June 2006 Issue
Indiana: Hitting the Hoosier Hot Spots
Indiana has lots to keep visitors busy, from an outstanding children's museum to a top-ranked amusement park and, of course, the renowned speedway.
How many reasons are there to visit Indiana? At least 500 or so.
Indiana is a state of plains, trains and automobiles. Besides the famed Indy 500, there's a world-class children's museum in Indianapolis - the state's No. 1 tourist attraction not counting that little motor jaunt around an oval track - a nifty set of ski slopes in Lawrenceburg, and a world-class amusement park in the town of Santa Claus (yes, there is such a burg).
Also among Indiana's top tourist attractions are the riverboat casinos that dot the picturesque hamlets along the Ohio River - among them, Grand Victoria II Resort in Rising Sun, Belterra Casino Resort in Belterra, Argosy Casino in Lawrenceburg, and Caesars in Bridgeport.
Other Hoosier hot spots include Conner Prairie in Fishers, a living-history museum that recreates an Indiana frontier town, populated by actors who play village residents (circa 1836). And don't overlook the Crowne Plaza hotel in Indianapolis, which is housed inside a railway station (where you can actually slumber in one of 26 authentic Pullman train cars).
If you're a crafts collector, head over to Nashville, a nifty village featuring dozens of galleries devoted to artsy items and handcrafted objects. And if you're an architecture buff, consider a drive to Columbus, where city planners showed considerable foresight in hiring some of the 20th century's most notable contemporary architects - I.M. Pei, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, and Cesar Pelli among them - to design the library, city hall and other civic structures.
If National Historic Landmarks are your thing, the tiny town of Madison showcases more historic homes per square block than just about any other. Head first to the Lanier Mansion, a renovated 1844 Greek Revival beauty complete with lush gardens located in Madison's Historic District.
And dedicated shoppers shouldn't miss out on Metamora, a once booming canal town that's evolved into an arts-and-crafts mecca featuring dozens of antiques and knick-knack shops.
Your visit to Indiana should include stops at the following destinations:
Children's Museum of Indianapolis
Your little ones can experience everything from the Dinosphere area, offering a large collection of dinosaur fossils, a dinosaur dig and a paleontology lab, to a steam-train exhibit that features a 35-foot-long steam engine and a collection of 100 toy trains. Current exhibits include "Fireworks of Glass," the largest Dale Chihuly glass sculpture ever (a 43-foot-tall tower), accompanied by a hands-on workshop where families can create their own plastic sculptures. There's also a film, "Chihuly's World of Glass," showing in the SpaceQuest Planetarium. Whether the kids love dinosaurs, carousels, model trains or magnets, the Children's Museum has an interactive exhibit or science display to please. 3000 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, 317/921-4000. www.childrensmuseum.org. Daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission $12, ages 2-17 and seniors 60 and over $7, free on Christmas Eve, Dr. Martin Luther King Day and other select holidays.
This community features authentically costumed interpreters who guide you into the past. Eli Lilly, president of the Indiana Historical Society, purchased the house and property of William and Elizabeth Conner back in the 1930s with the idea of creating this open-air, living-history museum. Divided into five areas on the prairie's 1,400 acres, Conner Prairie explores how Indiana residents lived in the 1800s. Visitors can chat with doctors, innkeepers, schoolmasters, cooks and the like. 13400 Allisonville Rd., Fishers, 317/776-6006, www.connerprairie.org. Tues.-Sat. 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission $11, seniors 65 and over $10, children ages 5-12 $7, ages 4 and under free.
Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art
The museum collection showcases paintings, sculpture and pottery as well as artifacts from Native American tribes throughout the plains. The new Perelman Wing - a 45,000-square-foot addition - doubles the Eiteljorg's public space and includes galleries, classrooms, a library, a technology lab, a cafe and gardens. Current exhibits are "Changing Hands - Art without Reservation: Contemporary Native North American Art from the West & Northwest" and "Marcus Amerman, Indian Market Signature Artist." 500 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, 317/636-9378. www.eiteljorg.org. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m. Guided tours at 1 p.m. daily. Admission $8, seniors 65 and over $7, children 5-17 $5, ages 4 and under free.
