Indianapolis is a hub for culture and history in the eastern Midwest. Whether you are passing through or you are interested in staying, it is worth taking the time to explore. There are many good museums and delicious foods to indulge in as you learn more about Indiana history and culture in Indianapolis.
- 1 Unique Spots for History and Culture in Indianapolis
- 2 Other Spots to Check Out in Downtown
- 3 My Favorite Food Spots in Indianapolis
- 4 More on Indiana
Unique Spots for History and Culture in Indianapolis
Indiana State Museum
If you are like me and you enjoy museums that encapsulate the natural and human history of a place, then the Indiana State Museum is the place for you. Even better that this museum has invested in a variety of immersive and hands-on exhibits. It is so fun to explore. And honestly, if you live in Indiana, I think it would take multiple visits to absorb all the information in there. I really enjoyed myself while visiting.
Tickets are $16 per adult (2022), and you can get underground parking validated for $4. They are closed Mondays and Tuesdays, and their typical hours are 10a-5p.
The bottom floor of the museum is dedicated to the ancient, historic, and modern natural history of Indiana. My favorite part of this section of the museum is the exploration of extinct, prehistoric animals. There were many charismatic megafauna (aka cool, big animals) that lived in Indiana during and leading out of our last ice age. The star of this show is really the mammoths and mastodons, which also have cool statues outside of the museum to enjoy.
They also feature the landscapes of Indiana before Europeans settlers arrived. It was really impressive to see how deep and ancient the forests could be here. The Indiana of today is widely an agricultural landscape, so the transition is huge. And I gotta say, I am a little sad that we don’t get to see what it was really like back then.
Throughout the exploration of these things, the museum creates spaces where you can get lost in the landscapes of the past. And they also help you imagine how impressive the now-extinct animals of America were, and how cool our current flora and fauna are.
Upstairs, we begin exploring the history of the indigenous people who called Indiana home. In particular, I was taken in by the in-depth examination of indigenous experiences with Europeans and Euro-Americans. The Indiana State Museum had the best exploration of how treaties were weaponized against Native peoples of any museum that I have been to. They clearly paint how the indigenous people of Indiana were slowly removed from their homelands over time, one treaty after another. The series of betrayals is explored through the writings of historic, indigenous figures, while also exploring the indigenous culture of Indiana.
After that, the museum slowly works through the recent ages of the state. From its settlement by Europeans and Euro-Americans, to its modern celebrities. I was especially blown away by the room that showcased all of the famous people that came from Indiana. I had no idea! (Funny thing is I found out after I visited that a bunch of people I work with are from Indiana too).
There is more to this Midwest state than those of us from the West might think! And the Indiana State Museum is the perfect place to learn about culture in Indianapolis.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
When we were walking out of the Indianapolis Airport, I saw a very effective advertisement for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. It included an Indy 500 car and a nice reminder that it was “minutes from the airport.” After that, I was really hooked on the idea of visiting.
Is it $15 for adults to enter the museum and an extra $10 to go on the tour of the raceway (which I would do if you can afford it). And they are open every day of the week from 10a-4p, except for holidays. They might also have limited hours during the Indy 500, but I honestly couldn’t tell you.
I don’t regret visiting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum at all, because I think it is one of the most unique things to see and do in Indianapolis. However, the museum is a little small and I felt like it left something to be desired.
The best part of the museum is the front display room which houses a variety of winning Indy 500 cars, including the original 32 winner. A car lover and/or photographer could spend plenty of time in that one room, just exploring all the different vehicles.
But past that, there isn’t really much to the main museum. The back room has a simulation, which is included in your entrance ticket. And they also have a display car that you can climb into. There is a little more information back there as well, but nothing much. (Definitely make sure to check out the information about milk and the Indy 500; it’s a bit of strange culture in Indianapolis).
For an extra $10 you can take a bus out onto the race track. It’s not a particularly long ride, but it was very cool to see, and I could almost imagine how exciting it would be to actually be driving it.
You also get to stop at the brick finish line and take pictures. I think the tradition is the kiss the bricks if you win, which lots of people recreate in their pictures. We didn’t because it looked kind of dirty. (I’ve had my fill kissing things from the Blarney Stone, which was WET on a dry day when I kissed it).
The other element of this tour that was great is that you get to learn more about the track and you go out with knowledgeable guides who can tell stories and answer questions.
Other Spots to Check Out in Downtown
There were a bunch of places that we couldn’t make it to when we visited, just due to limitations on time. But here are a few cool spots that I think would be worth doing some research on to see if they are a good fit for you and all of them showcase a bit of culture in Indianapolis.
