Planning a trip to Bloomington, Indiana? Great choice. Here's what to do while you're there.
When I told friends I was heading to Bloomington, Indiana, for the weekend, I got the same response from all of them:
“OH MY GOD IT’S SO CUTE YOU’RE GONNA LOVE IT.â€
When I got back and people asked how I liked it, I have given the same reply to everyone:
“OH MY GOD IT WAS SO CUTE AND I LOVED IT.â€
This college town is absolutely worth a road trip or a weekend getaway. Wondering what you should do while you’re in Bloomington? Here are a few can’t-miss activities to work into your itinerary:
Have a vegan donut at Rainbow Bakery.
This funky bakery located a few blocks away from the Courthouse Square is full of local art and eclectic decor that matches the colorful offerings in the pastry case. You can’t go wrong with any of the treats here, but make sure your order includes at least one of their perfect donuts in a unique flavor like strawberry basil or pistachio cardamom.
Explore the campus.
There are a few words that I would use to describe Indiana University’s campus that might seem hyperbolic but are absolutely accurate: “Staggeringâ€ is one. “Breathtakingâ€ is another. “Larger than Alaska and Texas combinedâ€ is one I still need to fact-check but I’m pretty sure it’s right.
Wander in any direction in Bloomington and chances are you’ll end up on the nearly 2,000(!)-acre campus, but I recommend starting at the Sample Gates, the ceremonial entrance that leads you to the Old Crescent area where some of the buildings are nearly 200 years old. You’ll find beautiful limestone carvings, sculptures and even gargoyles nestled into the beautiful landscape. Want more info to guide your historic walk through campus history? Check out this limestone walking tour.
Shop your way around the square.
Bloomington’s Courthouse Square is packed with local stores, boutiques and cafes that make for a delightful few hours of wandering and window shopping. Get your caffeine fix (and a house-made pop tart) at The Inkwell and then head to Goods for Cooks, a kitchen supply store packed with gadgets and gourmet goodies. JL Waters has super cool outdoor gear and clothing (I almost bought a furry hat with ear flaps here and really regret not doing it). Be sure to check out the amazing selection of quirky, handmade gifts and art at Gather.
Drink your way down Kirkwood Avenue.
Like any college town, Bloomington has no shortage of drinking establishments. A few of the best are conveniently clustered on Kirkwood Avenue, just off the square. The Irish Lion is a fantastic two-story Irish pub, with copper ceilings, a gorgeous wood bar and a collection of stained glass, taxidermy and model ships that strike just the right mood. You’ll definitely feel the need to order a Guinness here, which is understandable, but don’t miss out on their mixed drinks.
Next door you’ll find Crazy Horse, another gem of a spot with a beautiful wood bar, low lighting and friendly, funny bartenders. They’ve got a huge selection of beers on tap, plus every bourbon, whiskey and scotch you’ve ever heard of (and many you haven’t). They even have whiskey on tap!
If you love craft beer, The Tap is a must-visit. With 90 beers on tap every day and more than 400 bottled options, even beer connoisseurs who think they’ve tried everything will find something to surprise them. Be sure to sample some of the 15 specialty beers The Tap brews in Bloomington.
Once you’ve had a few drinks and are feeling lucky, go to Alley Bar, a beloved dive bar where you can roll the dice once a day for the chance to win a pot of money. Good luck.
Have another drink (and dinner) at Cardinal Spirits.
You’ll have to leave the Courthouse Square to pop over to Cardinal Spirits, but trust me, the short Uber ride is absolutely worth it. Cardinal Spirits is Bloomington’s first distillery, and they’re serving up creative twists on classic spirits and cocktails. I fell in love with their nocino made with locally harvested walnuts; and Flora, their floral liqueur made with fresh organic raspberries, elderflower, jasmine and hibiscus.
In addition to delicious (and extremely Instagrammable) drinks, Cardinal Spirits food menu is on par with any high-end restaurant in a large city. From Gin + Tonic oysters to a perfectly cooked short rib to a risotto that had me repeating, “Wait, risotto can be THIS good?â€ the whole time I was eating it, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. In fact, I highly recommend ordering one of everything on the well-edited menu just to make sure you get to try it.
Make some room in your travel budget to take some Cardinal Spirits home with you: I left with a few bottles of liqueurs, and trust me: when they’re empty, I’ll be planning another trip.