For this fun day trip from Indianapolis, I grabbed my mom and we headed up to Valparaiso in Northern Indiana. Sometimes known as Valpo, Valparaiso is located in Porter County, just a few hours from Indianapolis and only about an hour from Chicago, IL.
Although we only spent a day exploring Valparaiso, it would be easy to spend a weekend in the area. There are just so many things to do in Valparaiso. As someone who had never visited before, I was quite impressed.
It’s definitely an area I plan on making a return trip to visit. Maybe even a weekend getaway!
Insider Tip: Don’t have time for a full-day trip? Get your free copy of my list of 5 Fun Family Experiences and fit fun into a shorter timeframe!
Start your day outside
As the weather was predicted to get hot, we started the day at Gabis Arboretum. What a GEM. If I lived near Valparaiso or even close enough for frequent day trips, I would purchase an annual pass to this lovely park. As soon as we arrived, we parked the car and headed out with our handy map to explore.
The first area we checked out was the Railway Garden. The building connected to it housed a small gift shop, restrooms, and a few snacks. Once we walked through the building, we were amazed at the railroad. Added to the park in 2011, this miniature railway showcases the history of the steam engine in the United States. The plants are miniature so that they fit into the scenery perfectly. It is the biggest outdoor train display I’ve ever seen, and if you have a train lover in your family, this is the place to take them.
We left the Railway Garden and took the paved trail to the other main garden areas. These gardens included an Adventure Garden, several Rose Gardens, and a lovely path (Heron Trail) through the woods with multiple fairy houses. Although we are in the height of summer, the flowers were still lovely and I suspect they are incredible in the spring.
Related post: Another fun outdoor garden to explore is in Wabash, Indiana. Although not as big as Gabis, it’s FREE!
Finding the perfect restaurant in Valparaiso
Finding the perfect place for lunch in Valparaiso wasn’t an easy task. We parked downtown (loved the 3-hour free parking), and took off on foot to explore thinking we’d grab a bite to eat somewhere. That was definitely easier said than done.
First of all, downtown Valparaiso is FULL of tempting restaurants and shops. It is truly a vibrant downtown. Since we kept passing delicious option after delicious option, we decided to refer to the always helpful Yelp. We narrowed it down to two tasty-sounding options that happened to be side-by-side so we checked the menus of both and decided that we’d give Meditrina Market Cafe a try.
With plentiful outdoor seating (and it was still a lovely day) and quick service, this café was an excellent choice. The cucumber yogurt appetizer that we split was so good I think we could have happily licked the plate clean. It was served with both crispy and soft pita. We also each enjoyed a salad which ended up being the perfect complement to the decadent dip. Everything on the menu looked and sounded wonderful – based on our experience I don’t think you could go wrong regardless of what you decide to order.
It’s easy to shop ’til you drop downtown
In addition to plenty of great dining options, Valparaiso has quite a few adorable and unique boutiques and shops. From a spice & tea shop to funky clothing stores, a cupcake shop, and more, it’s easy to spend quite a bit of time shopping.
If you need a quick pick me up from all that shopping, I’d suggest grabbing a coffee at Fluid Coffee Bar. We enjoyed delicious iced vanilla cold brews and the caffeine kick got us through the rest of the shops we discovered.
Cider flights? Count me in!
Although I love a good brewery or winery, visiting a cidery happens to be my favorite type of tasting! We have one at home that I love so much I belong to their cider of the month club, but I’m always up for trying a new variety! Right in downtown Valparaiso, you’ll find Aftermath Cidery & Winery.
Aftermath has a wonderful selection of flavored ciders on tap along with wine slushies, wines, and food. The slushy flight looked interesting, but since it was a cider spot, we opted to share a flight of ciders. With flavors such as pineapple, watermelon, peach, and more it was challenging to decide which ones to try.
We ended up with a flight of Firestorm (Lemon/Habanero), Lightning (Strawberry/Lemon), Downpour (Peach), and Cubbie Bear (Cherry). It was funny that we liked them in exactly that order! The Firestorm was so good, I picked up a growler to enjoy later at home.
If cider isn’t your thing, don’t worry because you can also find a brewery, meadery, and wine bar in downtown Valparaiso. Plenty to choose from but since I was driving we had to limit ourselves to one stop on this trip!
End your afternoon with art
Sadly, the Porter Museum was closed (although we did peek in the windows of the Memorial Opera House next door) but just across the street, we stumbled upon a lovely little art museum, the Montague/Urschel Gallery.
Many of the pieces used to be located in the Porter Museum and we enjoyed checking them out and spending a bit of time talking to the friendly docent.
Related post: A fantastic county museum can be found in Danville, Indiana. If you love local history, be sure to check it out!
After our fun day, I would definitely move Valparaiso high on my list of places to visit again for a day trip or weekend getaway. For a smaller midwestern town, it is high on culture, perfect for foodies, terrific for shopping, and ideal for nature lovers too. I could also see it as a fun place for a brewery or winery trail!
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