Located just 30 minutes north of Indianapolis, Carmel, Indiana, is known for the arts. So, whether you’re interested in sculpture, glassworks, painting, the performing arts, or simply some artistic artisanal chocolate, you’ll find it in Carmel.
From cities like Chicago, Lansing, Michigan, and Milwaukee, it only takes a tank of gas and a long weekend to equal a lot of fun. So, you won’t be sorry when you add Carmel to your Midwest bucket list.
Note: Thank you to Hamilton County, Indiana, for hosting my visit.
Things To Do In Carmel
Featuring the Arts and Design District and the Center for the Performing Arts for the art enthusiast, the Monon Trail for the outdoor lover, and a vibrant food scene, Carmel offers a variety of activities to engage everyone in your group.
Discover The Arts & Design District
Have a scavenger hunt through Carmel’s Arts & Design District, where it features 17 of J. Seward Johnson’s life-size sculptures. I did a double-take as I saw the gesturing police officer. His mustachioed face looked so life-like. Unfortunately, I was also fooled by the businessman reading his newspaper outside the bakery.
You’ll find art galleries where artisans present one-of-a-kind designs in the form of stoneware, glassworks, drawings, and paintings. Antiquing is another fun shopping activity in Carmel.
Explore The Museum Of Miniature Houses
Also located in the Carmel Arts & Design District, Museum of Miniature Houses is another form of artistic expression. It’s one of five museums of this type in the nation, featuring the art of fine-scale miniatures. Miniatures are precise replicas of the actual items, reduced to scale usually 1:12. They are historically correct. You’ll find thousands of miniatures at the Museum of Miniature Houses, including individual items, room boxes, and entire miniature houses. Unlike a dollhouse, it’s not a toy.
This museum was designed to make exploration easy. It has chairs in every room, stools for peeking at items above eye level, and magnifying glasses to get a closer look at those tiny details. The grandkids have three different scavenger hunts so that every age group will enjoy the search. My grandkids loved the fairy door, where they made wishes. The dollhouse designed for playing also was a hit. It has both free audio tours and guided tours when you request them in advance.
Experience The Performing Arts Center
Carmel is also vital in the performing arts. The center includes the Palladium, the Tarkington, and the Studio Theater. Each venue has characteristics making it the perfect place for performances.
The Palladium is a 1,600-seat concert venue hosting performers like Trisha Yearwood and the Brazilian All-Stars. The Tarkington is a unique 500-seat proscenium theater that presents Broadway shows like Ronald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical or Magician David Williamson. After dinner, we attended Don Giovanni at the Tarkington, one of the venues in Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts. A flexible theatrical space, The Studio Theater is home to the Actors Theatre of Indiana, Lombardi, A New American Play, and the Civic Theater’s Wait Until Dark.
Call ahead if you’re interested in a public tour of the Palladium.
Tour The Great American Songbook Foundation
Check out the Great American Songbook Foundation if you’re in Carmel Monday through Friday during business hours. The museum features rotating exhibits dedicated to the preservation and promotion of music from the Great American Songbook. The Great American Songbook includes the most influential American songs, both popular and jazz standards, that started in the early 20th century.
The public exhibits share the music, history, and culture of the songbook. In 2021, the museum features George and Ira Gershwin’s music and has exhibited the Andrews Sisters and Meredith Willson of The Music Man in the past. Every year, the exhibit is different.
Sample Some Sweet Treats
One option for a sweet treat is the award-winning XChocol’Art with handmade chocolates. This shop continues the artistic theme with its beautifully decorated chocolates. Joann Hofer, chocolatier and owner of XChocol’Art, learned to hand-craft chocolate in Austria. She also has a background in painting and began to use chocolate as her medium. You’ll find chocolates with pictures of Indiana, some decorated with dried flowers, and various seasonal fruits dipped in chocolate. In spring, I enjoyed the chocolate-covered strawberries, and in fall, the figs stuffed with whiskey, honey ganache, then dipped in chocolate. They’re pretty as they are tasty.
Another sweet treat is a dairy-free, gluten-free bakery item from No Label at the Table. The menu, published online daily, varies. You’ll find a variety of cookies, muffins, cupcakes, and bread. It also serves soups, salads, and entrees that you can take home and reheat for dinner.
