Travel Insider

The best things to do in Indianapolis

Lilit Marcus, CNNUpdated 12th June 2017
(CNN) — Indiana's capital may not be on most tourists' radar the way New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are.
But that's great news for visitors to the United States who want amazing food, art and accommodations without the hefty price tags.
In other words: get thee to Indy, before all your friends decide they have to visit too.
Here's our guide for what to do, see and eat in Indianapolis.


There's no better place in Indy for breakfast than critically acclaimed Milktooth, a daytime-only upscale take on a diner.
We recommend you go hungry and with a group so that you can order a bunch of dishes from the constantly rotating menu. Recent highlights included both sweet and savory takes on Dutch baby pancakes, pastrami-cured smoked salmon atop a bagel and "ancient grains" porridge with fresh, local blueberries.
Coffee and tea options are equally painstaking, with turmeric, cherry syrup and cardamom as omnipresent as Earl Grey and French roast.
IMA flower garden: There's plenty to admire inside and out.
IMA flower garden: There's plenty to admire inside and out.
Courtesy IMA/Tascha Horowitz
You can then walk off your breakfast at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA). Besides being home to a world-class art collection -- the current can't-miss show is dedicated to John James Audubon's "Birds of America" -- the museum has expansive grounds that visitors can stroll, bike or kayak around.
The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park is a stunning 100 acres, much of which is a natural habitat for bird life.
Between the hedge labyrinth, beer garden and regular schedule of events such as outdoor film screenings, mini golf, nature tours and yoga classes, every member of the family can find something to enjoy.
Keep an eye out for large-scale outdoor artworks, most notably "Funky Bones," which was where a key scene in John Green's book, "The Fault in Our Stars," took place. Green lives in town, and his wife is a former IMA curator.


In Indy, farm-to-table is a way of life, not a marketing ploy.
Nowhere illustrates that ethos better than Public Greens, a restaurant from Martha Hoover, where many ingredients from the menu -- kale, chard, and other vegetables -- are literally grown outside the front door.
Hoover, who lives in Indianapolis, opened her first restaurant, Cafe Patachou, in 1989 and was thrilled by how quickly locals came to embrace her and her approach to food.
"Farm-to-table, as a descriptor, was not even uttered until almost 15 years after I opened my first cafe, even though from day one, we were making food from scratch using ingredients that we carefully sourced locally," Hoover tells CNN.
"People in Indianapolis have been remarkably supportive -- especially the people living in Meridian Kessler, the urban neighborhood where the first Cafe Patachou was located."
You can't go wrong with healthy menu options like a Moroccan chicken grain bowl or toast with spinach-ramp pesto; even the fried chicken seems like it's probably good for you.
After your lunch, you can check out Indy's cutest street, Massachusetts Avenue, which is lined with local shops and boutiques.
Two highlights are Indy Reads, a bookstore with a mix of new and used paperbacks and a heavy emphasis on Midwestern authors, and Homespun, a progressive general store where you can find everything from organic beauty products to cute kitchen decor (cheeseboard shaped like the state of Indiana, anyone?) to "his and his" wedding invites.


Bluebeard is named after Kurt Vonnegut's 1987 novel.
Bluebeard is named after Kurt Vonnegut's 1987 novel.
Before John Green, Indy was best known among literary types as the birthplace of Kurt Vonnegut.
Bluebeard, a meat-centric restaurant in a former warehouse, is named for a Vonnegut novel and features a mural of the writer in the dining room.
While there isn't a dish named after Billy Pilgrim, you won't go hungry thanks to roasted cauliflower soup, risotto and a "butchershop bolognese"-- the meat in the sauce will depend on what arrived in the kitchen today.
Even the starters are exquisite: Homemade bread comes with a choice of anchovy butter, pickled red onion butter or roasted garlic oil.
If there's any room left in your stomach, Indy has a noteworthy craft beer scene that competes with any city in Germany or Belgium.
Sun King Brewing, arguably the city's best known, runs the gamut with a mix of blonde, cream, red and Scottish-style ales, plus seasonals like a Mexican-style lager for Cinco de Mayo.
If you're short on time, you can try a custom botanicals-infused Sun King beer at the IMA's on-site beer garden.
Another standout, St. Joseph's Brewery, has a tasting room in a former church and gives its beers winking religious-inspired names like Confessional IPA, Sanctuary Saison and 88 Keys APA (that's the number of keys on a church organ, FYI).


If you must sleep, the local JW Marriott Indianapolis -- at one point the biggest Marriott in the country -- has 1,005 rooms and somehow manages not to feel crowded.
The tall blue-glass structure often features giant billboards commemorating local events like the annual Indy 500. You won't be able to see it from inside the property, but when you first glimpse the hotel from the highway from the airport, the appearance is dramatic.
For folks who'd prefer to stay downtown, the Conrad Indianapolis is walking distance from some of the area's most striking architecture -- notably the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument with its stunning fountain and the Veterans Memorial Plaza obelisk.
Milktooth, 534 Virginia Ave, Indianapolis, IN; (317) 986-5131
Indianapolis Museum of Art, 4000 Michigan Rd, Indianapolis, IN; (317) 923-1331
Public Greens, 900 E 64th St, Indianapolis, IN; (317) 964-0865
Indy Reads, 911 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis, IN; (317) 384-1496
Homespun, Modern Handmade, 869 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis, IN; (317) 351-0280
Bluebeard, 653 Virginia Ave, Indianapolis, IN; (317) 686-1580
Sun King Brewing, 135 N College Ave, Indianapolis, IN; (317) 602-3702
St. Joseph Brewery, 540 N College Ave, Indianapolis, IN; (317) 602-5670
JW Marriott Indianapolis, 10 S West St, Indianapolis, IN; (317) 860-5800
Conrad Indianapolis, 50 W Washington St, Indianapolis, IN; (317) 713-5000