Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana

Why a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana Should Be Bumped Up Your List

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I’ve always felt a gravitational pull to mid-sized college towns; it’s their charm, their unbridled energy, their grit and an overall lack of pretension. Many, too, have seen revitalizations of their downtown squares, which only adds to their draw. For the same reason I love Knoxville, I also became smitten with Lexington and Auburn and other similar-sized cities. And most recently, Bloomington became the object of my affection after learning just how much Indiana’s most beloved city has to offer.

Murals in Bloomington, Indiana
Murals in Bloomington, Indiana
Murals in Bloomington, Indiana

Thursday

SVV and I rolled into town late afternoon after a couple wrong turns and a few stops for photos. Who knew Nashville was less than five hours from Bloomington (plus a time zone change)? Had I realized this sooner, I’m sure it wouldn’t have taken me 35 years to make it to Btown.

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana

We checked into Grant Street Inn, and from the moment we wheeled our bags into our cottage, we noticed the pulse emanating through downtown. It was Little 500 weekend, and we were right in the middle of the action.

Where to Stay in Bloomington, Indiana: Grant Street Inn

But it wouldn’t be a weekend away for the two of us if it didn’t start with a beer. We didn’t so much as pause to change clothes before we found ourselves at Upland Brewing Co. where Bloomington travel blogger Emily Hines quickly tracked us down.

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana: Upland Brewing Co.

We had other plans for the evening, such as happy hour at the Roost, but I’ll be honest: The weather was perfect for patio-sitting, the company was stellar, and the Upland brews were some of the best I’d had in a long time. What I’m saying is that we didn’t move for hours, and when we finally did, it was just to go next door to the Wood Shop (more on that in my next post).

Upland Brewing Co. in Bloomington

When we finally had to peel ourselves away from the taproom because our stomachs were grumbling for something other than beer, we took our server’s recommendation and went to Red for authentic Chinese. I know it sounds weird, but you can’t come to Bloomington without diving into the international cuisine—from Tibetan to Burmese to Indian, there’s a little bit of everything, and we plan to take full advantage of that upon our next return. We get very little authentic international cuisine in Tennessee, so we were more than happy to chow down on dumplings, egg fried rice and Kung Pao chicken before calling it a night and returning to Grant Street Inn.

Friday

We’ve been on an early-morning kick since the time changed, so we got up at 6am and headed down to Memorial Stadium to take photos before students invaded the campus. On our way back to the hotel, we made one very important stop: to the darling Rainbow Bakery, a place I had seen widely shared via Instagram. And while plenty of their doughnuts are gluten free, let’s just say that we full-on indulged.

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana: Rainbow Bakery

On my first day in any city, I always set out by foot and see what I can find as a way to get the lay of the land. I loved being based at Grant Street Inn, as we could pretty much walk anywhere in town, and we rarely needed our car throughout the week. The hotel is located just a third of a mile from the town square, and as lovers of old architecture and historic preservation, we kept finding ourselves coming back to the courthouse time and time again throughout the weekend.

Where to Stay in Bloomington, Indiana: Grant Street Inn

One thing we learned while in Bloomington is that the area is rife in limestone quarries, and you see it in so many of the century-old buildings around campus and the better preserved parts of the town. The Beaux Arts-style Monroe County Courthouse is a real looker and, unlike other towns who have let their squares waste away, this structure was saved from demolition nearly 35 years ago and, as a result, the streets surrounding it are just booming with restaurants, bars and retail spaces.

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana: Monroe County Courthouse

Emily told us that, hands down, King Dough is the spot she visits the most in town, and upon ordering our food, I immediately saw why: The pizza is some of the tastiest I’ve had ever in my long life (if the gorgonzola, grape and rosemary pie is on the menu when you go, that’s what you’re having, FYI). The local and regional beer selection and very knowledgeable and friendly service just pushed the experience over the edge. I had to stop myself from coming back here for every meal throughout the weekend as my dining list was so long and our time there so short.

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana: King Dough Pizza

To walk off the pizza, we meandered down the B-Line, a lovely, multi-use paved trail that runs three miles through the heart of town. Much to my delight, like every other town we’ve fallen in love with, Bloomington has its own mural scene, and I even matched a few of them.

