If you are needing a quick get away with your kids and happen to be driving distance from Indianapolis then this weekend guide to Indy is for you! Indy has a ton to offer for kids and adults alike so two days isn’t nearly enough time to see it all. But my family recently took a road trip over and my kids had a blast so I wanted to share what we did to help jump start your planning.
Going in to the trip I knew the Indianapolis Children’s Museum would top my list of things to do. But beyond that I tried to stay flexible. And that really paid off in the end because although we went over in February the weather ended up being unseasonably warm. That meant we were able to do more outdoor activities than I originally planned for.
Here’s how our trip turned out:
Breakfast at Cafe Patachou-OMG, this cute little cafe was so amazing. I had the Cuban breakfast and it might just top my list as the best breakfast I’ve ever had. Their kids menu is small with offerings like waffles, green eggs and ham, omelettes, PB&J and grilled cheese, so keep that in mind if you have picky eaters. My kids had the waffles and a huge pile of fresh fruit and they gobbled it right up. Grade A+
Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Museum-If you have any NASCAR fans in your house or little ones that love to race their Hot Wheels cars then this is a great place to visit. I’m not that in to cars so I had zero expectations going in to this portion of the trip. But I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. Turns out the museum is in the middle of the 2 1/2 mile track! Just to enter the museum parking lot was exciting as you had to drive under the track to get there.
Once inside there are a ton of classic cars and display race cars that you can take a look at. Many even had examples of fashion choices from the same era which really took you back. There’s a small movie theatre that played a short video that outlined the history of the museum. They also had many trophies on display that were incredible to see up close.
I felt they could have made a few more portions of the museum a bit more kid friendly. They offered one Indy car replica that kids could sit in and get their picture taken. But beyond that it was pretty much a lot of ‘you can look but you can’t touch.’
The best part of the museum is the guided track tour. You hop on a small bus and get to take a lap on the track while learning more through an audio tour. Did you know there’s a golf course on the track? Me either! And they even let you get off the bus at the finish line to walk around a bit. You can ‘kiss the bricks’, a tradition all Indy track winners participate in.
Even for someone who is mostly just a fan of napping during NASCAR races, this was pretty cool. Walking around the track really gives you a sense of just how big race day is when you see the scale of the grandstands and the infield. And the kids loved being able to run around and pretend to be race cars (even if our oldest didn’t quite understand why he couldn’t run a full 2 1/2 mile lap.) Grade B+
Museum Admission: Adults $10, Youth 6-15 $5, Children 5 and under FREE
Track Tour: Adults $8, Youth 6-15 $5, Children 5 and under Free
Indianapolis Zoo– Our second stop of the day was to the Indianapolis Zoo. This wasn’t a planned stop but the weather was unseasonably warm for February, in the 70s in fact, so we decided to take advantage of being outside. I didn’t even hop online to see what the zoo had to offer ahead of time so I had zero expectations going in.
But wow, was I impressed by the setup. With it being off season everything was a breeze. Parking was great, grabbing tickets was fast, and we didn’t have to wait in line for anything. The zoo was very clean and the exhibits were top notch.
My favorite part by far was the orangutan center. There is an entire building in the center of the zoo devoted to orangutans that is amazing. It’s multi-level so you get to see the orangutan climb and jump around in their habitat from all kinds of great angles. But the best part is this massive ladder-like structure that protrudes through the exhibit over 150 ft high that the orangutan can climb up and down on. You can see it from the dining area of the zoo so we could enjoy the orangutans playing while eating our lunch.
We took a behind the scenes train ride that literally takes you behind the walls of the zoo. I’m not sure I would do that attraction again as it cost extra and there wasn’t much to see. It was an audio tour explaining what happens in each building. I think the kids thought they would see more action, and frankly, so did the adults. I even made a Jurassic Park reference (you know, when they take the first tour and don’t see any dinosaurs?).
There were parts of the zoo that were not operating because of it being off season like the monorail and the majority of the food options. We would love to come back when everything was online because it seems like there were some other cool attractions to check out. One show we missed was the dolphin show which we heard was a must see. Our kids had hit the mid-day slump and instead of pushing it was cut our losses and headed back for a nap. Grade A-
Fort Harrison State Park-After naps we had a little bit of time before we needed to grab dinner. There wasn’t enough time to do anything big, but we didn’t want to sit around the house either on such a nice weekend. So on a whim we decided to head to Fort Harrison State Park. A quick google search of parks in the area turned this one up as a must-see.
And I can totally see why. The park was beautiful and seemed to have a little bit of everything. And even on the off-season there were plenty of cars heading in and out of the park, always a good sign. We asked the attendant at the gate to steer us in the direction of the best kids park so our kiddos could burn off some energy before dinner.
