Although Indiana is best known as the home of the Indy 500, corn fields and Vice President Mike Pence, the Hoosier State offers plenty of arts and culture, especially in its capital city of Indianapolis and the college town of Bloomington.
First and foremost, there’s the Indianapolis Museum of Art. In addition to the museum itself, the property includes a 26-acre estate called Oldfields, a National Historic Landmark whose gardens and grounds were designed by the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm in the 1920s. On a sunny day, take a leisurely stroll though the hillside ravine garden, the formal and border gardens and the orchard. Or lace up your hiking shoes and head to the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park—one of the country’s largest museum art parks—where walking trails lead you through 100 acres of woodlands, wetlands, meadows and lakeside coastline. It’s all beautiful and there’s no admission fee.
Inside the museum, American paintings and sculpture dominate the spacious, well-designed galleries. You’ll see well-known works by Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, William Merritt Chase and Arthur Dove, as well as a good selection from the Hudson River School, not to mention Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE sculpture (you know, the one with the stacked letters and tilted “O”). The appealing museum store will flirt seriously with your wallet, whether you’re drawn to flamingo umbrellas, Indiana cufflinks or the terrific sale section with half-price items from previous exhibits. And the IMA Cafe is outstanding—try the five-spice chicken BLT with sweet-chili-glazed chicken, sesame-crusted bacon and samba aioli on toasted naan.
Nearby is the Indiana Medical History Museum, located on the grounds of the former Central State Hospital (originally known as the Indiana Hospital for the Insane). You’ll find a quirky, intriguing time capsule in the Old Pathology Building, which opened in 1896 to research causes and treatments for everything from hysteria to epilepsy. Don’t miss its anatomical museum, replete with preserved brains organized by pathology, and do plan your visit carefully: The museum is only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and you must join a guided tour to gain access. Less restricted is the medicinal plant garden outside, where more than 90 examples of trees, shrubs, vines and herbs are all meticulously labeled.
Not far from downtown is the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library, which pays tribute to the life and legacy of one of Indiana’s most renowned native sons. Feast your eyes on memorabilia including Vonnegut’s actual typewriter, his Purple Heart, the first edition of every one of his novels and—dear to every writer’s heart—a collection of rejection letters from editors. It’s a small venue, but big enough to celebrate Vonnegut’s legacy of free expression, satiric humor and peaceful co-existence.
Speaking of peaceful, the “pillow menu”—just one of many luxurious amenities at the high-rise Conrad Indianapolis—is designed to ensure that your slumbers are restful. In the morning, hop on a complimentary bike and explore Indy’s Cultural Trail, a looping eight-mile path that connects every major landmark and neighborhood downtown.
Next, head to the charming college town of Bloomington, about an hour’s drive away. Check in at the elegant, centrally located Grant Street Inn and enjoy dinner at FARMbloomington, just a short walk from the inn in Bloomington’s picturesque downtown. Funky decor and a counter “store” featuring housemade condiments such as chipotle ketchup set the tone for a meal that’s locally sourced and down-home satisfying. Steak from grass-fed bison raised within 50 miles of the restaurant is served with bison foie gras butter and gouda mac ’n’ cheese. That same bison is used in the burger rubbed with “Columbus Cowboy Espresso Chili” (also for sale at the front counter). The pizzas are stellar too. Downstairs at FARM, the Root Cellar is a speakeasy-style bar where you can enjoy live music, karaoke, dance parties and all manner of merriment.
Whether your tastes run to music, botany, fine arts or farmers’ markets, you’ll find a plethora of attractions and activities on or near Indiana University’s campus. The top-ranked IU Jacobs School of Music features more than a thousand free performances a year, and the university’s Summer Festival of the Arts offers events ranging from readings by well-known authors to special exhibits at the Grunwald Gallery of Art. Explore all of the strikingly beautiful campus, or at least take a stroll through the Arboretum on a sunny day. If it’s Saturday, a visit to the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market is a must. Open from April through November and ranked the best in the Midwest, the market spotlights much more than fresh produce: You can stock up on paleo-friendly grain-free scones or German chocolate cinnamon rolls while you browse arts and crafts and enjoy live music. It’s a bit of Hoosier heaven.
As of January, “Hoosier” is the official demonym for a resident of Indiana, in accordance with the U.S. Government Publishing Office’s updated Style Manual. Nobody knows the word’s exact origin, but elsewhere in the Midwest, “Hoosier”—or “Hoozh”—is a disparaging term for a country bumpkin.
Conrad Indianapolis conradhotels3.hilton.com; FARMbloomington farm-bloomington.com; Grant Street Inn grantstinn.com; Indiana Medical History Museum imhm.org; Indianapolis Museum of Art and Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park imamuseum.org; Indiana University Bloomington indiana.edu; The Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library vonnegutlibrary.org