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Bloomington, Indiana City Guide

by Stephanie

bloomington, IN Photos by Christie Popp

Today’s City Guide comes from Christie Popp, an immigration attorney and bike blogger. Christie moved to Bloomington in 1998, when she transferred from the University of Georgia to Indiana University, and has been living there ever since. When she is not working or spending time with her husband and toddler son, she loves to read design and food blogs and daydream about becoming a design or food blogger. Today she shows us around the free-spirited Bloomington with her guide to local restaurants, bars, shops and attractions. Thanks, Christie, for sharing a bit of your midwestern home with us! — Stephanie

Read the full guide after the jump . . .

Bloomington, in the hills of South-Central Indiana, is the home of Indiana University. Although it only has around 80,000 residents, Bloomington packs in a ton of culture, good eating and entertainment. Sometimes referred to as the Berkeley of the Midwest for its history of protest and advocacy, Bloomington has a strain of progressivism that is absent from most of this otherwise red state. The city attracts lovers of politics, art, food, the outdoors and the general friendliness and chill that are typical of small midwestern towns.

Bloomington has a nice selection of art galleries, antique shops and thrift stores. Many of the art galleries and entertainment venues are located in the Bloomington Entertainment and Arts District (BEAD). The city also hosts several music and film festivals each year, most notably the Lotus Festival. Nearby, the small town of Bean Blossom hosts the longest continuously running bluegrass festival in the country.

Of course, you can’t talk about Bloomington without talking about sports, especially basketball. Indiana University is home to IU Basketball (the Hoosiers), and if you are in town during the season, you should try to catch a game. Bloomington is also a serious bike town, home to hardcore racer types, fixed-gear lovers and commuters alike. And come spring, you see teams of four or five riding around on their identical Schwinn fixed-gear bikes preparing for the Little 500, a race made (semi-famous) in the movie Breaking Away.

Bloomington is one of those towns that always finds itself at the top — one of the Midwest’s Top Five Food Towns; one of the best places to retire; one of the best places to live; fourth “gayest” city; and the list goes on and on. This may not seem like much if you are coming from San Francisco, Portland, New York or Chicago. But it’s nice to have these traits in such a small town.

I loved Bloomington when I was an undergraduate, when I went to poetry readings, drank cheap beer and ate too much pizza. I also loved Bloomington as a childless professional, when I could go out for long, leisurely dinners and see a variety of shows. Now, I love it as a parent, and I have discovered that Bloomington is quite family friendly. It has good schools and well-maintained parks and bike paths. It’s the kind of town where kids can (and do) walk to school.

If I had to sum up Bloomington, I would describe it as this: In Bloomington, you can walk to your favorite Burmese, Korean or Turkish restaurant, then head to the park for a free outdoor movie. And as you walk home late at night, you can actually see the stars. That’s not something you can say about many places.

Note: To highlight Bloomington’s walkability and the diversity of activities available downtown, I primarily picked places within walking distance of campus and downtown. Most recommendations on the list are within walking distance of the others (though it might take 30–45 minutes from the farthest ends).

Be sure to check out this Google Map with all of the below listings!

Near North Side

The Rail: Less than two years old, The Rail is one of the newer bars in Bloomington, but it has quickly become a favorite. The Rail is located in a turn-of-the-last-century train station and offers an often-changing menu of “Pre-prohibition” inspired cocktails (made, when possible, with locally distilled liquors and spirits), seasonal small plates, beers and wines. While the drink menu changes frequently, try anything made with local distiller Colglazier & Hobson’s Sorghum Spirit (distilled from Indiana-grown sorghum!).

House Bar: Right down the hill from the Rail is the House Bar. The House Bar is the polar opposite of the Rail, but often takes the overflow crowd. You can expect cheap PBR or local beers and a very chill atmosphere.

Upland Brewing Company: A local brewery and restaurant, Upland has been a fixture in Bloomington since the late 1990s. Upland has a rotating core of beers and seasonal brews, as well as good food, with a focus on local ingredients. This is also a family-friendly establishment.

Topo’s 403: Topo’s is the newest restaurant on the list, and the concept is upscale Greek. The menu and kitchen were helped along by the talented Dave Tallent (see Restaurant Tallent). While it is still new, early reviews have been laudatory. Try the donuts with salted caramel sauce for dessert.

Bloomington Playwrights Project: For something other than drinks, check out the BPP, a local theater group that presents only new plays. They always have something different to offer.

The Scholars Inn: The Scholars Inn Bed and Breakfast (801 N. College Ave) is within stumbling distance from the Rail and the House Bar. The inn is next door to the Scholars Inn Restaurant, a nice restaurant in its own right.  The inn is located in a beautifully restored old house, and it offers a full breakfast, either in the Great Room or in bed. Sundays at the inn find guests dining on brunch at the Scholars Inn Restaurant.

