Sports, Nature, Art and More: Indy has Something for Everybody
May 31, 2018 08:21PM
By Vanessa Orr
The Reel West at the Eiteljorg Museum
When I was a child, we used to go to Indiana each Christmas to visit my grandparents, and they would drive us into downtown Indianapolis—what the locals call Indy—to see the festively decorated department store windows and to wander around Monument Circle. While I have wonderful memories of those times, a recent visit to the city showed me that there is so much more to explore—whether you’re a kid or an adult.
Let’s start with something for the younger set: did you know that The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is the largest children’s museum in the world? You may not realize just how huge it is until you visit and see that a 50-foot tall, 75-foot long brachiosaurus is looking at you through a fifth-floor window. The 29-acre campus is home to a host of fascinating exhibits, ranging from Dinosphere: Now You’re in Their World, where you can watch paleontologists work on real fossil bones, to the inside of the space station, where you can learn how astronauts exercise in outer space. And Holy Batman! Their pop culture gallery includes the second largest Batman collection in the world, not to mention a dress worn by Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga's shoes, and even one of the gold tickets from the original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie.
This past April, the museum got even bigger when it added the Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience, which not only focuses on all of the sports played in the Hoosier state, but includes a massive outdoor area where kids can show off their own athletic prowess. And yes, this includes the chance to “race” in the state where the Indy 500 reigns—human-powered slotted pedal cars allow kids and adults to try their driving abilities or even experience the thrill of a timed drag race. Everything about the museum is interactive, so there’s no chance of kids complaining of being bored, though they may need to nap for a few minutes before trying to see everything within this massive space.
Another indoor/outdoor museum well worth the visit is 152-acre Newfields, a place for nature and the arts. Indianapolis’ museum of art has something for every interest, from landscapes by Cezanne, Gaughin and Van Gogh, to a contemporary gallery featuring futuristic furniture designs. I was entranced by the mix of styles and time periods, and especially impressed by the willingness of the museum staff to share their favorite pieces—I barely got in the door before one of the gentlemen had me off to see Rembrandt’s self-portrait, displayed to perfection in a paneled study. You could easily spend a whole afternoon in this museum and not see everything, and that’s not even including special exhibits, like Summer Wonderland: Spectacular Creatures, featuring massive recycled plastic animal sculptures that will open on June 1. In July, the Design Gallery will reopen with more than 150 new objects on display, which is even more of a reason to visit the largest collection gallery devoted to modern and contemporary design of any museum in the country.
Another unique and must-see museum is the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, which serves as a modern-day reminder of just how much impact Native Americans have had on the state and nation. While the permanent displays are impressive year-round, I would recommend trying to get there before the end of the year to see this year’s temporary exhibit, The Reel West, which explores the role of Hollywood in shaping morality, diversity and American identity through Westerns at the movies and on television.
If you’ve ever wondered about the significance of white hats versus black hats—it’s more than just symbolism—or how the Western ethos affects today’s films (even those that take place on other planets), this is the place to let your inner cinephile shine. I found the section on diversity especially enlightening; I didn’t know, for example, that Hollywood made Westerns featuring all-black casts in the 1920s and ‘30s to attract racially segregated audiences or that so many films were affected by the whitewashing of non-white roles.
If you want to experience history on a personal level, one of the most unique places that you can stay while in the city is at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, where you can sleep in a train car that’s actually INSIDE the hotel. Located in Indianapolis’ old Union Station, the hotel built their rooms around the original Pullman train cars, which are still on the original tracks. It’s a little strange to stay in the rooms, seeing as how people are wandering by your windows as if you were actually on the platform, but it’s a really cool experience that I would hugely recommend. The hotel is also full of “ghost” passengers mimicking what life was like in the old Union Station days—it’s almost like taking a trip back in time when train travel was THE mode of transportation.
The hotel is also located within walking distance of a very happening downtown scene, where you can not only enjoy some incredible food (shout out to Burger Study for its burgers and signature cocktails featuring drunken cherries), but also wander about enjoying outdoor artwork and impressive shopping.
While I was only in town for two days, there is so much more to do that you might want to check out the many cool itineraries at www.visitindy.com to help you plan the perfect trip.