Elkhart was one of the first areas settled in Northern Indiana in the 1830s and was a hub of the railroad system. Thanks to the increased traffic, its population grew and cultures began to blend. While it may live in the shadow of bigger cities like South Bend, it’s a hidden gem of culture and activity. Elkhart is home to the quiet, peaceful Amish Country and also adjacent to the Fightin’ Irish of Notre Dame. The city is able to accommodate both ends and provides a wide swath of activities for you to enjoy.
Best Places to Eat in Elkhart
1. The Tipsy Biscuit
Start your day off right with a hardy meal at the most revered breakfast place in town. The Tipsy Biscuit serves up homemade breakfast and comfort food from scratch. Sink your teeth into the best biscuits in town that melt in your mouth as you enjoy the 50s diner ambience. They also serve adult beverages like mimosas and their signature Christmas Sangria to liven up your morning. Make sure to get here early on weekends as their wait time for brunch can be over an hour.
2. Heinnie’s Back Barn
The setting of Heinnie’s is less like a barn and more like an Elks Club. They serve delicious steaks, burgers, and seafood options. It’s an unassuming place that’s easy to pass by, but the homey atmosphere inside will make you feel like a local. If you go during football, be prepared to be surrounded by rowdy Notre Dame fans, who love to frequent this place on game days.
Want to go to a more upscale place for a special dinner? Artisan is the nicest place in town. Founded in 2015 by the Navarre Hospitality Group, which specializes in upscale eateries across Indiana and Michigan, Artisan delivers an array of meals locally sourced with seasonal ingredients. The menu is regularly changing and delivers a variety of options, from beef ragu to rabbit. They pride themselves on creating an uncommon hospitality experience, making your visit unforgettable.
Who better to make you a pizza than a world pizza champion? Antonio’s is family owned-and-operated since 1979, and its leader Paul Catalda has won a slew of awards for his pizza, including the 2019 World Pizza Championship in Las Vegas. You can eat that award-winning pizza, the Vegas Fortuna, which has housemade Italian sausage and hot honey sausage, topped with cup-and-char pepperoni and mozzarella blend. He believes in pizza-making as an art, and that comes through with the personal touch on all of his pies.
5. Chubby Trout
If your dinner group can’t decide on what to eat for dinner, try Chubby Trout, which has literally something for everyone. Located inside a converted barn, they’ve got steak options, burgers, BBQ, pizza, and a full sushi menu. The one thing they all have in common is that they’re scrumptious. To wash it all down, their lineup of beers on tap is as diverse as their food options.
6. Smokin’ Fatty’s BBQ
Dig in to savory BBQ at Smokin’ Fatty’s, a locally owned steakhouse with a hint of Mexican cuisine. They’re tucked away near Simonton Lake and a few blocks away from the Michigan border. Unwind with one of their famous margaritas. They’re constantly introducing new flavors, like the Islo Mango Margarita, so allow yourself to try something new!
Best Outdoor Activities in Elkhart
7. Heritage Trail
To get the overall Elkhart experience, drive the Heritage Trail. This scenic winding 90-mile loop takes you through the vibrant communities of Elkhart County and Amish Country. There’s a free audio driving tour you can stream that compliments the trail. Experience stunning views, urban design, and historical sites without leaving your car.
8. Linton’s Enchanted Gardens
Linton’s is a garden and nursery, but they have tons of fun activities on their grounds that will make this an enjoyable option for the non-green thumbs in your group. Kids can take a fun train trade through their 9 acre property. From there, they can pan for gemstones and hang with animals at the petting zoo. For the adults, they can partake in a koi pond feeding station, as well as zoom around in Go Karts and hand pedaled trains.
9. Quilt Gardens
Located along the Heritage Trail, take in this patchwork of enormous quilt-like flower beds. Every quilt garden and quilt mural has its own intricate pattern. Many are original designs by local gardeners, and each are packed with their unique story. The gardens are in bloom between June and mid-September, so plan accordingly.
