A fun family roadtrip through Southern Indiana with stops at Santa Claus, French Lick, and Bloomington.

Our family loves our road trips  (like our road trip to Florida last year) so when planning this year’s road trip we decided to keep it somewhat close. Inspired by my article for Chicago Parent Magazine, we decided to take a road trip through Southern Indiana with stops at Santa Claus, French Lick, and Bloomington. What a great time! We told Santa our wishlists for Christmas, visited a theme park (and ate all the food), visited the “8th wonder of the world” while playing a game of chess, gave the sweetest elephant a bath, learned about Tibetan culture, and so much more! We had such wonderful memories visiting the Hoosier State! Here are some highlights of our Southern Indiana road trip.

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Pit Stop: Lafayette, West Lafayette area

A family fun roadtrip through Southern Indiana with stops at Santa Claus, French Lick, Bloomington and Indianapolis.

In order to keep the kids happy (and to keep us parents sane) we always break up the trip with a stop. For this trip, the Lafayette, West Lafayette area, home of Purdue University was about halfway in between. We stopped by the area on our last trip and decided to visit again this time with a stop in Dayton at Trish’s Red Bird Cafe. We felt right at home here! Must tries include the BBQ pork nachos, cinnamon rolls, and beignets. Stay tuned for all the yummy goodness!

Stop 1: Santa Claus, Indiana

A family fun roadtrip through Southern Indiana with stops at Santa Claus, French Lick, Bloomington and Indianapolis.

The spirit of St. Nick is alive and well in the small town of Santa Claus, Indiana. Tons of family fun to be experienced in this small corner of southern Indiana.

Things to Do:

A family fun roadtrip through Southern Indiana with stops at Santa Claus, French Lick, Bloomington and Indianapolis.

  • Ride any of the holiday-themed rides at Holiday World. From mild to wild rides, there is something for everyone. For foodies, they have Dole Whip. (Enough said.)
  • Splash away at the Splashin’ Safari adjacent to Holiday World. Again choose from mild to wild rides.
  • Say hi to Santa (and take a pic) at The Christmas Store where he’s happy to listen to your wish lists. Afterward, scope out their selection of ornaments. Ask about getting it personalized for free.
  • Take a scenic ride through the private woods and trail on horseback at Santa’s Stables. Those under 5, can spend one on one time with Foxy the Pony.
  • Learn about the history of the town at Santa Claus Museum, then write Santa a letter. When December hits, Santa will write a response.
  • Play arcade games at Frosty’s Fun Center, then treat yourself to ice cream afterward.
  • Imagine yourself as a young Abraham Lincoln strolling through the forests and Living History Farm as you explore the Lincoln National Boyhood Memorial.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt trying to find Santa’s lost reindeer. Along the way, you’ll visit all the top Santa Claus businesses and score some great discounts. If you complete the challenge, you’ll receive a free photo with Santa!
  • Check out all the toys at Santa Claus Toys.

Where to eat: 

  • Do what everyone in town does — get a frozen hot chocolate at Santa’s Candy Castle.
  • Sip on wine at the family-friendly Monkey Hollow Winery.
  • Make your own food. Grab the necessities (hello s’mores!) at Holiday Foods, the town’s main grocery store.

Where to Stay:

A family fun roadtrip through Southern Indiana with stops at Santa Claus, French Lick, Bloomington and Indianapolis.

Lake Rudolph Resort & Campground

Our amazing trip to Santa Claus was highlighted with a stay at Lake Rudolph Campground. Lake Rudolph has you covered with different options for different types of campers from tent and RV sites, as well as a variety of cabins. We absolutely loved our Christmas Cabin which was roomy, clean and comfortable. We spent our time at the campground exploring the campground on a golf cart and enjoying the peace and quiet on our oversized porch. Here are other reasons why you’ll have the best stay at Lake Rudolph Campground and RV Resort.

RELATED: Read the family guide to enjoying a “Christmas” in July vacation in Santa Claus, Indiana on Chicago Parent.

Check out why you’ll love Holiday World at Santa Claus Indiana. Hint: Free sunscreen and drinks!

Why you'll LOVE Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana

Stop 2: French Lick, Indiana

 

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We adored this resort community steeped in history. Plus, it happens to be Larry Birdy’s hometown!

Things to Do:

A family fun roadtrip through Southern Indiana with stops at Santa Claus, French Lick, Bloomington and Indianapolis.

