Food, glorious food in “America’s crossroads.” A princess in the Queen City. American Girls in St. Louis. A Chattanooga hotel that makes every family member feel indulged and pampered. Pick your city and your theme and head off for a weekend your way in one of Kentucky’s border states.
In the mood for Peruvian, Ethiopian, or Burmese food? Time for a culinary expedition to Indianapolis where you’ll find these cuisines and many more (up to five continents’ worth of cultural taste experiences, in fact), swoon-worthy dishes, and plenty of bonhomie. Linking some key foodie hotspots is Indy’s Cultural Trail, an 8-mile urban bike and walking path spruced up with massive art pieces, several of them illuminated.
Find some of the best American cuisine the city has to offer at Bluebeard, a restaurant/bar that takes its name from the Kurt Vonnegut novel and features farm-to-table victuals served in library-like ambiance (think ancient typewriters, equally old globes) in a circa 1920s restored factory warehouse. On the menu: grilled octopus, roasted beet salad with balsamic truffle vinaigrette.
Fresh and local rule at R Bistro, anchoring Indy’s Massachusetts Avenue arts district. Open Table’s Diner’s Choice winner for 2014, the intimate 17-table fine dining restaurant is known for its weekly changing menu and chef Regina Mehallick, a multi-year James Beard semifinalist. On the menu: potted crab with flatbread, parsnip cake with bacon, and red pepper chutney.
Shaken or stirred? No matter how you like your finely wrought cocktails, you’ll leave Libertine Liquor Bar feeling spoiled and sated. Self-conscientiously trendy, this homage to craft cocktails and food and flavor artistry is so good nobody cares. And the nibbles? Melt-in-your-mouth bakery breads, intoxicating sauces, photo-worthy entrées. On the menu: roasted bone marrow, Southern-fried sweetbreads.
So many restaurants, not nearly enough time. But if you want to make an attempt, book the Conrad Hilton’s Indy Cultural Trail package. Offered through October, it includes overnight accommodations, complimentary bike rental and valet parking, and an optional public art scavenger hunt—and puts your peds within food immersion distance.
Cincinnati’s cultural gems
Pay attention. Here is downtown Cincinnati’s best-kept lodging secret revealed: the Symphony Hotel & Restaurant is a sumptuous boutique hotel elegantly melding a European sensibility with a laidback American vibe. Featuring nine maestro-inspired rooms—six tucked into the original mansion and three in the newer section—it stands in Cincinnati’s reinvented Over-the-Rhine neighborhood (OTR to hipsters), across from Music Hall, cattycorner to concert-friendly Washington Park, and within an easy stroll of the Art Deco-style Ensemble Theatre and mega open-air Findlay Market, which sells fabulous food finds inside year-round (closed Mondays) and Saturdays and Sundays, April to November, hosts a hustle-bustle farmers’ market, scads of outdoor vendors and street performers, and lots of special events.
Inside the Symphony Hotel, the two buildings are connected by an intimate bar and tasting room tailor-made for fireside bourbon tastings; outside, they share a courtyard perfect for summertime wine sipping. On Fridays and Saturdays, a chef-prepared prix fixe five-course dinner is served atop linen draped tables; live jazz music is presented by a variety of entertainers.
Summer is the last chance to catch “Diana, A Celebration,” the award-winning exhibition on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center until August 17. Galleries show off Diana’s childhood playthings, including the frogs she loved to collect, her uniform and other school year mementos, and the many gowns worn by the fashionista during her reign. The collection, including Diana’s fairy-tale ivory silk taffeta gown with 25-foot train, will be returned to her ancestral home, Althorp Estate, and to her sons.
Girl power in St. Louis
It’s a girls’ world inside the doors of the American Girl store Boutique & Bistro in St. Louis’ Chesterfield Mall. Here, girls and their potential are celebrated through quality-crafted dolls, enriching books, and unforgettable experiences. And if you think it’s just for your daughters, moms, and grandmothers, think again. This is a place where multigen gals can get their femme on.
Home of the American Girl Historical Character dolls, the Girl of the Year, Bitty Baby, and Bitty Twins, plus the dolls’ assorted clothing, furniture, and accessories, this pretty-in-pink wonderland hits the mark with an in-store Hair Salon, chef-designed delectables, birthday party room, and a personal shopper who can help make any visit special. Girls can also design t-shirts for themselves and their American Girl bestie at the Creativi-Tees station.
