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12 Top-Rated Things to Do in South Bend, Indiana

Written by Brad Lane
Jul 28, 2020

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Along the southernmost bend of the St. Joseph River, South Bend is the fourth largest city in Indiana and a permanent fixture in American history and culture.

The city was made synonymous with manufacturing at the turn of the century thanks to industry leaders like the Studebaker corporation. During that same time, the small Catholic university known as the University of Notre Dame was also quickly expanding in South Bend to become the world-renowned institution it is today.

Between the rich industrial roots, prestigious collegiate connections, and abundance of surrounding natural attractions, South Bend today is a city filled with many fun things to do.

South Bend residents show pride in their city and its historic past, and throw great events to celebrate their culture. Greek festivals, art fairs, and jazz festivals take place in South Bend throughout the year, giving more reasons to visit this vibrant city.

When you visit Indiana, make sure to plan a stop here. Learn more about the best places to visit with our list of the top things to do in South Bend, Indiana.

See also: Where to Stay in South Bend

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. National Studebaker Museum

National Studebaker Museum
National Studebaker Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The American car manufacturer Studebaker has a long history connected to South Bend, much of which is on display at the National Studebaker Museum. This acclaimed museum and educational space is open seven days of the week, except major holidays.

Classic Studebaker models, military vehicles, and the world's largest collection of U.S. Presidential Carriages can be seen in the museum. A special highlight of the museum is the Barouche that Abraham Lincoln used the night of his ill-fated theater attendance. The collection also includes an extensive archive of design and development drawings.

Various events and programming fill the Studebaker National Museum calendar throughout the year, including speaker series and an annual Hall of Champions dinner and reception. The museum also facilitates the Concours D'Elegance at Copshaholm, which features hundreds of vintage automobiles on outside display.

Address: 201 Chapin Street, South Bend, Indiana

Official site: https://studebakermuseum.org

2. University of Notre Dame

University of Notre Dame
University of Notre Dame | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Founded in 1842 and chartered by the state legislature in 1844, the University of Notre Dame has remained a physical and cultural presence of South Bend ever since the school's inception. During a visit to Notre Dame today, noting the collegiate Gothic architecture and the sprawling campus often filled with backpack-clad students, it's impossible not to feel the academic and spiritual powers at play.

Community members and tourists have many fun things to do on campus, including free admission to the impressive Snite Museum of Art. Come Saturdays in the late summer and fall of South Bend, you can find nearly the entire city enjoying the athletic atmosphere at Notre Dame Stadium, home of the Fighting Irish football team.

An important stop for many on campus, including those who appreciate fine architecture, is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart - a stunning Roman Catholic church that can take your breath away. Another family-fun attraction on campus can be found at the Compton Family Ice Arena, with daily public skating times.

Official site: https://www.nd.edu/

3. Potawatomi Park

Potawatomi Park Conservatory
Potawatomi Park Conservatory | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

On the eastern edge of the city and on the opposite side of the St. Joseph River from downtown, Potawatomi Park contains a dense collection of cultural attractions. Large, shady trees punctuate much of the space at Potawatomi Park, providing bountiful sitting space for a picnic or afternoon in the park.

Visitors to Potawatomi also have access to a splash pad, a performance arts stage, and universally accessible playground equipment.

Adjacent to the park, the Potawatomi Zoo, Indiana's oldest animal park, has nearly 500 animals on display. Fun activities offered by the zoo include rides on the Zoo Train or a trip around the Endangered Species Carousel. On the southeast side of Potawatomi Park, the Potawatomi Conservatory features year-round tropical plants and waterfalls.

Address: 500 South Greenlawn Avenue, South Bend, Indiana

Official site: http://sbvpa.org/parks/potawatomi-park/

4. South Bend Museum of Art

South Bend Museum of Art
South Bend Museum of Art | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This downtown art museum features three stories and five galleries representing Indiana and regional artists. The museum also has works from across the nation on display. The halls of South Bend Museum of Art are easy to navigate, and while visiting, it's common to find yourself immersed in the artistic atmosphere.

Regular and special events, like First Fridays and outdoor Art Festivals, also make it easy to enjoy artistic treasures within the community. The museum can be found within the Century Center, which is also home to major conventions and events in the area, including political rallies, professional seminars, and holiday musical shows.

Address: 120 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, South Bend, Indiana

Official site: https://southbendart.org/

5. The Morris Performing Arts Center

The Morris Performing Arts Center
The Morris Performing Arts Center | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Beginning as a vaudeville house in the early 1920s, The Morris Performing Arts Center followed the act of many prominent theaters across the country. Narrowly avoiding the wrecking ball during the mid-20th century, this historic venue was saved when the South Bend community rallied behind it, ultimately restoring it back to its original glamour in the year 2000.

Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this stunning theater and performance space attracts a wide variety of first-class talent and attraction. Shows and performances at Morris range from comedians to world-famous musical acts. The Morris is also well known for its Broadway and symphony performances.

Address: 211 North Michigan Street, South Bend, Indiana

Official site: http://morriscenter.org/

6. Basilica of the Sacred Heart

Basilica of the Sacred Heart
Basilica of the Sacred Heart | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Near the north end of the University of Notre Dame campus, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart is the mother church of the Congregation of the Holy Cross in the United States. Playing a significant role in the Catholic faith, this Gothic-inspired church is also an incredible piece of architecture and functional art.

With time in the daily schedule reserved for private events and services, the basilica is open to the public year-round. Anyone with interest is welcome to enjoy public masses at the basilica. During the school semesters, the basilica is open from 9am to 9pm. Volunteer tour guides are also available for a docent-led tour.

Self-guided tours are available and are a good way to appreciate the intricate art, construction, and collection of 19th-century stained glass windows. On the grounds outside, the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes is an impressive spiritual shrine built from boulders of surrounding farms.

Address: 1 Holy Cross Drive, Notre Dame, Indiana

Official site: https://campusministry.nd.edu/mass-worship/basilica-of-the-sacred-heart/visit-the-basilica/

7. The History Museum

The Oliver Mansion
The Oliver Mansion | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Adjacent to the National Studebaker Museum, The History Museum is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the state. The informative exhibits, vivid displays, and artifacts of the museum tell various stories of Indiana, ranging from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League to the evolution of architecture at Notre Dame.

Another exhibit at the History Museum includes an extensive collection of ornate miniature lamps. And seven full-scale dioramas at the museum paint an immersive picture of the people of the St. Joseph River. The History Museum is open seven days of the week, excluding major holidays.

Within the facility, the Kidsfirst Children's Museum makes this educational space fun for the whole family. On the property of The History Museum, the Oliver Mansion and Oliver Gardens can be a fun part of any visit. Daily guided tours of this 38-room mansion provide some historical perspective on 19th-century elegance.

Address: 893-941 Thomas Street, South Bend, Indiana

Official site: https://historymuseumsb.org/

8. Snite Museum of Art Editor's Pick

Snite Museum of Art
Snite Museum of Art | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This museum on the University of Notre Dame Campus, near Notre Dame Stadium, provides free admission to all members of the public. The facility features a wide collection of Renaissance, medieval, and 19th-century artworks.

Photographs, paintings, sculptures, and elements of design are around every corner of the museum. Modern and contemporary art is also on display, as well as African, Native American, and Mesoamerican works. Projects from graduate students also adorn the walls and rotate each semester.

A new addition to the museum's collection includes the Charles B. Hayes Family Sculpture Park, located a few blocks south of the museum in a sprawling natural space. This charming outdoor space encompasses a large grassy lawn and several eye-catching works by sculptors from across the world.

Address: 100 Moose Krause Circle, Notre Dame, Indiana

Official site: http://sniteartmuseum.nd.edu/

9. Potawatomi Zoo

Potawatomi Zoo
Potawatomi Zoo | John Hritz / photo modified

On the east side of the city, adjacent to Potawatomi Park, Potawatomi Zoo is the oldest animal park in Indiana. With nearly 500 animals spread across 23 acres, this family-friendly attraction allows for educational and hands-on experiences alongside many viewing opportunities.

