Founded in 1818 by a group of settlers from Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, and Virginia, Bloomington Indiana has been a bustling center of activity for over 200 years. It’s in this very town that Indiana University Bloomington makes its home, along with nearly 50,000 students every year.
Despite the need for Bloomington to evolve into a college town over the decades, it’s still managed to hold on to so much of its historic charm within its many old buildings, art galleries, and Audubon-classified nature preserves. There’s no shortage of vintage clothing stores and antique shops here, either. Take a look at our list of 12 exciting things to do in Bloomington, Indiana to plan your next trip.
The Best Restaurants in Bloomington, IN
One of the best things to do in Bloomington is try one of the amazing eateries.
1. The Owlery Restaraunt
Specializing in vegetarian comfort food, local craft beer, and vegan baked goods, The Owlery Restaurant is an all-vegetarian restaurant named after the Hogwarts tower where the owls slept whenever they weren’t delivering mail.
Stop by The Owlery to sample such vegetarian dishes as sweet potato fries, coconut macadamia tofu, cob salad, tofu “fish” tacos, peanut tempeh wrap, or a tapenade sub. All of their desserts are vegan, and their dishes are all available as vegan instead of vegetarian upon request.
The owners say that yes, they do know that owls aren’t vegetarian. But they still think they’re cool, hence the name and cute owl decorations inside.
ONe of the best things to do in Bloomington is visit FARMBloomington. The FARMBloomington team prides itself on creating local foods with global flavors for every budget. There’s a new daily special every single day, and the whole menu changes seasonally. The chef will even create a custom tasting menu for parties and events. The Root Cellar Lounge within the restaurant is always lively with local bands and DJs.
The buttermilk biscuits and apple butter recipes have been in the family for four generations, and they’re basically world-famous now. They also serve a rotating variety of omelets for breakfast and several amazing lunch options from 11 am to 3 pm. Open for dinner at 5, FARMBloomington also offers a lean Lugar Burgar made with local bison meat and a savory pan-roasted maple leaf duck breast.
3. The Irish Lion Restaraunt and Pub
The restored 1882 historic brick building that The Irish Lion Restaurant and Pub calls home was a tavern in its past life as well. Now a family-friendly establishment, it serves individuals of all ages from the original Brunswick back bar, Civil War vintage front bar, and 1900s mahogany and oak bars.
Whiskey connoisseurs will enjoy the choice of single malt Scotch whiskeys, Irish whiskeys, American ryes, and American bourbons. Named Indiana’s Best Irish Pub in 2017, the Irish Lion boasts such delicious dishes as Celtic stew, Blarney puffballs, leprechaun wings, connemara shrimp, rack of lamb, corned beef and cabbage, gluten-free shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, and fish and chips. And don’t forget your Irish coffee on the way out! So if visiting a pub with some history is on your list of things to do in Bloomington, then give this one a try.
Interesting Natural and Historical Things to do in Bloomington, IN
4. Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve
One of the best outdoor things to do in Bloomington is visit Beanblossom Bottoms. Over 700 acres of forest and wetland make up the Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve. This protected area is dedicated as an Indiana State Nature Preserve by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, a state Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, and a Wetland of Distinction by the Society of Wetland Scientists.
The endangered Kirkland’s snake and Indiana bat make their home here, as do several other protected species. A raised, wheelchair-accessible boardwalk trail and four observation decks with room enough for passing and turning around make it easier for all visitors to enjoy the natural beauty of this area without getting their shoes wet.
5. Hilltop Garden and Nature Center
Serving as an educational and recreational resource for children and adults, the Hilltop Garden and Nature Center at IU Bloomington provides gardening activities and opportunities to connect with nature. The nature center was first established by Professor Barbara Shalucha in 1948.
With several greenhouses, ponds, and perennials, those with or without a green thumb can enjoy the beautiful scenery and interact with the plants if they wish. The Hilltop Garden has helped to inspire many gardeners with ideas to make their own gardens more attractive, productive, and sustainable.
6. Buskirk-Chumley Theater
If you are a fan of the theater, then one of the best things to do in Bloomington is take in a show on your visit. Originally called The Indiana Theater, the Buskirk-Chumley Theater was built one hundred years ago by Harry P. Vonderschmitt in 1922. During these times, theaters appealed to the middle-class as a way to escape and enjoy opulence and adventure for the price of a movie ticket.
