Actually Cool Things to Do in Indianapolis this Fall
From distilleries to museums, Naptown is far from a snooze.
They might call it “Naptown,” but there’s nothing sleepy about Indiana’s capital city. And autumn, it turns out, might just be the best time to tour Hoosier Country. As the weather cools down, football and basketball seasons heat up—they’re serious business in this part of the world. The foliage, meanwhile, casts a colorful backdrop upon all the action, stretching into the suburbs with increasing brilliance. This is a landscape you’ll want to navigate like a local, of course, and we’re here to help. Whether you’re born-and-bred Indianapolitan or just passing through, these are the best ways to throw it down in the 3-1-7 this fall.
Hotel Tango might sound like some sort of boutique lodge where ballroom dancers gather, but it’s actually an operational stillhouse where fans of craft spirits convene. Welcome to America’s first combat-disabled, veteran-owned distillery, founded by husband and wife team Travis and Hilary Barnes. You can take home bottles of full-flavored spirits ranging from an oak- and caramel-laden bourbon to a tart and tangy limoncello. Out of their cozy Fletcher Place tasting room you can also choose from a bevy of seasonal (currently Simpsons-themed) cocktails to enjoy on-premise.
Flux Indy is a vibrant, family-run establishment showcasing mid-century items that frequently change from week-to-week. You can schedule an appointment any Saturday afternoon and shop for everything from glassware to sectional couches. It’s a fun locale to peruse on weekends, even if you’re not in the market for a home furnishing upgrade. But, truth be told, it’s hard to walk around this space without finding something substantial—a must-have piece that won’t necessarily fit comfortably into your midsize sedan, for example.
Home to Indiana’s only steamed bagel, Ripple Bagel and Deli also specializes in sandwiches, homemade soups, fresh-baked treats, and even Chicago-style hotdogs. The Gin Blossom has been a crowd pleaser here for nearly two decades, a combination of turkey, spinach, cream cheese, provolone, and banana peppers, all served on a bialy for just under $8—the sort of value you can really sink your teeth into.
There’s so much to do and see in Indianapolis proper, you might be reluctant to stray too far from the city’s streets. But when you are craving a bit of a rural retreat, the options are too many to list. Get out on the open road with RVShare, a super easy-to-use sort of Airbnb for recreational vehicles. After you’ve got your transportation squared away, set your GPS for Raccoon Lake—a state recreational area about an hour west of the city. The serene body of water is bound by native forests and large rock outcrops—perfect for quiet, contemplative day hikes. Or you can rent a boat and spend the weekend on the water. Campsites offer full electric hookups and can be reserved online. Come during the second week of October to hit up the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival, the premiere celebration for a region that touts itself as the “covered bridge capital of the world.” Sounds like a plan.
During October, the grounds of Newfields (formerly known as the Indianapolis Museum of Art) offer a Halloween experience that’s about six times classier than your typical fake haunted house. The institution’s annual Harvest Festival features nightly events where guests are invited to wander down an immaculately groomed path surrounded by thousands of carved pumpkins. Daytime guests can also stroll the fall-themed gardens while partaking in seasonal drinks and snacks. And if you want to look at paintings and stuff, rest assured the museum and all its breathtaking wonders is nearby.
It’s unusual to find hilly terrain around flat-as-a-pool table Indianapolis, but this near Northside park, located minutes from Broad Ripple, has it in spades. Meander along a clutch of hiking trails that traverse the park’s high and low points, past gardens, ponds, streams, and the neighboring White River. Keep your eyes peeled for the iconic “ruins” that anchor the park. Hours are strictly “dawn to dusk,” so clear out when the sun drops.
There was a time, back in the 1930s, when miniature golf was all the rage and courses were everywhere. If you’d like to know what all the fuss was about—and spend a fun couple of hours practicing your short game—check out Rustic Driving Range & Mini Golf. In addition to an old-school, 18-hole miniature golf course (which is strung with lights for night play), there’s also a driving range.
