By Suzanne Rampton
With Small-Town Charm and Big-City Options, Indianapolis Has Something for Everyone
Whether you like outdoorsy activities or you’re a “shop ‘til you drop” day-tripper or you enjoy learning about art, history, flora and fauna – there is something special in Indy for you. We’ve outlined several Indy-style experiences with fun and worthwhile sites to see, as well as places to eat.
The Cultural Experience
Photo Courtesy of Lavengood Photography
The New York Times named Indianapolis among its 52 Places to Go in 2014, citing the new $63 million Indianapolis Cultural Trail, consisting of an eight-mile walkable and bike-friendly pathway that connects five downtown historical neighborhoods. You can pedal through town by taking advantage of Indy’s Bike Share program, which launched in May. Additionally, Indy offers an abundance of world-class museums, sports venues, parks, hotels, restaurants and nightlife. You can even travel back in time with an elegant horse-drawn carriage tour of picturesque downtown Indy.
Tops on any list when in Indy, no matter your age, is the world-class Indianapolis Zoo and White River Gardens, which is visited by more than a million guests each year. Acclaimed aquarium and dolphin shows are held daily. The zoo plays a major role in worldwide conservation. Animals are grouped in biomes that closely resemble their native habitats. There’s always something in bloom at the 3.3 acre White River Gardens, included with regular zoo admission. The Indianapolis Zoo has partnered with Riley Children’s Hospital to develop healthy food options and posts some allergens and menu ingredients on the zoo website.
Indianapolis is also home to some wonderful museums for children, historians, sports buffs and connoisseurs of the fine arts.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is the largest of its kind in the world, with nearly 475,000 square feet. Five floors of exhibits are designed to be interactive, allowing children to participate and explore. In the popular Dinosphere, kids discover the clues that helped scientists learn about dinosaurs, along with special fossil specimens. This museum recently earned the top spot in the Best Museum for Families category in a readers’ choice poll conducted by USA Today and 10best.com. Its food court focuses on sustainable foods and includes allergy-friendly options.
Photo Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art
The Indianapolis Museum of Art, founded in 1883, is among the ten largest and oldest general art museums in the nation, housing more than 54,000 works spanning 5,000 years. On the IMA grounds are also a year-round historic greenhouse and the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, 100 acres of woodlands, wetlands and meadows. The IMA Cafe offers a number of gluten-free, allergy-friendly options.
The unique Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art houses an extensive collection of Western American and Native American art, paintings and sculptures. The museum’s Mihtohseenionki gallery explores Indiana’s indigenous peoples—the Delaware, Miami and Potawatomi—through preserved rare objects, historical photos and interactive displays. Although the museum cafe does not offer allergy-friendly options, many other dining options are available close by.
The Indiana State Museum tracks the history of Indiana from dinosaurs up to the Civil War, World War II and the present. In a beautiful, modern setting along the picturesque Whitewater Canal, the museum also has a sculpture walk dedicated to the 92 counties of Indiana, an IMAX theater and a gift shop with unique Indiana-related souvenirs and memorabilia. The Farmer’s Market Cafe at the ISM features foods from the heartland and has several allergy-friendly options.
Photo Courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Besides these gems, there are more museums in and around the Indy metro area to suit just about every interest.
James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home
Conner Prairie Interactive History Park
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum
NCAA Hall of Champions
Where to Eat Nearby
Adobo Grill uses traditional cooking methods and ingredients, such as jicama and cactus, showcasing the regional cuisines of Mexico. The menu, which changes with the seasons, always includes inspiring gluten-free choices. Expect creative, contemporary, authentic Mexican cuisine, not Americanized Mexican dishes.
BARcelona Tapas re-creates a tapas bar that you might find in Madrid, Barcelona or Seville. When weather permits, dine al fresco and enjoy the breeze, along with traditional tapas (small plates to share), a list of gluten-free options and the best sangria around.
California Pizza Kitchen goes the extra mile to safely prepare gluten-free pizzas with four classic pizzas now available in gluten-free versions. Other menu offerings include salads, grilled meats and seafood with full allergen listings available.
Fogo de Chão is an authentic Brazilian steakhouse where gaucho chefs expertly grill 16 cuts of meats and serve them tableside—all you can eat. There is no gluten-free menu needed here because all but a handful of items are naturally gluten-free (check with the manager to know what to avoid). Don’t miss the extensive salad bar and piping hot gluten-free Brazilian cheese rolls served fresh to your table.
