13 Top-Rated Things to Do in Bloomington, Indiana
Author Brad Lane enjoyed a lengthy reporting trip throughout Indiana.
Bloomington is a fun-filled university city 50 miles south of Indianapolis. It's home to Indiana University and a broad swath of community and tourist attractions. Just a few places to visit outside of campus include state parks, house museums, and Fountain Square Mall.
For the quickest way to check out much of what Bloomington has to offer, head right to the family-friendly B-Line Trail, which navigates through the heart of town. This converted railway corridor now connects walkers and cyclists to some of the top things to do in the city.
Sightseeing abounds in Bloomington. The campus of Indian University offers scenic grounds, and nature surrounds the city, showcased at places like Wapenhani Mountain and Monroe Lake. Discover everything to do with our list of top-rated attractions in Bloomington, Indiana.
1. Indiana University Bloomington
Indiana University Bloomington, home of the Hoosiers, is the flagship campus of Indiana University and a prestigious public institution with a strong connection to the community. The park-like layout of the campus is always fun to visit, with many scenic stops next to fountains, landscaped green spaces, and halls of academia ringing with history.
Indiana University Bloomington has helped define the community for over two centuries, founded in 1820. this research university continues to provide many attractions for the public to enjoy today.
Catching a Saturday Hoosier football game at "the Rock," also known as Memorial Stadium, is a rite of passage for some Hoosier families. And the same can be said about Hoosier basketball at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Other interested observers may find themselves enjoying the open houses at the Kirkwood Observatory, near the iconic Sample Gates on campus.
The adjacent Fountain Square Mall and Kirkwood Avenue are also popular with students and residents alike. Other inviting community attractions on campus include the Eskenazi Museum of Art, the IU Arboretum, and numerous free concerts that take place throughout the year.
2. WonderLab Museum of Science, Health & Technology
This downtown children's museum sparks the imagination with hands-on science activities and interactive exhibits. It's easily accessible via the B-Line Trail and provides one of the most popular family places to visit downtown.
A few of the permanent exhibits at WonderLab include a Kaleidoscope Cave, Bubble Airium, and Hall of Natural Science. Outside on the grounds, the Lester P. Bushnell WonderGarden is a bountiful natural space filled with living exhibits.
As part of the mission of this non-profit institution, WonderLab also offers a variety of programs, including STEM-oriented "IDEA Labs" and WonderCamps for kids. The facility also hosts adult social functions in the evening, offering something fun to do at night.
Address: 308 West Fourth Street, Bloomington, Indiana
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3. Monroe Lake
As the state's largest inland lake, Monroe Lake is a popular spot for water activities and exploring the shore. Boating, swimming, and fishing opportunities are throughout this massive man-made lake, and hiking trails sprawl throughout the forest surrounding the shoreline.
Fairfax State Recreation Area is a popular destination on the west side of Monroe Lake, fifteen miles from Bloomington. The state recreation area features boat launches, a swimming beach, and resort offerings. The campground at Fairfax features 300 electric and primitive sites.
Paynetown State Recreation Area is another popular place to visit close to the shore and Bloomington. Paynetown also features boat rentals, electric and non-electric campsites, and an interpretive center to learn more about the creation of the lake. Visitors from Bloomington reach Paynetown with a 20-mile drive.
Address: 4850 South State Road 446, Bloomington, Indiana
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Indiana
4. Fountain Square Mall
Fountain Square Mall is a historic building filled with many local shops to discover at the heart of downtown, less than a half mile from Sample Gates and the Indiana University campus. Nearly every store within Fountain Square Mall is unique to Bloomington, ranging from fashion and jewelry to health and fitness, including arts and hobbies. A historic ballroom can also be rented out for special occasions.
Fountain Square Mall receives due credit for revitalizing the downtown area during the 1980s, and during any visit today, it's hard to imagine this bustling district ever needing an economic boost.
Stemming in all directions from Fountain Square Mall, particularly on Kirkwood Avenue heading towards the university, are a wide variety of storefronts and community institutions. Local eateries, specialty shops, and boutiques line this area of the city, and throngs of students, tourists, and residents fill the sidewalks.
Address: 101 West Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, Indiana
5. Buskirk-Chumley Theater
The historic Buskirk-Chumley Theater is a charming part of downtown Bloomington. It's better known simply as "The Indiana," but was renamed in 2001 after two influential families in town. A long history spans from its first movie screening in 1922, including many ups and downs, such as devastating fires and foreclosures.
Today, the Indiana reflects its original grandeur and is one of the top places in town for live music and events. Several performers grace the stage, ranging from jazz ensembles to Ted Talks to comedy acts. The event calendar at the Indiana has something going on every month of the year.
Other unique acts at the Indiana include cult movie showings and decorative galas supporting community projects. The theater also commonly hosts nationally touring festivals and is available to be rented out.
Address: 114 E Kirkwood Ave, Bloomington, Indiana
6. Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center
Located southeast of the city, halfway between downtown and Monroe Lake, the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center provides a unique look into a different culture. Or, for many that visit, a valuable resource to express their values.
Founded in 1979, this cultural center has evolved over the years and now strives to preserve and nurture Tibetan and Mongolian culture in the United States. This inspiring campus provides classes, workshops, and opportunities such as summer retreats. It also hosts weekly teachings, including prayer, meditation, and yoga.
