web analytics

A Car-Free guide to Indianapolis

This article was originally posted on the Columbus Underground website on August 1st, 2011.  I have updated it to be more helpful for all visitors, as well as adding a few important new bits of information as the city prepares to host Super Bowl XLVI.

Indianapolis is a great place to visit for a weekend getaway.  The city is famous for its Motor Speedway, sports teams, and revitalized downtown.  But what about the rest of the city?  Can a city famous for its love of cars be explored by alternative means of transportation?  This is an invitation to explore the lesser known areas of Indianapolis that may surprise the visitor.

Arrival

Megabus runs nonstop 7 times a day from downtown Chicago, as well as once a day from downtown Columbus, Ohio to Indianapolis at 10:40 in the morning. The downtown stop in Columbus is located at the northwest corner of Nationwide Blvd and High Street. After about 3 and a half hours of traveling, the passenger will arrive in the heart of downtown Indianapolis near the City County Building, located at 200 East Washington Street.

The stop is conveniently close to IndyGo’s bus ticket office which is located at 34 N Delaware Street, so if you are planning on riding the bus during this trip, it is a good idea to stop here first for maps and ride passes.  Another benefit of this location is the brand new Indy Bike Hub, which has bicycles to rent.

If the visitor is traveling to Indianapolis by airplane, that’s not a bad thing, as it’s the nicest airport I’ve ever seen.  There is a direct bus route to downtown, the Green Line.  Please take note of the Super Bowl week detours at the bottom of the page.

Where to Stay

A google or kayak search can find a boatload of chain hotels near the Convention Center, but the city features other locally-owned options.  This might be too-little, too-late for most travelers, but it probably won’t hurt to try.

Fountainview Inn

Located in increasingly awesome Fountain Square, this small hotel is located in the most prominent building in the neighborhood, the Fountain Square theater building.

Indy Hostel

The best option for travelers on a budget, this hostel is located in a house right next to the Monon Trail at 49th and Winthrop in Meridian Kessler neighborhood.

Nestle Inn

The closest Bed and Breakfast to downtown offers an unbeatable location next to the Massachusetts Avenue cultural district in the Chatham Arch neighborhood.

All Nations Bed and Breakfast

Funky place on the Near North Side with internationally themed rooms.

Canterbury Hotel

The best option for a traveler that can’t avoid staying downtown in a large hotel.  The Canterbury is the only place to stay that is not part of a national chain.  The fact that it is gorgeous and has a fine restaurant doesn’t hurt its cause.

Recommended Bicycle Routes

Cultural Trail

(Image credit: Curtis Ailes)

Indianapolis has done a fantastic job in the past 5 years of improving its bicycle infrastructure.  The city boasts one of the finest separated urban trails in the country, the Cultural Trail.  A good portion of this trail is still under construction, but the North, Northeast, East, and Capitol Avenue legs are fully completed and ready for exploration.  The trail also doubles as a pedestrian path.  See the Cultural Trail map for the exact location of this exciting urban amenity.

The Monon Trail

(Image credit: Kevin Kastner)

The Cultural Trail links with the most traveled rail-trail in the city, the Monon.  This trail heads north towards two of the most stable and upwardly mobile neighborhoods in the city: Meridian Kessler and Broad Ripple. The trail continues north into Hamilton County past the tony suburb of Carmel.  Most of the action in Meridian Kessler is 3 blocks to the west, along the College Avenue nodes of 49th, 52nd, and 54th Street.  Broad Ripple is similar to a small town in its layout.

The Canal Towpath

The Central Canal Towpath is a bucolic escape from the bustle of the city.  The crushed stone path heads north towards Broad Ripple from downtown, in conjunction with the White River Wapahani Trail.  A rider who rents a bicycle at White River State Park could easily head north along these paths.  Featured stops include the highly recommended (and free!) Indianapolis Art Museum, the Butler University Campus, and the shops at 56th and Illinois Streets.

Bike Lanes

Ten years ago, this city had zero on-street bicycle lanes aside from a random country road in northwestern Marion County.  They are now popping around town, and as of publication several are convenient enough to be recommended for transportation for the visitor.  The lanes on New York and Michigan streets work in tandem as they follow one way streets.  Recommended destinations include the gorgeous historic neighborhoods of Woodruff Place and Irvington.  More information on the city’s bike lane initiative can be found here.

Circle City Pedicabs

A fun option for car-free transportation around downtown is the local Pedicab service.  Call in advance to secure the ride.

IndyGo Bus Service

Visitors would be wise to stick with a few of the most popular and logical lines: the 8, the 10, the 17, and the 38.  If you are planning on staying downtown and visiting the north side for food and drinks at night, it is a good idea to ride the 17 bus to the area and plan on taking a taxi home, as the last bus of the night runs at around 10 pm.  Taxis are more abundant in Broad Ripple than any other place in town outside of downtown or the airport.  The general rule for bus riding is to follow the schedule, and try to avoid transferring outside of downtown.  Buses are almost never early (they will stop for a minute or two if they are ahead of schedule), but are occasionally late.

Neighborhoods

Broad Ripple

Overview:

The most well-known neighborhood in the city, Broad Ripple is more than just a place to party on weekends.   Wander around in the area to the north of Broad Ripple Avenue to visit the place where the local adults meet to socialize and shop.  Broad Ripple can be visited on IndyGo bus number 17.

Activities and Shopping:
  • The Indianapolis Art Center always has an intriguing array of locally crafted artwork on display.  Artists hone their craft here through classes and workshops.
  • Eat an ice cream cone at Brics, and sit on the patio overlooking the Monon Trail while soaking up the atmosphere of my favorite area of Broad Ripple.
Food:

There are so many places to eat here, it can be tough to prioritize.  However, I believe the best bet for Broad Ripple dining lies in the casual lunch-type places.

