Have you heard of Fort Wayne, Indiana? It’s been on my Midwest bucket list for as long as I remember and this summer we finally had the chance to experience the city ourselves! Although it may be the second largest city in Indiana, we found it had a small town feel with a relaxed downtown area and totally budget-friendly. I have to say I’m very impressed and pleased with all the family-friendly things to do. Need more convincing? Here are reasons why you’ll want to visit Fort Wayne.
Disclosure: A big thanks to Visit Fort Wayne for providing a complimentary stay and attractions to experience all the city has to offer. I was not required to express a particular point of view. All opinions are my own. Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Get wild with the animals
We heard Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo was great, but we didn’t expect it to be one of the best zoos we’ve experienced! We hung out with kangaroos in Australia and saw sharks swimming in the reef. We watched monkeys swinging from tree to tree in Indonesia’s rain forest and saw tigers taking a nap. The kids were excited to walk through a mist in Africa and were awestruck to see a lion and lioness *this* close. This, along with experiences like riding a log down a creek or watching animals on a sky safari hundreds of feet in the air, made this such a fun and memorable zoo experience.
Tip: Plan to spend a half day here or if you’d like to avoid the crowds (and most of the heat) come during their twilight hours. During the summer, they open later with the last entrance at 7 p.m. We basically had the whole zoo to ourselves and virtually no lines for any of the rides. Absolutely loved it!
Hang out with plants + butterflies
When we were first greeted by the talking tree at Foellinger Freimann Botanical Conservatory, I knew we were going to have a good time here.
We strolled through the greenhouses with difference climates including the tropics (don’t miss the waterfall, koi fish, and the chocolate tree) as well as the desert. Along the way, we spied many different unique plants and flowers.
The kids favorite, by far, was hanging out with the butterflies in the showcase garden. I’ve never seen them wait so patiently for butterflies to land on them.Their patience did pay off and plenty of butterflies did come say hi.
Tip: Park at the Civic Center Parking lot and get it validated for free parking.
Get up close with art
While we may love visiting art museums, my husband and I get a little paranoid with our curious kids (and hands.) Luckily, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art is just the right size and has some pretty cool art on display which include photography, a trippy look into art formed by using glass and mirrors, and magnificent glass sculptures.
The best part for the kids, no doubt, was letting loose in their kids area. They could draw, read, or build using blocks. Such a cute and fun area!
As a fan of science museums, we couldn’t wait to explore Science Central. As a former power plant, I thought it was really cool to see the original power plant equipment painted in bright colors and displayed so guests could learn a little bit about how it worked.
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We bounced from station to station, played with robots in their temporary exhibit, learned about mastodons, built cars and bridges, and so much more! A truly fun learning experience for the whole family.
Little kids ages 2-7 can learn and have fun in Kids Central, an area with kid-friendly activities and a small playgroundl. SInce my daughter couldn’t go down the “big slide” she was happy to go down this smaller slide.
Tip: If kids need to use the potty, there is a kid-sized potty in this section. I don’t know about you, but my daughter is always more inclined to go if it’s for “kiddies.”
Explore on bike
With over 81 miles of trails, we wanted to explore more of Fort Wayne by bike, and we turned to the folks at Fort Wayne Outfitters to help us get ready for our bicycling adventure. After getting us all set up with a mountain bikes and trailer for the younger kids, they were also happy to point us in the right direction as well as provide maps for us. Despite the heat and humidity, we had a fun time exploring the Rivergreenway Trail along the river. We discovered the Old Fort, a reconstructed fort which is vital to Fort Wayne’s history.
We crossed the MLK bridge and immediately spotted the sprayground at Headwaters Park. The water was calling our name and it was the perfect excuse to rest and cool off.
Tip: Fort Wayne Outfitters offers other fun things to do like kayaking. We’ll definitely have to try it next time.
