A Beginner’s Guide to Indy: Exploring Indianapolis Block by Block

Exterior of the Fletcher Place Gateway

One of my favorite scenes from Seinfeld is when Kramer calls Jerry while he’s lost in New York City. Desperate and confused, Kramer stands at the corner of 1st and 1st, wondering if he’s at “the nexus of the universe!” While Indy is certainly different from NYC, every city has folks like that. Some people rarely venture outside the neighborhood where they were born and raised. But not me!

In fall of 2019, I accepted a job and became the CEO of Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB)—a non-profit dedicated to helping people and nature thrive. Back then, I lived on the East Coast, so I was entirely new to the city. Sure, I’d flown through the Indy airport to visit family in Bloomington, but I had very little familiarity with Indianapolis itself.

However, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful works in all 99 neighborhoods across the city. So, I needed to quickly learn more about my new home. In a flash of inspiration, I decided that I wouldn’t find an apartment right away. Instead, I’d sample the different neighborhoods across Indianapolis—and find a place that felt like home!

For 15 weeks, I stayed in 15 different Airbnb residences in 15 different neighborhoods. At each stop along the way, I learned about their history. I found great places to eat. And I discovered what makes each community special.

Neighborhood #1: Fletcher Place

My first Airbnb was in the Fletcher Place neighborhood, right near KIB’s office in Fountain Square. Fletcher Place truly embodies the unique personality of the Indianapolis area. There’s a mixture of old, well-kept homes intertwined with new, modern construction. And a few of the houses look ready to be renovated by the Good Bones crew on HGTV!

Now, I’m a total foodie who loves checking out new places to eat. So, my first stop was the restaurant row along Virginia Ave. Even though it was late on a Sunday, I enjoyed a delicious vegan Korean BBQ rice bowl at Three Carrots—which was absolutely hopping! Over the course of the week, I also enjoyed some Mexican fare at La Margarita and hit up Wildwood Market for some amazing farm-to-table delights. Finally, I had the good fortune to eat at Bluebeard, where I met the owner Tom Battista. Tom is a great guy who builds sets for Jimmy Buffett and supports KIB as an Adopt-A-Block Captain!

Neighborhood #2: Westwood

Then, I stayed for a few days in Westwood, a neighborhood just west of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway near Ben Davis Park! Benjamin Davis was a railroad superintendent who was responsible for the construction of new stations in the 1880s. The station he supervised in Westwood was eventually named after him—as well as a general store, a post office, and the local high school.

Speedway’s Main Street is new and exciting, with a dedicated bicycle lane and lots of restaurants and bars. One night, I enjoyed dinner at Dawson’s on Main, where the staff all wore shirts that jokingly read: “Speedway is a drinking town with a racing problem.” But my favorite place in Westwood was the Famous Soda and Candy Company. The store was filled with soda pop from across the country and candies from all around the world. What a fun place to visit and leave with a bag of treats!

Neighborhood #3: Haughville

My host in Haughville was a librarian with the Indianapolis Public Library, and he shared two great stories with me. First, he talked about Charles Evans, the first librarian in Indianapolis. Charles arrived from Boston in 1873, and he made the Indianapolis library a leading example in the country! With diligence and hard work, Charles doubled the size of the collection and moved the library to its first permanent location on Monument Circle.

Then, my host explained that Benjamin Haugh established an iron foundry in the neighborhood back in 1880. Many of the homes in the area were built for the skilled German, Irish, and Slovenian immigrants who worked in the foundry. Today, the foundry is long gone, but you can find a KIB pocket park just two blocks away!

Now, Haughville is a culturally diverse neighborhood, with many delicious Mexican restaurants to visit. I dined at La Posada, and their corn tortillas were unbelievably tasty. I also got coffee at Café Mansión, which was originally the administration building for the Central State Hospital. Now, the building has been resurrected as a cooperative living space with apartments, office space, and this groovy coffee shop!

Haughville Park sign with the park in the background

Neighborhood #4: Near Eastside

Next, my travels took me to the Spades Park Neighborhood near the east side. I stayed in a home that was over 100 years old, and many of its original features were well-preserved, including its hardwood chestnut flooring!