  • Monon Food Company has delicious food for reasonable prices.  The Fish and MoFoCo Pork Tacos are staples.
  • Brugge Brasserie was the first gastropub in the city.  Crepes, frites, and amazing locally brewed beer.
  • The best Mexican food in the neighborhood is in an unassuming breakfast place called Biscuits.  Skip the combo platters and focus on the tacos and tamales.
Drink:

When in doubt in Broad Ripple, go British!  My favorite 3 haunts in the neighborhood are all British-style pubs

  • Broad Ripple Brewpub was Indianapolis’ first brewpub (founded by an actual Englishman), and it’s still one of the best.
  • The Wellington is a tiny, tastefully lit space with some great craft beers on tap.
  • Union Jack’s has amazing deep dish pizza.  A well-kept secret in an area that doesn’t have many.

Chatham Arch

(Image credit: Curtis Ailes)

Overview:

This neighborhood on the northeastern section of downtown is most well known for its commercial district centered around Massachusetts Avenue.  Chatham Arch is an easy walk from the downtown core.

Activities and Shopping:
Food:
  • Black Market is brand-new on the scene, but it is taking this town by storm.  The pickle plate is a must-try.
  • R Bistro can be counted on for well-prepared and thoughtful presentations.  The menu changes weekly.
  • Mesh is owned by a small local chain, but it doesn’t matter when the food is this good.
  • How many cities have a great Scottish restaurant?  Indianapolis does – MacNiven’s.
Drink:
  • The Chatterbox is a tiny bar has a great jukebox, friendly bartenders (and patrons), and live jazz.  I’ve always left here thinking that I should go here more.
  • The Rathskeller has almost the opposite atmosphere compared to The Chatterbox: it’s huge.  However, it has appropriately huge German beers.  I had my wedding reception in one of the many rooms of this great old Haus.
  • Chatham Tap is a friendly place for some good beers and tasty bar food.

Fountain Square

Overview:

Located to the southeast of downtown along Virginia Avenue, this destination for artists seems to get better by the day.  Fountain Square can be visited on IndyGo Bus 14.

Activities and Shopping:
Food:
  • Siam Square, the best Thai place in the city.  Try the Drunken Noodles with Tofu or Green Curry.
  • Santorini, the best Greek place in the city.  Beware of the huge portions, so I recommend ordering one meal per two diners.
  • Pure Eatery features fresh, healthy, affordable food for lunch or early dinner.
  • Mama Irma, a new Peruvian place.
Drink:
  • Red Lion Grog House is a fun place for watching soccer and drinking a pint or two.
  • Radio Radio is my favorite music club in town.
  • Across the street, the owners of Radio Radio run a Mexican-themed bar known as Revolucion.  It is an instant hit in the neighborhood.
  • Finish off the night at the Brass Ring Lounge martini bar.

Garfield Park

Overview:

An overlooked place on the near-southside, this neighborhood contains the best park in the city.  It can be accessed via  IndyGo Bus number 22 or 31.

Activities:
Food and Drink:

Irvington

(Image credit: Kevin Kastner)

Overview:

With its winding streets and Victorian mansions, this East side gem is worth a visit.  Irvington is accessible via the Number 8 bus route.

Activities:
  • The number one activity in Irvington is walking.  The winding and occasionally brick-paved streets beg for exploration.
  • Tour the Benton House for a glimpse of Victorian living.
  • Located in an old movie house, The Irving now houses live music.
  • One of the few locally-owned used bookstores in town, Bookmama’s is the place for live poetry readings and intelligent discussion.
Food and Drink:
  • Jockamo’s Pizza has quickly become the neighborhood meeting point for its high-quality pies.  It’s also the best place in the neighborhood to find local beer, at least until Black Acre opens up in the same building.
  • Delicious and affordable, The Legend is a tribute to the history of the neighborhood.

Meridian-Kessler

Overview:

A large and mostly residential neighborhood on the north side, the heart of Meridian-Kessler lies along College Avenue.  The easiest route for the visitor to know for this part of town is the number 17.

Food:
  • With 2 unique menus that change daily, Recess has raised the bar for dining in this city.  They’ve recently opened Room 4 in the same building, which features more down-scale options, but it’s just as delicious.
  • This is the part of town for breakfast places.  Taste Cafe, Zest, SoBro Cafe, and Cafe Patachou are all places for fine mornings.  If I had to choose one to visit, I’d choose Taste.  They serve a great dinner as well, but only on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
  • Yats, which might be the place that regenerated interest in Meridian-Kessler..  The best option in the city for dining on a budget.
  • Locally Grown Gardens sounds like a farmer’s market, and it is that.  But it’s also the best place in town to get pulled pork, washed down with cool old-timey sodas and ginger ales.  Add in the reggae music, and this place is more of a party than your average veggie stand.
Drink:
  • The legendary Red Key Tavern was featured in the book and movie “Going All The Way.”  This is a great place to have a conversation and listen to the jukebox.  The bar is virtually unchanged since it was opened soon after World War II.  Skip the bottled beer and order a Manhattan.
  • Twenty Tap may have opened last year, but it already seems like a neighborhood staple.  And, the name is a misnomer, as they now house 31 (mostly local) taps.
  • Bloomington-based brewery Upland has a tiny Tasting Room located at 49th and College.  Think of it as a coffee shop that serves beer instead of coffee.

Conclusion

Indianapolis has gone above and beyond to be a great host city for the Super Bowl.  Exploring all of the activities  downtown can easily fill a day or two.  I hope visitors enjoy their trips, and that they might be able to explore the rest of the city’s offerings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>