Vacation Dreams Come True
At LaPorte County’s Top Spots
Set a course for adventure away from the humdrum of everyday life with a weekend getaway, extended vacation, or a fun-filled day trip to Northern Indiana. Lake Michigan and its soft-sand beaches draw visitors to LaPorte County, just an hour from Chicago and along Interstates 80 and 90, a crossroad of the nation.
Michigan City hugs the Lake Michigan shore, welcoming visitors to its public beaches and an adjacent zoo and stellar art center. Just to the west, Indiana Dunes National Park, one of the newest national parks in the U.S., enthralls visitors with its lofty dunes and deep forests. While these natural wonders are obvious draws for visitors, there is so much more to enjoy.
In this prime fruit-growing region, orchards and U-pick farms abound as you head a few miles south to the community of LaPorte. Vacationers while away carefree days swimming, fishing, and trying some challenging water sports on LaPorte’s clear inland lakes. In both communities, indoor and outdoor museums bring history to life, art venues intrigue, a glistening casino entertains, and shopping bargains at a trendy mall abound.
Enjoy these top picks and come back often!
Savor the Shore… and More
Like a dreamy painting of summertime pleasures, blue waters, powder-sand shorelines, towering dunes, boats on the water, and plenty of beachgoers provide a vision of the lake life.
Lake Michigan, Michigan City – Many Great Lakes enthusiasts consider Lake Michigan’s beaches the best of all. Visitors to Michigan City’s Washington Park, with two miles of fine sand beach along clear, shimmering waters will surely agree as they settle in for swimming, sunning, and beachcombing. Benches along shoreline boardwalks create perfect spots for watching boats come and go from nearby marinas. The park’s canopy of shade trees back the beach, offering picnic tables and concessions. Standing guard over the whole scene is a much-loved icon of the community – the 1904 East Light, Indiana’s only working lighthouse. Visitors enjoy walking the long pier to see the structure up close. (Admission charged to park; no dogs allowed on beach.)
LaPorte Lakes, LaPorte – Whether your pleasure is lolling on the beach or trying some extreme tricks on a wakeboard, head for the crystal waters and outstanding public beaches of Pine and Stone lakes in LaPorte. Swimmers dive into the waves, skiers skim the water, and anglers haul in bass, crappie and more on both lakes. Fishing is popular on Clear Lake as well. Marinas at Pine Lake rent pontoons, fishing boats, ski boards, wakeboards, and tubes of all sizes. Take advantage of their tow packages for tubers. Pine Lake offers grills and picnic tables. At Stone Lake, concessions, playgrounds, and sand volleyball round out a day of fun.
Indiana Dunes National Park, Michigan City – The Indiana Dunes and its National Lakeshore, have long been known as one of the nation’s unique national treasures. So naturally, people were delighted when this 15,000-acre haven was designated a national park in 2019. A landscape of towering sand dunes form a stunning backdrop to 15 miles of Lake Michigan beaches and cobalt waters. Some 50 miles of trails pierce the park, including challenging pathways among the dunes and more sedate byways inland where forests prevail, a haven for birdwatchers. Hikers looking for a challenge tackle Mt. Baldy, a 126-foot shifting dune with a steep uphill climb. Ranger-led hikes are a great way to learn more about the park’s ecosystem, including Pinhook Bog, a watery marsh crossed by walkways that has been designated a National Natural Landmark because of its unique ecosystem (Pinhook Bog is only accessible on ranger-led excursions). Take advantage of adjacent Indiana Dunes State Park as well.
Have a Blast in a Colorful Past
If you’ve ever thought history is boring, think again! Four lively museums in LaPorte County take you on a whirlwind tour of life in the past, with lots of fun things to do in the present!
LaPorte County Historical Society Museum, LaPorte – The whole family has a great time at this fascinating museum with a natural history display of mastodon relics, operating model trains, the ever-popular mystery of a murderess, vintage autos, a new theater exhibit, and new additions to the W.A. Jones gun collection with more than 850 weapons. And that’s just a fraction of what you’ll see. Kids love the exhibit scavenger hunt with three fun options each month, and everyone enjoys a new art gallery featuring the works of local artists.
Old Lighthouse Museum, Michigan City – Michigan City’s nautical history runs deep in a community that was once one of the busiest ports on southern Lake Michigan. Visitors can learn about sailing and steamships and the lighthouse keepers who helped guide them to safety at this 1858 Light Station, now a fascinating museum. Climb to the tower/lantern room, see a Fresnel lens up close, plus eight display rooms, including exhibits and photos about local history and shipwrecks.