Visitors can hop aboard Blitzen's Airplanes or Comet's Rockets, or take a turn on Prancer's Merry-Go-Round. Beginning to sense a theme? Holiday World also has some whammo coasters that have nothing to do with Christmas, including the brand-new Voyage wooden roller coaster (measuring 1.2 miles long with a record five underground tunnels). Holiday World opened 60 years ago (as they don't hesitate to point out, that was a full decade before Mr. Disney jumped on the theme park bandwagon). Despite all this history, the park manages to remain on the industry's cutting edge. The editors of Amusement Today magazine recently ranked the Raven as "Best Wooden Coaster" in America, and the destination also won "Friendliest Park Staff" and "Cleanest Park" in the same national survey. No faint praise for this family-oriented (and smoke-free) theme park, which prides itself on serving unlimited free soft drinks, and providing free sunscreen and free parking. Splashin' Safari is the adjoining water park, which is included with admission. 452 E. Christmas Blvd., Santa Claus, 812/937-4401. www.holidayworld.com. Daily 10 a.m.-8 p.m. or later. Admission $36.95, $28.95 for those under 54 inches or over age 60, free to children 3 and under.
Fort Wayne Children's Zoo
Rated one of the top 10 zoos in the country by the editors of CHILD magazine, the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo offers 40 acres of fun for the entire family. Giraffes and zebras wander in the African Veldt, while other wild creatures inhabit such domains as the Indonesian Rainforest and Australian Adventure. Other attractions include pony rides, train rides and the Endangered Species Carousel. 3411 Sherman Blvd., Fort Wayne, 260/427-6800. www.kidszoo.org. Daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission $7.50, seniors 60 and over and ages 2-14 $5.
Indiana State Museum & IMAX Theater
This facility focuses on the furnishings, social history and heritage of Indiana. The collection includes objects that have had a significant economic or technological impact on Hoosiers as well as agricultural displays. An IMAX theater screens films including "Wild Safari 3D," opening June 9, which depicts a journey to the South African habitats of the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape Buffalo. 650 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, 317/232-1637. www.in.gov/ism. Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Museum admission $7, seniors $6.50, children $4. Museum and IMAX theater $12.50, seniors $11, children $8.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway & Hall of Fame Museum
Sure, there's that little auto race each Memorial Day Weekend, but also consider a visit anytime to see the Hall of Fame Museum, a tribute to the sport and its top winning cars and drivers. Some 75 vehicles in the collection include the Marmon "Wasp," which won the inaugural Indy 500 in 1911, and Dave Evans' No. 8 Cummins Diesel Special (the first car to complete the Indy 500 without a pit stop in 1931), plus four cars driven to victory by A.J. Foyt Jr. 4790 W. 16th St., Indianapolis, 317/481-8500. www.indy500.com. Daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission $3, ages 6-15 $1, ages 5 and under free. Track tours are an additional $3, ages 6-15 $1, ages 5 and under free.
Indianapolis Zoo and White River Gardens
From Siberian tigers and polar bears to whales and dolphins, just about every species can be found here. Particularly popular are Kedar the baby elephant and Nereus the walrus. The newest exhibit, which opened in May, features African mammal meerkats. The adjoining White River Gardens, meanwhile, displays thousands of flowers and plants on 3.3 acres. 1200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, 317/630-2030. www.indyzoo.com and www.whiterivergardens.com. Mon.-Thur. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Fri.-Sun. and holidays 9 a.m.-6 p.m. The zoo is closed June 9 for a private event. Admission to zoo and gardens $13.50, seniors 62 and over and ages 2-12 $8.50, children 1 and under free.
National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Hall of Champions Museum
The 25,000-square-foot museum pays tribute to student athletes past and present, and includes a turn-of-the-century gymnasium and three theater presentations. Currently on display is "A Century of Champions," a year-long exhibition celebrating the NCAA's centennial. One NCAA Plaza, Indianapolis, 317/916-4255. www.ncaa.org/hall_of_champions. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m. Admission $3, students $2, ages 5 and under free.
White River State Park
Indiana's only urban state park, White River is located in the heart of downtown Indianapolis and encompasses Victory Field (home to the Indians, AAA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates) and named by Sports Illustrated magazine as the "best minor league ballpark in America." The Governor's Lawn is the site for events such as the Vintage Indiana Wine and Food Festival (June 3) and for rock concerts such as O.A.R. (July 13). The park is also home to the Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial, saluting the 3,410 Americans who've won the nation's highest award for military valor. 801 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, 317/233-2434. Open dawn to dusk; free. For Indians schedule and ticket prices, visit www.indyindians.com.