The Showers Inn: The Showers Inn Bed and Breakfast is located in one of the beautiful and palatial Victorian homes on North Washington Street. The inn is beautiful, with both art nouveau and arts and crafts styling in its buildings. It has several themed rooms, some of which come with fireplaces and/or hot tubs. The inn is a short walk to the Square, to Kirkwood Ave. and to campus.

bloomington, IN Downtown/On the Square

The Tap: The Tap is a new bar, with a focus on craft brews. It has TVs for watching sports and a stage for live music.  It is right next door to the Oliver Winery Downtown.

Oliver Winery Downtown: Oliver Winery is a decades-old winery north of Bloomington, and this fall, it opened a wine bar on the Square. The bar offers wine tastings, as well as glasses of wine and cheese and dessert pairings. The bar is also is a good place to pick up a quick wine or wine-related gift. The wines are all from Oliver Winery. Across the square from the Oliver Winery Downtown is the Chateau Thomas Winery tasting room. Chateau Thomas is a winery from Indianapolis, which recently set up shop on the Square. They offer tastes, glasses of wine, and bottles and wine gifts for sale.

The Bluebird: The Bluebird nightclub is one of the best places in Bloomington to dance, drink and see a variety of local and national bands.

Restaurant Tallent: One of the nicest restaurants in Bloomington, Restaurant Tallent was started in 2003 by Dave Tallent and his wife, Krissy Tallent. Dave Tallent has made the James Beard semi-finalist list five times for Best Chef in the Great Lakes Region (which includes Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana). Restaurant Tallent uses local ingredients and creates a unique “Hoosier” style cuisine. It is pricey for Bloomington, but comparable to what you would pay in a big city. The food is amazing.

Uptown Café: The Uptown Café has been around since the 1970s and offers a Cajun/Creole-inspired menu. It is a local favorite for brunch on the weekend.

FARM Bloomington: Started by Chef Daniel Orr, formerly the executive chef at La Grenouille in New York City, as well as a chef at restaurants in France and the Caribbean, FARM is really four establishments in one. It has a coffee/pastry bar, a nice sit-down restaurant, a trendy bar and a downstairs lounge called the Root Cellar. The food is seasonal, but with spices gleaned from Orr’s years abroad. If you go for breakfast, you must try the biscuits!

The Owlery: The Owlery is a cute vegetarian restaurant on the square in Bloomington. The restaurant offers vegetarian and vegan selections and even makes its own fake “meat.” Try the vegetarian poutine with local cheese curds.

Samira: While Bloomington offers an array of international cuisines, one the best and most unique is found at Samira’s, which serves Afghani food in a warm and casual — though slightly nicer than casual — atmosphere. The food is flavor laden (and garlic laden). Samira has a nice selection of wines and plenty of vegetarian dishes. I recommend the Vegetarian Special.

BLU Boy: BLU Boy is a European-style café and chocolate shop (and caterer). Their chocolates are amazing, as are the changing selection of delicious pastries and ice creams. I highly recommend the turtles or mudslide cookie.

Book Corner: The oldest of Bloomington’s independent bookstores, the shop carries a huge selection of magazines, Penguin books, and a fantastic kids’ section with arty and pop-up books that you can’t find in bigger stores. The two things I love the most: (1) If they don’t have what you are looking for, they can usually order it and get it in two to three days (and you don’t have to pay the shipping costs), and (2) you get discounts! The more you buy, the bigger the discount.

Landlocked Music: Bloomington is a music town. It has a long history of resident musicians (everyone from John Mellencamp to Hoagy Carmichael). It also has a great music school. As a consequence, it draws some major music lovers, and many of them like to shop here. Landlocked has a great selection of new releases from major and indie labels. You can also get vinyl here.

Piacé: This little boutique, three doors down from Blu Boy, has a nice selection of women’s clothes appropriate for the young college set, as well as the 30-something working women and graduate students around town.

Goods for Cooks: Good for Cooks is a cooking and gourmet food shop right on the square. The shop is packed with every kind of cooking gadget you could desire, and it offers a selection of foods like pastas, spices, oils, vinegars, chocolates, teas and coffees.

JL Waters: JL Waters is the place to go in Bloomington for outdoor gear and apparel. You can get a canoe or a tent, Birkenstocks, hiking books and even stylish, everyday clothes for those who have an “outdoorsy” aesthetic.

