Intent on a weekend adventure one lovely autumn day, our little family pointed our car eastwards from Chicago. Driving along sleepy Highway 30, crossing miles of corn fields just about ripe for harvest, we were wondering “What, exactly, are we going to do in Fort Wayne, Indiana?” Turns out, there are many things to do in Fort Wayne!
Fort Wayne Indiana
Fort Wayne has a rich history. The city once served as the crossroads of Native American trading interests and westward expansion in the late 1700s. Indiana’s second largest city was also home to one of America’s most famous residents, Johnny Appleseed, who is buried there.
In 1796 a fort for the US Army was built at the confluence of three rivers, and the riverways still remain the green heart of the area. Vibrant with natural pathways for biking and hiking, year round festivals, and a wealth of aquatic adventures.
The downtown area is filled with cultural and historic attractions as well as a busy commercial core. It seems that every era has had its architectural “moment”. Remnants of the old Fort welcomes visitors, while the art deco Lincoln Tower (Indiana’s first skyscraper) rises majestically over the 19th century brick buildings.
Day 1 in Fort Wayne
Upon arrival, we found easy parking in front of the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, a series of greenhouses nestled into a full city block, featuring microclimates and kid-friendly zones.
Avi was delighted by the learning tree, the playhouse and garden. The central Showcase Greenhouse features rotating site specific artist installations. When we visited, artist Daniel Dienelt’s installation celebrated the natural against the man made environment. The Tropical House cascades with orchids and fruiting trees, beautiful waterfalls and koi ponds. The Desert House is filled with spiky cacti and features a 23’ foot Sedona Cactus.
Connecting the two greenhouses is a kid-scaled underground adventure zone, letting the the little ones pretend to be a bug or worm in a tunnel! Avi loved climbing through the tunnel, discovering the nooks full of soft mice and sparkly bugs. The exterior gardens offer plenty of safe space for energetic legs to run, while the terraced fountain splashes softly in the background.
After the Gardens, we walked past the Allen County Library and the Fort Wayne Firefighters Museum, but reluctantly didn’t have time to stop. The riverfront parkway and pedestrian bridge is currently under construction. However, when it opens there will be an incredible (and vital link) between downtown and the riverfront adventures, complete with a beautiful new community center.
Fort Wayne Outfitters
Rent a canoe or kayak from Fort Wayne Outfitters, they have everything you need for a riverfront adventure. They also offer a nice selection of adventure inspired clothing from brands like Prana and North Face, and a variety of snacks. Armed with some Gatorade and protein bars, we walked with our guide down to the shore of the St. Mary River and set off westward.
It’s easy to spend a couple hours paddling down the river, watching for wildlife and enjoying the scenery. The lazy current makes canoeing a breeze. We floated downriver, watching groundhogs run along the shore and a large egret flap slow and low across the water. It’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of a busy city. The late afternoon sun warms logs along the rivers edge, inviting turtles to stretch their necks and heat their shells. We paddled for about an hour and then turned back, enjoying the gorgeous natural light.
Where to Eat in Fort Wayne
All the fresh air and exercise can make you hungry. Luckily Fort Wayne has tons of creative restaurants, and we found one of the best just a few blocks away from the Outfitters. We dined at Tolon, Fort Wayne’s only farm-to-table restaurant. Avi was pretty wiped out by the time we arrived at Tolon, falling asleep in her stroller, thus giving my husband and I a delightful 2 hour dining break!
Tolon is a casual, energetic, family owned place. Chef Nolot reigns in the kitchen, while his wife runs the front of house. We chose a seat outside on the terrace and sampled another regional treasure, local craft brews and a dynamic cocktail menu.
We started with the sweet corn soup with truffled lobster salad, a summer bright blend of freshness. The fresh tomato salad with house smoked bleu cheese was the best thing I’ve eaten all year. Busting with freshness and flavor, I literally licked the plate clean. Tyler enjoyed the slow cooked ribs, while the creamy cascarecce pasta was brightened with a ribbon of carrot pesto. For desert, the miso hazelnut gelato had a hint of umami blended with a rich, nutty custard. It was perfectly accented with a nice port.