10. Wellfield Botanic Gardens
At the Wellfield Botanic Gardens, you can take in the beautiful scenery of Elkhart and experience the diverse plantlike on display. Seventy percent of Elkhart’s drinking water comes from Wellfields. They have different themes depending on the season. For kids, there’s a children’s garden where they can run around. The amphitheater hosts local concerts throughout the summer. The garden attracts a wide swath of birds, making it an ideal place for bird watching. The Audubon society even holds bird walks on Saturdays.
11. Elkhart Environmental Center
If you want to be more active, you can hike one of the 11 trails at the EEC. They host a variety of ecosystems like wetlands, prairies, and forests, making for outstanding scenery on your walks. They’re also home to EnviroFest every August, which celebrates and provides further education on environmental topics and sustainability.
12. Ideal Beach Water Park
After all your hiking and nature observing, cool off at this super fun spot! Swim in the lake, relax on the beach, or go down their two massive corkscrew water slides over and over. Make a whole day here with their picnic area, volleyball courts, and mini golf. They’re open June through August, weather permitting.
Cultural Activities in Elkhart
13. The Recreational Vehicle/Manufactured Home Hall of Fame Museum
RVs are a staple of American life, the modern version of the covered wagons that originally traversed the continent. The Hall of Fame explores the history of campers and features campers from all over the world, including the world’s first camper and one used by Charles Lindbergh. The Manufactured Home Museum will be a new addition to the museum coming summer 2022.
14. Lerner Theater
Take in a musical, a play, or a performance by the Elkhart County Symphony. Check out their 1924 Kimball Pipe Organ, one of only 3 such organs still installed in its original place. The Lerner also offers guided tours where you can learn about the hand-painted mushroom chandelier, the meticulously reproduced walls, and the state-of-the-art theatrical upgrades.
15. Hall of Heroes Superhero Museum
Make like the Avengers and assemble at the Hall of Heroes Superhero Museum to learn about the history of comic books. The museum boasts one of the largest collections of superhero art and comics in the U.S. The collection is comprised of over 60,000 comics, over 10,000 toys and games, and over 100 pieces of animation and comic art spanning 80 years of superhero history. Movie lovers can also ogle memorabilia from Marvel movies, and older comic book lovers can get nostalgic with a recreation of the Bat Cave from the 1960s Batman TV show.
16. Ruthmere Historic Mansion
To learn about the history of Elkhart’s development into a mini-metropolis, take a tour of Ruthmere Historic Mansion, designed by Chicago-trained architect E. Hill Turnock in 1908. Restored to its old glory in the late 1960s, Ruthmere offers visitors a glimpse into the lives of one of the wealthiest families of the time, the Beardsleys, and how they’re tied into the founding of Elkhart. The mansion also includes their fine art collection on display.
17. National New York Central Railroad Museum
In the 1850s, Elkhart was a vital link in the national railroad network, connecting the Atlantic seaboard with the Midwest and beyond. The museum celebrates the New York Central Railroad, which had 11,000 route miles across America. Attractions include rolling stock cars such as the Mohawk 3001, an NYC E-8, and interactive exhibits geared toward both adult train enthusiasts and fascinated children.
18. Midwest Museum of American Art
The museum houses different collections of American painters that capture the Americana spirit of the Midwest. Check out works by classic painters like Norman Rockwell. Take in exhibits on the contemporary American west and pop art. You can even find new levels of Zen through their public yoga in the main gallery during the week.
Elkhart is one of Indiana’s best-kept secrets with attractions that go beyond the norm. It celebrates uniquely American art forms and cultures, from the modern manifest destiny of RVing and trains to the dominance of art like comic books and superheroes. By like its Amish neighbors, there’s a peaceful current that runs through the town. You can enjoy serene nature walks and leisurely meals. Elkhart has a little bit of something for everyone.