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana
Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana: King Dough Pizza

While down along the B-Line, we stumbled upon Jeff’s Warehouse, midcentury modern Mecca for design lovers and fans of home decor. We poked around the multiple levels and mentally bookmarked things we’ll come back for on our next visit, truck in tow.

We looped back to the square for a couple beers at Function Brewing before it was time to head back to the inn for a wardrobe change. One of the biggest reasons I’ve been wanting to go to Bloomington for the past three years was the opening of Cardinal Spirits. I’ve known and followed fashion-turned-lifestyles blogger Jessica Quirk for a decade now, and her husband is one of the partners behind the venture.

After completing the 26-distillery Tennessee Whiskey Trail this past fall, it was even more interesting to hear the process behind Cardinal Spirits and their dedication to producing all of their product on-site, from fermentation to bottle, and the philosophy behind a good old-fashioned drink as a helpful ice breaker between strangers, family and friends.
Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana: Dinner at Cardinal Spirits

We ate everything on the dinner menu over the course of three hours and could have easily spent another three sipping our way through the cocktail menu, too. In late spring and summer months, the patio is the best spot in town in my opinion, and there were plenty of pups who had accompanied their people for dinner or drinks. I can’t wait to go back for brunch next time I’m there, because yep, they have that, too.

Saturday

Our weekend in Bloomington was the first sunny one we’d seen all year; it’s been terribly gray in Tennessee, and I’d been longing for spring to arrive. While it was still a titch on the chilly side, the sun was out in full force, and spring is the perfect season in which to acquaint yourselves with this charming college town.

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana

We started our Saturday with brunch at an iconic establishment, the Runcible Spoon, before strolling through the Sample Gates and around the now-deserted campus for the better part of an hour.

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana: Coffee at Hopscotch

Once we reached IU’s frat row, we saw why no one was milling about: They were all preparing (by way of playing beer pong) for the afternoon’s main event, the Little 500. I kind of loved having such a massive campus all to ourselves.

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana
Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana

Even after covering ground in Dunn’s Meadow and Dunn Wood, we still had time to kill, so we continued our walk and crossed town to go back to the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market., held every Saturday from April through November.

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana: Downtown Farmers Market
Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana: Downtown Farmers Market

Then it was time for the show: the Little 500 was about to race off. A Bloomington tradition, this iconic IU race was the star of the movie Breaking Away and takes place every spring in late April on the track inside Bill Armstrong Stadium. More than 25,000 spectators come out to watch the four-person teams race to finish 100 miles.

The Little 500 in Bloomington, Indiana

The women’s race takes place on Friday each year and the men’s on Saturday. We arrived in time for all the opening theatrics, including musical numbers and a man who parachuted out of a plane while waving an American flag. The men’s race comprises 200 laps, and we only stuck around for about half of that, but in that time, we witnessed some epic crashes.

The Little 500 in Bloomington, Indiana

Following our afternoon at the races, Em and Ryan had offered to take us foraging (BY BOAT), and you know that a) I’m not one to turn down an adventure and b) if it involved mushrooms or fermentation or anything scientifically geeky, SVV is all in. If you asked him about his time in Bloomington, I have no doubt he’d tell you that foraging was the highlight. He’s now on a quest for morels here in Tennessee.

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana
Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana

We met Em and Ryan out along the Middlefork area where we loaded up the four of us and their two black labs into their boat and motored out to a secret spot that I gave a blood oath I would not reveal. Let’s just say that my first time foraging was a blast thanks to those two, and Emily even has a whole guide to finding morel mushrooms if that’s your kind of thing. The morels were just starting to peek above the ground, and I imagine they’re out in full force by now!

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana: Foraging for Morels

I thought Emily and Ryan would be sick of us by this point, but to my excitement, they wanted to meet us for dinner. We headed to an entirely different part of town, Southeast Bloomington, to check out C3 Bloomington, the fanciest spot we encountered all weekend. On Saturdays, there’s live jazz, so we claimed a booth near the stage, ordered a couple of Old Fashioneds and settled in for a feast of shared plates comprising duck lettuce rolls, seasonal gnocchi, burgers and the best damn butterscotch pudding I’ve ever tasted in my life.

