INDIANAPOLIS — The author Ann Patchett once said, “Never be so focused on what you are looking for that you overlook what you actually find.” Her advice was especially appropriate when our family made an extended visit to White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis.
Focused on the prospect of seeing an IMAX movie and having some family time, we also found unexpected treasures along the way. Staying in an on-site hotel, we simply left the car in its parking space. Everything was within walking distance, which allowed us to appreciate the downtown sights, specifically the calm water of the canal that winds throughout, with the occasional ducks swimming by.
Once we got the memo that varied offerings known as White River State Park collectively form a “cultural urban state park,” our mindset shifted to tourists instead of day trippers. The 250-acre park, located at 801 W. Washington St., boasts six attractions and you can buy a park pass and get up to 25 percent off at each place. The pass includes coupons for other activities like boat rides, bicycle rides and Segway tours. An attractive new cultural trail unveiled this summer and set aside just for bicycling tempted us to come back with our bicycles another time.
Two weeks prior, our friend Wendy posted on Facebook that she enjoyed a Segway tour there, or I might not have donned the helmet and mounted the thing. Balance and coordination are not always my strong suit. But my two teens and husband were all in. Thankfully, the staff was extremely patient because guiding the machine with your feet takes a little practice.
Moving forward is easy. Coming to a standstill is the tricky part. And going in reverse is a no-no, we were told. Training complete, we all whizzed off at up to 9 miles per hour, the wind blowing through our hair, as we zipped through downtown with a few stops so our tour guide could share interesting facts. Yes, we would all go again.
The JW Marriott’s view of the park from the 23rd floor is stunning, and we peered down as the Indianapolis Indians (which goes into playoffs this week) played at dusk, and darkness settled in to reveal the dark waters with the downtown lights twinkling. It was a different, somewhat magical perspective of our state, and the normally so-cool teens didn’t want to pull the shades and obstruct the scene when it was time to sleep.
Also, the Indiana Experience at the Indiana History Center has an exceptional, hands-on exhibit called “1913, A City Under Water.” Visitors can pack staples, such as beans, for the flood survivors and can peruse notes posted by Hoosiers looking for lost loved ones
Plus, the bountiful vegetables displayed at the Wishard Slow Grow Garden at the park, tended by volunteers from the nonprofit Growing Places Indy, reminded us to be grateful for our rural roots. Plants can be art, too.
Food choices ranged from a salmon quesadilla for lunch at the Eiteljorg Museum café to an elegant dinner at the Marriott’s Tuscany-inspired restaurant, Osteria Pronto. The chef has cooked for dignitaries such as Ronald Reagan. My recent vow to go Mediterranean inspired me to order the delicious gnocchi, made of ricotta cheese, tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella. Our son was taken with the Pollo Parmigiana, a Parmesan breaded chicken breast with spaghetti and tomato sauce, and says nothing he’s eaten since has compared.
An expected bonus from the excursion is that we didn’t have that longing that comes at the end of most vacations, when you wonder if or when you’ll repeat the experience. We knew that we could come back whenever we felt the urge and our budget and schedules permitted. In fact, we have already been back to White River State Park for a few quick visits.
Offerings near Indiana White River State Park: Indiana State Museum Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center Indianapolis Zoo and White River Gardens NCAA Hall of Champions Victory Fields Eiteljorg Farm Bureau Insurance Lawn (concerts)