Sure, we love the beer scene in Indiana, the surrounding nature is phenomenal, and the food is absolutely not to be missed, but there’s also a wellness side to Bloomington that shouldn’t be glossed over. After all, who isn’t about self-care these days?
If you follow my Instagram Stories closely, you probably think I’m a glutton who doesn’t incorporate physical activity into my daily routine with all the delicious food and craft beer I post. But that couldn’t be further from the fact. I was a competitive athlete all the way through my college years, I’ve run dozens of half-marathons in the past decade, and I’m very into yoga and, basically, any form of extreme adventure or anything that makes me sweat. Sometimes, though, I have to slow down the pace a bit for my own mental well-being, which is why our trip to Indiana couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.
One thing I’ve noticed on my unofficial tour of U.S. college towns the past few years is that they’re always the first to adopt trends—and Bloomington is no different. In fact, it may be more hippie than most—did you know, for example, that it boasts the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center?—and it’s that commitment to health and self-care that really makes it a well-rounded weekend getaway.
Not into breweries, don’t really care about fine dining, but want to pamper yourself and get a bit of R&R? With floating pods, day spas, a salt cave and even a well-renowned meditation center, Bloomington may well be the peaceful getaway you craved but didn’t know you needed.
Here’s a snapshot of what our day of pampering looked like, as well as a play-by-play on how you can plan your own wellness retreat in Bloomington.
Any wellness day should include an hour or two in the outdoors, and I loved city park Leonard Springs Nature Park both for its proximity to downtown and for its complete and utter quiet. Rise early and squeeze in a peaceful walk before the city awakes. We did just that and did not encounter a soul while we out there—well, other than a coyote who saw us coming and slunk away into the woods, almost undetected.
On your way back into town, you have two choices for breakfast and can’t go wrong with either: Two Sticks Bakery and La Vie En Rose.
If you’re looking more for a grab-and-go type of place to indulge, Two Sticks Bakery whips up some of the best pastries in town, like cardamom cinnamon rolls or apple pecan streusel. If you need more of a sit-down experience with pots of tea and quiche fresh out of the oven, La Vie En Rose is your spot. We ordered a quick bite at Two Sticks—including a decadent ginger latte that is permanently etched into my dreams—because we had a binding appointment at our next stop and didn’t want to be late.
Being a college town, Bloomington is full of places to get your yoga on like Vibe Yoga Studio, a local favorite for their hot power vinyasa and Pilates class. But we decided to start our way on an alternate path toward zen: in a salt cave.
If you’ve never been to a salt cave, you’re not alone. One cropped up in Nashville recently and piqued my interest, but I’ll admit I knew nothing of halotherapy until I stepped foot into Bloomington Salt Cave and started chatting with the owner Chris. In the briefest explanation possible, halotherapy takes dry pure grade sodium chloride that is heated, then ground and crushed into a dry salt aerosol that’s dispersed into the salt cave. The salt has anti-flammatory properties that help a whole host of ailments, including cleansing the respiratory system. When heated, the ground salt—as well as the Himalayan pink salt on the walls—emits negative ions that are said to increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress and boost energy. In essence, ALL the things I need help with in my life!
Bloomington Salt Cave comfortably fits six people in it, and while SVV and I had the place to ourselves, you might be in there with others or you can opt to book the whole place out for an hour. Chris told us it’s become a popular activity for bridal parties, bachelorette groups and those celebrating special occasions like a birthday (sure beats a pedal tavern, huh?). Halotherapy is not like a massage where you strip down to your skivvies and a robe; other than removing your shoes, you can wear whatever you like because it’s dry in the cave. There are blankets to cover up with in case you get cold and zero-gravity chairs in which to recline. Chris gave us each heated salt crystals to hold as we descended into a state of bliss. Forty-five minutes later, SVV and I both emerged feeling completely relaxed and recharged.
If you need to be further suspended into a state of gravity-free sensation, Float Therapy has pods for both active and passive floating. Need some knots worked out? That’s the Rub Massage specializes in therapeutic massages—there’s even one that incorporates CBD oil—as well as offers plenty of other services like acupuncture and facials.
Our next stop was to the courthouse square for a different kind of therapy, that of the retail variety. Bloomington’s downtown is positively brimming with several great boutiques like Gather Handmade Shoppe, JL Waters, Landlocked Music, Skirt & Satchel, Cactus Flower and Lola & Co.