O’Child: The ultimate children’s boutique. If you see a Bloomington baby with a cute outfit, inevitably it came from this shop. O’Child’s carries toys, shoes, accessories and clothing lines like Tea, Lemon Loves Lime and Petit Lem, as well as smaller lines like Annie’s Clothesline. This is a seriously cool kids’ store.

Andrew Davis: Andrew Davis is an upscale (read, pretty expensive) shop that started as a menswear store. It has recently expanded to carry stylish women’s clothes and body products, as well. This is a great place to find a nice suit, shoes and accessories.

When you’re downtown, check out a show or play at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. The “Indiana” Theater or Bus-Chum hosts concerts by national acts, dance programs and plays from the local Cardinal Stage Company.

Walnut Street Inn: The Walnut Street Inn, at 130 N. Walnut St., is right on the square. It is a great retreat for the eco-minded. The rooms are designed to look somewhat rustic and somewhat modern (modern-rustic?), with warm, natural coloring. The inn tries to be “green” and uses natural products and materials. The little guest body products in the bathroom are local and handmade.

Suites at 118: A couple doors down from the Walnut Street Inn is a recent addition to the indie-hotel scene in Bloomington — and a rather nice one. Suites at 118 (located at 118 N. Walnut St.) offer an upscale and pricey alternative. I’ve never stayed at this hotel, but it has gotten rave reviews.

Near South Side

Serendipity: Serendipity Martini Bar offers a wide selection of martinis and cocktails, in addition to wine and beer. It has a full menu with appetizers, entrees and desserts. The ambience is comfortable and slightly upscale, though the music on the weekends can make it difficult to hear quiet conversation.

Atlas: Next door to Serendipity is THE hipster bar in Bloomington. Drive by any night of the week at 2:00 in the morning, and you will see crowds of beards and skinny jeans standing outside. The bar offers a good selection of local and international beer (including, naturally, PBR), wines and mixed drinks. It also has skeeball and shuffleboard for entertainment.

Near West Side

Janko’s Little Zagreb’s: If you’re in the mood for a steak and a dose of IU kitsch, head to Janko’s Little Zagreb. The steaks are big and delicious, and the atmosphere is casual, with red and white plastic tablecloths and plenty of Bobby Knight and IU memorabilia. Don’t let the décor fool you, though. This is a serious steakhouse.

Bloomingfoods Co-op has three locations, and the newest is here on the near west side of downtown. You can get organic and local food and drinks. The co-op also has made-to-order sandwiches and a hot bar for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Le Petit Café (308 West 6th Street, 812-334-9747) is a small French restaurant located in an old converted garage. The owners — a quirky French ex-pat couple — live upstairs. The food is not fancy, more like what your French grandmother might make you; it’s simple and comforting. This is where you go for chicken covered in blue cheese sauce or a steak smothered in herbs and olive oil. The restaurant has four or five entrees each day (explained to you by the server), and vegetarian dishes are always available. In my opinion, there are two main reasons to check out Le Petit Café. First, you can get an appetizer (pate or cheese pastries), two salads, two entrees (with two sides), wine, dessert and coffees for around $70. You can’t get that in most places. Second, during the Farmer’s Market, Le Petit Café opens its window onto the B-Line and serves up a range of small breakfast items, including The. Best. Hot. Chocolate. Ever.

Relish: Relish could be called a home store with great clothes, or a clothing store with great furniture and home décor. Either way, it’s a pretty cool shop. This is the place to go in Bloomington for funky shoes and boots (and contemporary couches and bedroom suites).

AZ Vintage: A few doors down from Relish is AZ Vintage, a little shop with clothes, accessories, furniture and home décor (including typewriters).

Farmer’s Market: If you visit Bloomington from April through November, make sure to stop by the Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. In addition to the vendors selling their local fruits, vegetables, meats, honey and maple syrup, you will also find all kinds of prepared foods for breakfast or lunch (or to take with you!). There are usually several musicians or dance groups performing at various places at the market. This is not to be missed!

Bryan Park Neighborhood

Feast: Feast started as a catering company with a stand at the Farmer’s Market. Then it was a catering company with a coffee shop. But the food was so good that it quickly expanded into a full restaurant. This place is as good for a light lunch (try the tamales and island pies) as for dinner. At the very least, stop in for a coffee and one of their incredible desserts.

The Green Nursery: The Green Nursery is the place to buy cloth diapers, baby carriers and “green” toys in Bloomington. The shop recently moved to this new location on Hillside, which allowed it to expand its offerings. On most Wednesday mornings, it hosts parents and children for a Kid Kazooey show.