On its opening night on December 11, 1922, The Indiana Theater played The Storm, starring House Peters and Virginia Valli. Over 1,300 people – nearly ten percent of Bloomington’s population at the time – showed up to celebrate the theater’s opening and enjoy an experience in the movies.
One hundred years later, despite a history fraught with fires, the theater still exists and you can enjoy movies and performances there whenever you like.
7. Eskenazi Museum of Art
Featuring seven galleries, numerous educational spaces, a conservation analytical laboratory, a café, and gift shop, the Eskenazi Museum of Art stands out against the rest of the IU Bloomington campus with its unique triangular shape.
With more than 45,000 works of art constantly on display and new exhibitions coming and going regularly, the Eskenazi Museum of Art always has interesting things to look at.
The Best Places to Shop ‘Til You Drop in Bloomington, IN
8. Bloomington Antique Mall
With three levels full of antique treasures and locally made goodies, the Bloomington Antique Mall is a popular spot for gift shopping. Items such as antique pottery, dolls, clothes, baskets, furniture, bicycles, toys, and more can be found inside.
This mall is housed in the historic Tom Tayler building, which was restored in 1987 with close attention to historic detail. The 24,000 square feet of original hardwood floors are illuminated with extensive natural lighting things to the many huge windows on every wall.
9. Hot House Market
With stores in Indianapolis and Las Vegas, Hot House Market is a big name for a small town, and it’s one of the best things to do in Bloomington if you are on the hunt for quality vintage clothing. This location also carries vintage furniture and vinal records.
Hot House Market has clothes in all sizes including vests, jeans, teeshirts, sweatshirts, skirts, purses, even jewelry, and stickers. Reviewers say the store is well stocked and exciting and that the staff are lovely.
10. Earthbound Trading Co
Claiming to be a store for “free spirits, curious souls, and adventurous nomads,” Earthbound Trading Co provides its customers with stylish clothes, hats, pieces of art, crystals, stones, candles, oils, and more.
Opened in 1994 as a humble rocks and minerals shop, it quickly grew into a one-stop shop for bohemian fashion, eclectic gifts, and trendy home decor. Don’t leave Bloomington, Indiana without checking this spot out!
Exciting Things to Do in Bloomington with Kids
11. The Wonderlab Museum of Science, Health, and Technology
Located in the Bloomington Entertainment and Arts District, the Wonderlab Museum of Science, Health, and Technology is an award-winning, nonprofit educational organization. The Wonderlab has successfully fulfilled its vision, “to build curious and creative problem solvers, inspired by the wonder of science, who will shape a brighter future for themselves and our world,” since it opened in 1998.
Their Hidden Life of Deserts exhibit features animals like chuckwallas, blue-tonged skinks, and vinegaroons. Sometimes kids even get the chance to touch some of these animals. The Big Piano exhibit is a keyboard on the floor big enough to jump on that children can play by hopping from one key to the next. And the How Things Work Exhibit helps kids of all ages learn how various things like magnets, gravity, light, motion, and human health work. It is easy to see why this is one of the best things to do in Bloomington if you have kids.
12. Karst Farm Park
Once known as the county poor farm, Karst Farm Park is now a vital part of family life, making it one of the most fun things to do in Bloomington. Now the park has its own disc golf course, a fenced dog park, a Splashpad water play area, a huge Playscape accessible playground, smaller playgrounds, athletic fields, and a walking trail.
Featuring a rentable commons building and several picnic shelters, it’s a great place to take the kids or the dogs or both and spend the day enjoying the outdoors. With so many shelter options, you don’t even have to worry too much that it might rain.
Time to Visit Bloomington!
With so many exciting things to do in Bloomington, Indiana, where should you start? Why not pick your favorite restaurant from the list and consider what to do next as you enjoy some Irish Lion bangers and mash or a vegan cobb salad from The Owlery?
No matter the ages in your party, there are plenty of fun and interesting things to do in the historic town of Bloomington Indiana. We hope you enjoy your stay! You will never run out of fun and exciting things to do in Bloomington. Its an amazing city with many things to offer.