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana: C3 Bloomington

Sunday

Sunday morning came all too quickly, and I still had a dozen restaurants and bars I had yet to check off (good thing we’ll be back in the fall!). But first things first: coffee, and I knew I wasn’t going to leave without popping into Hopscotch as it’s a local institution.

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indian

We accumulated a long list of recommendations from locals we met throughout the weekend, but there was one place that every last person voted on unanimously: Feast. And after our brunch there, it was easy to see why: Feast wasn’t just the best brunch I’ve had all year, but possibly the best brunch I’ve had of all time. And I’ve lived in some food-forward cities, people, including New York and San Francisco. Both the signature tamales and the ricotta pancakes with shaved beets were mind-blowingly good.

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana: Brunch at Feast
Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana: Brunch at Feast

Bloomington surprised us in all the best ways, but beyond the culture and the food, the beer and the outdoors, the people were some of the friendliest, kindest, most helpful humans we have encountered in our travels. And really, it’s the people who make the place after all, right?

I could not be more excited for our trip back in the fall—it wasn’t quite warm enough to truly enjoy Monroe Lake, though I was dying to do my first paddle of the season—and we have a long list of places we didn’t have time to make it to on this first visit: among them, the Irish Lion, Crazy Horse, Bear’s Place, Little Tibet, Burma Garden, Taste of India and the Roost.

Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana

Bloomington fans, what must we absolutely put on our list for visit number two? And why did you keep your city such a secret from me for so long?

This project is sponsored by Visit Bloomington. All opinions are our own.

 

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Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana
Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana
Planning a Weekend in Bloomington, Indiana
COMMENTS
  • May 4, 2018

    So so cute, and all the Instagrammable walls. 🙂

    • May 7, 2018

      Right? And let’s be honest, that’s what makes me fall in love with a town 😉

  • May 4, 2018

    Thank you so much for sharing a great information. I appreciate your time and effort in your work. Keep posting.

  • May 4, 2018

    We had the best time showing y’all around! PS the morels are out in full force.

    • May 7, 2018

      Ooooh, we need to come back, like, this weekend! Thanks for the awesome tour guiding 🙂

  • May 4, 2018
    Jessica Davis

    I went to High school in B-town. Thank you for sharing! Of all the places I lived still #1 !!!

    • May 7, 2018

      Lucky you! Do you think you’ll ever move back?

      • May 8, 2018
        Jessica Davis

        As much as I would love to I do not think we will. Our hearts are set on something farther south. However right now we live in Northern Illinois.

  • May 4, 2018

    Looks like a cool place to visit. We need to add it to our list. Thanks for the tour.

    • May 7, 2018

      Do it, JD! You won’t be disappointed.

  • May 4, 2018
    Mary

    For your next visit:
    1. Needmore Coffee Roasters on the east side of town, just north of College Mall
    2. Brunch at Farm downtown on Kirkwood Ave
    3. Homemade toaster pastry and a cortado at the Inkwell on the west side of the square
    4. Esan Thai at Kirkwood and Lincoln, close to the public library, for authentic Thai cuisine
    5. An Old Fashioned, Negroni, or French 75 cocktail at the Uptown Cafe on Kirkwood (outstanding bar program)
    6. Stay at the Hyatt Place on Kirkwood just SW of the square. Ask for a room on the top floor, east side, for a great view of downtown

    • May 7, 2018

      Mary, you’re awesome! I love all these tips and already added them to my document for my fall trip (because you know I’ve already got a running list!).

  • May 4, 2018

    What a fun weekend! Bloomington has been on my radar ever since tasting Upland’s sours in DC a couple years back. Now I REALLY want to go after seeing all the amazing restaurants.

    • May 7, 2018

      I’m already sad I didn’t bring back MORE sours, as we blew through them in a week. Good thing I’m going back this fall 😉

  • May 4, 2018
    Debra Eastridge

    Crumble Bakery and coffee shop, Btown Diner for breakfast, loaded avocado toast at Inkwell, tea and pastries at Cup and Kettle, soup at Darn Good Soup, brunch at Uptown, steak at Little Zagreb…..I could go on and on!!!

    • May 7, 2018

      Debra, it looks as if I’m going to need a third trip back to Btown! Far too much to see and eat and do to squeeze into two long weekends =)

      Thank you for these awesome tips!