Both storefronts also sell their treats at the Carmel Farmers Market.
Bike The Monon Trail
With all the foodie experiences in Carmel, you’ll need to work off those calories, and the 27-mile paved Monon Trail is the perfect way to do that. The former railway links Carmel to Indianapolis through Sheridan and Westfield. However, what was once a railroad has been reinvented as an ideal biking and hiking trail.
To reach the 96th Street trailhead in Carmel, start at I-465 to US Route 31, North Meridian Street, and drive a quarter-mile south. At East 96th Street, turn left and continue for 1.25 miles, where you’ll find the trailhead on the left. You can rent bikes at the Carmel Cyclery Bicycle Shop.
Best Restaurants In Carmel
Carmel’s food scene ranges from upscale fine dining to a food hall featuring counter service. But, no matter the style, foodies will enjoy the dining landscape in Carmel.
Located on the City Center’s north side, Chef Larry Hanes is at the helm of Eggshell Bistro, creating European-influenced dishes in the middle of Indiana. He’s making brunch an art. A former graphic designer, the plate presentations are stunning. Hanes decorates his offerings with a signature combination of fresh and dried flowers.
Menu items constantly rotate, so the dish I had may not be on the menu when you visit, but you’ll find something equally delicious. We enjoyed the shakshuka, a Moroccan-spiced tomato base, with onion, garlic, habanera, kale, chèvre, and zhoug. The chef tops it off with a baked hen’s egg and serves it with a grilled baguette.
For a dessert or snack, try Eggshell’s specialty dessert, the biscotti. Chocolate lovers will want to sample the chocolate-covered biscotti with sea salt. The corn almond biscotti is a nod to corn, one of Indiana’s staple crops.
Bub’s Burgers & Ice Cream
Bub’s Burgers & Ice Cream’s menu has fresh handmade burgers made from ground chuck. The chef flame grills the fresh burgers to your requested doneness. It also house-makes the buns every day to exactly fit the burgers. The Big Ugly is a one-pound burger that starts with a pre-cooked weight of 22 ounces of beef that is a 1-pound burger when it’s cooked. If you can eat all of this, you’ll get your photo on the wall of fame. I highly recommend a hand-dipped chocolate shake to accompany that burger.
Kick-off the evening with an elegant dinner at Anthony’s Chophouse as a prelude to the theater. The menu features traditional steakhouse favorites. Another unique offering here is the beef flight, which includes a 4-ounce cut of a USDA prime, Strauss Farms grass-fed, and Australian MB5 beef. The flight provides a unique opportunity to sample the three options side-by-side and select your favorite for future meals. Of course, you’ll order your sides separate from your steak as you do in many chophouses. In addition to beef, it has an excellent selection of seafood — everything from lobster tails to scallops and halibut.
Sun King Carmel
Sun King Carmel features several counter-service restaurants situated within the food-hall style Carmel Distillery. Since this is a distillery, you can select the perfect craft beer or spirit to complement your meal. Other restaurants include La Margarita serving Mexican fare, The Den by FoxGardin offering local favorites like Carmel tenderloin, and specialty Pi featuring your favorite pizza and burgers.
Best Hotels In Carmel
Carmel’s first luxury boutique hotel, Hotel Carmichael, is a Marriott Autograph Collection property, so you can collect your loyalty points while exploring the town. Located adjacent to The Center for the Performing Arts, Carmel City Center, and the Carmel Farmers Market, it makes convenient accommodations for those interested in the arts. During the winter holidays, the Carmel Farmers Market hosts the Christkindlmarkt, which is a fun holiday tradition.
Another popular option in Carmel is the Renaissance Indianapolis North Hotel, a Marriott property that provides easy access to the Palladium.
If you enjoy bed and breakfast-style accommodations, the nearest one, Prairie Guest House, is in the nearby town of Fishers. For those who prefer camping, the closest campground, White River Campground, is about 30 minutes away.
Pro Tip: You’ll want to plan your weekend to get tickets to your favorite shows.
While you’re in the area, here are some other favorite things to do in Indiana: