Midwest Living Review
Normally, you would blow right by the interstate exit for State-49 to Valparaiso. It sounds like another small Midwest town that borrowed its name from an exotic place or maybe an Native American tribe. But the detour is worth your time to explore the college town just 20 miles inland of Lake Michigan's Indiana Dunes and 90 minutes southeast of Chicago's Loop. Valparaiso, actually named after a town in Chile that means "valley of paradise," is the seat of Porter County. A cupola-crowned, 19th-century courthouse anchors the restored downtown. Within a five-block stretch on Lincolnway between Michigan Avenue and Napoleon Street, you'll find enough shops and restaurants to fill a fun day. Wrought-iron lampposts and flower urns line the quaint street, and independent shopkeepers welcome visitors interested in tasteful home decor, cool clothes, knitting crafts and good restaurants. There are lots of bridal shops for such a small town, but then who doesn't love the girl next door? On Valparaiso University's campus, you can see art by Georgia O'Keeffe and Frederic Edwin Church at the free Brauer Museum of Art (which actually has 2,700 American artworks). Other sites worth visiting include the restored 1893 Memorial Opera House, Porter County Museum and the Taltree Arboretum and Gardens. The annual Popcorn Festival, held each September, celebrates popcorn king Orville Redenbacher's creation of gourmet popcorn in Valparaiso.