photo of Bloomington

A farm in Bloomington, Indiana. (ThinkStock)

What to do in Bloomington

Far from the expected flat expanses of the Midwest, Bloomington is set in the rolling hills of south-central Indiana. The 40,000-student Indiana University campus adds cultural diversity, arts, and activities to Bloomington's family- friendly style.

Quarries in Bloomington and the surrounding area produced limestone used in numerous famous buildings, including the Indiana State Capitol building and the Pentagon. Walk around the city's historic 11-block downtown as well as the "Old Crescent" in the heart of the IU campus to see buildings constructed from this local material. IU even has a limestone statute of Donald Duck-like figure.

While on campus, visit the Indiana University Art Museum. Designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei, it houses more than 30,000 pieces of art from ancient gold jewelry to African masks and Impressionist paintings. The Mathers Museum of World Culture houses thousands of items from around the world, including one of the country's largest collections of musical instruments and a Children's Gallery where little ones can color, try origami, and discover other cultures through activity-based learning. The IU Jacobs School of Music Summer Music Festival, mid-June through mid-August, features outdoor bands, chamber groups, and Gilbert and Sullivan musicals; many performances are free. You can also get day passes for IU's Student Recreational Sports Center (which includes the Aquatic Center, ping-pong tables, and an outdoor pool during summer months). The facilities have varying rules on participation and parental supervision.

At the Wonderlab Museum of Science, Health and Technology, kids climb a two-story grapevine of leaf-shaped pads held aloft by five miles of aircraft cable to learn about perspective, planning, and spatial problem-solving. The littlest climbers, ages six and younger, tackle a low-level treehouse in the Discovery Garden that features a hexagonal crawl-through kaleidoscope.

The state's largest lake and a favorite nesting spot for bald eagles, Lake Monroe, is only ten miles southeast of Bloomington. Surrounded by thousands of acres of forest, the 10,750-acre lake offers swimming, boating, and fishing. Paddlers can go on a guided tour of the wetlands with Pangea Kayak Ecotours to get up close to soaring eagles and discover areas only accessible by paddle-power.

The northern end of the 200,000-acre Hoosier National Forest, with 230 miles of hiking and biking trails and numerous lakes, borders Lake Monroe. The forest's Hardin Ridge Recreation Area has camping facilities, trails, a boat launch, and swimming, all just 45 minutes southeast of Bloomington.

Tip: Call 1.866.IU.SPORTS (toll-free) for tickets to Indiana University athletic events.

Recommended Side Trips: Indianapolis, Louisville (Kentucky), Lexington (Kentucky)