Three day weekend in Hamilton County, Indiana
Readers are always interested in those last-minute or short getaways from Lousiville. Not only does these kinds of trips save you money, they are also easy to plan. We spent a three-day weekend in Hamilton County, IN and found that this place is just the one for families looking for good food, places to explore, and diverse opportunities for family fun. Hamilton County in just north of Indianapolis and a manageable drive from the Louisville area for a weekend trip. Carmel seemed to be the hub of restaurants and downtown walking activity. But, since the county spreads wide, there’s much to do tucked away from the bustle.
Also, there are seasonal activities to enjoy that you might want to know before you go so you can plan. Our trip was pre-Halloween so we had some fall fun that can easily be substituted with the seasonal focus for your trip. Be sure to visit their tourism website for the latest happenings.
Arrive in late afternoon to make sure you are all checked in to set your feet to the ground on Saturday for lots of family fun!
Dinner – 1 hour
When you arrive and get settled into your hotel, search out Big Hoffa’s BBQ in Westfield. This pirate-themed restaurant gives the kids much to get excited about and gives the parents enormous, unique dishes to dream about. I love BBQ and this place was fantastic. We chose their crazy combos because when traveling, we always look for what’s different. For example: the hoffenator was a pile of french fries, shredded pork, creamy mac and cheese, brown sugar baked beans, homemade buttermilk ranch dressing, and their own BBQ sauce. Each individual item was delicious on its own, but put together was a masterpiece. More food than we could eat and cost less than $8 per meal.
We shared cobbler with ice cream for dessert and took a piece of key lime pie to go. It’s also good to know that they have outdoor seating so if the weather allows, that would be a great spot. And, in the warmer months, they have a walk-up ice cream counter.
Hotel fun -2 hours
We stayed in the Staybridge Suites in Carmel. It was so comfortable and spacious and allow plenty of room for bringing in your own food and drinks. Also, with the bedroom separate from the living area, parents can put kids to bed and stay up later without having to tip-toe around. But, they also had a lovely outdoor space and big indoor pool. You know when you arrive on that first day, you need to plan some time for the kids to swim while you make your plans for the rest of the weekend.
Breakfast – 1 hour
Pop over to Cafe Patachou in Carmel. This place is serving high-quality breakfast and coffee, as well as some treats you can take to go. It will get your day started well.
We loved this place. The Carmel location was open, airy, beautiful, but not overdone. And the food…my goodness. We had the apple fritter French toast (just imagine the most delicious bread stuffed with apples, tons of cinnamon, gooey….made into perfect french toast), an omelet with greens and croissant. The kids ate up their perfectly sized kids portions. My daughter said this meal was one of her favorite parts of the trip.
The only thing we didn’t love here was the water. It was some sort of highly-purified water, our writer Lauren drinks almost exclusively water and couldn’t drink it. I thought it was fine but definitely noticed it was different and I wouldn’t prefer it. The coffee was fantastic – perhaps the purified water really made a different when made into coffee!
Explore – 2 hours
The Arts & Design District in Carmel (E. Main Street) is so nicely updated and packed with charm in a totally walk-able, scenic area. They have life-like statues all around that they kids really loved posing with and we marveled at the detail that went into each one. We actually found ourselves being caught off guard multiple times thinking there was a person standing in front of us…..and it was a statue.
There were gift shops, restaurants, galleries and more. You can see the directory here. If it’s a lovely day like we had, you can spend time there shopping, sight seeing, exercising (there’s a great trail for running/walking) and have a meal!
We went to the Museum of Miniature Houses while touring the town. This place has more than 600 miniature items, including doll houses. The ladies working the museum were so welcoming and cared so much that we enjoyed our visit, it was refreshing. I have to say, I was a bit skeptical of this place before entering. Why would I want to look at a bunch of doll houses? Well, apparently because it is really cool! I quite enjoyed all the little details and was impressed by all the unique pieces. The kids loved the scavenger hunt taking us from room to room to find specific pieces.
Lunch – 1.5 hours
Tina’s Traditional Tearoom is right there in Carmel near the museum. Make reservations, especially if it’s the weekend because they host a lot of groups. It’s an English-inspired team room and the number of options for beverages was so overwhelming – but in a good way. The waitress easily guided us to a unique juice that both the adults and kids would love….and we did. You will want to take your time here, it surprisingly filling and you will want to enjoy it.
Both my friend and I are not big tea drinkers but that did not hamper the experience at all. The juice went perfectly with the tiers of food. We thought it was a little expensive if you are just looking for a quick lunch but if you are looking for an experience, this place will deliver. It definitely is a nice place for a mother daughter lunch and yes, we did see men there too!
Our high-tea was made up of items for that day like tiny sandwiches, homemade scones with lovely spreads, cookies, tarts and more. We took our time and worked our way up the tiers. The girls loved how fancy everything was for lunch.
Explore & Learn – 4 hours+
Conner Prairie is an interactive history park that’s all about science, art, history, and exploration – it’s a wonderful place or the entire family with things that will peak the interest from young to old. They have a helium-filled tethered balloon you can ride that’s a main attraction – weather permitting. Wind kept us from being able to go up for a ride. Fall is a fantastic time to visit because they have fall favorites at the Apple Store (the most heavenly caramel apples), the special Headless Horseman Festival, a corn maze, and it’s just beautiful during fall. However, you can always check the latest happenings on their website and see when you want to go. I suggest this being a cornerstone of your trip to Hamilton County – go on your three day weekend trip when you know it’s going to be fun at Conner Praire (weather + special event).
