hotels, expansion and investment has brought updates to core downtown attractions as well. The Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Indianapolis Zoo and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western art have all seen significant expansion in recent years.
Besides visiting those marquee attractions, visitors to Indianapolis have a variety of new ways to discover the urban energy.
“We have an architectural walking tour that has launched recently,” Gahl said. “There are two tracks to the tour. We’re second only to Washington, D.C., in terms of the number of monuments and memorials in the city. So one of the tours takes you to Monument Circle, where you go by the USS Indianapolis Memorial and the Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial.
“The Downtown Venue tour goes to all of our professional sports facilities and some of the more prominent buildings in our downtown. Both are walking tours. You can go with a docent, or download an app to go by yourself with your headphones.”
If your group travelers value independent exploration, they’ll also enjoy exploring the city on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. The $60 million project just opened in May and gives cyclists and pedestrians a dedicated eight-mile path to some 250 restaurants and 50 attractions throughout downtown.