Every year I look forward to our big week-long vacations. The couple of times a year where we load up the van and embark on epic road trips to far-away places and pack every moment with new discoveries.
But those trips are also a ton of work! (Moms, you know!)
So sometimes I want the excitement of a new place, the chance to get away with my kids, and actually connect as a family, but without the 17-page packing list or the weeks and weeks of prep.
And that’s why weekend getaways in the Midwest are the perfect antidote to my wanderlust.
We recently had an awesome one-night getaway to Bloomington, Indiana – home of Indiana University. And if you’re thinking a college town just isn’t for kids, you’re totally missing out. Bloomington is full of educational and cultural opportunities and offers tons of outdoor rec experiences for families.
If your family’s needing a little refresh or a chance to do some exploring for a weekend, find out why Bloomington is a great Midwest family getaway!
Visiting Bloomington Indiana with Kids
What to Do in Bloomington Indiana with Kids
Right in the heart of downtown Bloomington, WonderLab is a hands-on science museum for kids. You’ll find an awesome climber, bubble room, a water play area, and lots of critters to check out. My boys both loved our time here and spent several hours exploring. The space is on the smaller side and we arrived early with all the field trips but noticed that by 11:30 we almost had the place to ourselves. During the school year, I’d recommend an afternoon visit.
There’s an area that’s closed off for younger kids so your littlest ones can have a safe place to play. I’d say the museum probably appeals most to ages 3-10 but you could certainly find something to do for the whole family. WonderLab is an ASTC Passport participant and offers reciprocal admission but tickets are also quite affordable. (Indiana State Museum members, you won’t qualify since it’s within the 90-mile radius of your home institution).
I was expecting Bloomington, like many college towns, to be a walkable city with lots of outdoor options for students, but there are also tons of places that are super kid-friendly! Make sure to take your kids to Lower Cascades Park for an awesome playground experience. There are places along the creek to picnic and restrooms available as well.
For a hike, try Griffy Lake Nature Preserve. There are labeled trails and you can also rent a canoe or boat during the summer to explore the lake. Bloomington is also super close to some awesome state parks like McCormick’s Creek State Park and Brown County State Park.
You can also take advantage of B-line, a 3-mile biking trail that runs right through the city. We packed our kids’ scooters and let them hop on the trail right behind our hotel one morning so they could get some wiggles out. There really is no end to the outdoor opportunities around Bloomington.
Explore IU’s Campus
You can’t come to Bloomington and not spend a few minutes exploring Indiana University! Wander through the iconic Sample Gates and let your kids see some of the historic limestone buildings that make up the campus. When the weather is nice, the grounds are beautiful and offer lots of great photo opportunities. I’d suggest going in the evening or on a weekend if you’re there during the semester since the walkways are busier with bikes and students on weekdays.
Don’t forget to look at the events calendar for the university when you’re visiting either. We snagged tickets (super affordable) to the IU baseball game one night and my kids loved cheering for the Hoosiers. You might find a theater event, guest lecture, or art show as well. There’s always something happening on campus and many events are kid-friendly.
Bloomington Community Farmers Market
If you happen to be in Bloomington on a Saturday between April and November, you should plan to stop at the Bloomington Community Farmers Market. It’s just a few blocks from the center of town and you can browse dozens of stalls for fresh local foods and delicious treats. In fact, we ate breakfast at the Farmers Market when we visited and my kids couldn’t get enough of the musicians and food samples.
Most vendors accept credit cards but there is an ATM in a nearby building if you need it. Also, dogs aren’t allowed in the vendor areas but we saw lots of them around the edges of the market.
Monroe County Public Library
I try not to miss out on a local library whenever we visit somewhere new and with its convenient downtown location, just a few steps off campus, it’s easy to pop into the Monroe County Public Library and visit the kids section. We spend at least 30 minutes here, exploring books and puzzles and enjoying the bright sunshine.
This is the perfect spot to stop into if you need to cool off or if you end up with a rainy day.
Where to Stay in Bloomington with Kids
You’ll want to take advantage of Bloomington’s walkability by staying in the center of town. There are several hotels to choose from (just plan ahead to avoid busy weekends like Homecoming or Graduation) including some locally owned bed and breakfasts but for families I recommend the SpringHill Suites Bloomington on North College Ave.
The rooms are spacious and offer a separate sitting area (although it is not closed off completely) and a nice big closet if you need a place to read your book while your kids fall asleep (#parenting). My kids loved the pool and the free breakfast and overall we found the hotel to be really well-located near almost everything we wanted to do. Parking is $10 a night but includes in/out privileges.
Where to Eat in Bloomington Indiana with Kids
Did you know Bloomington is home to more than 75 international restaurants? You’ll have more trouble deciding which restaurants to try than finding one you love! Here are some of our favorite kid-friendly restaurants in Bloomington.
A restaurant, pub, and brewery. We loved their large kids menu, in-house brewery, and really fresh food. This was a great place to grab dinner especially since there’s onsite parking.
There are tons of flavors including some unique ones like apple cider sorbet and chocolate basil. You can take your treats across the street to the picnic tables and snap a selfie with the Bloomington mural in the background.
Pull up a cushion! That’s right, you can sit on the floor (there’s also regular table seating available) at this local Turkish restaurant. The server was super helpful in finding kid-friendly options and we loved introducing our kids to a new culture.
These donuts (and other treats) are so good you won’t even notice that they’re vegan. My boys gobbled up their donuts and hurried right over the PAC-MAN arcade game. This sweet little retro-styled bakery is just down the street from Wonderlab.
We didn’t eat at this location but love their restaurants so I wanted to include it on the list. Great burgers and kids meals and right along the B-line so you could bike to dinner or let your kids play when you’re finished.
Why Should You Visit Bloomington Indiana with Kids?
With tons of cultural and educational opportunities, Bloomington is the perfect weekend getaway for families. Whether you’re looking for outdoor recreation or educational experiences for your kids, Bloomington’s got you covered.
It’s a quick drive from big cities like Indianapolis, Louisville, Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis and for one or two nights you can get away as a family while you explore a vibrant and inviting college town!
Have you visited a college town with your kids? Leave your recommendation here! We love to hear about other great places to explore with kids across the midwest!