I was pleasantly surprised at how easily we found family fun in Indianapolis. The activities below are unbeatable ways to engage and encourage learning for young kids (age 5 and under).
1. Indianapolis Children’s Museum
This Indianapolis Children’s Museum is the ultimate attraction for Family Fun in Indianapolis. It is the largest children’s museum in the world and was the key draw for me to drive down from Milwaukee with my 2 and 4 year old boys.
In an entire day, from open to close, I’m not even sure we saw a third of the museum. It has five floors of exhibits and an incredible outdoor sports complex. We would have loved to spend two more days there if we had the time in town.
We’ve been home a few days now and every new person we meet hears Liam’s story about the baseball game he played and the real dinosaur bones he touched. It was an action packed day made of memories!
Tips for Enjoying Your Visit to the Largest Children’s Museum in the World
Book in Advance
Admission pricing is $25-35 per person. Book ahead, as the variable prices increase as the date of your visit approaches. If you book two weeks in advance you can save up to 20% off admission! While the price seems steep at first blush, it is well worth the money! Check out this site for discounted evenings and free days.
Parking in the adjacent garage is free.
Hours: Open daily 10am-5pm. For the best start to your day, park and arrive 15 minutes before they open.
Indianapolis Children’s Museum does not reciprocate with other ACM or ASTC museums.
Prioritize Your Must See Exhibits
Knowing you cannot possibly do it all in one day, go in with a game plan. If you’re visiting with kids 5 and under, I suggest prioritizing the following exhibits which will be most engaging for their age group: Sports Legends, Playscape, DinoSphere, Mini Masterpieces (a great quiet spot), ScienceWorks (water table and fish/turtle tanks), Carousel Wishes and Dreams, Fireworks of Glass, and All Aboard!
The Carousel is $1 per rider.
You may consider scheduling your day around the event calendar and what time of day offers the best weather for outdoor activities. At certain times of year, they also offer children’s theater performances included with your admission. The next one is coming winter 2022.
The water clock had my 4 year old captivated in the main lobby while my 2 year old bounced around on toy animals. Make sure to head to the water table just before 1pm. It is next to the cafeteria so a perfect place to stop after lunch.
Pack Snacks and Lunch
Cafeteria food was tasty, but also pricey. From the grill, we got a chicken sandwich combo with fries and soda for $15.50. They had a pizza counter, a grill, and a coffee shop as well as grab-and-go cooler.
We had packed the kids’ lunches as did most of the families around us which was a huge money saver. It can also save time as the lines for the cafeteria counters do grow lengthy.
They had plenty of clean booster seats and highchairs available to borrow.
Stay Clean and Dry
Sanitizer: With all the hands on exploration, you’ll want to have a bottle of sanitizer handy at all times. We all know how quickly those little fingers make their way to kids’ eyes and mouth so bring your own bottle to use when one of the wall mounted dispensers is empty or out of reach.
Dry clothes: There are at least two water table areas in the museum and, if your kids are like mine, they are sure to gravitate toward them. Have a spare set of clothes packed and use one of the provided smocks if available.
Potty break game: Keep your kids dry from any potty accidents! It is easy to get so immersed in something that your potty trained kid might not realize until it is too late that they have to go!
Our “game” that helped convince my 4-year-old to cooperate for frequent potty breaks was to use the family restrooms where he got to pick whether he wanted to use the big toilet or the toddler sized one and mommy would have to use the opposite. You can guess which one I landed on.
There is a LOT of stimulation. I didn’t notice my 4-year-old needed a break until a tantrum in the cafeteria. Try to alternate between low-key exhibits like a water table or the Mini Masterpieces and the sensory overload spaces.
My two year old still naps, and luckily does pretty well in the stroller as long as I find a “boring” area where he doesn’t have many distractions while I pace the floor. I went up and down the central ramp 3-4 times and he was out like a light! If you have a stroller napper, I suggest trying the same as it was low traffic and only moderate noise.