And the playground did not disappoint! There was a big slide that went down a hill along with a good sized playground and swing set that was perfect for young kids. After about an hour at the park we were all ready to head out for dinner. Grade A
$9 gate fee for out of state plates
$7 gate fee for in state plates
Napolese Pizzeria-When we asked the kids what they wanted for dinner, they of course said pizza! There were a ton of pizza options to choose from but we settled on Napolese Pizzeria which just happened to be next to the Cafe Patachou restaurant we ate at for breakfast. We were only 15 minutes away so we decided not to call ahead for reservations. That turned out to be a mistake.
The restaurant was super busy and our wait would be 25 minutes. Which, to anyone traveling with kids, is a lifetime. We decided to wait it out, hoping it wouldn’t take as long, mostly because our kids did not want to get back in their car seats yet again. As we waited there were a ton of locals coming and going with takeout which is always a good indication of the quality of pie. But that made it all the more difficult to wait!
After 30 minutes we finally got seated. We quickly placed our order but the pizza took quite a while to come out and by then our kids were melting down fast. Not even YouTube videos could tame them. So when the pizza came we scarfed it down fast and got out of dodge. Was the pizza delicious? Yes. Was the ambiance amazing? Yes, if you are two adults with no kids out for the night. I wouldn’t say it’s a particular kid-friendly place (meaning it was a nicer establishment that I would LOVE to go back to again, sans kids). Grade B
Lincoln Square Pancake House-We started off day two at the Lincoln Square Pancake House. This is your typical diner fare type of breakfast place. Pancake platters, fresh squeezed orange juice, plenty of french toast options. The kids loved their Mickey Mouse pancakes and the price was right.
There wasn’t anything particularly special or unique, but friendly and fast service and plenty of locals coming in for their Sunday breakfast. All greats signs. And the price was right too. Grade A
Children’s Museum-And finally, the entire reason we decided to go to Indy in the first place: The Children’s Museum. We had heard a ton of great things about the museum from friends and family so I was really excited to have the kids visit.
We arrived right when they opened at 10am which was a great move because parking was super easy. They have a garage that is connected by a skywalk to the museum and we were there early enough to secure great spots with easy access to the skywalk. And parking is free which was nice.
There were no lines for purchasing tickets yet so that was also incredibly easy. It seemed like most people visiting had season passes because they all looked like pros. They came prepared with lunches packed and lockers rented to store all their stuff for the day. If I lived closer I could totally see doing that.
We were given a pamphlet that included a map of the museum. And holy cow, is it HUGE! There are four levels of this monster of a museum and I knew there was no way we would be able to see it all. We got there at 10 am with goals to make to early afternoon in hopes we could drag our tired kids back to the car for a long nap during the drive home.
Luckily the first worker we saw who took our tickets saw the age of our children and recommended the first exhibit for us to go see, Playscape, which is an area that is dedicated to the pre-k age group. We were one of the first kids in the space, and of course, our kids ran to the pond/water exhibit to splash around in the water. Even with the cover-ups provided, they both got a little wet. So if your kid doesn’t like being in wet clothes, bring a spare set just in case.
Playscape had a ton of different areas for toddlers to explore like a music room with different instruments, art studio with live demonstrations, a whirly twirly tower of air that you can shoot handkerchiefs through and watch them fly, and even a climbing set. I think we could have stayed there for the entire day. But on to the next exhibit!
If you have a kid who loves dinosaurs then Dinosphere is a must-see exhibit. Full scale dinos with interactive displays take up most of the bottom floor of the museum. You can dig for dinosaur bones, touch a real T. rex bone, and learn more about the fate’s of the dinosaurs on display through what story their bones tell us.
We went through a few more exhibits and also went on a carousel ride before going down the chocolate slide that conveniently leads in to the food court area. I was impressed by the amount of food choices, both healthy and and not. And for the price I thought we got a lot of food. However, if you came to the museum on the regular, I can see saving some major dough by packing a lunch.
Speaking of saving money, admission prices differ day to day and if you go online and purchase tickets ahead of time you can save some money. I didn’t know that when we went and we paid full price, which was a lot for a family of four ($90 total). And since we came no where close to seeing everything I was a little dissapointed. So check out the website for ticket prices ahead of time when you plan your trip. Grade A
After getting our bellies full we decided to head back home. It was a great trip to Indy, one the kids still talk about. There were tears, there were cheers, there were memories made.
I hope this weekend guide to Indy helps you plan your next trip. What other places did we miss that you love to go to when you head to Indianapolis?