By Corinne Minard
With Indiana right next door, many of us have taken advantage of the Hoosier State as a vacation destination.
Those who haven’t visited in quite a while, though, may be surprised at all the new attractions in the state and by how fun the classic draws remain. Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and French Lick all have something new this summer to entertain adults, couples and the whole family.
Fort Wayne’s newest attraction is located right in the heart of its downtown. Opening June 21, the new Promenade Park creates a welcoming, communal environment on the riverfront surrounding its three rivers—the Maumee River, St. Marys River and St. Joseph River. The new area will feature a park, amphitheater, treetop canopy trail, restaurant, playground and more.
“[The rivers] have always been very natural, available for kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding…but this development will make a real park and attraction right in the heart of downtown on the rivers,” says Kristen Guthrie, vice president of marketing and communications for Visit Fort Wayne.
These new attractions will make it easier for visitors of all ages, skill levels and interests to enjoy the rivers. For example, the lawns are reinforced so that wheelchairs can use them. The new picnic areas will have entertainment like ping pong tables and cornhole for those not interested in the water. And the new Doermer Kids Canal gives kids the opportunity to play with water in a safe environment.
“It’s kind of exciting to see how people will use it in different ways and enjoy it in different avenues,” says Jessa Campbell, marketing and communications coordinator for Visit Fort Wayne.
The park will open with a bang, as the opening celebrations cover three days, June 21-23. Events are being added to the schedule regularly, but throughout the weekend visitors will be able to see fire dances, learn how to kayak and attend a live butterfly release.
While the park brings something new to the region, families can also find fun at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.
“Our No. 1 attraction is the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo,” says Guthrie. “It’s just a really wonderful zoo and it is really built so that a child can enjoy it very easily. You don’t have to lift them out of the stroller, they can see everything, but yet it has all the animals and things you love.”
The zoo has several sections—such as the Australian Adventure and African Journey—and each has its own ride and hands-on activity.
“It’s lots to do but [with] a footprint that’s manageable for families,” adds Guthrie.
The zoo first opened in the 1960s, but it has continued to add new attractions. New this year is the updated Monkey Island and a new river otter exhibit.
“They do new things every summer to keep it contemporary but it is certainly a soft spot for people in the Midwest who know and love this zoo,” says Guthrie.
In Indianapolis, adults can mix old and new attractions for a fun weekend without the kids.
On the classic end of the spectrum, visitors can stop by St. Elmo Steak House for high-quality steaks and fiery shrimp cocktail. First opened in 1902, the restaurant brings a touch of history to its high-end menu.
The Slippery Noodle Inn, the oldest bar in Indiana, mixes live music, food and drink with some history. The bar first opened in 1850 and was formerly a brothel. It was a way station on the Underground Railroad, has a pressed tin ceiling that was installed in 1890 and even has bullet holes from gangster John Dillinger.
And don’t forget the duckpin bowling! At the Fountain Square Theatre Building, visitors can take part in this old-fashioned pastime after visiting the local vinyl shops, restaurants and cafes.
The city has plenty of newer things to do as well. Bluebeard, named after Indianapolis native Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, uses books to inspire the restaurant’s theme—checks are given out in old library books. Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts is known to frequent the restaurant.
Another unique, new restaurant/bar is the Inferno Room. The Polynesian-themed bar features drinks like the Skull & Bones, Singapore Sling and The Fog of Thor and cuisine like fried plantains and Spam sliders. The bar also boasts more than 400 artifacts from Papa New Guinea, so there is always something to look at.
Between meals, couples can take in the art at Newfields, the campus of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Featured exhibits include the Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture, the Funky Bones sculpture and a pop-up teahouse near exhibits on Japanese culture.
The French Lick and West Baden area is known for its classic entertainment. The French Lick Resort’s two hotels were built in the early 1900s and retain much of their historic charm. The resort offers guided tours to hotel guests and visitors alike, and everyone can use the restored trolley to travel between the two.
“Those two hotels are iconic—that’s why people come here,” says Kristal Painter, executive director of Visit French Lick West Baden.
The resort is also known for many of its amenities. The resort offers carriage rides every evening, horseback riding and bike rentals and is home to three championship golf courses—the Pete Dye Course, Donald Ross Course and Sultan’s Run.
One of Painter’s favorite features, though, is targeted at kids. “They offer Kids Fest activities, so those are themed activities throughout the year they offer the kids. Kiddos can stay and do those activities by themselves so mom and dad can sneak away and have some alone time or go to the casino, dinner, something like that, or parents can stay and participate in those activities as well,” says Painter.
Outside the resort, families and couples can find many new things to do in the region. Adults can enjoy the French Lick Scenic Railway’s new dinner train service starting in August. The train also offers a bourbon-tasting trip in September and an adult chocolate tasting throughout the summer. Kids, on the other hand, can take the Dinosaur Adventure Train June 22-23 and 29-30, where they’ll meet live reptiles, dig for fossils, play in a bounce house and more.
For something to do together, families can head to Wilstem Ranch. There, families can have up-close encounters with elephants, giraffes and kangaroos. The 1,100-acre ranch’s newest attraction is the Grizzly Bear Encounter, where guests get to meet Jeff “The Bear Man” Watson, who’s been featured on shows like Animal Planet’s Project Grizzly and Discovery Channel’s Porter Ridge.
“You get to interact with him, see him do some of his fun Jeff Watson bear stuff and then you’re learning education stuff as well. Kind of like national park education and safety and things like that. So it’s a really cool once-in-a-lifetime kind of encounter where you’re going to learn about Bob and Screech, the two bears, [and] how to stay safe in bear country,” says Painter.