Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Indianapolis. Indianapolis, Indiana is one of the 20 biggest cities in the United States, population-wise. Many people are surprised to hear that statistic because Indianapolis is not as popular a tourist destination as cities like Denver, Seattle, Boston, and DC.
Yet all of those cities have fewer peeps than Indiana’s capital. I was a bit concerned before my 24 hours in Indianapolis that I would find Indianapolis living down to its old nickname, India-no-place.
But I’m happy to report that my 24 hours in Indianapolis were full of excitement, bootlegging, vigorous exercise, and even more bootlegging. Don’t believe me? Well, just keep reading, Internet Stranger. Or I might have to sic Indiana’s most famous fictional residents on you.
24 Hours in Indianapolis
Where to Stay?
When you stay in Indianapolis, you’re not going to need anything fancy. But you will want a comfy, cozy, and affordable place with a great location. That’s why I suggest the Home2 Suites by Hilton Indianapolis Downtown.
It has the perfect location in Downtown Indianapolis right near the Soldiers and Sailors monument. Breakfast was included every morning. And because the rooms were all suites, they had everything you’d need to prepare a meal in your kitchen if you so desired.
24 Hours in Indianapolis
Morning: Indiana History Lesson!
Indianapolis is Indiana’s capital, which makes sense because Indianapolis literally means Indiana City. Like most state capitals, it contains many museums and artifacts relating to the state’s history. So for someone like me who was trying to visit all 50 states and learn their stately ways, the capitol building was the best place to start my 24 hours in Indianapolis.
My pop culture nerd bonafides are well established, so I’ll add that I made this Indiana history lesson even more entertaining for myself by pretending that Leslie Knope, proud Indiana resident and made-up person on Parks and Recreation, was giving me the tour. I suggest you do likewise as you read my…
approximately top 5: indiana history
1) Indiana State House
The Indiana State House, like most state houses, is open to tourists every weekday. All guided tours are free and last about 45 minutes. I showed up for my 24 Hours in Indianapolis on a Monday and discovered I was the only person who was interested in a tour. Fortunately, one was enough for Indiana! That means I got a free private tour of the Indiana State House. Jealous yet?
I was impressed with the beauty of the building, especially the stained glass windows. My guide, a young lady I will call April, said the State House was made out of Indiana limestone and Italian marble. One reason the building is so impressive is because Indianapolis was actually founded to be the state capital. The city didn’t exist until after Indiana became a state. So I guess they built this fancy government building to prove they were a true and proper city.
24 Hour Treat
On the tour, you get to enter the office of the Governor of Indiana. Look at that giant desk! I got to sit in it and squeak, “Look at me! I’m Leslie Knope!” (She becomes Governor of Indiana in the last episode of the show. Also, SPOILER ALERT!) April said they get this kind of behavior a lot.
Another highlight of the 24 hours in Indianapolis was getting to see the rooms where the state legislature operates. (Also, I got to sit in their seats too. I hope my butt doesn’t bother you too much, politicians of Indiana!) April told me that the state legislature only operates part time, so the state senators all have other jobs.
Some are lawyers, some are farmers, some are Elvis impersonators. I asked if it was correct to say that there’s more than one professional Elvis impersonator in the Indiana State Senate, and she nodded vigorously. This is the single greatest fact I have ever heard in my life.
2) Farmers Market Cafe at the Indiana State Museum
As the tour of the Indiana State House is so short, it won’t take up the whole morning of our 24 Hours in Indianapolis. So we’ll spend the rest of the first half of the 24 Hours in Indianapolis at the Indiana State Museum. There are so many fascinating displays here on the Hoosier State. (There’s even a deep dive into where the name Hoosier comes from.) But first, I need to feed you, Internet Stranger! I think I can hear your tummy rumbling.
The Farmers Market Cafe at the Indiana State Museum was a convenient spot to get a satisfying lunch. They serve salad, soups, and cold and hot sandwiches. I got the sriracha chicken sandwich with housemade chips. You know Indianapolis is highly civilized because you can get sriracha there.
3) Tippecanoe and Tyler Too
The first name to know in Indiana politics is that gentleman on the left, William Henry Harrison. He was the first governor of the Indiana territory. (Harrison was never actually governor of Indiana once it became a state.)
I always like to look on the bright side, but it seems to me that just about everything he did was terrible. First off, he was a slave-owner who tried to turn Indiana into a slave state. Fortunately this campaign was not successful
Harrison also did his best to remove as many Native Americans from the Indiana Territory as possible. His conflicts with the Shawnee culminated in the Battle of Tippecanoe, which Harrison won. Later, he ran for president on the slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” and I think running on a slogan that basically says, “Hey! Remember that time I killed a bunch of people?” is tacky. But apparently 19th century Americans did not agree with me because they elected him President.
Harrison is perhaps most famous for being our President who spent the shortest amount of time in office. He refused to wear a coat at his inauguration, caught typhoid fever, and died after only 31 days as president. See! Just one embarrassment after another! At this point, I’m sure all the Hoosiers out there want to let me know that since Harrison wasn’t born in the state, he technically doesn’t count as a bonafide Hoozh.