Middle Waves Music Festival
Our lovely meal was wrapping up just as our daughter awoke from her nap. We decided to finish the evening with a visit to the Middle Waves Music festival at Headwaters Park. Multiple stages provided a wide range of music, everything from acoustic, to punk, to spoken word and rap. The festival offered additional entertainment with a glitter face painter, interactive art, and giant bubbles. There’s even a kid-friendly area called Mini Waves, with parent-approved bands like “The Atomic Sharks” who played a Caribbean inspired jam.
Day 2 Fort Wayne
Wiped out and happy, we headed back to our hotel for a good nights rest before another day of adventures. The next morning we lazed a little bit before setting off for breakfast at Klem’s Candlelight Cafe, a classic American breakfast place. Tyler loaded up on corned beef hash while the breakfast sandwich I enjoyed melted with gooey cheese and yummy bacon. The fluffy pancakes were fantastic with rich maple syrup. Perfect fuel for the day’s adventure!
Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo
Our first stop of the day was the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. The zoo has a great sense of humor with the “Temporary Exhibit: North American Construction Worker” and a beautiful series of habitats. The lynx habitat felt like a sierra mountainside, with a bubbling brook inviting the large cats to drink before relaxing in the shade beneath the pine trees.
The African Journey offers an incredible landscape encounter: the winding path (stroller and wheelchair friendly of course) welcomes all ages and abilities onto a little safari. The walkway meanders through different habitats, bringing you up close and personal with giant pelicans, lions resting in the shade, and a Namibian village. You may even spy a honey badger hanging about!
The Giraffe Encounter is a marvel: standing at head level to the gangly creatures, zookeepers offer up lettuce leaves to the animals, just a hands distance away. After a few hours of animal adventures, we decided to check out Science Central, a hands-on Exploratorium housed in a former power plant.
You’ll notice the smokestacks from a mile away: painted red, yellow, orange, green and blue, they stand out against the industrial brick buildings. Science Central is full of hands-on exhibits addressing all facets of science: brim biological interests to physics, space exploration and chemistry, the tactile learning center has something for everyone. I was terrified when my daughter decided she wanted to fly down the 2-story slide in the middle of the building, but what a thrill!
Kuehnert Dairy Farm Festival
Located in the midst of rolling farmland, an obvious focus of the region is on the agricultural industry. It’s only fitting that the annual Kuehnert Dairy Farm Festival celebrates the abundance of such rich fields. The family-owned farm has a herd of award winning Holsteins, and every fall visitors file in to enjoy the festival. They bounce on the giant bounce pad, get lost in the corn maze (and corn pit), and enjoy a hayride. Above all, kids and adults alike will be fascinated by the milking machines.
In additional to all the activities, we enjoyed some fresh milk and gooey grilled cheese sandwiches before packing back into the car and heading back to Chicago.
Tired, happy and delighted, we all agreed, Indiana’s second largest city is full of family fun and adventures for all!
Fort Wayne Weekend Itinerary
Travel to Fort Wayne
It’s easy to arrive in Fort Wayne by car, train, bus or airplane. There are lots of available connections at the Fort Wayne International Airport.
Fort Wayne Hotels
- Hilton Fort Wayne, 1020 S Calhoun St, Fort Wayne, IN 46802 (centrally located downtown)
- Ramada Plaza Fort Wayne, 305 E Washington Center Rd, Fort Wayne, IN 46825 (easy access with a great indoor/outdoor pool)
What to Do in Fort Wayne
- Historic Fort Wayne
- Fort Wayne Outfitters, 1004 Cass St, Fort Wayne, IN 46808
- Fort Wayne Zoo, 3411 Sherman Blvd, Fort Wayne, IN 46808
- Keuhnert Dairy Farm, 6532 W Cook Rd, Fort Wayne, IN 46818
- Science Central, 1950 N Clinton St, Fort Wayne, IN 46805
Fort Wayne Restaurants
- Tolon, 614 Harrison St, Fort Wayne, IN 46802
- DeBrand Chocolate, 10105 Auburn Park Drive Fort Wayne, IN 46825
- Koto Japanese Steakhouse, 301 E Washington Center Rd, Fort Wayne, IN 46825
Photos by tylermallory.com