Plan to stay most of the day, if not all. I wrote a suggested minimum of 4 hours because you do not want to feel rushed – your kids will get into things and they need time to explore their interests. We could have spent hours just wandering. There was so much history, so much intrigue, and it was done in a way that made it so interesting to the kids. Our kids were learning and didn’t even realize it. This was such a great experience!
We went on one of the special Headless Horseman festival weekends and it was a cool event. We were there for ~2 hours but you can definitely spend more time there. The crowd is large so plan accordingly for waiting in line to get in for about an hour. We were distracted by our delicious treats from the Apple Store! The reason for the lines is that’s how they have you select when you want to go on the hayride – early (when it’s still light out) or later (when it’s dark….for a greater scare). Once you get in, there are about a dozen activities for kids and families to do – carnival style games, shows, slides etc. There’s also a corn maze that looked large and impressive – we didn’t have much time so we did not do the corn maze and it wasn’t of interest to our kids who are 6 and 8. The hay ride was the highlight of the festival and the main reason people attend. You weave through Conner Praire when you get in line and there are some entertainers along the way – in period clothing, of course. They swiftly get you onto a hay ride and you go off on an approximately 15 minute ride around Conner Praire. When you don’t expect it, the Headless Horseman makes a surprise entrance and will catch you off guard! We went during the lit hours but I can imagine that during the dark rides, this is quite a thrill and fright. If you have younger kids, or kids who scare easily, we definitely recommend getting there by 5pm or 5:15pm to make sure you get tickets to a ride with day light. My friend’s daughter was not a fan of the surprises, even in the day light so just know what your child can handle!
If you attend the festival, there are dinner options inside from various vendors so you can grab something to eat while you are there.
Dinner – 1.5 hours (if not attending an evening special event at Conner Praire)
We picked up pizza from a local Indianapolis franchise called Bazbeaux Pizza in Carmel and at our hotel after the festival but it made for a long day. So, if you don’t stay at Conner Praire for a special event, you will need a dinner option and this place is a very relaxed, family-friendly place that offers a diverse menu but also…………pizza. For us, pizza is a staple for dining out on trips because everyone loves it. They had some really interesting specialty pizzas; we had one with ricotta and bacon and it was delicious and different. It’s also friendly on the family budget!
Dessert & Fun- 1.5 hours
Again, if you have not spent the evening at a special event at Conner Praire – I suggest the local spot for dinner and winding down after for dessert and coffee at Quirky Feather Confectionery in Carmel. They have all kinds of pastries and sweets as well as coffee but they do also have cocktails, beer, and wine. It is more than just a place to pop in for a treat and head on your way, you should spend time there. First of all, we learned something new – we always thought confectionery meant chocolates or candies, but learned that it can mean anything sweet. This place is more of what I think of as a bakery and everything is a small portion meant for one person or to share with someone. We loved that it had games and books to play and read, comfy chairs to enjoy. The kids quickly grabbed books to read and relax and though we didn’t play, we say some tweens there sharing a treat and playing one of the games. Everyone loves this place. Everything that we bought was so delicious and we are upset that it’s not in our hometown!
Breakfast & exploring – ~2 hours
Noblesville is a nice throw-back town square and if the weather is nice, you can not only have breakfast there, but you can walk around town and shop. Speaking of breakfast, Rosie’s Place is where you will want to go. This place was packed but they were cruising through everyone so efficiently. It’s a great breakfast or brunch spot or even a place to just pick up a bakery item. We love the breakfast – it was perfect.
My friend had their traditional eggs Benedict which she loves to try at restaurants all over. She loved that theirs came with shaved country ham as opposed to the more traditional Canadian bacon. It added an extra diner/country flair to it that was delicious! Our girls daughter loved their pancakes and it was only $3 for a huge stack of them. I had a breakfast quesadilla that was so filling, that meal got me through lunch. I tried it because….quesadillas at breakfast?! WHY NOT?! It want it again, it was delicious.
We bought some sweets on the way out – their signature Ooey Butter Cookie came recommended and it met our expectations. Definitely different and yet another reason to return to Rosie’s.
Archery – 2 hours
Drive out of town to find the 750 acre Strawtown Kotweei Park that is home to the Koteewi Archery Range. This place is awesome and so much fun. There’s much to also enjoy at this park like camping, hiking, horseback riding, and even tubing in the winter but the archery is definitely worth the trip alone.
It was unanimous that everyone liked this activity. The staff member was so helpful and patient in guiding us through the process since we had varying experience. Even with no experience, my friend’s itty-bitty six-year-old was hitting the targets. He got us fitted with bows and explained everything we needed to have fun safely. We started at close targets that were pretty traditional, then moves to shoot at the 3-D range which was unique and added an extra excitement to something that is already pretty exciting! Making a whole outdoors trip and camping at the nearby campsite, going fishing, and going to this archery range would be a great weekend trip also. They have group rates, family rates and even accommodate for parties.
If you visit in the fall, another place to consider is StonyCreek Farm in Noblesville, which is not too far from Strawtown Koteewi Park. Due to the weather, they closed it on the day we were there so we were unable to explore. But, we did drive in to see that it looks like a really family-friendly farm that offers a wide variety of fall fun activities like zip lining, train rides, pumpkin picking and food.