Ease the Exit
It’s tough to pull kids away when they’re intensely focused on an activity. I heard a clutch tip from another mom to ease the transition to the car by making the last activity something quieter, like a stop at the library or letting them play at the train table inside the gift shop.
While at the gift shop you must check out this creative book they have based on the museum. It’s called “Larry Gets Lost at the Museum” and while the title is a bit scary, its fun how familiar all the illustrations are!
If you’re staying at the museum until close, you can also usher your kids to join in the Dino parade they lead down the center ramp at 4:45pm (15 minutes before close).
2. Stroll Down “Mass Ave”
An excellent evening activity is to explore Mass Ave with the family. Massachusetts Avenue is a diagonal street chock-full of specialty stores, restaurants, ice cream shops, and more. The best store for shopping with kids in tow was Silver in the City. No less than 30 seconds after I walked in my kids started getting squirrely and I turned to leave. The employee noticed and brought over a toy for my kids to play with in the stroller while I browsed. Mom win.
Next door was Three Dog Bakery where we picked up a treat for our favorite pup.
Kilwins Confectionary was a real treat for ice cream. I’ve had their chocolates before but never their decadent ice cream. It was $7 for a scoop though which seemed outrageous.
If you need a bathroom stop, hit up Starbucks (the barista was happy to share the door code without a purchase) or use the porta potty outside Needler’s Fresh Market.
3. Decompress at a Brewery
Breweries like Sun King and St. Joseph’s are excellent places to unwind in between family fun in Indianapolis.
St. Joseph’s was a former chapel turned brewery with vaulted ceilings and the old choir loft. They were especially kid welcoming, quick to let us choose a table that would work best for the kids and brought a high chair. The server offered to bring out a mixture of flavors for my son when he couldn’t decide on an ice cream flavor.
My sister and I enjoyed their Absolution Amber and St. Jucifer IPA the most. They do have outdoor seating, but the ambiance indoors was why we came.
We tried Ash & Elm Cider Co with kids as well, which was unfortunately a bust. They had a kids menu and seemed like a spacious eatery with good reviews so we had high hopes, but they were subpar when it comes to kid-friendly dining. A hot dog kid’s meal was $9 and didn’t include a drink. Our server said they didn’t have milk, until the server next to us brought one to her table. They didn’t have any plastic cups for the kids, so it was brought out in a glass pint that I couldn’t trust my toddler to use independently.
Another experience that rubbed me the wrong way was that we didn’t get an itemized receipt for our bill, she just brought out the credit card machine, told me the total and waited for my card.
4. Colts Canal Playspace
The Colts Canal Playspace is a conveniently located playground with play structures your kids probably haven’t seen before. It’s an excellent option for free family fun in Indianapolis.
Make sure to use a restroom before stoppling by as there were no public restrooms in sight.
5. Pedal the Canal
For unique family fun in Indianapolis, rent a Swan Pedal Boat that seats five for a leisurely ride down the canal from Wheel Fun Rentals for $42 an hour. Life jackets are provided.
6. Dine on the Canal
Fresco Italian Café was an ideal kid-friendly spot for us to enjoy an outdoor patio alongside the canal. They had a kids’ menu, made us chocolate milk for free since it wasn’t on the menu, and the service was quick. The boys loved their smoothies as well.
The Margarita Pizza was delicious (but a tad salty.) My boys devoured the toasted Ravioli from the kids’ menu.
7. Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Racing Capital of the World is an affordable and one of a kind attraction for family fun in Indianapolis. Get a taste of racing fever at their museum where the staff is incredibly kind to kids and knew just how to psych them up about what they were seeing.
Parking is free if there is not an official racing event that day. We lucked out and there were practice cars and ride-alongs so we setup a picnic on the lawn and watched the cars, no one paid us any mind. Even if you’re not visiting the museum, this might be a way to experience the track if you catch a day where cars are running outside of race day. It was thrilling to drive into the entrance gate hearing the rev of motors.
Cost to Visit the Museum: $15 Ages 16+, $8 Ages 6-15, 5 and under FREE
I looked far and wide online to purchase tickets in advance without luck. When I called they told me that museum tickets and tours can be purchased upon arrival.
