For Chicago families, Indianapolis is a mini trip with major fun

Just a three-hour drive away lies a wonderful urban oasis of zoos, museums and-the best part for my tween girls-hotels connected to shopping malls. On a recent three-day trip to Indianapolis, we created our own music at the new percussion museum, learned about Indiana history in the State Museum and dunked some basketballs at the NCAA Hall of Champions. The biggest problem with our trip? We didn’t have enough time to do everything we wanted.

If you’re ready for a vacation sans cancelled flights and miles on the road, put these Indy hot spots on your itinerary.

We stayed courtesy of the Omni Severin in downtown Indy, attached by a walkway to the downtown mall and quick access to food courts, restaurants and shopping. The city’s restaurant choices run the gamut from fancy steak houses to cozy Italian mom-and-pop joints. The downtown is easy to navigate by car and on foot, and many of the museums and the zoo are located in one area of the city.

Rhythm! Discovery Center

This new museum is tucked into the lower level of a Panera Bread store in downtown Indy. While it’s not a big museum, it was perfect for an hour-long visit. We especially loved the area filled with dozens of percussion instruments to try out. Even better, there are two recording studios with drum sets and bongos where my kids spent quite a bit of time recording their drumming and then playing it back.

NCAA Hall of Champions

The weekend we visited Indy was quite chilly, so when my kids walked into this museum and saw the basketball court and basketballs, they needed no encouragement to run and play. The area to throw footballs and kick soccer balls at targets was also a great way to play while learning about sports. Kiosks held information and sometimes interactive features on 23 college sports.

Indianapolis Children’s Museum

This hands-on museum is the largest of its kind in the world and is an absolute can’t-miss on a trip to Indy with young children. Kids can climb a limestone wall, sail a boat, explore life underground and check out what’s under wraps in the mummy’s tomb. In June, National Geographic’s Treasures of the Earth will come to the museum for an open-ended run. Kids can go on interactive treasure hunts, dig in excavation sites or explore shipwrecks. Free parking is across the street, connected by a covered walkway, and the food court has family-friendly choices.

Iaria’s Italian Restaurant

This four-generation Italian restaurant on the edge of Indy’s downtown was our favorite during our trip. The food tasted like Grandma was slaving away in the kitchen. If you’re going to visit, make reservations because it’s wildly popular and busy.

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