Sahara Mart: Bloomington has several small ethnic grocery shops (Asian, Mexican, Eastern European/Russian), but for a one-stop shop, check out the Sahara Mart (106 E. Second St.). This is the original (a second opened on the east side of town a few years ago), where you can find just about any spice, grain, bean or essential ingredient in Middle Eastern, Thai, Indian, Latin American or East Asian recipes (among others). It also has a large baking and chocolate section. Finally, Sahara Mart is the go-to place for supplements and vitamins, with about three large aisles devoted only to alternative medicines. Almost everything that is not imported is organic or all-natural, including the large cleaning and beauty sections.

The Chocolate Moose: Don’t be put off by the long line outside this walk-up ice cream shop (and don’t ignore this option if you are vegan or lactose intolerant). The Moose is a required stop on hot summer days. In addition to homemade ice creams, you can get any kind of sundae or shake imaginable. The Moose also makes vegan ice cream with coconut milk and vegan shakes with almond milk. Even for non-vegans, these are tasty, creamy treats.

Near East Side (East Kirkwood Ave, East 6th Street, and East Fourth Street)

Finch’s Brasserie: Finch’s Brasserie serves a creative mix of French and Mediterranean-inspired dishes, including fantastic individual-sized pizzas cooked in their wood-fired oven, pasta dishes and seasonal entrees. They focus on local and seasonal ingredients. Finch’s also has a rotating selection of craft beers and wines to pair with their delicious food. Their fried calamari, soups and steak frites always get rave reviews.

Nick’s English Hut: In my opinion, any visit to Bloomington requires a trip to Nick’s. Nick’s is part college bar, part townie bar, part delicious restaurant. It’s the place where you might have run into Al Cobine, John Mellencamp, Bix Beiderbecke, Hoagie Carmichael, Kurt Vonnegut or Ernie Pyle. I hung out there as a college student playing “Sink the Biz,” and now I take my son there for burgers and IU basketball games. Nick’s offers a large variety of drinks and cooks up local meats and seasonal vegetables.

Runcible Spoon: The Runcible Spoon — named after a children’s story — is a landmark in Bloomington. For years, it has been the place to go for a great breakfast or a coffee. Runcible Spoon still roasts its own beans and gets its sausage locally, but it has also expanded to lunch and dinner service. This is still a favorite for a casual brunch on the weekends. Try the (large and filling) pancakes or the chef’s choice omelet with corned beef, mushrooms, onions and cheese.

The Laughing Planet: The Laughing Planet Café started as the sister restaurant to the Laughing Planet in Portland, Oregon, though now they are under different ownership. The Laughing Planet serves up “California style” burritos, with lots of fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. The food is quick and healthy, and they have plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. On nice days you can sit outside, then head downstairs to Soma for a coffee. Or grab a burrito and head the two blocks to campus for a picnic.

Bloomington Bagel Company: Bloomington Bagel Company, or BBC, has three locations in Bloomington, though this one, on Dunn Street, is the flagship. The bagels are great — New York Style — but you can also get bialys, soups, salads, muffins and cookies. Try the lotsa lox or bagel dog (hot dog wrapped in a bagel). On Fridays, BBC sells challah. You can pre-order on Thursday to secure a loaf, or pick up an extra on Friday afternoon.

Restaurant Row (and Environs): One of the neatest things about Bloomington is that in the middle of southern Indiana, in a town of 80,000, you find a large number of “ethnic” or international restaurants that run the gamut from Turkish to Tibetan to Korean. Bloomington has a Tibetan Cultural Center and has been visited at least five times by the Dalai Lama; it also has two Tibetan restaurants. And, as the Korean population has grown, Bloomington has seen several new Korean restaurants pop up around town. From Lincoln and Kirkwood south to Dunn Street, you will find a good selection of small family-run restaurants that are reasonably priced: Thai (Esan Thai, Siam House, My Thai), Turkish (Anatolia, Turkuaz Café), Burmese (Mandalay), Korean (Café Dami, Do), Tibetan (Little Tibet and Snow Lion), Israeli (Falafel’s), Indian (Taste of India) and Peruvian-Asian fusion (Café Django).

Soma: Soma Coffeehouse (322 E. Kirkwood Ave.) is the coolest place to get coffee in town. In its dank backroom, you’ll find undergrads, graduate students, professors and professionals studying and working, as well as old hippy townies and a newer influx of cool, young hipsters hanging out, debating the politics of the day. Soma offers a wide range of coffee drinks, teas, freshly juiced-juices and smoothies. It also sells its own and locally produced sweets, most of which are vegan, with some gluten-free options. The funky décor itself is worth a visit.

Cactus Flower: Upstairs from Soma, and next door to Laughing Planet, is Cactus Flower. Cactus Flower is a hip boutique/vintage shop. This is a great place to find that Anthropologie-esque blouse or shoe but for a fraction of the cost.