Kid Friendly Exhibits Within the Speedway Museum
“Climb On” Indy Car
I suggest a B-line to the back of the museum first so the kids can climb into the driver’s seat of a photo op Indy Car and get it out of their system before wandering the tempting museum collections.
In the same room you’ll find THE Indy 500 trophy, valued at over $3.5M!
Inside the Theatre, they play a 10 minute video on the one-of-a-kind Indy 500 race experience. It was really engaging for the kids and runs three times per hour. We ended up having the whole theater to ourselves.
Drive four laps on the speedway’s track on the simulators. They allow children 12+ to drive themselves, so my kids had to sit on laps. If you achieve one of the top 9 scores of they day you’ll get your name on the board.
Art of the Helmet
Kids will enjoy browsing artistic, wild helmet designs before designing their own at the coloring table.
The Kiss the Bricks Tour is the shortest tour offered with a family friendly duration of 25 minutes. If you’re interested in this tour, $25 will get you onto the racetrack that was once “paved” by millions of inlaid bricks! Now, only the finish line features the bricks, but visitors flock for the opportunity to get up close and personal. The tour cost includes admission to the self-guided museum too.
We had originally wanted to experience this tour, but we had to shift our visit to a Saturday when it wasn’t offered because there were Indy cars using the track. Watching those cars whiz past us at 200mph was a real treat, but before you set your heart on a tour, check their schedule carefully!
We stopped at the gift shop to buy a $10 matchbox Indy car and the cashier pulled out 2 more to give us from their ‘damaged goods’ box that they save for little kids. It made my boys’ day and they showed everyone we ran into that day.
8. Holliday Park Nature Center
Holliday Park is a free nature center, playground, and has over 90 acres of green space to explore. This is the place to head when your kids need a natural escape full of unstructured play.
It’s only 6 miles north of downtown Indianapolis.
9. Grab a Casual Bite to Eat at Shapiro’s Delicatessen
Shapiro’s is an easy going eatery with lots of family favorites as menu items and a seemingly endless variety of desserts.
10. Rainy Day? Head to the Smiley Center
The Smiley Center is an indoor amusement center northeast of downtown. They have playgrounds, foam pits, and an arcade making it the perfect rainy day option for family fun in Indianapolis.
Driving in from the North?
If you are driving from the North for family fun in Indianapolis, these road trip stops may serve as much needed energy busters on your route.
11. Fair Oaks Farm
A sprawling museum and working farm, Fair Oaks has numerous indoor and outdoor activities to stretch your legs. Each of the four indoor museum spaces featured a play structure and hands on activities.
In addition, they have onsite restaurants and a Dairycatessen.
Because of the price, you’ll want to dedicate 3-4 hours to enjoy this highly educational farm.
Hours: Open daily from 8-5 (Changes seasonally, so check before your visit)
Cost: $22 age 2+ (Or $80 for a family membership)
12. Imagination Station Children’s Museum – Lafayette, Indiana
The Imagination Station had two floors of interactive STEM activities and exhibits that will especially engage kids 8 and under. After driving through wind farms on the way down, my 4 year old was fascinated to see first hand how wind energy could light a (doll)house.
The second floor was ideal for children 5 and under. It was packed with building activities, trains, board games, career exploration, a toddler crawl space, and pretend play opportunities. Their giant blocks had my 4 year old giddy with excitement and I could just see his imagination exploding as he designed a spaceship with a group of other kids.
It is the perfect break for 1.5-2 hours.
Hours: Check their opening hours before visiting, as at the time of writing this post, they are only open 3 days a week for 3 hours.
Cost: $7 Ages 2+, Under 2 FREE (Also FREE with ASTC Reciprocal Membership)
There you have it! 12 Places to find unbeatable family fun in Indianapolis, even with the little kids!
Are you visiting as part of a larger road trip?
Read our article, 43 Affordable Kid-Friendly Stops: Wisconsin to Florida Road Trip