Last updated on September 7th, 2020
Not long ago I took a road trip down memory lane with a tour around the Midwest. As I was doing research on what to do and see during a stop in Indy, the list of places to visit in Indianapolis became quite long. Since I only had two days, I decided to experience artistic Indianapolis, of which there were quite a number of choices.
I grew up and went to school in the Midwest and have lived in Chicago, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. During that time, I took a few brief trips to Indianapolis – once to see some of the sporting events in the Pan American games that were being held there, and once to see the time trials for the Indianapolis 500. Both of these trips were a long time ago though, and I was eager to visit and discover other aspects of today’s Indy, especially the Indianapolis arts scene.
Discovering artistic Indianapolis
After spending a few days exploring the Garden of the Gods and Southern Illinois, I moved on to Indianapolis which was an easy 4 hour drive. My plans were to spend about two days exploring this somewhat underrated Midwest city.
Children’s Museum Indianapolis
I started my first morning at one of Indy’s most popular museums which was a quick 20 minute drive from the Ironworks Hotel where I was staying.
Even though I was not chaperoned by a child, the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis was a joy to visit. There is nothing quite like a good children’s museum to bring out the inquisitive kid in me, and this is one of the best. It is also the biggest children’s museum in the world.
The fun starts with the life sized Brachiosaurus dinosaur and a baby dino clinging to the front of the glass building and peeking inside. In its Dinosphere exhibit, the museum shows an amazingly large collection of dinosaur fossils, including one of the largest collections of juvenile dinosaur fossils in the world. You’ll be able to see the remains of a teenage T. Rex, still intimidatingly large and fierce looking even though it is not full grown (in theory).
My main purpose for visiting though was to see the large Chihuly glass sculpture in the lobby. I am a huge fan of the work by master glass artist Dale Chihuly and I look for it whenever I travel. The installation here is four stories tall and is called Fireworks of Glass and Pergola Ceiling. (Be sure to also read my other Chihuly posts).
The main tower is made up of 3200 pieces of curved gooseneck shaped glass that are two to four feet long in shades of red, yellow and blue.
The tower sits on a glass floor which is actually the ceiling to the lower level – this is the Pergola Ceiling part of the installation. Within this ceiling are an additional 1600 multi-colored glass shapes that have become part of Chihuly’s signature style.
In the lower level the glass ceiling paints the reflective floor with multiple shades of colored light. On the walls are displays that explain the process that Chihuly and his team use to make the many varied shapes.
And because this is a children’s museum, there is also a hands on display that lets kids build their own Chihuly sculpture with colored plastic sculptural pieces. A rotating round couch also lets visitors stare up at the glass pieces in the ceiling to study the many different shapes.
I also enjoyed exploring some of the other exhibits in the museum. Even though they are geared primarily for children, the exhibits are also designed to engage adults. I especially liked the Power of Children exhibit which celebrates the lives of three children who helped change the world: Ann Frank, Ruby Bridges and Ryan White. (Malala Yousafzai will be added soon to this exhibit also).
Another favorite is the classic carousel that you can take a ride on. However, the day I was there, one of the museum artists was freshening up the paint on the horses.
This carousel was originally installed in Broad River Park in Indy in 1917, but the wooden horses were actually carved before 1900. The museum acquired the various parts and pieces of the damaged ride in the 1960’s and restored the carousel back to its original beauty and working order, and it has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
I only spent a few hours at the children’s museum but could easily have spent the whole day acting like a child again. But I had to move on and next up was Newfields, a huge green campus that includes the Indianapolis Museum of Art, a nature and art park with numerous trails and the historic Lilly House.
I grabbed a small late lunch at the Indianapolis Art Museum cafe and then quickly toured the galleries and special exhibitions. The first thing I saw in pride of place was the very first LOVE sculpture made by Robert Indiana.
This famous four letter typography first started out as a print for the Museum of Modern Art’s Christmas Card in 1968. A few years later, the image also became an extremely popular design for US postage stamps.
After the immense popularity of the first LOVE sculpture which he created in 1970, numerous other versions have been produced and are on display all around the world.
After exploring the galleries, I went outside to discover the Lilly House and gardens. The 22 room mansion and the surrounding garden was the home of Josiah K. Lilly Jr. who was president and then CEO of the Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Company until 1966. The home is listed as a National Historic Landmark and the first floor has been restored to its 1930’s appearance when the family lived there.
I finished my tour of Newfields with a walk through a small portion of the 100 acres that makes up the Virginia B. Hayes Art and Nature Park. Again, I could have spent a whole day exploring, not just the afternoon that I had available. But, after so much walking, I was ready to relax and grab a good meal back at the Ironworks hotel.
The Eiteljorg Museum of Indian and Western Art
On my second day in Indy I went back downtown to the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art. Even though this museum is in the Midwest, it has one of the best collection of western and indigenous people’s art in the US. Besides the permanent collections which include works by Remington and Georgia O’Keefe, there is also a wonderful contemporary collection of works by modern Native Americans.