Hesston Steam Museum, Hesston – Step right up and hop aboard a vintage train at a museum like no other just outside of LaPorte. Once upon a time, steam was king – running railroads, logging operations and agricultural equipment. Relive those days as you ride the rails on three different vintage trains, or watch a steam-powered sawmill, typical of those found in the area in the old days. The museum opens for the year Memorial Day weekend and operates on select weekends throughout the year, with holiday runs at Halloween and Christmas. On special weekends, volunteers generate electricity with the city of LaPorte’s first electric generator.
Barker Mansion, Michigan City – Although this monumental 1857 home is currently closed for renovations, visitors will have much to look forward to when it reopens sometime in early 2022. Newly refurbished spaces will include a completely refreshed Bridal Suite, as well as the bedroom of the original owner, philanthropist and industrialist John H. Barker. Even the original bath of his room has received a makeover. New windows and other updates provide an even more elegant backdrop for 38 rooms filled with artworks and opulent décor. Roam the beautiful gardens, often a setting for weddings, where some special outside events planned this spring and summer.
Connect with Nature
Nature is a part of Northern Indiana’s DNA. In addition to lakes and dunes, the region stands out as a fertile growing region. U-Pick fruit operations abound, from blueberry farms to orchards. Animal lovers can interface with species from across the globe at a lakeside zoo, and peace can be found along trails amid beautiful gardens and woodlands. Here are some favorite places you’ll definitely want to add to your itinerary… and get in touch with nature.
Friendship Botanic Gardens, Michigan City – Visitors to this peaceful 105-acre oasis follow trails through cultivated gardens and shady woodlands to Lake Lucerne, a great place to pause and perhaps spot geese and turkeys. A lineup of special events draw families during holiday seasons throughout the coming year, starting with the free Bunny Hop (April 16 in 2022). The Music Under the Stars series will feature both the LaPorte County Symphony and a cabaret event this summer. All season long, kids love their own special place at the ArcelorMittal Children’s Garden, with great playground equipment and a special plot featuring flowers and herbs chosen so children can experience the senses of smell, touch, and sight. As you hike the trails, you might spot deer, groundhogs, squirrels, wild turkeys, and a host of birds.
Washington Park Zoo, Michigan City – A new season seems to always bring new life to this longtime zoo near Lake Michigan, and 2022 is no exception. Twin common marmosets were born, along with a Bennett Wallaby who peeks occasionally from its mother’s pouch. They join some 90 species from around the world who make their homes here, including many rescue animals. The best part of a visit is seeing the animals up close on meandering walkways and being able to ask staff members all about the wolves, tigers, bears, and more. Parakeets fly in an aviary, and river otters swim around you just outside a see-through tunnel. The buildings at the zoo, including a tower and castle constructed in 1937, complete your visit.
Garwood Orchards, LaPorte – Apples put this sixth-generation orchard on the map, beginning in 1831 when carpenter John Garwood moved to LaPorte County and took up farming. His descendants are still at it today, growing 20-plus varieties of apples and a host of fruits and vegetables. The family takes pride in being local farmers. Their market and U-Pick operation are popular with visitors and local residents alike. Then there’s the legendary cider, donuts, pies, horse- and tractor-drawn wagon rides to U-Pick areas, and lots of musical entertainment on special event days.
Live It Up
Unique venues invite relaxation, gaming, and wine tasting, plus a plethora of entertainment and enticing cuisine. You’re in for some good times ahead!
Shady Creek Winery, Michigan City – A total wine experience awaits at this sprawling 20-acre winery, where the owners have a vision of putting Michigan City on the map as a wine destination. The Schwartz family, which purchased the winery in 2019, are introducing a host of updates this year, including a new backyard space and stage for Friday night live performances, more patio seating and fireplaces, plus an enhanced food menu and fresh and original takes on their 28 wines, such as a wine slushie and frozen sangria. An emphasis on wine tasting and shareable foods puts everyone at home, from those new to wine to experts. An example is a pairing of three wine flights with three shareable bites. You might sample unique pizza or baked brie, plus wines with names that reflect the winery’s location near Lake Michigan – Lighthouse, Beach Glass, and Sandy Feet.