Visit downtown’s ornate Central Canal, whose winding trajectory sends it past some of downtown’s most iconic sights. One loop around it takes you by the Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis Zoo, a memorial to the USS Indianapolis (the one Quint talked about in Jaws), and dozens of pieces of public artwork. If you want to get on the water and the weather cooperates, you can also rent a paddle boat or kayak, or go for a ride in an authentic Italian gondola, handled by a classically trained singing gondolier.
One of Indianapolis’ most unique amenities is the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, offering eight miles of beautifully maintained, public art-lined trails connecting six of the city’s most important hotspots, including Fountain Square, Mass Ave, and White River State Park. It’s a great way to get both the lay of the land and a solid cardio workout.
If ever there was a place for quiet reflection, it’s MLK Memorial Park. This smallish sliver of downtown-adjacent green space plays an outsized role in history, because it was here that Robert F. Kennedy announced the assassination of Martin Luther King to a large crowd that had gathered to hear him speak. The park features a recently dedicated statue of both Kennedy and King.
Located inside sprawling Eagle Creek Park, the Go Ape Zipline & Adventure Park offers five ziplines, many of them unusually high (including a 40-foot-tall tree-to-tree crossing), and some unusually long (AKA a whopping 305 feet). Enjoy a literal bird’s-eye view of the park’s dense forests, plus a high ropes course that takes two or three hours to complete.
With its wide open, two-story interior, the Indianapolis City Market is pretty much as close as restaurant fans can get to dining outdoors while avoiding the late autumn chill. The lineup of food stalls offers a virtual United Nations of cuisine, from The Tamale Place to Grecian Garden to Gomez BBQ. Wash it down with a little something from Mile Square Coffee or Twenty Two Juice.
There’s no better time to visit Garfield Park than on Saturday mornings. In one fell swoop, you can get coffee, breakfast, and plenty of farm-fresh ingredients to make a bangin’ dinner. The Market stays open until the end of October, so it can also handle all your jack-o-lantern and apple cider needs. When you’re done shopping, stash your stuff in the trunk and take a walk around the park—or maybe sashay around the rapidly reviving neighborhood, where you’ll find the Tube Factory Artspace, and an ever-growing assortment of public murals.
Located less than an hour northeast of Indianapolis, Canoe Country offers day tours down the stretch of White River that hasn’t yet met up with (and been dirtied by) the city. The company furnishes canoes, kayaks, life vests, drop-off and pick-up services, and pretty much everything else one needs for a carefree day on the water.
Here’s a pro-tip about drive-ins: They’re at their best during fall, when early sundowns mean movies can start sooner, and the cooler weather makes sitting in your car far more comfortable. The Tibbs offers two screens and two movies (just point your car at the one that interests you), along with a full-service snack bar.
The Indianapolis Zoo is one of the hottest tickets in town. Your best bet for catching up with your favorite four-legged friends—including orangutans and Siberian tigers—is to purchase tickets in advance. And don’t forget to make time for the Flamingo Mingle. The popular pink wading birds have missed you like the dickens.
Many parts of Indianapolis can be considered hauntingly beautiful. But here, that descriptor takes on a more literal feel. Admire the ornate, Victorian-style memorials, some of which dating to the mid-1800s, and visit the graves of everyone from poet James Whitcomb Riley to bank robber John Dillinger. If you’re on the fence about whether or not a cemetery should count as a tourist attraction, dig this virtual preview of the property and get back to us.
During the fall months, Tuttle Orchard is usually packed with seasonal groupies. This wasn’t the case last year, of course, but 2022 promises a return to regular form. Make your reservation online for the u-pick orchard and get ready for a memorable experience rife with wholesome fun for the entire family. Don’t forget to exit through the gift shop, where you can get your mitts on all forms of autumnal amenities.
Each May since 1911, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has played host to one of the most famous races on earth: the Indianapolis 500. It’s certainly a sight to see live, but you can enjoy a far more intimatelookof the famous “Brickyard” after the pit crews have packed up and left. Hop aboard a two-hour golf cart tour conducted by an extremely knowledgeable guide, complete with a few tasty refreshments along the way. Or snag a spot on the quirkier IMS Museum Basement Tour, a group event that leads you through the basement of the track’s museum, where all the stuff too odd to display is stored.