Getaway go-withs: the glass conservatory of the Butterfly House in Faust Park. See if you can spot the Orange Julia among the 60 species of colorful beauties in free flight. Shop the elegantly stocked Madame Butterfly gift shop. While in Faust Park, everyone can take a spin on the circa 1920s restored St. Louis Carousel (rides are just $2) and poke amongst the toys, water globes, and goody bags in the gift shop here.
Within walking distance to the American Girl St. Louis is the Drury Plaza Hotel–Chesterfield, which offers an American Girl getaway package that includes the signature pink doll-size travel bed (available only through a hotel package), Welcome Letter, and freshly baked cookies for child and doll—plus all the freebies that come with booking Drury, indoor/outdoor swimming pool, and whirlpool, too.
If big white letters on barn roofs spring to mind when you hear or see “See Rock City,” you’re not alone. In a legendary campaign to lure visitors to his mountaintop attraction, Garnet Carter had the slogan painted on nearly 1,000 barn roofs in 19 states from 1936 to 1969; about 100 remain.
Hundreds of thousands of road trippers have made their way to the top of Lookout Mountain to marvel at the ancient and massive rock formations, cross the Swing-A-Long Bridge, take in breathtaking views of seven states from Lover’s Leap, tour the Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village, and photograph the gardens lush with hundreds of different species of native wildflowers and plants.
The Chattanoogan hotel is offering free tickets to Rock City and Ruby Falls or to the Tennessee Aquarium and IMAX in its Summer Fun Package. Families can opt for a day of play outdoors or in, and then tuck in for the night at this gorgeous AAA Four Diamond-rated hotel with a gift for making everyone feel pampered. Sink into the Broad Street Grille’s comfy chairs for a dinner to please kids and parents alike. The Fitness Center has an indoor pool, the spa is full-service, and the WiFi is free. The hotel puts families within walking distance of museums, shops, restaurants, and the Tennessee Aquarium.
New border state attractions
A new and expanded otter exhibit opened in early May at the Tennessee Aquarium, (800) 262-0695, www.TNAqua.org, bringing visitors “face to furry face” with the feisty critters cavorting about a multitiered landscape featuring shoreline, pools, and waterfalls.
Video fun scoop: Why do families love The Chattanoogan hotel and Chattanooga? Watch the video and find out.
Once America’s third largest beer-producing city, Cincinnati is reclaiming those glory days by placing new breweries in former pre-Prohibition Cincinnati brewery buildings. Currently there are at least nine breweries in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area—not counting the brewpubs—including these two new microbreweries: Rhinegeist, (513) 381-1367, www.Rhinegeist.com, whose name means “Ghost of the Rhine” and refers to its mission to bring Over-the-Rhine’s historic brewery district back to life; and, at Party Source in Newport, Ei8ht Ball Brewing, (859) 291-0036, www.Ei8htBallBrewing.com, with a 15-barrel brew house and Grab ‘n Go Growler Program.
The International Orangutan Center opened Memorial Day Weekend at the Indianapolis Zoo, (317) 630-2001, www.IndianapolisZoo.com, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Visitors can step inside the Center and play interactive games with eight orangutans, take a skyline ride up to 50 feet in the air and just below the orangutans’ tower in the re-created Hutan Trail, and witness the 150-foot Beacon of Hope lit nightly as an orangutan flips the switch to transform the Indy skyline. Go online early to pick your price, pick your plan, save money, and maybe avoid a crowd and a long wait.
Mug N Bun diner drive-in; Plump’s Last Shot, owned by Bobby Plump, the real-life hero who inspired ESPN’s #1 movie, Hoosiers; the Slippery Noodle Inn, former brothel, former stop on the Underground Railroad, former hangout of bad boy John Dillinger—what a pedigree!…they’re just a few of the legendary eateries in Indianapolis.
St. Louis, Missouri
Learn how to fly. Literally. The Circus Harmony Flying Trapeze Center, (314) 436-7676, www.CircusDay.org, opened April 19 at St. Louis’ Union Station. It is operated by the professional aerialists from Circus Harmony, the circus school at City Museum—the 600,000-square-foot romper room with children’s playground, funhouse, and revolving four-story Ferris wheel on the rooftop.