Just a three-hour drive from Chicago, the city of Indianapolis isn’t the first destination most people think of when planning a vacation. But, I would humbly ask them to reconsider. Indianapolis is a beautiful city of just under a million people and a rising food scene that rivals many others in the Midwest.
Morgan and I got married in Indianapolis, in the backyard of an Airbnb that adjoined the White River. We were engaged when COVID hit and hadn’t really started planning a wedding, but it seemed important to make the legal commitment as soon as possible. When I heard that Indianapolis was the “Elopement Capital of the Midwest” (which was potentially just a nice catchphrase at first, but after my marriage was featured in over a dozen publications, including the New York Times, it’s official), we decided on the city for our virtual nuptials, which was ultimately dubbed “the biggest queerest wedding of the year.”
When I was invited back to watch the Indianapolis 500, it was a no-brainer. Travel writing is my passion, but most people know me as an automotive educator who spent my adult life working in the automotive industry before starting Mechanic Shop Femme. It was an opportunity to combine my passions for a trip of a lifetime. And Indianapolis was exactly as I remembered it – full of lively, kind people, and so much to do and enjoy.
Here are some of my favorite things to do and places to eat in the elopement capital of the Midwest.
Tie dye laboratory
Tie-dye wasn’t part of my childhood experience, but when I stumbled upon the Tie Dye Lab outside of Indianapolis City, I knew I just had to try it And yes, while it’s an activity you can do with your kids, adults can totally do it too and have an amazing time, like my wife and I did. If you’ve been a reader of this column or watch my Tiktoks, you already know that hands-on workshops are my jam, and this was no exception.
The Tie Dye Lab is perfectly organized, with clothes and other items displayed on the wall, laminated instructions, and fabulous people to guide you through the process. They have plus size t-shirts up to 5X and other items like hats, aprons, and beach towels. We were pressed for time, but despite the rush, we managed to get two unique pieces of tie dye each.
Crush factor: The tables are bar height so the chairs are tall metal types not suitable for taller people. I stood the whole time, and since there was a lot of movement, it worked very well.
River tubing is so much fun! If you’ve never been there, you’re basically floating downstream in a giant tube. It’s surprisingly comfortable and really relaxing. We got off at the White River Canoe Company in Noblesville, where we rented the tubes, links and a small tube for a cooler before taking a shuttle down the river. From there it was a simple walk down to the river. Be sure to bring a charged waterproof speaker, snacks, and water!
If you’re a bowling fan (and honestly, even if you’re not), you’re in for a treat in the fully restored 1930s-style Action Duckpin Bowling lane in the Fountain Square Theater building. Duckpin bowling is said to have originated in Baltimore, Maryland and is a bowling type game with a small ball and small pins.
I love bowling, but my long fingernails made it difficult. Duckpin bowling, on the other hand, is perfect! The ball fits perfectly in the hand. But don’t get the idea that this game is easy because it’s actually very hard. The bowling alley recommends that you book as they tend to fill up.
The Indianapolis 500
If you find yourself in Indianapolis on Memorial Day weekend, the Indy 500 is something you definitely shouldn’t sleep on, even if you’re not a car enthusiast. As Morgan Snyder, Visit Indy’s public relations director summed it up, the race is “500 miles, 200 laps and a cold bottle of milk”.
325,000 people attended the race this year, and for good reason. Indycar speeds exceed 200 miles per hour as they fly around the track. Fans are loud and excited; you can feel the energy in the massive Speedway. The Indy 500 serves so many people food and drink that they just can’t keep up, so to cover the gap you’re allowed to bring a cooler full of booze and food into the Speedway.
If you’re not in town during the Indy500, be sure to visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum for a glimpse into the history of the sport – it’s a lot more interesting than you might think. If you enjoy visiting upstairs, consider purchasing a ticket for the VIP basement tour, where there is “a depository of rare, priceless and one-of-a-kind automobile and racing vehicles and artifacts” .
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Crush factor: It wasn’t as hot as expected, but the race day still drained all my energy. Queues for food and drink are miles long, so it’s essential that you bring water with you.
I had the honor of meeting Chef Oya, who was named Indianapolis’ Seafood Queen by the Indy A-List, on my last trip to Indianapolis. In a shack attached to a liquor store, Chef Oya serves seafood porridge at her restaurant, The Trap. “TRAP” is the acronym of its mission: “Toward Restoring food Access to the People”. Chef Oya has a policy of feeding everyone, no questions asked, even if they cannot afford their meal.
Chief Oya spoke to Forbes last year and said: “We’re in one of the worst neighborhoods in town. It’s the worst for crime and the literacy rates are low. The people don’t come here unless they have to. is in the middle of a food desert. I also have a special platter that is not advertised which I have been doing since I opened. If people are hungry, they can pick it up for free. No questions asked. My duty is to feed people. It’s my love language.”
If you don’t go to the restaurant, look for his popular Trap Buttahs in Indianapolis souvenir shops and markets.
Steak House Saint-Elme
Getting a shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo’s Steakhouse is practically a requirement for visiting Indianapolis. The steakhouse is the 23rd most profitable independent restaurant in the United States, and its shrimp cocktail is truly iconic. The cocktail sauce is made with horseradish, clearing your sinuses with a little taste. Besides the shrimp cocktail, St Elmo’s is a traditional, old-fashioned steakhouse popular with celebrities, race car drivers and Indianapolis residents looking for a place to celebrate milestones. I had their blue cheese crusted ribeye, which was fantastic. Book well in advance, otherwise you will be disappointed!
Doctor Who Museum
My wife, who travels with me, takes my photos and videos, and supports my shenanigans, is a huge “Doctor Who” fan.
Located just outside of Indianapolis, the only “Doctor Who” museum in the world, Who North America, so we had to go. Who North America is a fan’s dream. Half the space is full of artifacts, rare items, and “Doctor Who” memorabilia. The other half is a gift shop with all the Doctor Who-inspired goodies you can possibly imagine. Morgan was like a kid in a candy store. If you’re a “Doctor Who” fan or love one, set aside an hour of your day to visit.
Jamaican reggae grills
To surprise my wife on our wedding day, I placed a massive order of Jamaican food at the Jamaican Reggae Grill. They made goat curry, rice and peas, cabbage and rum cake that easily rivaled the fancy wedding dinner we enjoyed after tying the knot. If you’re looking for an amazing meal, stop by their location in Monon Square Shopping.
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