Fort Wayne isn’t always the first place that pops into your mind when you think about planning a weekend getaway in the Midwest. But it should be. A hidden gem known mostly to devoted Vera Bradley fans, a weekend in Fort Wayne, Indiana, offers a wide variety of family-friendly activities amidst the charm and friendliness you expect from the Midwest.
For Midwesterners, it can often feel like a big hassle to get away for a weekend. While one of the beautiful things about the Midwest is its wide-open spaces, that can also limit the options for someone looking for a quick weekend getaway with the family. Once you’ve blown through the obvious places like Kansas City, Saint Louis, and Chicago, it’s time to look at the hidden gems, and I can’t stop recommending Fort Wayne, Indiana. Here are nine of my family’s favorite things to do in Fort Wayne:
1. Enjoy a TinCaps game
Minor League Baseball is probably one of the most family-friendly professional sports events you can attend. I’m a diehard Kansas City Royals fan, but as our family has grown, so has my fondness for the farm teams. It’s more affordable, more kid-friendly, the stadiums are smaller and easier to navigate, and the constant entertainment is perfect for holding the attention of the younger crowd. If you think baseball is boring, I’m guessing you’ve never been to a Minor League game. And the TinCaps have it all: a variety of delicious food carts, a Johnny Appleseed inspired mascot, plenty of space for kids to run around when they get tired of sitting, and even a dancing grounds crew. Oh, yeah, and there’s some baseball going on, too.
2. Get your science on
Science Central is a wonderfully interactive place to spend an afternoon, no matter what your age. Once a city power plant, this building is now home to 35,000 square feet of hands-on fun. Kids of all ages and interests will find a variety of exhibits to get their curiosity flowing. While you’re there, you can even get a peek into how the old coal-powered plant worked. And be sure you don’t forget to visit the amazing Science on a Sphere exhibit!
3. Go where the wild things are
While its name is a little misleading, the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is a magnificent place to spend the morning, even if you make this trip without kids. I have a special place in my heart for zoos with strong conservation focuses, and Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo definitely fits the bill. Be sure to stop by the Tasmanian devil exhibit and learn about how the Zoo is helping save the species as part of the insurance population program.
Beyond that, I love the walkability of the zoo and the fact that it was built with smaller visitors in mind. It’s more interactive than your typical zoo, with plenty of opportunities to feed the animals, get up close and personal with the kangaroos and stingrays, and ride a Crocodile Creek Adventure Ride for a unique view of the Australian habitats. Bonus: there’s no having to haul kids in and out of strollers or pick them up so they can see, because everything was thought of from the perspective of a small child.
TravelingMom Tip: don’t go in the middle of the day! Go right when they open or take advantage of seasonal hours when the zoo is open later into the evening. The crowds are thinner, and the animals are more active. And if you’re looking for a splurge, their VIP experiences are amazing. Ranging from $39-99 per person, you can get behind the scenes with the penguins, giraffes, orangutans, or stingrays. I thoroughly enjoyed feeding the stingrays on my visit!
4. Adventure through the jungle and desert
No, really! The Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory features 25,000 square feet of indoor gardens spread through three areas. Stroll through the seasonal showcase garden, a desert, and a tropical paradise. You can traipse beneath a banana tree one minute and stare in awe at their giant Saguaro cactus the next. There are also kid-friendly interactive exhibits and a multitude of outdoor gardens to explore. If you catch the spring butterfly house, you won’t be disappointed! The enclosed space features many species of butterflies. You can watch cocoons form and hatch, and it’s not uncommon for the butterflies to land right on your hand. I really enjoyed being able to get up close and watch a butterfly drink nectar, something I’ve never had a chance to see in the wild.
5. Discover your family history
The Genealogy Center, located within the Allen County Public Library in downtown Fort Wayne, is home to the nation’s largest public genealogy research collection, according to Visit Fort Wayne. With staff who specialize in genealogy, it’s a great place to dive in and learn more about your family history. This may not make your list if your trip includes toddlers, but older kids may enjoy exploring their heritage here.
6. Enjoy the art
Art is everywhere in Fort Wayne, from the most curious bike racks you’ve ever seen to murals in unexpected places and an abundance of gorgeous architecture. But don’t overlook the fantastic Fort Wayne Museum of Art. Among other lovely art installations, the FWMoA is home to a very large collection of American Brilliant Cut Glass. (No worries, it’s safely tucked away where kids can view, but not break!) I found the history and display of tools and how it’s made quite fascinating.
7. Paddle, pedal or hike to your heart’s content
If you’re the outdoorsy type, Fort Wayne has plenty for you to see and do. The area boasts over 90 miles of trails and it’s growing. You can rent bikes, kayaks, SUPS, and a number of other gear options from Fort Wayne Outfitters & Bike Depot. You can even attend seasonal events like yoga on the nearby Wells Street Bridge.
8. Shop ’til you drop
Fort Wayne is the home of Vera Bradley, Cinda B, Matilda Jane, and Peg Perego. While the Vera Bradly Annual Sale each April is a fun experience, Fort Wayne also has a thriving boutique community. Some of my favorites: Creative Women of the World, Hedgehog Press, Idlehour, and Urban Hippie.
9. Eat, obviously
If you have a sweet tooth, enjoy ice cream on a donut at Yummi Bunni or have a tasting at DeBrand’s Fine Chocolates. For dinner, enjoy Italian comfort foods at Salvatori’s or (my favorite!) a farm-to-table meal at Tolon. You can have lunch at the Hoppy Gnome and then hop back to their Gnome Town Brewing Company and make your own beer. One of the great things about this Midwest city is that you can find tastes and flavors from both near and far, and everything in between.
Fort Wayne, Indiana is the perfect Midwestern weekend destination for families. Come see all the ways you can spend your weekend in Fort Wayne.
About the Author
Dani Schnakenberg believes there should be no excuses for not being able to travel. As a mom of 5, she loves helping other families find more space in their life, whether that be time, money, or actual physical space. Unable to stay put for long, Danielle will take any excuse to travel. Business or adventure, backpacking or luxury hotels, anything will get Dani packing her bags in no time. Solo or with her whole crew (or anything in between), Dani falls in love with each and every destination. When you can get her to stay still, you’ll find her in southeastern Michigan (for now), designing websites, sharing about her travels, and helping other families find space in their life for travel at her site Big Family Minimalist and on her podcast, Do It Scared.