4) Hoosier Inexplicable Nickname?
A Hoosier, as all Gene Hackman fans know, is the most famous nickname for a person from Indiana. But wherefore? From whence does the name of Hoosier spring? Apparently no one, not even Mr. Hackman himself, is quite sure. The Indiana History Museum offers many possible explanations.
My favorite is the one that says Indiana pioneers were so violent that they took to biting off people’s ears. So a common question around the Indiana territory became “Whose ear?” That story is amazing, but it doesn’t seem plausible to me unless the state of Indiana was founded entirely by Mike Tysons.
The Indiana History Museum says the most likely explanation is that Hoosier is an old-fashioned word for Hillbilly. I like that explanation too because it means that Indianans are reclaiming an insult and turning it into a compliment, and I’m all for standing up to bullies!
One thing we do know about early Indiana history is that a young Abraham Lincoln grew up here. (He was born in Kentucky, moved to Indiana at 7, and then moved to Illinois at 21. So that’s three states that get to fight over our most beloved President.) I think they should let Indiana have him, just so the president they’re most associated with is old Sneezy Harrison.
5) The Great Migration
Indiana’s demographics changed in the 20th century. Between 1900 and 1930, its African-American population basically doubled. African-Americans were moving out of the Jim Crow dominated South and up North to look for business opportunities and equality. Unfortunately, they were sometimes just as likely to find the KKK and segregation as they were opportunities for advance.
The Indiana State Museum has a simulator game I played, showing just how difficult it was for a black business owner in the early 20th century in Indiana. No matter what choices I made, it was overwhelmingly likely that I would never be able to win. It was just like Tic-Tac-Toe, only with much more racism.
6) Famous Hoosiers
The most heartwarming display in the museum was dedicated to The Greatest Hoosiers, like legendary reporter Ernie Pyle. I was especially tickled to see Meshach Taylor, who played Anthony Bouvier on my beloved Designing Women. Taylor grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from high school there. But I know the Hoosier you’re all looking for. I will not keep you in suspense any longer!
He was born in a small town
And he lives in a small town
Probably die in a small town
But don’t let them write Cougar on his tombstone…It’s not dignified.
24 Hours in Indianapolis
Afternoon: Self-Guided Indianapolis Tour
I’ve extolled the virtues of walking tours so many times on this blog, my regular readers must think that I’m in the pocket of the notorious Walking Tour lobby. But no, they’re not sending me any kickbacks, graft, or hush money. I just think a walking tour with a local guide is a great introduction to any city.
Sadly Indianapolis, which is a wee bit spread out, does not have any walking tours that I could discover. But you can easily give yourself a self-guided driving tour of the city! I personally do not know how to drive, but walking-Ubering will work as well! And on the way, you’ll get to learn…
three fun facts: indianapolis
1) Does Indianapolis Have a Nickname?
Apparently Indianapolis has changed enormously in the last couple of decades. Back in the 1960s, people used to call it India-No-Place because it was so boring. In fact, the last bar in the city used to close for the night at 6PM. Yikes! That’s earlier than my grandmother goes to bed, and she’s been dead for over ten years.
This all began to change when they brought professional sports teams to Indianapolis. Not only that, but they were strategic with the placement of the stadiums. Both the Pacers basketball team and the Colts football team play in Downtown Indianapolis, which brings in regular traffic and business.
The revitalized downtown Indianapolis is now a highly enjoyable place to explore, thanks to the 8-mile foot/bike path called the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Other cities like Detroit have studied Indianapolis to learn how to use their sports teams to draw people downtown. Not bad for a city that used to have Last Call before sunset.
2) Soldiers and Sailors Monument
Up next is the second most famous location in Indianapolis, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. This was dedicated in 1902 to honor the Hoosiers who died in battle, especially during the Civil War. (Indiana fought for the North.) One side features wounded soldiers and other victorious soldiers crushing the Confederate flag under their feet.
The victorious side is a tad controversial because it features a couple kissing. Apparently this was Very Shocking in Indiana back in 1902. Well I can’t imagine there was very much kissing going on in Indiana back then if all the bars were closing at 6.
As you turn around the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, you can see the club where Donald Trump asked former Governor of Indiana Mike Pence to be his running mate. Though Indiana went for Trump in the 2016 election, Indianapolis mostly voted for Clinton.
3) Indianapolis Motor Speedway
And now we come to the most famous attraction in all of Indiana, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It is the home of the Indy 500, one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world. This was the only time on the tour when we got to get out of the trolley, walk around, and take some pictures.
I am not a racing fan; Dale Earnhardt Jr is the only race car driver I can name, unless his father happened to be a race car driver, in which case I can name two. But I still appreciated being able to visit such a famous arena. It’s like the Colosseum only with more motor oil and slightly less death.
Technically speaking, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway isn’t in Indianapolis proper. It’s located in a neighboring town in the same country called Speedway. (The town was named after the Speedway, not the other way around.)