Cafe Patachou, owned by Martha Hoover, has garnered local, regional, and national accolades, including having been named one of the “Top Ten Places for Breakfast in the Country” by Bon Appetit Magazine. There are now five Cafe Patachou locations serving made-to-order omelettes, salads, soups, sandwiches, and desserts, spreading the love to Indianapolis residents and visitors alike. Patachou started offering gluten-free options long before the rest of the restaurant world. Another excellent dining choice owned by Martha is Napolese Pizzeria.
Greek Islands Restaurant offers authentic, homemade Greek food—and belly dancing every Friday and Saturday night. All guests (including those who are allergy-sensitive) are treated like family. Greek Islands was one of the first local Indy restaurants to create a gluten-free menu. If you tolerate dairy, call ahead to request a gluten-free version of the famous Greek flaming cheese, saganaki. They offer full gluten-free lunch and dinner menus and accommodate other allergy requests. There’s plenty of free parking behind the restaurant.
Harry & Izzy’s, an upscale American grill in the heart of downtown, is classy and sophisticated with a lively bar. Harry & Izzy’s is the sister restaurant of Indy’s St. Elmo Steak House. It offers some of St. E’s classic dishes (don’t miss the spicy shrimp cocktail, if seafood is tolerated) but with more variety, including gluten-free, allergy-friendly offerings.
PF Chang’s, a stylish restaurant serving contemporary Chinese cuisine, is always ahead of the curve with many gluten-free and allergy-friendly Chinese options. They offer a huge menu, everything cooked fresh to order in a pleasant and relaxed environment.
Photo Courtesy of Lavengood Photography
Scotty’s Brewhouse is truly a local favorite, the ultimate sports bar in a city that loves its sports teams. Scotty’s has worked with local gluten-free groups to provide a broad menu of gluten-free offerings that includes appetizers, salads and the most creative burgers on the planet (complete with gluten-free buns on request). On a summer evening, sit outdoors in the heart of
Weber Grill Restaurant, owned by the company that set the standards for outdoor cooking, prepares its food on authentic Weber charcoal kettles. The restaurant offers broad gluten-free offerings (including gluten-free buns) and also customizes for other allergies.
Yats delivers spicy, no-holds-barred Cajun and Creole dining that’s straight from New Orleans, with daily special menus.
(Be sure to call in advance to see what gluten-free, allergy-friendly dishes are offered that day.) A recent New York Times review wrote that Yats is “a celebration of neo-psychedelic paintings, great music and excellent food.” The reasonable prices can’t be beat.
New Urban Experience
If poking around quaint, fashionable and unique shops is your thing, get up to the Northside of Indy and take in the historic towns of Carmel and Noblesville and visit Clay Terrace, an open-air shopping center.
Carmel Arts & Design District has unique boutiques, specialty retail stores and eight galleries featuring painting, sculpture, photography, art glass and more from local and international artists working in contemporary styles from impressionism to neo-realism. Don’t be fooled by the amazingly lifelike sculptures sprinkled throughout the district’s sidewalks, created by renowned artist J. Seward Johnson, Jr. Within the district is Carmel Old Town Antique Mall, with 62 shops featuring antique goods from jewelry to home goods and clothing.
Noblesville has a charming historic downtown. Shop for antiques and other treasures at the Noblesville Emporium and Antique Mall, composed of 225 shops. Don’t miss the Hamilton County Museum of History at the notorious Courthouse Square Jail, where a teenage Charles Manson did time for petty theft, and the unique Indiana Transportation Museum, showcasing authentic railway cars, from locomotives to cabooses.
Clay Terrace is a people-friendly open-air style mall with more than 80 shops lining a large public walkway. Antique lighting and pleasant landscaping help create a town square feel. Happily, Clay Terrace is also home to many restaurants that are allergy-friendly.
Where to Eat Nearby
Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano starts with a bang, bringing delicious gluten-free Italian flatbread to the table upon request while you await your meal. This casual Italian spot sports a very extensive gluten-free menu of delicious choices.
Divvy has highly creative and unique menu items, with gluten-free and allergen-free options noted. Divvy up some dishes to share the dining experience with friends.
Kona Grill serves up modern American grill favorites and sushi and takes great pride in offering full gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan menus.
