When I was about to visit Bloomington, I had never been anywhere in the Midwest aside from Chicago, and when I heard the word “Indiana,” I must admit, I did not think I would be wowed by the place. I thought of corn fields as far as the eye can see, and a whole lot of white people.
But Bloomington is a college town, and it is surprisingly cool. One of the most surprising things I discovered about Bloomington is that it is a very gay city. Even on the Bloomington tourist web site, it says that Bloomington is the fifth most gay town in America per capita. That certainly surprised me… I mean, we are in Indiana!! But the town is obviously very diverse, thanks to the big college that attracts a lot of East Coast out of state students, and it is sort of a cultural mecca in an otherwise boring state.
I am not going to lie, it is a small town, but it feels educated, and there is a cute downtown area that makes a big effort. There are some really great ethnic restaurants, too. I was very impressed by My Thai and Siam House (I am a Thai food junky) but there was a Tibetan restaurant, and a great Cajun one (Dat’s), plus a cool place called Café Django with all kinds of weird foreign foods, though I can not really put a label on it.
It is a town very focused on being outside when the weather is nice, too. The town is part of a rails to trails system that turns unused railway lines into walking or jogging or biking paths, and Bloomington has a really pretty trail that runs through the entire town called the B Line Trail. There are other nice trails that link up to it – like the Clear Creek Trail – but the B Line goes through the center of town, so it is the best one to find.
Another nice thing to do outside is to visit McCormick’s Creek. It is a pretty, natural waterfall about 10 minutes outside of town. You have to pay a few dollars per car to get in – so pack your friends in tight – then you can park and walk down to a trail that takes you to a couple of different paths. You can stay high and just view the waterfall from above, or you can decide to hike down a little ways and actually take a swim in the water below the waterfall. The scene is pretty idyllic, and it feels very refreshing and makes for a great Kodak moment.
In the same direction out of town is Oliver Winery, a local winery. There are two different places to taste, though they make you pay for the wine you are tasting. Sad face! One very cool thing about this winery – that is very different from most wineries I have been to – is that you can bring your own food and non alcoholic drinks and come to Oliver to have a picnic. They ask you to not bring alcoholic drinks, and I think that is a pretty reasonable request. I am not a huge wine fan, but I like fruity stuff that gets me drunk, so I LOVE their mango wine – which is exactly as ridiculously sweet and girly as it sounds – and their cider. For the life of me, I can not understand why cider is not more popular than it is. It is usually stronger than beer in alcohol content, and it is refreshing and delicious. Oliver Winery’s cider is bottled in super cute bottles that almost seem aluminum, and they have cute decorations on them. They are even sold at Kroger and other grocery stores around town.
In the summer, Short Stop BBQ Train on the east side of town has AMAZING bar b que and ribs, but only on Thursdays, and the ribs often run out if you do not get there by 4 pm or so. Short Stop sets up in a gas station, and you can find them on facebook for more information. Whenever I go I sort of think of the Zoolander freak gasoline accident – I mean, a bar b que station with open flames at a gas station – but it is delicious enough to be worth the risk.
Any day of the week you can go to Smokin’ Jacks Rib Shack near Indiana University’s football stadium, but on Wednesdays they have ribs that cost just one dollar per bone. Amazing deal!!!
Renting a pontoon boat on Lake Monroe is a fun way to spend a summer day. It costs maybe $200, and you can fit about 10 people on it. Just pay the nice man, and head into the lake. You can park up near people and hang out and drink, or zip around all afternoon. Be social, or be lazy!
Although Bloomington is primarily a college town – I mean, the population of the town basically cuts in half during the summer, when the students leave – there are also some very grown up things to do. There is a First Friday Gallery Walk series on the first Friday of every month, where the downtown art galleries have wine and stay open late. The First Thursday or First Friday parties I have been to in Austin and Las Vegas, respectively, were much younger and more a party scene, but Bloomington’s is more 40+ years old, and really even 50+. It is NOT a college scene, which is a plus or a minus for you, depending on what you are looking for.
Around Christmas time, the downtown area is absolutely adorable. There is a yarn store downtown, and there is knitting on trees – meaning, people knit cute, colored covers for the trees. Some of them have little notes on them saying that donations were made for it by one person or a couple. It is definitely adorable, and pretty unique.
Blu Boy Chocolates is a downtown chocolate shop with absolutely delicious chocolate. They have a chocolate truffle with caramel inside and sea salt on top that I would hurt someone to get to.
I really like the area outside of Bloomington, too. Drive about 30 minutes out into the woods into Brown County, and rent a cabin for a couple days. There are some totally gorgeous wooden mansions with Jacuzzis and every little thing you need to have a great party time, and you can find fun stuff to do during the days. Have a nice wander around Nashville, a cute little tourist town. You can get some old fashioned ice cream, or visit the jerky store, or take an old timey photo dressed as a parlor girl, a cowboy, or a mountain man.
There are some pretty covered bridges – like the Beanblossom Covered Bridge – which you can find on google maps. Have a nice drive and take pictures that look like something from 100 years ago… which is when they were built!
You can even be adventurous and go ziplining in Brown County. The scenery is cool – you are up in a dense forest, way up high, and you feel a million miles away from civilization. And sometimes, a break like that is exactly what you need.