TD’s: TD’s shares a backroom with Soma (downstairs from Cactus Flower). It is (as it describes itself) “Bloomington’s underground record store, quite literally.” After getting a strong coffee from Soma, head to TD’s to look through their large selection of vintage and new LPs (and CDs).

Anatomy: Behind Laughing Planet and Soma you’ll find Anatomy (116 S. Grant St.), a nice little vintage shop, which has clothes, jewelry and accessories, as well as a small and ever-changing selection of mid-century modern furniture. Anatomy also houses the Paper Crane, which sells art and handcrafted goods from local artisans.

Vintage Vogue: Vintage Vogue is owned by Goodwill. It is where Goodwill sends its more stylish and gently used items. The stock turns over quickly, with new shipments coming in each week.

Cha Cha: This little shop on Kirkwood sells a wide range of hip, young clothing with lines like American Apparel, Citizens of Humanity, JBrand and many other smaller lines. The styles and vibe are young and 20-something, and regardless of one’s age, it’s a nice place to find an inexpensive handbag or cute pair of shoes, as well as staples like t-shirts and jeans.

Boxcar Books: Boxcar Books (408 E. 6th St.) is an independent bookstore, but with a bit of a twist — it is a non-profit and is volunteer run. The store also houses and funds the Midwest Pages to Prisoners non-profit. You can find a wide selection of books at Boxcar, but many of the books and publications have a focus on social justice, environment and politics.

Grant Street Inn: The Grant Street Inn (310 N. Grant St.) is a quaint little bed and breakfast that is only about two blocks from IU’s campus. The inn is housed in an old Victorian that was moved to the current location and restored. The rooms are warm, inviting and well-appointed, some with fireplaces or Jacuzzis. The breakfast is decent.

bloomington, IN Indiana University Campus

For visitors and Bloomingtonians alike, IU offers several entertainment options. You can catch everything from Broadway shows to famous acts like David Sedaris or Bill Maher at the IU Auditorium (1211 E. 7th St.). Or check out a student-run production, such as a ballet, an opera or a jazz ensemble at the IU Musical Arts Center (MAC) (Jordan Ave.). The IU Theatre and Drama Department also produce fantastic plays at the Lee Norvelle Theater (275 N. Jordan Ave.). And for movie lovers, check out the recently restored IU Cinema (1213 E. 7th St.), which plays new arthouse releases, foreign-language and classic films. It also hosts lectures from independent filmmakers.

IU offers several different museums. The IU Art Museum (1133 E. 7th St.), which was designed by I.M. Pei, has a small collection of artwork by famous artists like Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp (Fountain) and Monet, as well as art objects from all over the world. Nearby (and connected to the IU Art Museum) is the Grunwald Gallery of Art, which exhibits professional and student artists. Across the street from the IU Art Museum, you’ll find the Lilly Library, a paradise for lovers of old books. The Lilly Library houses 400,000 books, including the Gutenberg Bible and a large puzzle collection. If you are a museum buff, you should also check out the Mather’s Museum, which is an anthropology/folklore museum with frequently changing exhibits. It is particularly family friendly.

Finally, for a unique experience (and one of my favorite galleries), check out the Kinsey Institute (Morrison Hall 302, 1165 E. Third St.). Alfred Kinsey (yes, that Kinsey) created the institute in the 1940s. It continues to study sexual behaviors and other issues in sex, reproduction and gender. The institute houses a small collection of art and artifacts related to sex, and it has a small gallery for changing art exhibitions. While this is certainly a must-see on a visit to Bloomington, the gallery recommends that visitors be 18 or older (or accompanied by a parent or guardian).

On the east side of campus, you will find a few restaurants. For good drinks, check out the Bloomington Brewing Company/Lennie’s Restaurant (1795 E. 10th St.). The BBC brews its own beers, including some seasonal and specialty brews. The Brewpub and Lennie’s offer delicious pub-style food, some of which changes seasonally. Their pizzas are good.

Mother Bear’s: For classic Bloomington pizza, check out Mother Bear’s. The atmosphere at Mother Bear’s is loud, a chaotic and fun-college-pizza joint with booths that have been scribbled on by generations of IU students. Try a deep dish with the sauce on top.

Indiana University Memorial Union/Biddle Hotel: The Indiana Memorial Union (or IMU) is one of the largest student unions in the country. It towers over Seventh Street like a castle. Housed inside the Union is the Biddle Hotel, a lovely old hotel that has been restored. The rooms are cozy, but nothing fancy or luxurious. If you stay here, take time to explore the IMU. You’ll find lovely couches near fireplaces where students snuggle up to study in the winter months, a bowling alley, billiards and a movie theater (the Whittenberger Auditorium).