Mitchell’s Fish Market, whose claim “fish any fresher would still be in the ocean,” stands up to its promise. Fish is delivered daily, with an impressive gluten-free menu that changes to match the catches of the day.
Puccini’s Smiling Teeth offers an extensive gluten-free menu with gluten-free options for pizza (with plenty of creative toppings) and pasta, along with appetizers, salads and low-carb Italian chicken dishes.
The Nature Buff Experience
Two exceptional back-to-nature experiences await you on the north-western side of the city, less than a half hour’s drive from downtown Indy.
Eagle Creek Park boasts nearly 4,000 acres of land and 1,400 acres of water. Park activities include sailing and boat rentals, hiking trails, swimming and tons of beautiful areas for picnicking. For the adventurous, be sure to visit Go Ape, a treetop adventure course with zip lines, Tarzan swings and log balancing. At the unique Earth Discovery Center, you’ll find exhibits and natural history information about native wildlife, insects and plants, as well as a beautiful deck with a view of Eagle Creek Reservoir. You might want to stop first at Georgetown Market, where you’ll find plenty of gluten-free and allergy-friendly foods and snacks for a picnic.
Traders Point Creamery in Zionsville is a picturesque family-owned organic dairy farm and artisan creamery. Check out the Friday night farmers’ market or take a self-guided tour through the beautiful pastures where you’ll likely spot deer, hawks, blue herons and even an occasional bald eagle. Cow milking takes place daily around 4 pm and is open to the public. Traders Point offers a great learning experience for the kids and a beautiful pastoral respite for folks of all ages. Be sure to plan a meal at the creamery’s Loft Restaurant.
Where to Eat Nearby
Abuelo’s has a Mexican courtyard-themed atmosphere with all dishes made from scratch. The gluten-free menu includes tamales, fajitas, soft tacos and a variety of meats and fish.
Donatos, Brownsburg location, has an extensive gluten-free pizza menu, including gluten-free crusts on a variety of pizzas. Donatos has excellent allergen-prep systems in place.
Outback Steakhouse, Carmel location, developed its gluten-free menu in cooperation with the Gluten Intolerance Group. This Australian-themed steakhouse includes a large selection of gluten-free steaks, seafood, chicken and salads.
Red Robin, Michigan Road location, is one of the kid-friendliest restaurants anywhere, serving burgers on gluten-free buns, salads and even gluten-free fries.
Ted’s Montana Grill brings Ted Turner’s Western flair to the Midwest, offering a variety of burgers (beef or bison), seafood and salads. The gluten-free menu includes classic salads, cedar plank salmon and lettuce-wrapped burgers.
The Loft Restaurant, at Traders Point Creamery, is a farm-to-table restaurant with emphasis on local organic sources, including many creative gluten-free and allergy-friendly options.
A 16-year resident of the Indianapolis area, Suzanne Rampton is a board member of GlutenFreeIndy (glutenfreeindy.com) and has lived gluten-free for nearly ten years due to severe gluten sensitivity.
Here are a few suggestions to make your trip to the Indianapolis area as enjoyable as possible.
Except for the very walkable downtown area, you’ll get more out of your visit to Indy if you have a car. There’s plenty of parking all around the city (parkindy.net). Be aware that the bus system is not tourist-focused nor does it travel outside the Indianapolis city limits. Cab services are available but typically only by advance arrangement (Yellow Cab, Indy Airport Taxi, Uber).
There’s an old Hoosier saying about Indiana weather: “If you don’t like it, just wait a few minutes and it will change.” This is especially true in summer, where a morning can start as a gorgeous sunny day and end with a drenching thunderstorm. For summer, pack clothing suitable for blissfully warm (or even hot) weather, as well as rain, and consider making contingency recreational plans if your intended activities are primarily outdoors. It’s wise to check a good weather app on your smartphone for the latest conditions.
Travelers on a special diet should look for restaurants with gluten-free menus. If an eatery happily accommodates gluten-free customers, chances are the staff and chef are educated about and sensitive to other dietary needs.
Each restaurant handles food prep differently. Inquire every time about ingredients used and cross-contamination. Emphasize that you have celiac disease or a food allergy, so that staff take your questions and concerns seriously.
Your smartphone and the Internet will enhance your travel experience. Download apps on your mobile device to find restaurants with high ratings from diners who have food allergies and sensitivities. Log onto restaurant websites for menus. Use opentable.com to make reservations and alert staff to your dietary needs.