Our friend Em also told us about Moon Stones and its collection of crystals and gems, and well, your girl loves her some bling. It seems fitting that post-salt therapy, I picked myself up a new quartz ring.
We also scooted on down to Jeff’s Warehouse for a spell, as it happens to be SVV’s and my favorite trove of midcentury treasures anywhere in the world. It took everything in me not to take this gorgeous pink chair back home to Tennessee with me!
Since we were already downtown, we had an excuse to revisit our personal favorite Bloomington restaurant, King Dough, for lunch because I’m powerless to the grape and gorgonzola pie—topped with olive oil, mozzarella, prosciutto, arugula, honey and Parmesan? forget about it! I was quickly reminded why this is my favorite pizza in. the. world. (Yes, bold statement, but also true!)
And what’s a self-care day without some artisan chocolate? BLU Boy Chocolate makes from-scratch, hand-painted chocolates of all variety, but also has a dessert studio with cakes and ice cream and other fun creations. Because life is all about balance, right?
Chocolates stashed away in my purse for later, we headed back to our hotel to get my Jeep for the drive out to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. Started in Bloomington in 1979 by an exile named Thubten Jigme Norbu, the center was established as a cultural anchor in the United States, in part to protect the heritage of Buddhism from the People’s Republic of China’s persecution of Tibetan religious tradition and the aggressive annexation by the Chinese of the country in the early 1950s.
The large stretch of land and forest surrounding the cultural center is mindfully gorgeous, with lovely stupas and a temple that reminded both of us how busy life can be outside of the mind. Simple shapes, celebratory pops of color and a dedication to calming humanity’s eternally self-absorbed state of being made for a gentle nudge toward a more enlightened state of being. The center hosts free teaching and meditation lessons on Wednesdays and lectures on Sundays, as well as weekend yoga classes.
The Cultural Center is a place to learn more about Buddhism and its message of compassion, wisdom and love, which is all based on the teachings of Gautama Buddha, born more than 2,500 years ago and followed by well over 400 million people worldwide. The Happy Yak gift store, run solely by volunteers, is, like Buddhism, a simple affair—and, well worth a visit if you’re curious about this beautiful culture.
“The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.” – Buddha
Buddha also said, “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” That mentality is reflected in this serene space.
From the center, it was a natural progression that we head back to Bloomington’s International Restaurant Row. Surprisingly, this city has a huge international food scene, and it was tough to whittle down the choices and pick just one, as we’re big lovers of all cuisine. Downtown’s Fourth Street (aka International Restaurant Row) is home to more than a dozen ethnic restaurants occupying gorgeous old homes. Want mouth-burning curry? Go to Taste of India or India Garden. Craving ramen? Korea Restaurant is your spot. Love you some pho or, our personal favorite dish, a tea leaf salad? You can’t pass on Burma Garden. Really ambitious? Plan your own international food crawl and make a progressive dinner out of restaurant-hopping.
In the end, we settled on dinner at Anyetsang’s Little Tibet because Tibetan food is definitely a genre we can’t find in Tennessee. The service was speedy, and the servers extremely kind. We went with the fan favorite, the dumplings, and each ordered a plate: Mo Mo for me, Shogo for SVV. Both came with soup and a side salad, and the dumpling portions were generous so we had leftovers, too.
But you know us—wellness day or not, we need our nightcap. In keeping with the “enlightenment” theme, we found ourselves at Scholar’s Keep, which recently underwent a renovation in its 200-year-old digs and emerged with a fun, elevated university theme; I only wish my college years had been this stylish. On top of a pair of Old Fashioneds for me and martinis for SVV, we ordered the totchos, because we’re only human.
All in all, our Bloomington fall getaway was very different than in the spring—and that’s precisely what I so love about this town: You can have any kind of diverse experience you desire.
I’ve started to make maps of my city guides so you can more closely follow my itineraries when you travel. Here’s the Bloomington wellness map for those of you heading to Indiana soon:
Looking for more travel tips to Indiana? Check out these posts:
- The Perfect Weekend Getaway in Bloomington
- Drink Up, Indiana: The Best Breweries in Bloomington
- Planning a Fall Weekend in Bloomington