The intricately decorated grounds are also available to tour and provide a tranquil moment during the day. Several works of art and architecture punctuate much of the space at the cultural center, with notable features including Kumbum Chamtse Ling Temple and a Tibetan stupa.
Address: 3655 South Snoddy Road, Bloomington, Indiana
7. B-Line Trail
The B-Line Trail is a paved pedestrian path that makes it easy to navigate Bloomington without a car. Once a railway connector, this 12-foot-wide trail stretches for 3.1 miles through Bloomington and connects many of the city's top tourist attractions and natural spaces.
Downtown is a prominent stop on the B-Line Trail, and walkers, cyclists, and non-motorized travelers easily connect with amenities like the Farmers' Market, the WonderLab Museum, and countless city events and venues.
Energy-efficient lights illuminate the public art along the trail at night, and intermittent fitness stations encourage even more exercise. Expect to encounter other walkers along the path; bikers are asked to dismount through busy sections.
8. Indiana University Arboretum
Now a welcoming natural space on campus, the current location of the IU Arboretum was once the site of the original Memorial Stadium. Also known as the Jesse H. and Beulah Chanley Cox Arboretum, named after two influential Hoosier alum, the arboretum was first planted in 1984, and the tranquil attractions of this common area have really grown into the space ever since.
The fresh air and open space provide a great place to relax between classes. Community members also enjoy the slower pace provided by the arboretum. Things really start to take bloom in the arboretum beginning in late April and May. It's free to visit the Arboretum, and the grounds are open throughout the year.
Address: East Tenth Street, Bloomington, Indiana
9. McCormick's Creek State Park
McCormick's Creek is Indiana's first state park and is just 15 miles northwest of Bloomington. Limestone caves, rushing water, and densely forested landscapes provide beautiful scenery to explore on a day trip or overnight adventure.
The park is home to a wide range of family-friendly hiking trails, some leading to waterfalls. Other popular attractions at the park include an Olympic-sized swimming pool and an exhibit-filled nature center. Visitors also enjoy guided horseback rides from the Saddle Barn.
Electric and primitive camping are available at McCormick's Creek State Park. Over 200 individual sites are available, as well as group camping areas and cabins. Other overnight options besides camping include stays at the Canyon Inn within the state park, complete with lodge furnishings and front-door access to the great outdoors.
Address: 250 McCormick Creek Park Road, Spencer, Indiana
10. Wylie House Museum
The Wylie House Museum is a historic home built and lived in by Dr. Andrew Wylie, the first president of Indiana University. It's on the southern outskirts of campus, and the entire estate is now a public museum open to all members of the community to enjoy. Free guided tours of this 1835 home occur between 10am and 4pm Wednesday through Saturday.
Upon entry to the home, the shock of time travel may occur, for the house still appears to support a 19th-century lifestyle, adorned with many original artifacts. The tour takes less than thirty minutes and guests are welcome to linger in a few rooms on their own. The tour guides lend some extra perspective on the lifestyle that lingers on the walls.
On the grounds outside, an heirloom garden provides even more to admire, and the neighboring Morton C. Bradley, Jr. Education Center provides deeper insight into various influential members of the Wylie family.
Address: 307 East Second Street, Bloomington, Indiana
11. Lower Cascades Park
Lower Cascades Park provides a peaceful setting and many recreational outlets for the whole family to enjoy. Children and kids tend to gravitate toward the large, fully accessible playground, and adults appreciate the rambling views of the landscaped creek nearby.
Picnic shelters and creekside picnic tables make for a great place to visit to enjoy a packed lunch at Lower Cascades Park. And the variety of open spaces is ideal for throwing a football around and other lawn activities.
The Cascades Park Trail is a paved, non-motorized pathway that takes in the natural surroundings of the area. This ambling path is popular for walking and bicycle rides, although slow speeds are recommended throughout the park setting.
Address: 2851 North Old State Road 37, Bloomington, Indiana
12. Wapehani Mountain Bike Park
Wapehani Mountain Bike Park is one of the first of its kind in Indiana. It's southeast of downtown and the Indiana University campus, tucked away on a quiet 50 acres of land. The mountain bike park also caters to hikers, trail runners, mushroom hunters, and wildlife watchers.
With nearly eight miles of trails, ranging from intermediate runs to more advanced downhills and obstacles, Wapehani sees plenty of traffic on the weekends and evenings. If you are planning to bike with friends, carpooling is a great option, as the gravel parking lot has enough room for maybe a dozen cars.
Address: 3401 West Wapehani Road, Bloomington, Indiana
13. Hoosier National Forest
Hoosier National Forest encompasses more than 200,000 acres of natural habitat in south-central Indiana, nearly at the back door of Bloomington. The forest spreads across nine counties and is split between regions, with the northern portion just minutes from Bloomington. This means that for city residents and tourists, escaping into the natural space is an easy thing to do.
The northern portion of Hoosier National Forest near Bloomington caters to a wide variety of recreation and sightseeing. Common activities include backpacking, fishing, scenic driving, rock climbing, and wildlife viewing. Numerous campgrounds are throughout the entire forest for both RV dwellers and primitive campers.
One of the most scenic areas of the entire forest is the Charles C. Deam Wilderness, accessible from Bloomington with a 20-mile drive. This 13,000-acre, federally designated wilderness area, is the only one of its kind in the state. Wild hyacinths are known to bloom throughout the spring in the wilderness area, and the roadless forest is ripe for non-motorized exploration.