Where can you find a lively cultural scene, an interactive history park, and the nationally known “Big Ugly?” Nowhere else but Hamilton County, Indiana. Located just north of Indianapolis is where your family can escape to one of Indiana’s closely kept charming destinations. Located along the Monon Trail, our journey around Hamilton County, Indiana, began in the city of Carmel. Where there is a smile on every face and hospitality is a way of life. Here is some inspiration as you begin to plan your itinerary to this family friendly oasis.
Know Before You Go
Carmel, Indiana, is internationally known for its roundabouts. With over 100 in the city, it is imperative that you know how to navigate them. Coming from Cincinnati, whose only roundabout is found in a drivers ed book, we had to brush up on proper roundabout etiquette. This came after we unknowingly cut off multiple drivers and narrowly escaped three accidents by a hair. We apologize, local Carmel drivers! There are diagrams located on the street which are helpful, and once you get the hang of it you will wish all cities had more roundabouts. The efficiency and continuous flow of traffic is hard to beat.
Strolling along the charming Main Street in the Arts and Design District is a must. Restaurants lure visitors in with their beautiful patios, shops host an array of tempting artisan goods, and baskets overflowing with blooms makes for the ideal afternoon. Local artists can be seen completely captivated with painting beautiful scenes throughout town. Take a moment to appreciate their talent as they continue to perfect their masterpieces.
Throughout the district, there are seventeen life-sized sculptures beckoning for you to come to find them. These sculptures portray realism in the sense that everyone can relate to them. The journey to find all seventeen will have you discovering many of the darling little nooks and crannies of this small town.
Travel back in time to experience historic towns, early aviation, and hands-on learning by visiting this one-of-a-kind outdoor museum. All ages have the opportunity to create unique adventures from climbing a four-story tree house, visiting a pioneer village, or setting sail on a balloon voyage.
Another extraordinary experience is taking the 1859 Balloon Voyage. This unique adventure will leave you suspended 370 feet in the air under a helium balloon. The gondola allows riders the opportunity to walk around to capture breathtaking views at all angles, once you’ve reached your flying altitude. We took our 15-month-old daughter, and there were passengers even younger than her on board. The experience lasts roughly fifteen minutes. Take into consideration that there is an extra cost to ride the balloon and ensure the balloon is flying that day, as weather can prohibit flight.
Other Notable Adventures on the Prairie
Venture into the historic pioneer town to get a glimpse into life during 1836. All pioneers are unaware of life after 1836, and won’t break character no matter how hard you try. Explore the TreeTop Outpost and then experience the 1863 Civil War Journey as you join fellow volunteers to defend the great state of Indiana. Animal encounters are always a family favorite, in addition to the endless discovery stations and craft corners. If you visit during the fall look for the Headless Horseman and tackle the corn maze. Learn more about what is happening at Conner Prairie and plan your visit.
Carmel Fire Buffs and Fire Museum
If you have a fire truck enthusiast in the family make certain they get the opportunity to sit behind the wheel of a variety of antique firetrucks. This volunteer-run museum boasts tons of firetrucks, gear, and hands-on experiences for visitors of all ages. Kids will particularity enjoy the fire truck ride-ons that they can take for a spin.
The museum does not keep regular hours and often takes their trucks out to public events. Be sure to call to schedule a time or to check hours of operation.
The opportunities for outdoor adventures are endless. The Monon Trail starts in Carmel and spans more than 25 miles north. Rent a bike, go for a jog, or take a leisurely stroll along this iconic paved path. An adventure park, canoeing, kayaking and river tubing can also be found throughout Hamilton County for those seeking more of a thrill.
Central Park Playground in Carmel
We are always on the hunt for a great playground when we’re traveling with our little one. We struck gold when we visited Central Park. In addition to the older kids play area, Central Park has a toddler area, a splash pad, bathrooms, and a picnic area. A highlight for moms is that there is no mulch on the play areas!!
This park is handicap accessible and has been designed for kids with disabilities in mind.
Be sure to check out the Water Park if you are visiting during the summer months. Splash pads will be in operation until September 30th
Flowing Well Park
Spouting water since 1902, the well located at Flowing Well Park has become a staple for travelers and locals looking to fill their containers for a refreshing drink. The water comes from an underground reservoir at a rate of 15 gallons-per-minute
After you are hydrated, take a stroll on the nature trail that runs along the Cool Creek; perfect for small children, dogs, and those looking for a serene hike.
Carmel Farmers Market
The Carmel Farmers Market happens every Saturday from 8:00 – 11:30 am. As we enjoy living like the locals while we travel, we think one of the best ways to do that is by visiting the neighborhood farmer’s market.
