There's more to Indy than the Super Bowl

By Katia Hetter, Special to CNNUpdated 31st January 2012
Why Indianapolis?
Super Bowl visitors will enjoy the fabulous Super Bowl parties and the very best of this Midwestern city's arts, music and food festivals tailored specially for this sports-filled week.
And when the Super Bowl party-goers leave and the confetti has been cleaned up, the locals will return to enjoying their city. Whether you're traveling to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl or taking a trip later, here's where the locals have fun -- and where they recommend you go, too.
A music scene that covers all the bases
Indianapolis has some world-class music talent that music writer Ryan Williams is always eager to share with out-of-towners. Williams focuses his music blog on the Fountain Square neighborhood but loves music all over the city.
Check and for band schedules and times. Williams' favorite venues include:
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The Melody Inn is Indy's version of CBGBs with a line-up that heavily favors punk and louder sounds, except for more roots and country material on Friday evenings. Radio Radio is a smoke-free space that puts together an eclectic blend of indie rock, rockabilly and touring artists.
The Vogue hosts dance nights most nights, but larger touring acts make their way through here as well (and those shows are usually smoke-free as well). Locals Only really does welcome everyone to their line-up of local rock, blues and hip-hop. Jazz fans can choose the small club feel of the Chatterbox or the larger dinner/show feel of the Jazz Kitchen. The latter choice also features R&B, soul and hip-hop.
Local, sustainable food with a kick
Although the Midwest has a reputation for meatloaf and casseroles, there's a burgeoning food scene in Indianapolis. When Brad and Nancy Royal opened City Café downtown in 2000, residents didn't focus much on local, independent restaurants. And their downtown neighborhood pretty much closed up after work. So they decided to offer breakfast and lunch with a sustainable bent at their 15-table restaurant and skip dinner so they could focus on family life at night.
Over a decade later, their restaurant is part of a growing independent restaurant and arts scene downtown, where artists are making their mark and chefs are using local and sustainable food in their menus. Even in winter, Chef Brad Royal's special always features local ingredients. And don't worry if there's a wait. Nancy Royal, who runs the front of the house, promises the tables turn quickly. The restaurant will serve dinner during the Super Bowl week, so call for special hours.
Indianapolis is home to some great Greek food. To get some of the best Greek food in the country, longtime residents often recommend Santorini Greek Kitchen in Fountain Square. To get off the beaten path, turn to for its recommendations. (It also has a Super Bowl week guide.)
For dessert, head to the Flying Cupcake Bakery on Mass Ave with at least 12 choices daily (and extended hours and specials for Super Bowl weekend). Try its ugly but delicious Red Velvet Elvis cupcake, with extra added chocolate chips turning the cupcake into a brownie-cake. There will also be cupcakes for each Super Bowl team and a special "snack food" cupcake made of pretzel crust, chocolate cake, peanut butter cream cheese filling and topped with icing and chocolate covered pretzel bits.
To step back in time, head to the L.S. Ayres Tea Room at the Indiana State Museum, which recreates the historic Tea Room (open 1906-1990). A proper lunch is served Monday through Saturday and high tea is served on Sunday. Reservations are required on Sunday and are recommended the rest of the week.
For the history buff, and the shopper
Art history and Civil War buffs alike will enjoy the Herron-Morton Place historic district, which is named for two institutions: Camp Morton, a Civil War prison camp, and the John Herron Art Institute.
After soaking up some history, head to Minx to delve into store owner Jennifer Mentzer's collection of mostly vintage clothing, purses and other accessories -- including some designer pieces.
"My mission is to encourage people to care about what they wear and maybe try something different," says Mentzer, who opened her most recent shop in August. "We do have a few modern things, but they are highly curated."
For children, or people who act like children
Often rated one of the best children's museums in the country, locals say the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, with a Dale Chihuly blown-glass permanent sculpture and working carousel, is not to be missed.
For a louder experience, try a hidden gem downtown: the Rhythm! Discovery Center, a hands-on project of the Percussive Arts Society. Get ready for some volume -- the center has more than 150 instruments for children and adults to play as well as interactive learning exhibits.
To buy some unusual gifts for your child (no Disney or Barbies here), head to Mass Avenue Toys, where children, their parents and people acting like children can play with a carefully selected collection of European and other toys. Then head to the nearby Flying Cupcake Bakery (see more information in the food section above).
For the wanderer
Indianapolis has become friendly to people who like to walk and wander, as long as you're ready for temperatures ranging in the 40s during the day and the 30s at night. Bustling walkable areas include the Broadripple District's nightlife and shops, Mass Ave's galleries and theater and the music scene in Fountain Square.
The Canal and White River State Park, which has lovely walking paths, also features the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art and the Indiana State Museum. Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay's collection at the state museum houses some of Irsay's NFL collection, Jack Kerouac's original manuscript for "On the Road" and musical instruments from Grateful Dead founder Jerry Garcia and others.
If you're from Indianapolis or live there now, what's your favorite restaurant, art gallery, independent store or place to hear music? Share your recommendations in the comments section below.