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Things to Do in Northern Indiana: Cool Downtowns

Downtown GoshenLike gems strewn across Chicago’s doorstep, the downtowns of Northern Indiana beckon travelers with treasure galore.

“I’ve always liked the sense of history you get,” says Chicago resident Randy Craig. “It’s not like visiting another country, but each town does have its own legacy.”

Unlike downtowns in larger, more urban communities, Northern Indiana’s have survived largely intact, offering visitors a cavalcade of classic architecture, specialty retailers, year-round festivals, down-home as well as fine dining, and bargains ranging from pizza and beer to vintage clothing and antiques.

“What’s most striking about La Porte is the architecture,” Craig says. A string of historic homes along Indiana Avenue greets visitors coming into town, and then once downtown, there’s the La Porte County Courthouse, a Carnegie library, the former Rumley Hotel, a vintage railroad depot and the Civic Auditorium, a multiuse facility that Craig describes as “amazing for a town the size of La Porte.”

Other downtowns draw similar praise from Chicago visitors. “Goshen is like an oasis that appears out of the fields,” says Andy Pierce, a native-born Hoosier who’s lived in Chicago for about 20 years and returns to Indiana frequently to recharge his batteries. “I took a Theatre Historical Society of America group there two years ago and they were amazed at Goshen. They also couldn’t believe we were able to have a gourmet lunch there.”

Northern Indiana downtowns offer pleasant surprises like that, Pierce says. “Most towns have experienced the resurgence of Main Street and participated in the Indiana landmarks group. They know the resources that they have in their courthouses and Victorian storefronts. There’s a lot of civic pride in these places.”

And those with an itch to shop will find their scratch goes a lot further here than in Chicago. “Shopping the antique and secondhand stores, you’ll find things are much less expensive,” Pierce says. “You sometimes feel bad because back in the city, things would sell for twice as much. Your money really buys a lot more here, whether in independent retailers or townie bars.” Regarding the latter, he says, “for $20 you and your friends can have a good time — drinks for everyone.”

Pierce says he’s also found goods at jewelry stores more affordable than in Chicago — “and you’ll pay less tax.”

A partial list of the businesses visitors will find in Northern Indiana downtowns includes coffee shops and diners, fine restaurants, record shops, ice cream parlors, antique and secondhand stores, vintage clothiers and more. A growing number of microbreweries also are cropping up across the area.

GETTING THERE

Northern Indiana downtowns are easy drives from the Chicago area; even the farthest are just slightly over two hours away.

Both Craig and Pierce suggest avoiding the Chicago Skyway and traveling on state and county roads when practical. Although visitors will spend a little extra time driving, they’ll see much more beautiful countryside and arrive at their downtown destinations refreshed.

Pierce also advises that travelers be mindful of sunrise and sunset, since a poorly timed trip might force a motorist to stare directly into the sun both ways. At the very least, don’t rush home, he says. “Stay for dinner, shop until the stores close and come home after the sun has set.”

Driving in Northern Indiana can even be relaxing, Pierce says. “I could go on all day about the joy of being around drivers who don’t incessantly honk at you and who let women and children cross the street without running them down.”

No matter when you go, you’ll find plenty going on every day in Northern Indiana downtowns. Here are some special events taking place this summer:

GOSHEN

On July 7, 2017,  celebrate July’s First Fridays in downtown Goshen with our annual hometown Cruisin’ Reunion. You’ll think you traveled back in time to the good ol’ days as you enjoy great music, food, and classic cars cruising down Main Street. Hang out and watch the cars or bring your own sweet ride between 5 and 9 p.m.

Denny Diamond & The Jewels, on the Courthouse Lawn, 7-8:30 pm
One of the nation’s top Neil Diamond tribute bands, Denny Diamond’s baritone pipes have an uncanny resemblance to Diamond’s distinctive tones, and his stage presence is second to none. Denny Diamond & The Jewels puts on an energetic show full of great music, comedy and family fun.

SYRACUSE

Nestled on the shores of Indiana’s largest natural lake, Syracuse’s lively downtown has been known to vie with boating, swimming and other lakeside recreation for visitors’ attentions. Bustling with quaint but exceptional shops and restaurants, which offer food, gifts and clothing you won’t find anywhere else, Syracuse is nothing if not unique.

And don’t miss the Artisans and Farmers Market – open on Saturdays Mid-May to Mid-October and beginning in June on Wednesday evenings, an outlet for locals to showcase locally grown and handcrafted wares, the market attracts a mind-boggling array of fresh, seasonal produce, herbs, baked goods, preserves, fine art, crafts and jewelry. It’s almost impossible to walk away empty handed.

SHIPSHEWANA

The Midwest’s Largest Flea Market takes place every Tuesday and Wednesday through September from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. With more than 900 vendors on 100 acres, you’ll be able to spend the day searching for treasures like fresh produce, furniture, hand-made items and more. And of course, there’s always plenty of food and drink on hand to help you keep your energy up as you browse the multitude of items on sale.

If you’re looking for something more specialized, make sure you visit Shipshewana on Aug. 5, 2017, when more than 200 vendors will participate in the highly anticipated Antique Market. This event emphasizes top quality antiques, requiring all items to be from the 1960s or earlier.

LA PORTE

On July 29, 2017, from 3- 10 p.m., the Taste of La Porte will serve up food from local restaurants, local music, local brews and local blues and will have a beer garden, live entertainment and activities for the kids! The Taste is free to enter and visitors pay for their own tastes

CULVER

Nestled along the shore of Lake Maxinkuckee, Culver boasts an impressive range of lake-related recreational activities devoted to boating and fishing. On shore, specialty shops and fine restaurants cater to visitors.

From July 14-16, 2017, Culver will celebrate its annual Lake Fest, which not only crowns Miss Maxinkuckee, but features bass-fishing tournaments, a pancake and sausage breakfast, fun runs, a 5-mile run, a parade, a car show and many, many other events.

VALPARAISO

On the first Thursday of every month from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., downtown Valparaiso hosts “Eat Up, Wine Down.” Eat Up Wine Down gives everyone a chance to enjoy a night out with $6 specials from the Downtown Dining Group Restaurants. So be sure to stop by participating restaurants to indulge in one of the special selections.

On Sept. 9, 2017, the Valparaiso Popcorn Festival will offer family-fun activities for all ages with more than 200 arts and crafts booths, 30 food booths, kids’ games, the five-mile Popcorn Panic 5K walk/5-mile run, and the nation’s First Popcorn Parade are only the beginning of the excitement of this incredible festival.

NEW CARLISLE

New Carlisle’s town website points with pride to the fact the community has kept its historic downtown core intact, placed a keen emphasis on historic preservation efforts and maintained the cultural amenities that provide for its endearing small-town charm and appeal. Its town center boasts no fewer than six independent restaurants, a vibrant new public library, and a host of gift and antique shops.

From July 28-30, 2017, New Carlisle Hometown Days will feature carnival rides, a parade, food, music, fireworks, a car show and fireworks at Memorial Park