The bounty at the Farmer’s Market is quite impressive. Endless stands of produce, blooms, food vendors and artisans attracts your attention and your dollars. Live music drifts through the air giving it a vibrant ambiance and makes it difficult to leave. After snagging lip-smacking BBQ from Rosie’s, we noodled around to find fresh peaches, hot sauces, and more. We even ended up leaving with twelve ears of the best sweet corn to take back home with us!
Where To Eat
Foodies rejoice! The culinary scene in Hamilton County will leave you anything but hungry. Take a bite out of the Tenderloin Trail, belly up to the “Big Ugly”, or sip on local brews. Having children doesn’t mean you have to settle for rushed, mediocre meals! Here are some of our favorite family-friendly finds.
Jamaican Reggae Grill and Bar
This locally own Jamaican spot tempts patrons with juicy jerk chicken, fried sweet plantains, and savory beef & chicken patties. They have a beautiful patio, high chairs, and plenty of island decor. If you have never sampled Jamaican food this is the place that will get you hooked. Check out their full menu and hours here. Located right next door is Union Brewing, whose outdoor space is kid-friendly if you are looking for a local brew.
Any place that has a coffee bar gets a thumbs up in my book, however, this is the place to have a proper breakfast, too! Inspired by wanting her own children to eat locally sourced, fresh food, Martha Hoover created Café Patachou. She now owns several restaurants in Indianapolis and has been named one of the 20 most Innovative Women by Fortune. Every entrée that comes out is honestly delicious. There were plenty of kid-friendly options, and service was fast. It can be on the pricier side, so take that into consideration when budgeting.
Sun King Spirits
Imagine a gourmet food court meets a distillery and boom, Sun King Spirits is born. This unique concept is truly a game changer for those with kids in tow. Open seating allows for families to find the ideal seating arrangement and then wait staff will take your drink order. After you have placed your drink order, you can choose from one (or more!) of four food spots! We opted for pizza and pub food, however, their salumi and cheese boards looked like they came out of a magazine. After you place your order, you receive a pager for when your order is ready. Note: You pay separately at each food vendor. Located right off the Monon Trail, this is a great location to grab a drink and a delicious bite(s) to eat.
Bub’s Burger and Ice Cream
Bub’s is home to the notorious “Big Ugly” Hamburger Challenge. Not to be taken lightly, this 22-oz burger sits atop a half pound bun, and has to be devoured down to the last bite. Never to be one to turn down a food challenge Afshin decided to his hat in the ring, and take on the Big Ugly.
It was touch-and-go at times, with moments of extreme self-loathing but in the end, he reigned supreme! Finish one for your picture on the wall, two for a head-shot, three for a poster, and four for a life-size cutout of your burger glory to be posted for all to see! No one has finished four… yet.
This is a classic family-friendly establishment which offers quick friendly service, a great porch and even better ice cream. Servers will drop off a goody bag for your little one to keep them entertained (puzzles, crayons, and snacks!) while you wait for your food to arrive. For those of you who are not there to eat a colossal burger, Bubs has plenty of smaller options including a mini Bub for the kids.
Where To Stay
We stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Carmel. It is conveniently located only minutes from the Monon Trail, The Arts and Design District, and plenty of restaurants. The rooms were spacious, clean, and they have bathtubs. A complimentary hot breakfast is always appreciated with a hungry toddler who needs to eat immediately upon waking. The hotel staff was friendly and helpful when asked for assistance. They are fairly new so everything is modern, fresh, and updated.
Porchfest is a family friendly event that features local musicians performing on neighborhood porches.
Every September local porches transform into stages as visitors line the streets with blankets and chairs to listen to the tunes. The porches are scattered throughout a neighborhood with each one hosting a different genre and act. Admission is free to the public and the event is kid-friendly. Porchfest is very dog-friendly as well!
Upon entering, you are given a lanyard with the lineup and schedule so you can plan accordingly. I was always intrigued about who would be playing around the next corner and wanted to listen to music at the other porches so we made our rounds multiple times.
Local food vendors and sponsors have booths scattered throughout the streets. Wine and beer were available for purchase but had to be kept within festival limits.
can’t recommend this event enough. We had a gorgeous day and each musician/act was incredibly talented. The entire family thoroughly enjoyed listening and dancing to a variety of music, no one more than Sophie. Ensure that you have your calendar marked for the next Porchfest!
Porchfest is just one of the many festivals and events taking place around Hamiton, County. Autumn comes alive as Harvest Festivals, Oktoberfests and Halloween activities begin to fill the calendar. Treat your family to a special fall retreat by joining the fall festivities.
We can’t express enough thanks to Visit Hamilton County for hosting us during our visit. We had a spectacular time, and we urge you to find your family’s Heartland, here. As always opinions and reviews are my own.
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