Blue Chip Casino Hotel & Spa, Michigan City – Once visitors walk into the glittering Blue Chip Casino, Hotel & Spa in Michigan City, they understand why this top gaming spot is known as Northern Indiana’s favorite place to play – and stay! Ultimate pleasure awaits from gaming to luxurious spa treatments to fabulous food. Add in luxurious lodgings and your getaway is complete.
Playing will definitely be on your mind at this spacious single-level casino with 65,000 square feet of gaming space, including 1,700 slot machines and 40 table games. The choices are numerous, including Blackjack, Roulette and Craps, Mississippi Stud Progressive, 3-Card Poker Progressive, Caribbean Stud, 21+3 with Top 3, Mimi Baccarat, High Card Flush, and Heads Up Hold‘Em. Play non-stop – the casino is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year round.
But everyone needs a break now and then, and players find everything they need right on the grounds. Dining options abound, with three restaurants, including the elegant William B’s for steak and seafood, The Game featuring casual fare and 34 beers on tap, and Nelson’s Deli for breakfasts, sandwiches and take-out snacks. A rejuvenating spa experience awaits at the lavish Spa Blu, complete with soothing massages, a hair salon, mani-pedis – all ways to enliven the mind, body and spirit. Settle in for the night in the classy 22-story hotel with two towers.
Experience Artistic Wonders
Art lovers find their fill in an array of interesting ways in LaPorte County. Works from across the nation fill a state-of-the-art museum, steps from the Lake Michigan shore. Creative minds have merged outdoor spaces with creative wonders in Michigan City and Westville, where you can admire outdoor sculptures. In LaPorte, make your own kind of music on giant musical instruments outdoors.
Lubeznik Center for the Arts, Michigan City – There’s always an intriguing special exhibit on display at this top-notch museum. The museum is very in step with the times this year, with a special LatinXAmerican display featuring LatinX art from DePaul Art Museum in Chicago through June 11, and a Diversity and Inclusion exhibit taking over after that. Don’t miss the Center’s permanent galleries, featuring works from around the world. Outdoor sculptures make a walk on the grounds an extra treat. Check their website for special one-day classes and events.
SculptFusion, Michigan City – Michigan City’s Public Art Committee keeps making art more accessible to visitors, especially if you are strolling through the Uptown Arts District, where a changing display of amazing sculpture seems to pop up on every corner. The committee leases about 10 sculptures at a time, changing them out occasionally with different works. The current selection includes two large works by Ray Katz, known throughout the Midwest for his steel, aluminum, and bronze creations. In addition, you’ll find 13 permanent sculptures around town, including a tribute to African American suffragette Naomi Anderson, a Michigan City native, newly installed at Westcott Park.
Odyssey Sculptures, Westville – A multi-million-dollar display of broad-ranging outdoor sculptures graces the campus of Purdue University Northwest. From a huge bicycle to birds, animals, human forms and modern endeavors, the formations invite pondering and peaceful reflection. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the display on the tree-shaded campus or learn even more on a walk with a seasoned guide who relates information about each work of art.
Make a Joyful Noise, LaPorte – Get your musical vibe going as you try out giant instruments located throughout the community of LaPorte. Stop and try out chimes, a huge xylophone, and drum creations. You’ll find them in parks, next to city buildings, and on LaPorte’s Plaza 618 downtown. Some of the instruments stand six feet tall, a treat for kids and adults alike. While you’re at the Plaza, take in the 108-foot-long mural that depicts LaPorte’s colorful past.
Bag a Bargain
Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets, Michigan City – Whatever the season, new clothing arrivals appear in plenty of time to get your fashion vibe going at this great outdoor mall with top-name brands at up to 65% off. And it’s not your everyday mundane mall. At Lighthouse Place, more that 100 stores nestle in an outdoor, village-like setting that makes shopping a pleasure. In addition to designer fashion such as Columbia Sportswear, Michael Kors, The North Face, Vera Bradley and Under Armour to name just a few, shoppers find great bargains on housewares, baby and children’s clothes, shoes, gifts, and specialty food items. Need a food break? Indulge in pretzels, pizza, that famous South Bend chocolate, and more.
Insider Tip:If you’re in Michigan City on the first Friday of any month, don’t miss the First Friday Art Walk festivities going on from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Uptown Arts District along Franklin Street and at nearby venues! Shops host artists and their work, including painting, sculptures and even live performances. Art activities take place at the Artspace Uptown Artists Lofts, and you may catch a poetry reading or short play at the Lubeznik Center for the Arts.