Soldiers and Sailors Monument – I actually was able to visit this spot, and I thought it was extremely impressive. It is right downtown and within walking distance of tons of restaurants.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – For families and kids, the Children’s Museum is a great spot.
3000 N Meridian St, Indianapolis, IN 46208
Eiteljorg Museum – I could not tell you how to say this name, and the name doesn’t tell you what it is, but the Eiteljorg is all about American Indians and Western art. It came suggested to us by a family member who is local (<3).
500 W Washington St, Indianapolis, IN 46204
Canal Walk – This is another one that we actually did visit – it is an awesome, canal-side walkway that weaves between some of the beautiful museums of downtown Indianapolis.
My Favorite Food Spots in Indianapolis
I’m not expert on Indianapolis restaurants, but I did try out a couple places. And I would like to give my thoughts on some of the spots I visited. I think food is integral to travel and it is a piece of exploring culture in Indianapolis.
If nothing else, please consider visiting the Mansion Society and the Inferno Room, both are amazing.
The Inferno Room is an amazing tiki bar. And when I say amazing, I mean… this has to be in the my top 5 for tiki rooms. It’s up there with Golden Tiki in Las Vegas. They have really effective theming (especially if you can visit while it is cold and snowy).
On top of feeling like you’ve been transported to a fantasy world, the Inferno Room has really good drinks. I tried two cocktails and a mocktail, and all of them were good. The food here is also pretty good, so it’s an all-around great experience.
Please check this place out if you are on your own or in an all 21+ group.
902 Virginia Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46203
The Mansion Society is a coffee shop that I loved so much, I still think about it after having returned home.
They have really creative and tasty original drinks, and the owner is really skilled at mixing and creating new flavors. My favorite drink there was called the matchacita, which was matcha with rose and vanilla. My husband’s cup of tea at Mansion Society was the brown butter latte. We also tried baked goods here and a sandwich- all of it was very good.
Besides the tasty food and drinks, the Mansion Society is located in a historic building that is a part of Indianapolis’ old medical park. The building itself is a beautiful red brick and the inside has all the old flourishes. The owner has added her own tasteful décor which all comes together to create a unique and beautiful space. Food, history, and inspiration – it’s the perfect place for culture in Indianapolis.
202 Steeples Blvd, Indianapolis, IN 46222
Other Thoughts on Some Food Spots
We trekked out to Strange Bird on the east side of Indianapolis because it is another tiki bar. And I would say, it’s definitely worth checking out if you are a tiki fan and you’ve already gone to the Inferno Room. But if you missed it, you don’t need to be too disappointed.
My favorite thing about Strange Bird was the drinks. I think they are very skillful in balancing flavors, and what I got here was one of the best mescal tiki drinks I have ever had. Their food was also high quality, but the menu was very limited. Strange bird focuses on their specialties and if you don’t like ramen, it won’t be a good option.
My only other thought about Strange Bird is that I think they aren’t quite finished with their theming and décor. We were seated in the main dining room, and there was a whole wall in front of me that was just an empty bar area, full of storage and a blank, black wall. I hope that Strange Bird has the time and resources to finish up their décor, because they definitely have a lot of potential.
128 S Audubon Rd, Indianapolis, IN 46219
Garage Food Hall
The Garage Food Hall is a spot downtown that is home to a bunch of different counter-service restaurants. It has a pretty unique assemblage of foods and flavors with things like fish and chips, smoothie bowls, Greek food, breweries, Italian fare, and so much more. I wouldn’t say that it is a particularly kid-friendly spot, being that it is kind of like a busy maze. But they do have food for just about everyone. So it’s a great spot for trying new things or satisfying a group with different tastes.
Parking in this area isn’t particularly easy. But you can make it a little easier for yourself by downloading the parking app that works for this area. Then you can easily pay for any paid spot you find.
906 Carrollton Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46202
Parlor Public House
I really like the vibe and food at Parlor Public House. I had a London Fog there as well as a very tasty ham and cheese croissant. Both were very tasty, and in fact, I had to go back for a second London Fog.
I also really appreciated their plant-based décor. On the snowy day when I visited, it was the perfect place to cuddle up with a warm drink and just watch the snow come down.
The parking situation here is similar to the Garage.
600 E Ohio St Suite B, Indianapolis, IN 46202
More on Indiana
If you are looking for more inspiration on what to do in Indiana, we have a Guide to Indiana, and a post about Exploring Nature in Indiana.