Discover Grant County: James Dean Festival, Garfield & More!

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Grant County, Indiana, is a terrific day trip from Indianapolis or Fort Wayne, as it’s rich in pop culture and history! It’s a favorite of ours if we have a free day and are just in the mood to get out of town for a few hours – we always find something new and fun when we visit.

From celebrating the legacy of an iconic film star to following a trail dedicated to a beloved comic strip character, there’s something for everyone in this charming Midwestern locale. Whether you’re here for the annual James Dean Festival, exploring the Garfield Trail, or simply enjoying the local shops and eateries, Grant County promises a day full of fun for the whole family.

James Dean Mural with sign "Historic Fairmount Left at the Light Hometown of James Dean"

1. James Dean Festival

The James Dean Festival, a celebration of one of America’s most iconic film stars, is held annually in Fairmount, Indiana, the hometown of James Dean. This festival, always scheduled for the last full weekend of September, attracts fans from around the world who come to honor Dean’s enduring legacy. Known for his roles in classics like Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden, his influence on film and popular culture remains strong decades after his untimely death.

The James Dean Festival offers various events and activities, including classic car shows, 1950s-themed dances, and screenings of James Dean’s movies. You can also participate in look-alike contests and tour the James Dean Gallery, which houses an extensive collection of memorabilia. The festival celebrates Dean’s life and career and provides a nostalgic glimpse into the 1950s era that shaped him – plus, it’s a lot of fun and a great way to kick off fall in Indiana.

If you plan to attend, book a hotel room early, as the festival attracts large crowds. I’d also suggest arriving early so you can get good spots for popular events. Comfortable walking shoes are a must, as once you park, you won’t want to move your car.

Mural in Brew LIfe Coffee shop of a cup of coffee, a multi-colored sun, flowers and a hummingbird.

2. Local Coffee Shop Visit

Whether you visit Grant County, IN, during the James Dean Festival or not, if you are like me, you’ll want to start your day at a local coffee shop. On our last visit, we enjoyed a delicious Americano at a new coffee shop in downtown Gas City called Brew Life.

This adorable coffee shop was right on Main Street and had only been open a few months, but with the friendly service and terrific prices, it should do quite well! If I were a local (or nearby college student), I would enjoy working or studying in a comfortable, bright space such as Brew Life!

Brew Life Company, 118 East Main Street, Gas City, Indiana

Main Street sign in downtown Gas City Indiana

3. Shopping in Downtown Gas City

Once we had satisfied our caffeine needs, most of the downtown boutiques were opening so a stroll along Main Street was in order. I love a good small town and found the variety and number of shops worth investigating in Gas City perfect.

We spent about an hour browsing half a dozen local shops (and spending a bit of money – always happy to support the local economy!). My favorites included a local soap shop and two adorable clothing & gift boutiques.

If you happen to visit Gas City on the weekend, make sure to stop by the Gas City Museum. Right now, it’s only open on Saturday afternoon, so it wasn’t a place we could stop on this trip, but since I’m a huge fan of local county museums I will make a point to visit on a future visit.

Gas City Museum, 210 W North a Street, Gas City, Indiana

Fish & chips from Payne's in Gas City IN

4. Lunch at Payne’s

For years now, I’ve wanted to eat at Payne’s. We see the sign every time we head to Fort Wayne, and since we all love fish & chips, I knew we’d eventually make it. Now that I’ve finally visited, I know I’ll be back!

As it was a lovely day on our visit, we sat outside on the expansive patio and split an order of fish and chips (splitting was recommended by the server) and a cider. The meal came with homemade soup (yum!) and a starter of chips with a black bean dip. It was a lovely and delicious meal, and if you enjoy Irish/English food, you’ll be thrilled with the menu!

Payne’s, 4925 Kaybee Drive, Gas City, Indiana

Garfield Statue in front of Payne's sign in Gas City Indiana

5. Garfield Trail

If you do stop at Payne’s, you’re sure to notice the large Garfield statue out front by the sign. And maybe you even saw the one in downtown Gas City near the library. Well, it turns out that not only is Grant County home to a lot of James Dean history, but it’s also home to the Garfield Trail!

There are over a dozen large Garfield statues scattered around Grant County, and if you are looking for a fun day trip, hop in your car, download the map, and see how many you can find. We spent a fun afternoon with the kids doing this several years ago, and now, whenever we pass through the area, we see if we can spot a new statue!

Garfield Statue in front of James Dean Museum sign

6. James Dean Museum in Fairmount

If you are visiting Grant County for James Dean, then the James Dean Museum in Fairmount is a must-visit. Entry is affordable, and this local non-profit museum has a wealth of James Dean information and memorabilia. We spent an hour learning about his life, reading letters, memos, and the like, and understanding why he was so well-loved.

The museum also houses a Jim Davis (Garfield) room, which was super interesting, as well as the traditional small-town historical exhibits you’d find in most Indiana Historical Museums. After checking out the displays, we chatted with the docent and discovered that the James Dean gravesite was nearby. So, of course, we went off to round off our James Dean/ Grant County day trip.

James Dean Museum, 203 East Washington Street, Fairmount, Indiana

James Dean gravesite

7. James Dean Gravesite – Park Cemetery

Never one to pass up a unique experience, we made the trip from downtown Fairmount to nearby Park Cemetery to see if we could find James Dean’s gravesite. The employee at the museum let us know approximately where it was located (the second entrance at the top of the hill after the bridge) and told us that we would know it was his by the lipstick kisses we’d see on it!

Sure enough, she was right! I have to say that although I’ve visited a few cemeteries (I love the history, especially in places like New Orleans), I haven’t seen a gravestone with lipstick marks before! The cemetery itself is peaceful, and if you are a James Dean fan, I can understand why you made the pilgrimage.

Park Cemetery, 8008 S 150 East, Fairmount, Indiana

Where to Stay When Visiting Grant County Indiana

There are a few chain hotels in Grant County Indiana along the I-69 interstate, but if you’d like a nicer hotel, I’d recommend booking your stay either in nearby Noblesville (just about an hour south) or one of my favorite hotels, The Bradley in Fort Wayne Indiana (about half an hour to 45 minutes north).

Insider tip: Want to extend your trip? Check out nearby Huntington County!

Map of Things to Do in Grant County Indiana

FAQs: James Dean Festival, Garfield & More in Grant County

When did the James Dean Festival start?

1975

Where is James Dean buried?

Park Cemetery in Fairmount Indiana

Did James Dean ride a motorcycle?

Yes, and you can see one of his motorcycles in the James Dean Museum.

Who is Garfield the cat based on?

The cats that the creator, Jim Davis, grew up with. His name and personality were based on his grandfather.

Where is the Garfield cat museum?

It’s located in the James Dean Museum in Fairmount Indiana.

Enjoying a coffee at Brew Life Coffee shop in Gas City Indiana

Conclusion: James Dean, Garfield & More Grant County Attractions

As you can see, Grant County, Indiana, offers a perfect blend of history, culture, and small-town charm. Whether you’re an ardent fan of James Dean, eager to follow the Garfield Trail, or simply looking to enjoy some local coffee, good food, and shopping, this county has something for you.

From the annual James Dean Festival to the peaceful Park Cemetery, each attraction provides a unique glimpse into the county’s history. So, plan your visit today and discover all the hidden treasures Grant County has to offer.

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