Like many Indy neighborhoods, the Eastside is steadily growing. I even discovered an awesome vegan restaurant called 10th Street Diner and ordered a sandwich with seitan. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend giving it a try. The food was delicious!

Neighborhood #5: Martindale-Brightwood

What I remember most about Martindale-Brightwood was definitely the food. I especially enjoyed dining at Festiva, an upscale Mexican restaurant in the neighborhood. My table was in a three-season room with blankets draped over the chairs, just in case people got chilly.

I asked for recommendations from the server, and he shared that he never liked fish—until he tried the fish tacos at Festiva. Now, he said that he’s a huge fan! That felt like a great recommendation to me, and I wasn’t disappointed. I quickly demolished the tacos and the yummy sides it came with. I only wish I’d had room for dessert because the folks next to me were sharing a delicious-looking chocolate number.

Neighborhood #6: Near Southside

This time, I booked a place that Airbnb suggested near Garfield Park, the oldest park in Indianapolis. Officially, the neighborhood is designated as Near Southside. But while I was there, I learned that the locals actually call the neighborhood Concord. (If you haven’t seen the iconic Naplab map of Indianapolis, I highly recommend it. I’ve also found that it’s particularly popular with Airbnb hosts.)

Based on my host’s recommendation, I grabbed some dinner at Jailbird, one of the local bars in the neighborhood. Their clientele was decidedly diverse, with some younger folks sitting comfortably next to older, grizzled gentlemen who looked like they rode in on their Harley Davidson. Everyone was friendly, and the place was buzzing even on a Tuesday night! When it was time to order, I chose the veggie burger with a fried egg. It wasn’t quite vegetarian, but I enjoyed eating a less carbon-intensive meal than pork or beef.

Neighborhood #7: Broad Ripple

One of the best places I stayed during my tour was a cozy studio apartment in Broad Ripple. The apartment was converted from a former detached garage, with a small living area, a kitchenette, and a separate bedroom and bathroom. It was completely self-sufficient and a very creative use of a relatively small space!

While I was there, I also learned a slight nuance in pronouncing the neighborhood’s name. A lifetime resident informed me that the emphasis should always be on the word “Broad” rather than “Ripple.” I immediately committed that to memory. After all, if I was going to be a local, I needed to talk like a local!

Exterior bambu and Nicey Treats in Broad Ripple

Neighborhood #8: Irvington

For weeks, I’d heard about Irvington’s natural charm and their reputation for going all-out on Halloween. And after seeing it for myself, Irvington honestly is a really cute neighborhood. I loved the eclectic mix of homes, including many historic houses. Some of them were Craftsmen Bungalows that looked like they came straight out of the Sears catalog!

I also learned that Irvington was named after Washington Irving, who wrote the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Maybe that’s why the neighborhood hosts a massive Halloween festival each year!

Then, my culinary adventures brought me to two restaurants on the same block. First, I joined some friends at Jockamo Upper Crust Pizza. After living in Connecticut for seven years, I’d become a bit of a pizza snob. But I was delighted at Jockamo’s high-quality ingredients and delicious sauce.

Neighborhood #9: Pike Township and the International Marketplace

Next, I stayed in Pike Township off of Guion Road, which was an interesting mix of industrial businesses and suburb-style neighborhoods. I’m always interested in the history behind each community. So, I researched more about Pike and found out that the township was named after General Zebulon Pike. General Pike was a hero in the War of 1812 and an explorer. In fact, Pikes Peak in Colorado was also named after him!

I spent my time in the neighborhood doing some exploring of my own. Pike Township is near the International Marketplace, an area of Indianapolis with hundreds of restaurants from all around the world. You can experience authentic cuisine from India, Ethiopia, Cuba, Greece, Peru, and so much more. I decided to try Al-Rayan, a Yemeni restaurant—and I had a fantastic meal. I chose a combination of roasted chicken and lamb over rice with an amazing Yemeni bread called malawach, which was perfect for scooping up their creamy hummus.