  • May 4, 2018
    Candice

    You hit all my favorites (Hopscotch Coffee = the BEST), but on your next trip definitely prioritize breakfast at Farm (the biscuit basket with homemade jams, specifically), a stop at Gather on the square (curated items from local artists), and a hike at Leonard Springs Nature Park.

    • May 7, 2018

      You bet! Thanks, Candice—already looking forward to our next visit!

  • May 5, 2018

    I’ve only been to Indianapolis in Indiana, but both times I’ve been, I immediately fell in love. Bloomington looks like my kind of town – duck lettuce rolls? I’m there! I want to explore more of Indiana.

    • May 7, 2018

      You would LOVE it! You could spend a whole week eating your way through that town. I also want to see more of Indiana. Such an underrated gem of a state!

  • May 5, 2018
    Melissa

    Alchemy at the Princess Theatre!

    • May 7, 2018

      Can’t believe I missed this one! October, it’s on.

  • May 6, 2018

    So many beautiful colours again! Every destination I visit I vow I will look for colourful murals, but somehow I am more attracted by the grand gray buildings surrounding me. This needs to change 🙂

    • May 7, 2018

      Ha! Just start thinking “WWLD (what would Lunatic do)?” when you’re traveling, and the murals will come to you 😉

  • May 6, 2018

    You MUST have brunch at Farm Bloomington and get some of the garlic crack fries. Trojan Horse is also good, as is Irish Lion, which is already on your list 🙂 Mother Bears pizza is also extremely popular.

    The limestone bears at the library are super cute and are made out of Indiana limestone.

    Nashville, IN is a short drive and a fall destination for people.

    • May 7, 2018

      I am IN for that brunch. And all the other stuff you mentioned, too! I love all the limestone around Indiana, and we *almost* made it to Nashville (IN) when we drove out to go foraging.

  • May 8, 2018
    Pan

    Looks super fun! Morel hunting is big in my part of Missouri and I’ve already divulged in several batches! Mmmmmm…… If you love Bloomington, check out Columbia, MO. It’s a mid-sized college town with lots of things to fill up a weekend getaway! And only a 6.5 hr drive from Nashville too😉

    • May 21, 2018

      I’ve heard great things, Pan, but I’ve yet to check it out. In fact, I haven’t even been to St. Louis since I was 12! (Shame on me, I KNOW.)

  • May 8, 2018

    Bloomington looks really nice.

    I don’t know much about Indiana. Correction! I don’t know anything about Indiana! America is so big, it’s hard to keep up, but you’re doing a marvellous job reminding us!

    • May 21, 2018

      America is HUGE. And thank you, girl! I definitely love the smaller towns that don’t traditionally get much attention in the press as I inevitably find them much more interesting than big cities.

  • May 11, 2018

    Amazing place!Thanks for sharing!

  • May 14, 2018

    Hi Kristen! I am the general manager at Scholars KEEP, previously Scholars Inn- we are a brand new restaurant in Bloomington and would love to have you next time you visit! Check out our Facebook and website! We are proud to be a part in the awesomeness of Bloomington:)

    • May 21, 2018

      That sounds awesome, Molly! I just added it to our list. Can’t wait to check you guys out 🙂

  • May 23, 2018

    Drinks on a patio when the weather was that perfect was definitely the best way to start your trip. I wouldn’t have moved either!

    • May 27, 2018

      And that is the best patio in town, too, I must say!

  • May 26, 2018

    WOW! I go to school in Bloomington and you really hit all the great spots 🙂 I am not sure what to recommend because you went to all my favorites!!

    • May 27, 2018

      What a fun place to go to school, Marissa! I’d love to go back for another degree so I’d have an excuse to live in Bloomington, too 😉

  • May 27, 2018
    territalarekking

    Try a couple of tea houses: Cup and Kettle (very cute, just off the square) and Bloomingtea (very comfortable, a little west of the square.)

    • May 27, 2018

      Noted! Great recs, thanks so much 🙂

  • June 8, 2018

    Very beautiful photos. The food looks sooo delicious!

  • June 21, 2018

    From the pictures you’ve taken, the Btown looks incredibly colourful, cute and cosy. And I totally agree with the comment above–the food photos are immensely appetizing. Thanks for sharing and inspiring. Looking forward to read about your fall trip.

    • June 21, 2018

      Thanks so much, Blair! Hope you make it there one day yourself.

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