10. Indiana War Memorial Plaza Historic District
Throughout four consecutive blocks, Indianapolis recognizes our military heroes. Standing tall in the center of “Circle City,” the Indiana World War Memorial was constructed to honor soldiers from the Great War. General of the Armies John “Black Jack” Pershing laid the ceremonial cornerstone July 4, 1927, two years after the American Legion moved their national headquarters to Indianapolis, where they remain two blocks north. The War Memorial opened its doors on Armistice Day, 1933. A cenotaph, honoring the first soldier killed in World War I, from Indiana no less, sits at the plaza’s northern end.
Because there is so much history within walking distance around downtown, people from around the world visit the area. I know this from experience as a state historian. If you go a few blocks north, you’ll hit the Benjamin Harrison Home, where the 23rd president lived, campaigned and died. A few blocks to the south is the incredible Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, which we’ll discuss later.
9. Canal Walk
Surrounded by several modern museums, White River State Park and the NCAA headquarters, a defunct waterway was turned into a tourist delight a few decades ago.
The highlight for many is the USS Indianapolis National Memorial. The monument opened 50 years to the week after the famous heavy cruiser was sunk by Japanese torpedoes. Only 317 crewmen of the original 1,200 survived the attack and ensuing five days at sea among sharks, exposure and dehydration. Roughly half of those men attended the opening ceremony in 1995.
Just as, due to modern immigration patterns, the best cuisine in America is not only found in Miami, New York City or San Francisco, the best Midwestern food isn’t solely in Chicago.
Indianapolis is well known as home to the finer steakhouses in America — which celebrities and media love when in town. It also has a stellar array of ethnic food that even the New York Times appreciates. I’ve had fantastic Indian, Ethiopian, Thai, Spanish, Turkish, and Peruvian cuisine within the city limits.
If European-style is more your fare, my Italian father-in-law believes Iaria’s is one the best family-owned Italian restaurants around. Shapiro’s kosher deli is legendary, and The Rathskeller offers authentic German dishes in a 121-year-old building designed by Kurt Vonnegut’s grandfather.
7. Easy access around downtown
As visitors learn, you never need a car in downtown Indianapolis. Walking is easy, flat, safe and convenient. You can walk from the northeast corner of downtown Indianapolis to the southwest in about 20 minutes, without crossing an interstate or any dangerous areas.
Monument Circle serves as the fabulous centerpiece. From 1889-1902, at a cost of $600,000 ($500 million in today’s dollars), the 285-foot Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument was built. It’s still the largest Civil War tribute in America and was the first dedicated to ordinary servicemen. The iconic Indiana limestone symbol sits in the geographic center of the Hoosier State. There are myriad statuary themes, fountains and great views.
6. Sports venues
Again, Indianapolis has it all downtown.
Lucas Oil Stadium turns six this month. The magnificent, 70,000-seat venue hosted a Super Bowl in year four, to rave reviews, and will already welcome its second Final Four next spring.
Victory Field has been named best minor league ballpark. Bankers Life Fieldhouse, erected in 1999, is arguably the top arena in professional basketball. It combines the old with the new, just as you’d expect in a basketball-crazy state. And if you crave the most historic basketball facility in America, journey a few miles north to Hinkle Fieldhouse, 86 years young.
5. Cost of living
“Quality of life” is important to most Americans. Thanks to a decade of fiscally responsible governors, Indiana has low taxes compared to most of the Midwest and East. When the state had a large surplus three years ago, money was returned to workers, rather than “re-invested” into government programs. Until governors in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin cleaned up messes they inherited in 2011, Indiana was the only state among its neighbors consistently in the black. You can buy a decent home surrounded by good schools in Indianapolis or its thriving suburbs for around $200,000.
4. Events aplenty
We’ve already discussed top sporting events, but you can add to the list Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings, Big Ten basketball and football championships and, since their headquarters are downtown, other top NCAA events. Downtown Indianapolis also hosts numerous conventions due to accessibility, food, ample hotels and tourist sites.
Though Indy is a one-day drive from as far as Washington, D.C., Colorado, Minnesota or Texas, flying is also an easy option. Anyone who’s traveled into or through Atlanta, Chicago, New York City and elsewhere can appreciate a clean, friendly, modern airport. Indianapolis International Airport opened the first post-9/11 passenger terminal on Veterans Day, 2008. It is far enough from the city to avoid congestion and offer a taste of suburbia, but just a 15-minute ride from downtown.
2. Museums and culture
Many are located right on the canal, but two miles north is literally the world’s largest children’s museum. If Bohemian or hipster culture is your cup of tea, Massachusetts Avenue is only three or four blocks from the heart of downtown, and Broad Ripple is an easy four miles north.
The Indianapolis Museum of Art, home to the fabulous Eli Lilly House and Garden, is just north of the Children’s Museum, near Butler University. Crown Hill Cemetery, fewer than three miles from downtown, recently marked its sesquicentennial. This beautiful spot is the third-largest non-government cemetery in the United States. Conner Prairie is an outdoor interactive history museum to the northeast of Indianapolis, known for its summer symphony series.
1. Indianapolis Motor Speedway
You need not be a racing fan to appreciate the size and significance of this century-old venue a few miles west of downtown. In addition to two internationally known auto races every summer, the Speedway is also home to a hall of fame museum, Armed Forces Day banquet each May, and (as the centerpiece for “500 Festival events” Memorial Day weekend) sponsors the Saturday parade downtown. And my personal favorite: the emotionally stunning friday memorial service. Four holes of the Brickyard Crossing Golf Course are actually inside the speedway. Having played the course, I can confirm this is a treat.
photos by the author