Resident animals at the zoo include armadillos, Ankole cattle, and American bison. The park also features a variety of big cats, including leopards, tigers, and lions. Different educational programs at the zoo include Zoo Camps and family programs. Other popular attractions are the Potawatomi Zoo Train, the Endangered Species Carousel, and a Zoo Farm Feeding Area.

The zoo is open seasonally between April and October. Zoo admission is relatively inexpensive compared to most animal parks, and children under two-years-old receive free admission.

Address: 500 South Greenlawn Avenue, South Bend, Indiana

Official site: https://www.potawatomizoo.org/

10. Compton Family Ice Arena

Compton Family Ice Arena
Compton Family Ice Arena | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Adjacent to the Joyce Center on the south edge of the University of Notre Dame campus, the Compton Family Ice Arena appeals to students, faculty, and members of the community. Home to the Fighting Irish hockey teams, the Compton Family Ice Arena provides everyday opportunities for public use of the ice rink.

Learn to Skate clinics are offered throughout the year. Various intramural leagues, like broomball and hockey, also have reserved time on the schedule. Public skating is offered most days of the week from 12 to 1:30pm - but be sure to check the schedule ahead of your next visit.

Address: 100 Compton Family Ice Arena, Notre Dame, Indiana

Official site: http://www.und.com/sports/comptonarena/nd-comptonarena-body.html

11. Tippecanoe Place Restaurant

Tippecanoe Place Restaurant
Tippecanoe Place Restaurant | Joe Ross / photo modified

Originally built in the late 19th century by Clem Studebaker and family, Tippecanoe Place is now a historic home where you can grab a fine bite to eat. With approximately 40 different rooms and intricate woodworking throughout, Tippecanoe Place sets the mood for an elegant affair - and the fresh ingredients make for an excellent meal.

Featuring menus for lunch, dinner, and a Sunday brunch, Tippecanoe Place allows for casual dress and an upscale experience. Reservations are strongly encouraged at this popular restaurant in the city. Self-guided tours of the urban castle is always a welcome addition to any meal.

Address: 620 West Washington Street, South Bend, Indiana

Official site: http://www.tippe.com/

12. Military Honor Park & Museum

Military Honor Park & Museum
Military Honor Park & Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

West of the city and near the South Bend International Airport, Military Honor Park is a nice place to visit to pay your respects and learn more about United States military history. The museum includes artifacts and memorabilia from the five different branches of the U.S. military.

On the grounds outside, this non-profit military museum displays an impressive collection of decommissioned aircraft, artillery, and armor, including a tank. The museum is only open on the weekends, and the impressive outside displays can be appreciated throughout the week.

Address: 4300 Terminal Drive, South Bend, Indiana

Official site: http://www.honorpark.org/

Where to Stay in South Bend for Sightseeing

Catering to downtown visitors and those traveling to South Bend to visit the University of Notre Dame, many great hotel options can be found spread throughout the city. What you want to see and do in South Bend should help decide what hotel is right for you, and whether it's visiting the campus or catching a performance downtown, there is a wide variety of mid-range and budget options that all deliver on a good night's sleep.

  • Mid-Range Hotels: North of the city and the Notre Dame campus, the Inn at Saint Mary's is a fantastic boutique hotel with a stylish décor and relaxing ambiance. Besides a convenient location, the Inn at Saint Mary's also offers dependable service, clean facilities, and a delicious breakfast.

    At the heart of the Notre Dame campus, the Morris Inn is another upscale hotel at an affordable rate, which provides rooms and suites, as well as a great restaurant and fireside terrace.

    For one of the best stays in the heart of downtown, The Oliver Inn is a gorgeous bed and breakfast with 15 rooms available, all of which exude a unique sense of class and comfort.
  • Budget Hotels: South Bend has plenty of budget-friendly hotels to choose from, and places like the Sleep Inn South Bend, on the west side of the city, do a good job balancing low rates with great service. This nationally recognized hotel brand delivers on cleanliness and comfort to make for a refreshing stay.

    Near the Notre Dame Campus, hotels like America's Best Value Inn live up to their name, and alongside a great overnight rate, visitors can expect free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, and a good night's sleep.

    Another option close to campus, the Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham South Bend has a good reputation for well-kept facilities, friendly front-desk service, and affordable rates.
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