The Speedway was started by a businessman named Carl Fisher. He began life as a headlight manufacturer. His business was a success at first, but then the factories started exploding because of the gas used in the headlights. Mysterious explosions tend to put a damper on a business. That’s when Fisher decided to get into automobiles, figuratively and literally.
Being a resourceful gentleman, Fisher and some associates decided that what Indianapolis needed to encourage automobile sales was a race! Hence the birth of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. You could say that the first race was less than successful, due to the fact that several people died. Undaunted, Fisher figured out how to repave the track so that it would be safe to race on, and the Indy 500 became the legend it is today. I would have tested the track for safety before I asked people to race on it, but maybe this is why I am not an automobile tycoon.
24 Hours in Indianapolis
Late Afternoon: Soldiers and Sailors Monument
You should be done with the self-guided tour at about 4:30, which will leave you plenty of time to get to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument before it closes at 5:30. We’ve already seen its shocking Johnny Reb-crushing, kissy-face exterior. Now let’s head to the top and get the best views of Indianapolis out there. (This should probably go without saying, but there’s no rooftop bar on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. That would be pretty tacky.)
You have two choices when it comes to getting to the top. Either climb 331 stairs, or take the elevator up most of the way. Then you only have to climb about 30 stairs up to the top. I did the big climb to walk off the cocktails I was planning on drinking later that evening/for bragging rights. Although bragging about my ability to walk up 331 stairs while visiting a soldiers and sailors monument might be almost as tacky as putting a rooftop bar on top of said monument.
24 Hours in Indianapolis
Evening: Dinner at 1205 Distillery
Regular readers of this blog will know that my appetite for knowledge is only bested by my appetite for food. I search far and wide for the best eateries to present my readers with for their gustatory pleasure. In Indianapolis, the most feted and celebrated restaurant by far is called Bluebeard. They don’t take reservations, so I showed up at 6 PM for an early-ish dinner, excited to chow down on some young brides, or whatever it is that Bluebeard serves.
Sadly Bluebeard had a sign outdoor that evening saying they would be unexpectedly closed for a few days, so I was left scrambling for my meal. Fortunately, just across the street from Bluebeard is a restaurant attached to the 1205 Distillery.
The hostess there told me they get a lot of traffic from people turned away from Bluebeard because of the lines. How clever to put a restaurant so close to an insanely popular reservations-only joint! But fortunately this restaurant is a delicious destination in its own right, largely thanks to its creative cocktails.
24 Hour Treat: Repeal Cocktails
One of the reasons the cocktails are so special is because the restaurant is affiliated with a local distillery called 1205. (12/05 is the date Prohibition was repealed.) The first cocktail I tried, Summer Pie, was made with 12.05 rhubarb liqueur and Indiana strawberry wine. (Sweet fruit wines are a Big Deal in Indiana because you can’t really grow grapes in this part of the country.)
Summer Pie did indeed taste like the song “Strawberry Wine” sounds. Please excuse me for a moment because I need to go sing “Strawberry Wine” into my hairbrush in the privacy of my apartment.
You can’t go to a Prohibition-themed restaurant and only get one cocktail. That’s just science. There was a bit of a Quentin Tarantino theme going on with the names of most of the cocktails, so I got an “Inglorious Basterds” made with 12.05 Rye and Ancho Reyes chile liqueur. I loved the spicy kick to the cocktail, and I had never had habanero bitters before. It was like a Manhattan for people who prefer chiles to fruit.
The elaborate cocktails go best with simple comfort food. I chose the juicy brisket sandwich because the smoke of the brisket would go best with the habanero chile in my Inglorious Basterds cocktail. Also brisket is the best thing to eat before going to fight Nazis, as my grandmother always used to say. (I think the restaurant is now more pizza focused.)
Some people might say that you don’t need dessert after a strawberry wine cocktail. But I say you do need some thick bread pudding to soak up the liqueurs and whiskey you just consumed. I’m a firm believer that dessert is good for you! Just don’t have more than three a day, and you’ll be fine.
24 Hours in Indianapolis
What to Pack?
- A cell charger so you can take photos all during your 24 hours in Indianapolis
- My book Get Lost, that I wrote myself with all my best travel tips. This book will show you exactly how solo travel can take your life from BLAH to amazing!
24 Hours in Indianapolis
How To Get There
Now, I wish I knew where you lived, Internet Stranger, because I could send you a whole plate of Ron Swanson’s favorite steaks. But sadly, I do not, and so I can’t tell you exactly how to get from your home to your 24 hours in Indianapolis.
However, if you need to take a plane or car to get to Indianapolis, I recommend Expedia for the best way to find the cheapest flight or car rental, depending on how you want to get around. Just click here to start looking for the best possible deals on your flight or car rental, so you can head out to your 24 hours in Indianapolis!
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Indianapolis!
What would you do with 24 hours in Indianapolis? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Indianapolis right now? Should people put rooftop bars in memorials to fallen soldiers? And how many people need to die during a sporting event for it to be considered a failure? Please email me at [email protected] and let me know.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Indianapolis. If you have time for another 24 hours in Indianapolis, try this itinerary.