Neighborhood #10: Eagle Creek

Eagle Creek Park is the largest park in Indianapolis—and one of the nation’s largest city parks! The park spans 3,900 acres of land and another 1,300 acres of reservoir, and I couldn’t wait to check out the waterfront. During my stay, I learned that Eagle Creek is where many rowers come to practice and compete.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see anyone practicing on the water, but I enjoyed a walk along the shore and found a shell of a freshwater mollusk. I also stopped to watch a family of ducks paddling along, dropping their beaks underwater to snap up something delicious. Then, I found some food of my own at the Boathouse Grill, which was surprisingly busy for a Tuesday. I enjoyed a great platter of fish and chips with fresh fish cooked to perfection—a warm and happy meal on a cold day!

Sail boat on Eagle Creek Reservoir in the fall

Photo courtesy of IndyHub

Neighborhood #11: Southport

I was very curious to visit Southport because back in Connecticut, I used to live near a different place called Southport. That town was named for the actual seaport it was built on. But the story behind Indiana’s Southport neighborhood was a mystery to me!

Obviously, Southport is in the southern part of Indianapolis. But apparently, they decided to call it a “port” because it’s a bustling hub for transporting goods in and out of the city. I’ve also heard that Southport was named for the people who traveled by covered wagons (called prairie schooners) I’ll admit, I’m still kind of stumped. The mystery continues!

While I was in the area, I had the opportunity to eat at Long’s Bakery, an exceptional local small business. These donuts are some of the best I’ve ever had—anywhere! They’re sweet and yeasty, and one of them will sate your craving for the entire day. (Turns out, Long’s Bakery is a local favorite and an Indianapolis icon—a must-try for any new Hoosier!)

Neighborhood #12: Geist

Geist is a beautiful neighborhood with a lovely tree canopy and waterfront access to Geist Reservoir. I love that feeling of serenity when you walk into an environment that clearly embraces nature! It reminds me of the Japanese practice of “shinrin yoku” or “forest bathing.” Essentially, the idea is that everyone benefits from a mindful walk in the woods, thinking about the role the forest plays in our lives. And the Geist neighborhood offers ample space to reflect while you admire the water.

While I stayed in Geist, I chose to dine as close to the reservoir as possible. I stopped by Wolfies Grill for dinner, which is right on the marina. I arrived late at night, so there weren’t many people boating on the water. But I loved dining right at the water’s edge! I ordered the pan-crusted chicken, which came with mashed potatoes and broccoli—a perfect meal for a cold, dark night.

Exterior overlooking Geist Reservoir and Wolfies at Geist

Neighborhood #13: Beech Grove

Then, I travelled down to Beech Grove, an independent city within Indianapolis. Beech Grove is named for the former abundance of beech trees in the area, honoring its (literal) roots. This neighborhood is also right next door to the University of Indianapolis, which specializes in programs like nursing, physical therapy, and business.

Beech Grove is also home to one of my favorite KIB green spaces, the Benedict Inn Peace and Nature Center. It’s a native plant oasis and a community meditation space that’s perfect for a relaxing afternoon. After my day out, I dined at Napoli Villa, an authentic Italian restaurant that was easily my favorite in the neighborhood. The place was crowded, and I understood why when I had a taste of my meal: the Pollo “Gino-vese.” I didn’t ask who Gino was, but I commend him for the dish!

Neighborhood #14: Crown Hill

As my adventure came to an end, my travels brought me close to the heart of Indianapolis. Crown Hill is just north of downtown, and the neighborhood is part of Indy’s Great Places 2020 initiative. The initiative is designed to transform neighborhoods and spur urban revitalization, and I was excited to stay near one of the selected areas: Maple Crossing.

The people of this neighborhood deeply value diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the community is truly banding together to make their home the best it can be. We know from social science research that well-tended lots with urban tree canopies have less crime and better health outcomes. So, with KIB’s support, this historic neighborhood is becoming a vibrant destination once again.

Our Final Stop: Herron-Morton

So, where did we end up? Well, this year, we finally decided to purchase a house! We exhausted our realtor by looking at eight houses in five different neighborhoods. And eventually, we decided to move into Herron-Morton.

Herron-Morton is a small neighborhood in downtown Indianapolis, famous for our beautiful historic architecture and amazing porch parties! And our neighborhood is on a stretch of New Jersey Street with a beautiful grassy esplanade, planted with KIB trees. (You can always tell because we put white tree guards around the base of our young trees to protect them.) We love our location here, especially because of our close proximity to places like Loco Mexican Restaurant, Tea’s Me, and Tinker Coffee!