Why You Should Visit Bloomington, Indiana
By Allison Yates
Some might see the Midwest as the most unremarkable region of the U.S. When visitors travel to the region, they’ll see Chicago (which shouldn’t be missed) without considering the surrounding states. It’s no wonder: Indiana’s slogan is the “Crossroads of America,” insinuating it’s just another state you pass through to reach your destination.
The Court House sits on the square in downtown Bloomington. Photo courtesy of author
Why should you go? Well, when you consider what it does have, you’ll be wondering why you didn’t go sooner. One of those great places is Bloomington, Indiana, where the community that works together for good.
Walking down Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington’s main social street on the edge of Indiana University (IU), you’ll see everything from shops displaying LGBTQ pride T-shirts to street musicians playing upbeat tunes. Within minutes, you’ll overhear Arabic, Spanish and French. Cycling is a popular mode of transportation, and the men wearing skirts and women with shaved heads speak to the absence of strict social normal.
There are many murals decorating Bloomington’s streets, like this one off Kirkwood Ave. Photo courtesy of author
It has the humble and unpretentious atmosphere of the Midwest, but the arts, culture and social progress of San Francisco. It might not have been at the top of your list, but here’s why it should be.
Arts and Culture
The four-day music festival Lotus, held yearly in September, brings established and up-and-coming groups from all corners of the globe, such as Iberi Choir, a folk choir from the Republic of Georgia or LADAMA, an all-women Latin American music fusion group. September’s Fourth Street Festival is an annual celebration of local sculptors, jewelry makers, painters and other artisans and residents can’t wait for June’s foodie extravaganza, Taste of Bloomington.
Don’t miss the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, a peaceful space to mediate and gain wisdom, just five miles from downtown.
Eat the World, but Also Eat (and Drink) Local
There are over 75 international restaurants in Bloomington representing 18 different countries. Head to the city center’s Fourth Street for the hub of multicultural eating, where converted historic buildings are now restaurants.
Fourth Street offers international cuisines such as Burmese and Tibetan food. Photo courtesy of author
Two girls walk on Fourth Street, Bloomington’s international food scene hub. Photo courtesy of author
Ethically-minded residents also have a dedication to eating local and organic. Restaurants like Farm and Feast source ingredients like cheese, meat and from nearby farms. Indiana is known for corn, but also produces kale and lavender. Plus, with such a high number of vegetarians and vegans, most eateries will be accommodating to all diets, if not explicitly serving those options.
Farm is one of Bloomington’s most beloved farm-to-fork restaurants. Photo courtesy of author
Staying local doesn’t stop at food. Try Function Brewing, Upland Brewpub, and Quaff On! for locally brewed favorites and a chance to relax into the local bar scene.
Spend Your Money for a Good Cause
A longtime employee of Nick’s English Hut donates tips to local nonprofits around three to four times a month. Shopping for gifts and accessories at Global Gifts means putting your money into the fair trade industry and when you drink coffee at PourHouse Café, you’re helping boost marginalized communities worldwide.
Global Gifts on the square is a volunteer-run, non-profit fair trade store. Photo courtesy of author
We already know practicing yoga is good for the mind and body, but when you do it at Maxwell House Yoga, you’ll also be combating gender violence. A percentage of the profits are donated to Middle Way House domestic violence shelter.
A Sense of Community
Indiana winters are frigid, but as soon as the weather is pleasant people are out relaxing in parks, boating, canoeing, or hiking around nearby at Lake Monroe, Griffey and Lemon, and on the streets supporting local arts.
Families and friends enjoy international eats at the weekly event Food Truck Fridays. Photo courtesy of author
One of Bloomington’s favorite pop-up spots is Rasta Pops, homemade tropical popsicles. Photo courtesy of author
At Food Truck Fridays, don’t miss the chance to enjoy refreshing homemade, tropical-flavored popsicles Rasta Pops and other local eateries. On Saturday mornings, head to the Farmer’s Market (which also runs Tuesdays from 4-7pm) to buy produce directly from the people who grow it. Many of the vendors come from nearby Amish communities. While many Amish have moved away from farming in recent years, there are still some who supply Bloomington with top-quality produce.
Kirkwood Avenue has the charm of a small Midwestern Town. Photo courtesy of author
Visiting Bloomington means experiencing a joyful, expressive community ready to welcome you into the fun. I remember my own surprise such a town existed when I moved here at eighteen: in one day I can eat Tibetan food, learn Contra dancing and watch indie bans perfrom at an LGBTQ bar, surrounded by people from all over the world. I hope people who have given up on Middle America have the chance to experience the remarkable atmosphere of Bloomington. It might change their minds.
Before you go, be sure to check out the website visitbloomington.com for upcoming events.