Summer's finally here! And it's been fairly typical Indiana weather so far - incredibly hot and humid with thunderstorms mixed in. I'm always trying to find the balance each summer between doing fun and exciting things that we don't have time for during the school year, and also having enough downtime/unstructured free time to feel like we get to relax, be creative and just enjoy hanging out as a family. So. If you're already overscheduled this summer, don't panic! The things on this list will [mostly] be available other seasons or next summer if you don't get to them. If they're not your style or your family's idea of fun, I totally get it :). But if you want some ideas of some places to go to change up the summer rotation of pool time, cookouts, day camps, and road trips, here's my list (specially tailored to celebrate Indiana's bicentennial year, because fun AND educational = my favorite). Bonus: the majority of these activities or places are FREE or *almost* free. Because history belongs to all of us and should be accessible to everyone.
1. Visit the outside of the Indiana State Museum for free: Explore Indiana's 92 counties through art by viewing symbols of their history carved into the exterior walls of the museum along the Canal Walk, mostly at eye level.
2. Experience the art of T. C. Steele, one of Indiana's most renowned painters, in a new exhibit at the Indiana Historical Society. 43 paintings are collected in this show, some of which have never been viewed by the public. The IHS has free admission every Thursday during the summer, and there will be a free concert for children & families this Saturday, June 18th.
3. Play a round of IMA Mini Golf, which is a creative 18-hole course celebrating Hoosier history (think Kurt Vonnegut, the Indy 500, Benjamin Harrison, covered bridges, etc.). Afterwards, explore the historic Lilly House & Gardens. (Unfortunately, the art museum no longer has free admission. Not even close, I'm sad to say.)
4. Take a tour of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site ($5 for kids age 5 and up, free under) and learn about the life and times of the Hoosier President.
5. Visit Garfield Park, the city's oldest (and grandest) public park, located on the near Southside and established in 1876. After exploring the conservatory and sunken gardens (or attending a kids' garden club or storytelling program) , walk through the arts center to view exhibits from local artists, and then cool off at the pool or stay for one of the many free summer events: music concerts, a symphony & fireworks show, or Shakespeare in the Park.
6. Participate in a Crown Hill Cemetery "Heritage" tour ($3 per child). Crown Hill is a beautiful and peaceful place, filled with interesting history and notable Hoosiers. I remember going when I was a kid and it's been on my list of things to do with my own kids when they are old enough (probably middle-elementary age).
7. Tour the James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home ($1 for kids age 7 and up, free for 6 and under) in historic Lockerbie Square.
8. Visit the Indiana World War Memorial (free admission), which is an architecturally impressive building inside and out, as well as a museum of Indiana military history. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
9. Climb the steps, or take the elevator, to the balcony at the top of the Soldiers & Sailors Monument on a clear day for a spectacular view of the city. Admission is free to the monument itself and to the lower-level Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum.
10. Visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, located at the speedway about 15 minutes west of downtown, to learn about the history of Indiana's most famous sport. ($5 for kids 6 and up; free for 5 and under.)
11. Visit the Original Farmers' Market (located outside City Market) on Wednesday mornings, 9:30am - 1:30pm, and celebrate Indiana's agricultural history.
12. Sign up for the summer reading program at the Indianapolis Central Library. Read books to your kids (or your kids can read them if they are school-age) to earn points and trade them in for prizes, ranging from candy and toys to baseball tickets, museum passes and pool passes. This is all FREE (or more accurately, you've already paid for it with your taxes. So enjoy it!) We have by far the best library system and programming in the state of Indiana, and the Central Library [built 1917] is one of the most beautiful and historic buildings in Indy that is also free and open to the public.
13. Tour the State Capitol building. The Indiana State House is a stunningly beautiful historic building (built 1888) that is free to visit; you can walk through on your own or take a guided tour that includes the Indiana Supreme Court chambers and the state legislature rooms. We can learn much from the government buildings constructed by previous generations about their attitude towards civic responsibility and the importance of good citizenship.
14. Sign up for a tour of the historic Madame Walker Theatre, built in 1927. ($5 for students)
15. Explore a new-to-you historic neighborhood park, with playground and/or splash pad: Highland Park, Herron-Morton Place Park, Spades Park, Haughville Park, Andrew Ramsey Park, or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
16. Take a picnic lunch to University Park (established 1914), located next to the Indiana War Memorial, and visit the historic Depew Memorial Fountain. My mom took my sisters and me often to this park when we were kids; we would get lunch from the Lockerbie O'Malia's (now Marsh) and toss pennies into the fountain.
17. Tour the fascinating City Market Catacombs, an underground historic site that originally functioned as the basement for Tomlinson Hall, which burned down in the 1950s. (Tours offered first and third Saturdays of the month, $6 per child)
18. Bike or walk the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, especially the Glick Peace Walk, which is a portion of the trail celebrating historical figures (some of them Hoosiers) who have made peaceful contributions to humanity.
19. Take a picnic dinner to the lawn across from the Indiana Historical Society for a free summer concert on the canal any Thursday evening, or experience the new outdoor space next to the canal at the Eiteljorg Museum with their Wednesday evening free summer concert series.
20. The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art provides helpful insight into an important, albeit tragic, chapter in our state's early history. As white settlers continued westward migration, Native American tribes in Indiana were forced to sign their land away in treaties and pressured to leave the state to move west of the Mississippi River, to Kansas and Oklahoma. "Indiana was virtually cleared of its Indian population by 1840, only a generation after being opened to the settlement by white Easterners," writes David G. Vanderstel in Conner Prairie's article "Native Americans in Indiana." Learn more about this important history at the Eiteljorg's annual summer festivals, both free for kids: the Indian Market & Festival (June 25-26) and WestFest (July 23).