For a lot of us, Indianapolis is that place where the big race happens every year. But in recent years, much like its neighbors, Indy has ramped up its efforts to bring the surrounding nature into the city, creating a lusher, more inviting urban stretch. From dedicated walking and biking trails, to cool new exhibits, there's more to look forward to than sporting events in this Midwestern city. Here are our picks...
1. Get artsy along the Cultural Trail.
The Cultural Trail's eight miles of biking and walking paths make exploring downtown Indy easier than ever. Connecting the city’s six cultural districts, the network of trails offers public art and new landscaping along the way. (We think the “storm water plants,” which help absorb rainwater and prevent sewer flooding, are especially cool.) Don’t miss the Prairie Module solar panel sculpture or the tech-y Swarm Street installation, which sprinkles you with motion-triggered LED lights as you pass.
2. Book it on a bike.
Just a year after the Cultural Trail's opening, a bikeshare program will give visitors another way to see the city. It works like many others: for a 24-hour, three-day, or annual membership, you can check bikes in and out at 25 kiosks. All stations are within two miles of downtown. Prices haven't yet been determined.
3. Go hipster in Broad Ripple.
Filled with indie shops, bars, and other laid-back distractions, the neighborhood of Broad Ripple is as hip – and as affordable – as Indianapolis gets. Start your day by filling up up with one of Ripple Bagel & Deli's 80 steamed sandwich combinations, then grab deep-dish pizza at Union Jack Pub, or local bites at the farmer’s market. Browse eclectic home goods at The Bungalow Inc. by day, then sip cocktails at Usual Suspects and catch some free live music at Sabbatical or Indy Hostel by night.
4. Go up the Monon Trail.
Not to be confused with the aforementioned Cultural Trail – though they are connected – the Monon Trail takes you from 10th Street in downtown Indianapolis to Broad Ripple, before continuing up all the way to Carmel, IN. It runs nearly 20 miles along a former railroad track, and it's easy to hop off into various neighborhoods for good eats and cultural fun. As you make your way up, don't forget to watch for rollerbladers in jean shorts, old railroad bridges, and dogs of all shapes and sizes.
5. Make friends with really smart Orangutans.
The Indianapolis Zoo’s new International Orangutan Center, opening in May, focuses on how much we have yet to learn about these endangered, highly intelligent apes. See just how smart the zoo’s eight orangutans are by playing computer games with them, and get up close with a tram ride through their habitat. The center has a strong research focus, so you might even see scientists interacting with the animals as they attempt to learn more about them.
6. Catch a top-notch performance.
Awash in Egyptian and Middle Eastern detail, the Murat Theatre provides a charming, old-world backdrop to some of the city's most impressive performances. It's housed in the century-old Old National Centre and will be hosting the big-ticket likes of Broadway's The Book of Mormon, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, and Grammy-nominated blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa in the coming months. Of course, it's also a great spot to discover local talents from the Midwest. Check the event calendar for more.
7. Maximize your time with a car share.
Occasionally, some spots are just easier or faster to get to by car, but who wants to shell out $60 to rent one? That’s where BlueIndy comes in. Soft launching this May, the car sharing program allows users to rent a car with a daily, monthly, or annual membership. And unlike how a traditional car rental operates, you won't pay for an entire day's use, or even have to return to the car from the station you picked it up; in all, the city will have 200 stations where you can make the drop. (Pricing is still in the works, but a monthly membership could cost around $12-15, with a $4 fee for every 15 minutes of car use.)
8. Go on a canal walk.
No, it's not quite Venice, but the nearly 200-year-old waterfront Canal Walk is beautiful in its own right. The three-mile loop winds along the 250-acre White River State Park and is dotted by sculptures, waterfalls, and fountains galore. Cross from bank to bank via the 11 bridges and locks, or pass under them on a pedal boat or gondola. Kayak rentals are also available.
9. Cast a fossil mold or assemble a terra cotta soldier.
The Children's Museum Indianapolis is not just for kids. This season, events like the Paleo Prep Lab (every Friday through April 25) - in which children six and up (and adults) can cast their own mold from a fossil - are fun for all ages. On May 10, more than 100 artifacts from China's famed terra cotta army will arrive at the museum, with interactive exhibits that show how the pieces were assembled and painted, as a part of the new Take Me There: China exhibit.
10. Dine at a non-profit restaurant.
Remember how we said Broad Ripple is among Indy’s coolest neighborhoods? Case in point: for philanthropically minded foodies, Public Greens will open in May as the city's first non-profit restaurant. Here, you can indulge guilt-free in a fresh mix of burgers, salads, and more. Every dish features non-processed ingredients. What's more, all proceeds go toward the Patachou Foundation, which brings healthy snacks and food education to needy children in the city.
11. Channel the Indy racing spirit, even if you’re not attending the Indy 500.
Even those who aren’t into racing will enjoy riding on the famous Speedway, thanks to Dallara IndyCar Factory. Don't worry, a professional will do the driving. And if you’re a real race enthusiast, mark your calendar for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis (May 8-10), where cars will zoom through a brand new road course.