  • Admire the beautiful atrium at West Baden Springs Hotel, considered to be the 8th wonder of the world.
  • Take the historic train trolley between French Lick Springs Hotel and West Baden Springs Hotel.
  • Enjoy a once in a lifetime experience of pampering an elephant with a spa and see other cool animals like kangaroos at Wilstem Ranch. They even offer cabins to stay.
  • Go bowling at the retro style bowling alley at the French Lick Springs Hotel.
  • Take surrey bike ride and explore the French Lick Resort property. It’s a lot harder than it looks.
  • Try foot golf, a combination of soccer and golf at The Valley Links Course.
  • Explore the beautiful Patoka Lake on a pontoon boat. You can even rent a pontoon with slide!

Where to eat:

A family fun roadtrip through Southern Indiana with stops at Santa Claus, French Lick, Bloomington and Indianapolis.

  • Sip many of great wines at Patoka Lake Winery.
  • Eat yummy BBQ at Pub N’ Grub.
  • You are in Larry Bird’s hometown so you’ll appreciate the tribute to him at 33 Brick Street.
  • Get amazing homemade ice cream at French Licks and enjoy it while playing games. Make sure to peruse the amazing wood carvings by Bear Hollow Wood Carvers.

Where to stay:

A family fun roadtrip through Southern Indiana with stops at Santa Claus, French Lick, Bloomington and Indianapolis.

French Lick Resort

We had so much fun exploring both hotels at this historic luxury resort. From swimming to bowling to eating ice cream on the porch, this resort offers tons for families to do.

RELATED: Read all about our the family fun things to do in French Lick, Indiana.

Stop 3: Bloomington, Indiana

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This college town may be home to Indiana University, but also offers tons of family-friendly things to do as well as a chance to learn about the Tibetan culture.

Things to Do:

A family fun roadtrip through Southern Indiana with stops at Santa Claus, French Lick, Bloomington and Indianapolis.

  • Take a serene walk strolling through the grounds of the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center.
  • Walk through the iconic sample gates through Indiana University and through the woods and ponder how beautiful their campus is.
  • Lie on a bed of nails or climb the two-story Grapevine climber at Wonder Lab Museum.

Where to eat:

A family fun roadtrip through Southern Indiana with stops at Santa Claus, French Lick, Bloomington and Indianapolis.

  • Mother Bear’s has been a Bloomington institution dishing out pizzas for all. We enjoyed our deep dish (more like Detroit style) and fall in love with their special sauce!
  • Ice cream, you all scream for ice cream – especially if it’s from Hartzell’s. Such unique delicious flavors (including some with booze!)
  • Have a Tibetan feast at Anyetsang’s Little Tibet, one of the only Tibetan restaurants you’ll find around the Midwest. If it’s good enough for the Dalai Lama it’s good enough for you.
  • Find your favorite donut at Rainbow Bakery, then be surprised that they were all vegan! Must try the lavender lemonade.

Where to stay: 

A family fun roadtrip through Southern Indiana with stops at Santa Claus, French Lick, Bloomington and Indianapolis.

Fourwinds Lakeside Inn & Marina

We only had the pleasure of staying one night and immediately wished we had more time to explore.  The main highlight of this hotel is that it’s located right next to Monroe Lake. We loved waking up and walking out to our extra large balcony and then looking out the window to see the boats docked and the beauty of the lake. 

Stop 4: Indianapolis, Indiana

As we were making our way back to Chicago, we stopped by one of our favorite cities – Indianapolis. Our itinerary was pretty simple – enjoy the largest children’s museum in the world!

Things to Do:

 

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  • Hang out at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and enjoy their outside area dedicated to sports. Cool off inside and be amazed at the treasures found in their new exhibit Ancient Treasures of Greece.
  • Learn all about the Hoosier State at the Indiana State Museum.

Where to eat:

A family fun roadtrip through Southern Indiana with stops at Santa Claus, French Lick, Bloomington and Indianapolis.

  • Children’s Museum of Indianapolis cafeteria where we enjoyed Greek food such as gyros and baklava.
  • Since we are obsessed with poke we had some at Ali’i Poke.
  • There are tons of option to eat in Indy. Here are a few from our past visits. 

Where to stay:

A family fun roadtrip through Southern Indiana with stops at Santa Claus, French Lick, Bloomington and Indianapolis.

JW Marriott Indianapolis

We absolutely love this downtown hotel with its fantastic location right by the baseball stadium, museums, and canal. Even the standard rooms are pretty spacious! We loved the state-of-the-art fitness center, one of the best we’ve seen, and the pool is always a hit with the kids.