36 Hours in Indianapolis
On a roll @ 3 p.m.
Start your Indy experience along the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. The 8-mile urban bike/pedestrian path links five downtown cultural districts, each with its own personality. Public art installations like the Glick Peace Walk make the journey even more interesting. Walk a segment of the trail that fits your interests, or to see it all, borrow a two-wheeler from a Pacers Bikeshare station. Other ways to get around: pedal boats from Wheel Fun Rentals on the scenic Canal Walk, which leads into White River State Park, home to several of Indy's best-loved museums. The historic City Market is a smart pit stop for locally produced snacks and foodstuffs, coffee or perhaps a pint of Indiana-made craft beer at the Tomlinson Tap Room upstairs.
Great view @ 4:30 p.m.
The iconic Soldiers and Sailors Monument soars 284 feet tall on Monument Circle, the brick roundabout epicenter of the city (and the location that gives Indy its Circle City nickname). Admire the architectural detail, or if the interior is open, take the elevator to the top of the limestone spire (or tackle the 331 steps) for great views from the 360-degree observation deck.
Check in @ 5:30 p.m.
The 100-room Le Meridien, a reimagined 1928 National Historic Property landmark, sits in a prime downtown location close to sports arenas, restaurants and shopping. Settle into a room with a soothing color palette of grays, blacks and whites. On the main floor, make a happy hour stop into Spoke and Steele to pair cocktails like the bourbon-based Le Mans Rough Rider with a charcuterie board of house-made sausages and specialty cheese.
The Indy special @ 7 p.m.
Indianapolis has been called one of America's great steakhouse towns, and St. Elmo makes it easy to see why. The dining institution opened in 1902, and black-and-white photos of local and visiting celebrity guests through the years attest to its staying power. Savor the old-school ambiance as tuxedoed servers offer their recommendations for expertly prepared steaks and matching wines from a dizzyingly long list. The legendary shrimp cocktail comes with an intensely spicy horseradish sauce.
Catch a show @ 9 p.m.
For live music and entertainment with a little bit of edge, head to the Fountain Square district where you can catch a rising star at hipster hangouts like White Rabbit Cabaret.
Fuel up @ 9 a.m.
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Along buzzy Mass Ave, you'll have no trouble finding just the right place for your morning meal: perhaps Love Handle's quirky variations on Hoosier classic biscuits and gravy; Benedicts and avocado toasts washed down with fresh cold-pressed juices at the Garden Table; or hot or iced butterscotch lattes garnished with a spritz of flamed orange peel at Coat Check Coffee in the historic Athenaeum building.
Pedal to the metal @ 10 a.m.
Immerse yourself in Indy's racing heritage, starting at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home to the Indianapolis 500, the NASCAR Brickyard 400, the INDYCAR Grand Prix, the Red Bull Air Race and other thrill-a-minute events taking place throughout the year. If you can't time your visit to attend a race or practice session, no worries. You can still get a good taste of the history and traditions with a spin through the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum and a guided lap of the famed 2.5-mile oval by bus. (P.S. Don't think about it too much, just pucker up for the requisite kiss-the-yard-of-bricks photo op at the start/finish line.) Just down the street, the Dallara IndyCar Factory provides a deep dive into the state-of-the-art technology and engineering that goes into building modern racecars with simulators available. (The IndyCar Factory is closed as of September 2021 due to the pandemic; check website for updates.)
Lunch around the world @ 1 p.m.
Take your pick of ethnic cuisines at the International Marketplace on the near west side of town, with flavors from Mexico, Japan, India, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Viet Nam, Peru, Cuba and other countries.
Culture stop @ 2:30 p.m.
Shift gears for an afternoon of art appreciation at the 152-acre Newfields campus. The rebranded Indianapolis Museum of Art encompasses the four-story main building, the historic Lilly House, beautiful gardens and the interactive Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres. The main galleries at the museum feature American, European, Asian and Contemporary pieces; programming like summer and winter film series up the ante even more. Guests who visit in the spring enjoy the sights and scents of more than 250,000 blooming flowers throughout the grounds. During the warm-weather months, a miniature golf course showcases 18 themed holes designed by regional artists, and a seasonal outdoor beer garden serves local brews and quick snacks at picnic tables next to the greenhouse.
Cool dinner at Bluebeard @ 6:30 p.m.
The farm-to-table menu changes daily but might feature salmon with broccoli rabe or chicken with cashew-and-caper berry relish served in a renovated 1924 factory warehouse.
Get in the groove @ 9 p.m.
The Jazz Kitchen hosts touring regional, national and international performers in supper club-style digs with Big Easy flair.
Brunch like you mean it @ 10 a.m.
Milktooth is on practically every must-eat-while-in-Indianapolis dining list, thanks to Chef Jonathan Brooks' delicious brunch offerings such as fresh oysters, lamb patty melts, sweet and savory spins on Dutch baby pancakes and creatively filled Pop Tart-ish pastries. There's also top-shelf coffee and boozy cocktails. You'll have to wait for a table on the weekends, but it's worth it.
Shop @ 11 a.m.
Find the perfect souvenir to cap off your stay in Indy at Broad Ripple Village's eclectic boutiques and galleries eight miles north of downtown. Find Indiana-themed t-shirts at The Shop or gently used books along with board games and craft beer at Books and Brews. You might have to snag some munchies for the road after catching a whiff of salty caramel wafting out from Just Pop In! gourmet-flavored popcorn. Wander down the Monon Trail to South Broad Ripple ("SoBro," if you don't want to sound like a tourist) to check out other local businesses like the Gallery Pastry Shop.