A Short Drive Away

All of the cool things to do in Bloomington aren’t within walking distance of downtown. Here are a few options just a short drive from downtown.

Textillery Weavers: Textillery Weavers started as a mom-and-pop operation, weaving beautiful textiles and selling at craft shows. Over the last 30 years, the business has gone global, though it is still family owned. They sell their beautiful hand-woven chenille throw blankets around the world, including to many chic hotels. The business is based in Bloomington, and you can visit their showroom to pick up overstocks and seconds.

For hikers, Bloomington offers many options, all within a 30-minute drive. Some of the most popular are the Hoosier National Forest, Brown County State Forest and Lake Griffy. The Griffy Nature Preserve is only five minutes from campus, and it offers several easy-to-moderate hiking trails, as well as kayak and canoe rentals.

For those who desire less action, check out Oliver Winery, which offers locally grown and/or produced wines. The winery has beautiful grounds for walking and exploring or for just taking a picnic. The shop offers cheeses, breads, crackers and sweets, but you should consider bringing along a lunch and a blanket to accompany your bottle of wine.

If you desire a little more contemplation, check out the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center (3655 Snoddy Road). The center has beautiful, relaxing grounds that are open to the public for tours or contemplative walks, as well as a Buddhist monastery. Bloomington has a small Tibetan population because the Dalai Lama’s brother used to be a professor at Indiana University. You can read about the history of the center and the family here. The center also offers retreat cottages for those wishing to stay out of town and to take advantage of the peacefulness the center affords.

Notable Locals

  • Meg Ryan
  • John Mellencamp
  • Elaine Irwin Mellencamp (the Cougar’s ex-wife and a former model)
  • Angelo Pizzo (screenwriter/director/producer — made the movie Hoosiers)
  • Steve Raymer (photojournalist, including for National Geographic)
  • Michael Uslan (producer of Batman movies)
  • Lee Hamilton (former congressman)
  • Feisal Istrabadi (Iraqi ambassador to the UN)
  • Jill Bolte Taylor (famous for writing about the brain)
  • David Baker (jazz player and professor)
  • Jessica Quirk (of What I Wore)
  • Tom Crean (basketball coach)
  • Meg Cabot (author of The Princess Diaries)
  • Arja Rinpoche (High Lama)
  • Sylvia McNair (Grammy Award-winning singer/opera singer. Now a professor at IU.)
  • Menahem Pressler (pianist)
  • Susan Gubar (writer)
  • Douglas Wissing (writer)
  • Gayle Cook (wife of deceased billionaire Bill Cook)
  • Krista Detor (folk musician)
  • Annie Corrigan (produces a show for our local NPR station that is syndicated nationally)
  • Dave Tallent (chef)
  • Daniel Orr (chef)
  • Scott Russell Sanders (novelist and essayist)
  • Toby Strout (created and runs the Middle Way House, a nationally recognized anti-domestic violence organization)
  • Joshua Bell (Grammy Award-winning violinist; he doesn’t live here but is from here)

Suggested For You


  • Thank you for featuring our beautiful city! This is a really nice summary of great things to do and see in Bloomington – if you need more information about the area or have specific questions, feel free to check us out at http://www.visitbloomington.com or call the Bloomington Visitors Center at 800-800-0037.

  • Gosh, I never knew Bloomington, IND was so charming. Every downtown should be as delightful and inviting. A good mix of restaurants and entertainment is essential (that vintage movie theater warms my aorta)…but here’s my question as a knitter on the go: where can I get my yarn fix? There must be a shop that caters to knitters, university students with hands that must pet yarn. Please let me know!

  • I love how thoroughly this describes Bloomington’s offerings – but you left out Butler Winery!
    Their selection of locally-sourced and produced wines is unbeatable (and unbeatably delicious), and their in-town location is also a source for local winemakers and homebrewers.
    I worked for Jim and Susie Butler when I was a student at IU – they are the BEST.

  • There is a knitting place downtown that has EVERYTHING you can ever imagine in the world of knitting. Super helpful and— you’ll notice a lot of knit bombs on trees all over downtown. There is also a farm nearby where you get to meet the sheep you can knit from.

  • Love seeing Bloomington on Design*Sponge!! We love living here and happy to see all of our favorite spots listed!

    Perhaps I missed it – but the BEST burger in town is at Bub’s (near Morton and 10th) and their banana milkshake can’t be missed.

  • Bloomington is my hometown, and I miss it! Knitters should check out Yarns Unlimited, on the Courthouse Square. I don’t knit, and I still used to go in there all the time just to look at their beautiful yarn.