The museum also showcases special rotating exhibitions. During my visit, there was a fun temporary exhibit that explored the cultural impact of Western films. Being married to a John Wayne film buff, I recognized the costumes and hats on display that were worn by many of the classic Western film stars including John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, the Bonanza gang and others.
If you have more time, there are a number of other museums in Indianapolis and other sites near the Eiteljorg Museum, all of which are also in the downtown White River State Park : the Indiana State Museum, the NCAA hall of Champions, the Indianapolis Zoo and White River Gardens. You can also walk along the canal or stroll the park and look for the prevalent public art.
Carmel Arts and Design District
I wanted to make one final visit before driving on to Elkhart, Indiana to explore the quilt gardens there. I drove to the northern Indianapolis suburb of Carmel to check out the Museum of Miniature Houses.
This museum was established to preserve, protect and display scale miniatures and antique dollhouses. The items on display are not children’s playthings, but rather exact to scale, highly detailed reproductions.
Throughout the museum there are miniature houses and room boxes that exactly replicate everything from Sherlock Holmes’ 221B Baker Street residence to a fairy tale setting to a museum. The level of detail and craftsmanship was just incredible.
Carmel has recently reinvented itself as an Arts and Design Destination that has drawn numerous art galleries and studios and has become one of the most interesting places in Indianapolis. As luck would have it, I happened to visit during the annual Carmel International Arts Festival that showcased the works of amazing artists from all over the country.
I had a great time walking up and down the streets, looking at all the wonderful art items for sale, listening to the band that was playing and trying to decide which street food vendor to choose for my late lunch. I love these types of arts and crafts shows, especially one with such high quality products. I really had to control myself to not buy everything in sight, especially since I was driving and knew I had room in the car.
Even without the festival, it still would have been fun to explore all the cute public art on Carmel’s Main street and grab lunch at one of the many local restaurants. I will definitely stop here again next time I am in the area.
Where to stay in Indianapolis
I spent my two nights in Indy at the Ironworks Hotel – a new hotel that looks historic. Whenever I can, I look for boutique hotels in the destinations where I am going so that I can get a better flavor for the area. I especially love hotels that take the old and make it new again but keep the historic looking ambiance and patina with a modern flair. To be fair, the Ironworks Hotel is all new, but the designers added so many creative details that it is hard to believe that this building is not a converted warehouse.
The Ironworks Hotel was conveniently located just off I-465 on the north side of the city which made it very easy for me to get into and out of Indy on my Midwest road trip. And because Indianapolis is not that big, I wasn’t more than a 20 minute drive from all the sights I wanted to see.
I loved the industrial-rustic design all throughout the hotel which felt both modern and cozy at the same time. All the unique design details were fun to explore. One of the best features is that the hotel is pet friendly and they also cater to their four footed guests with water and treat bowls in the lobby.
Human guests are also catered to with a complimentary coffee and water bar.
My standard room was huge, extremely clean and had the biggest flat screen TV I’ve ever used. I loved all the special details that took the space from a standard hotel room to a bedroom that I would have loved to have in my house like the exposed brick wall and the in-windowpane blackout blinds.
The bathroom was just as wonderful – a great combination of modern amenities like a rain shower, combined with industrial inspired details.
Where to eat in Indianapolis
After a long day of sightseeing I prefer to go back to the hotel to relax and eat dinner there if I can. This way I can have a cocktail or a glass of wine and not worry about having to drive again. This was another reason why I loved the Ironworks Hotel. Within the hotel building itself there are three great restaurants to choose from, with additional restaurant options in the complex across the street.
The first night I had dinner at Provisions which is located just off the lobby inside the Ironworks Hotel. This upscale restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating and offers a creative menu with locally sourced ingredients.
I often like to get a couple of appetizers instead of one big main course so that I have a chance to taste a few different dishes. This way, I am also sure that I have room for dessert.
The next morning, I had breakfast at RIZE, located on the first floor of the Ironworks building. This restaurant specializes in farm to table healthy options that include hydroponically grown produce in their own greenhouse. I am not a big breakfast eater, especially very early in the morning, so I only had a yogurt granola bowl (which was excellent). But, if it had been a little later in the day I was very tempted by the potato waffle or the cold-smoked salmon toast.
On my second night I ate at Blue Sushi Sake Grill, also on the first level of the Ironworks Hotel. I love sushi, and never get enough of it, and this was really good sushi. I liked that they also had vegan options as well as beef and chicken plates for those that might not want fish.
I am happy if a hotel has one really good restaurant to offer, but to have three onsite restaurants with such a great selection of interesting choices really spoiled me.
Please note that my stay at the Ironworks Hotel was hosted by the hotel. All content and opinions are my own.
I really enjoyed my two days exploring the many Indianapolis activities and could easily have spent more time there exploring other sights. I always love going back to visit the Midwest and feel like I am going home again. Compared to the east coast, it feels less congested and not as crowded, and midwesterners are always such a friendly bunch.
If you are planning a Midwest road trip, be sure to make Indy one of your stops and discover all these wonderful things to do in Indianapolis.
Thanks for visiting.