  • Wonderful guide! I’ve lived in B-town for 7 years and definitely consider it an oasis in Indiana. I love that we have our pick between multiple thai, indian, and turkish restaurants. Great culture and community!

  • Bloomington’s best kept secret is Lake Lemon, just 10 miles from campus, the land under the lake is owned by the city! It is a nature preserve and a place to water ski, never crowded with strikingly steep hills surrounding it. Come to Riddle Point Park with its large beach, launch a boat , or look up a guest house to stay in!

  • One addition:
    Bloomington Print Collective is caddy-corner from the Near West Side Bloomingfoods and offers workshops in (mostly) silkscreen and open print hours for folks who already know what they’re doing.

  • There are TWO Bloomington YARN shops, eacn delightful! In a Yarn Basket in a shopping center at Walnut and Miller Drive, and Yarns,Unlimited on Walnut close to the Square. Enjoy!

  • I was fortunate enough to have lived there for five years while my wife attended graduate school. Of all the places I have lived Bloomington is the most missed. Restaurant row and hundreds of other things available. This city is truly a gem.

  • I am so excited to see B-town featured here! Being from the northeast originally, I know how most people can overlook a small midwestern college town. I feel so lucky to live in such a beautiful and diverse place!

  • Another beautiful place to visit right outside of town is the T.C. Steele State Historic Site. Bloomington is such a wonderful place! I grew up about 45 minutes northeast of there and I love to go there whenever I can.

  • Awww! I love seeing this! I went to IU and lived and worked in Bloomington for several years after graduation. I now attend graduate school in Seattle and while I love the West Coast, it’s nice that Bloomington’s progressive spirit and awesome culture is getting recognized. In fact, there are many things about living in Seattle that remind of Bloomington on a larger scale. Cheers!

  • I love Bloomington! I haven’t lived there in almost a decade, but glad I spent most of my formative years there. Every time I go home to see my parents, I try to take in a unique local restaurant or locale.

    Shoutout to HouseBar and The Rail!

  • Nice write-up! I’m sure any Bloomington resident could name a few cool places you’ve missed (the Athena gift shop on the downtown square is a favorite of mine – gifty items, clothing, all sorts of goddess-inspired arts and crafts, funky jewelry, and even bellydancing accoutrements) or additional notable locals (folk musician Carrie Newcomer definitely deserves to be on your list!), but you got a lot of the good stuff. It’s no wonder a lot of us show up as starry-eyed undergrads and then find reasons to never leave!

  • So excited to see Bloomington featured!! I lived south of Indy but found reasons to head down to B-town… Even though it was 45 minutes away, I considered In a Yarn Basket to be my local yarn shop, the ladies there always being so incredibly welcoming. And the farmer’s market is amazing and extensive.

  • also, Caveat Emptor for used books, on the Square, 112 N. Walnut St. What you want in a used book store: eclectic selection, somewhat disorganized but navigable, with a slightly eccentric yet helpful staff. Good used CD’s near the front.

  • Bloomington also has three vibrant non-commercial radio stations: WIUX for a student-run, in-citybroadcast; WFIU, the University’s NPR affiliate, specializing in classical music; and WFHB, a community-owned, volunteer-run, award-winning, so-small-you’d-never-believe-it-could-sound-so-big, radio station serving six counties with local news, local music, social justice and environmental reporting, and an amazingly eclectic music mix. (Why yes, I am a volunteer there, how could you tell?) Stream WFHB at http://www.wfhb.org.

  • I tend to go on as others know not what I mean. I lived for 14 months in Auburn, Washington and where my husband and I were renting the maintenance person whose was Carrie or Kerri; unsure of his name perhaps he meant porter; anyhow he said he was from Indianapolis, Indiana and something about car racing. So I may be confusing Indianapolis which should be Maryland or such. I did say that I don’t ever make sense. Anyhow, the maintenance person cared not for the likes of me as wife. I was useless to husband and continues to be since I cannot be employed to help with bill paying etc. We moved back to our home state of Massachusetts and live with my husband’s parents and their grand children. It was nice to learn about Bloomington, Indiana; that is all. Thank you for sharing!

  • I’m simply gushing to be mentioned as a Bloomington stop! This town is full of amazing diversions and fabulous people. Thanks for this awesome and comprehensive write-up. It’s impossible to get everything, but you packed in so much!

  • Thank you so much for a beautiful summary of my college hometown! It’s wonderful to see all of my favorite places spotlighted, and learn about the new spots that will make visits even better!

  • Bloomington? If you really want to see cool, you’ll take a trip to Terre Haute. It’s not to be missed!!!

  • For ice cream, in addition to the Chocolate Moose, there is also Hartzell’s. On Dunn Street just north of Kirkwood, Hartzel’s makes their own ice cream with lots of interesting and ever changing flavors. My favorite is the chocolate sweet basil.

  • Bloomington is awesome…the best town in Indiana and a major competitor for the best small town in the Midwest. Don’t miss the new Oliver Winery tasting room on the courthouse square or the Uptown Cafe!

  • About a mile south of the square at the intersection of Rogers & Patterson sits 3 year old restaurant, SweetGrass. Local boy attends culinary school in the south and blends hoosier hospitality with Low country cuisine. Plenty of parking. Full bar. Pimento Mac and Cheese is killer! Great fresh seafood. Best filet in town. Don’t miss it!

  • I loved living in Bloomington and this made me incredibly nostalgic. So many great places to eat and drink, I love going back to visit!

  • I’m surprised you didn’t mention this in the “raising children” or Kirkwood section. Bloomington (Monroe County) was recently recognized as having the best public library in America for cities under 250,000 population. It’s a great place with lots of volunteer opportunities too. You also left out Irish Lion/Crazy Horse as staple bars downtown. And Cascade park for hiking, picnics, golf, and skateboarding.

  • Bloomington is known for it’s greenery! I wish this post could have had pictures from the summer when everything is lush and oh so beautiful! It really is an amazing sight in the summer and fall!

  • Is this guide an embarrassment of riches, or what? I’ve lived south of Bloomington and north of Bloomington but never in Bloomington. Didn’t stop me from visiting. And besides everything going on in town, you are minutes away from beautiful nature. It really is ridiculous, one of the blessed spots on earth. Oh, I’m getting all verklempt just thinking about it.

  • as residents of wisconsin living on lake michigan, we love every opportunity to visit bloomington (where i was born/raised). my wife has stated that she could happily retire in bloomington. who knows what the future may hold?

  • If you are going to live in Indiana, Bloomington is the place to be. I moved here five years ago and can’t imagine living anywhere else (in Indiana, that is). I haunt a lot of these local locals but even for one who lives here this was enlightening. Thanks for such a great feature of our little town.

  • What a thorough guide! Thanks for celebrating our beautiful city. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the IU Cinema attracts more than independent filmmakers. The facility is one of the top in the nation and brings notable directors and producers to Bloomington — Werner Herzog, Claire Denis, Walter Salles all come to mind, and that just covers a few artists from the last six months! All this cultural capital is available to the general public for the modest price of $6 a ticket. It’s unreal.

  • After I wrote this post, a new shop opened in Bloomington that is worth a visit: American Colors. This is a clothing company from NYC that’s been in existence for over a decade, but they have now opened their first storefront in Bloomington. They have great tomboy-style clothes (made with organic cotton or reclaimed cloth), and they also carry Farmaesthetic body products. The shop is on Kirkwood across from the Monroe County Library (around the corner from Laughing Planet/Soma).

    I also wanted to add that Hartzells (mentioned above) is a great ice cream shop, and not including it was an oversight on my part. They make their own ice cream in a huge array of wonderful and unique flavors. It is near the Bloomington Bagel Company on Dunn Street.

  • Hi! I have a question for you all. Now I am moving to Bloomington with my wife and a baby boy after finishing my doctoral degree in art at Florida State University. My question is – which area(or specific apts/condos) can you suggest for artist/art lovers to live in Bloomington? I am looking for quiet,safe,and multicultural places for young professionals who have family members. That will be great if it’s not too far from IU and has a park near. All kind comments here made me think this is the right place I could ask this question. Thank you for reading and hope I can get many useful information here..

  • So happy to find this Venue that reminds me what a total blessing it has been to live here since 1970! Want to add important VENUES not to be missed, and that includes THE VENUE FINE ART and gifts GALLERY on Grant street at Kirkwood- as well as other Bloomington based galleries for–an inspiring collection of regional art–including Jewelry, pottery, and sculpture alongside beautiful oil and watercolor renderings of Bloomington and the IU campus! Memorialize your Bloomington experience with artwork from THE VENUE, or treasures from BY HAND, PICTURA, STUDIO 406, and BLUELINE .

  • May I submit Opie Taylor’s on the east side of the square as the best place to get a burger, a brew, and to watch the big game. Love dipping their buffalo chips in ranch dressing! Yummy! Let’s add Michael Koryta, lauded mystery/suspense author, to the list of notable Bloomingtonians. Thank you for this article!

  • This is great! We’re staying in Bloomington as a stop over to Indy, but now I wish we’d be there much longer! Thank you for curating :)