Hang with the gnomies
Breweries are quickly becoming our favorite hangout especially when it’s totally family-friendly. The Hoppy Gnome totally fit the bill! The brewery caters to their youngest customers, by giving lil’ gnomies fish tacos, flour tortillas full of Goldfish crackers! Totally a hit with the kids.
Food for adults is no joke. Try their twist on tacos with Korean short rib, duck confit, pulled pork, and steak. Everything we tried was awesome and my husband couldn’t stop raving about the asian tuna tartare, wonton chips topped with guacamole, soy, and sashimi tuna. Since they brew their own beer, you shouldn’t miss out on grabbing a few and IMO the flight is the best way to try it all! Everyone had a great time here and came out hoppy (get it?)
Tip: If possible, ask to sit by the window where you can watch the chefs cook.
Have a slice (or two!)
For grab and go pizza in downtown, 816 Pint and Slice was perfect for our family who don’t like waiting. The kids plowed through their cheese pizza slices and was so good that I had to get more. In the end, I probably should have just bought an entire pizza. I had their specialty slice – The Donna – which was seriously one of the best things I’ve tasted in awhile – creamy marina, basil, and tomato.
Tip: Afterwards, walk all those cheesy calories and hit up the murals. They have one a few located in the adjacent alley.
Get your art fix
Did I mention that I’m a fan of street murals? Fort Wayne’s art scene did NOT disappoint. Here’s a sneak peek of what we found.
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Enjoy a sweet treat
After pizza we were in the mood for dessert and we’ve heard Debrand Fine Chocolates is an iconic Fort Wayne institution that we couldn’t pass up. From simple flavors like milk chocolate to exotic flavors like rosemary, the hard part was trying to choose a sample piece. We each chose a sample piece of chocolate and everything was delicious.
Another great aspect of the downtown location is how romantic and cozy the store was. Perfect for sharing a gelato (made in their factory store), sipping on coffee, or indulging in any of their fine chocolates.
Tip: They have a few locations but if you really want the inside peek into how they make these fine chocolates then head to the Auburn Park location for a factory tour.
Follow the bunny…
…the Yummi Bunni, that is!
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One thing’s for sure — this is one hoppin’ place! You know we love our ice cream, but when it’s sandwiched between a glazed donut with toppings on it, it’s all the more special! The Yummi Bun is one special treat that you don’t want to miss.
Tip: It’s literally located next door to Coney Island or just a couple blocks from The Hoppy Gnome so it makes for the perfect dessert!
More to explore
We tried packing everything we could do in a few days but we still found that Fort Wayne has tons to offer! Other things to do include:
- Voted the “#1 Fan Experience in Minor League Sports,” a TinCaps baseball game in downtown Fort Wayne is a must! Plus, they have a splashpad! Watch this video here from Visit Fort Wayne.
- Find out why Fort Wayne it totally dog-friendly from Tanya of Raising Your Pets Naturally.
- Shop ’til you drop at the annual Vera Bradley Outlet Sale. What exactly is the Vera Bradley Outlet Sale? Connie from Midwest Wanderer can tell you all about it. Arm yourself with these helpful tips from Deb at Just Short of Crazy.
- Catch a ride on a Sweet Breeze tour to learn more about the three rivers of Fort Wayne aboard a replica canal boat.
- Learn about your roots at the Genealogy Center. Jody from Family Rambling gives you the scoop.
- Come August, they will be unveiling Promenade Park where families can enjoy the three rivers. Fun things to do include access to the three rivers, a treetop canopy trail, food, and more! We’re so excited and hope to visit again in the near future.
Where to Stay:
Located just outside downtown and across the Coliseum, this Holiday Inn was just perfect for our family. If you can’t stay downtown, this was a great alternative since everything was just a quick drive away. We stayed in a king suite and thought it was spacious enough for our family, though our kids thought the sofa sleeper’s mattress was uncomfortable.
The kids had fun splashing away at the pool (boasting one of the largest in Fort Wayne) and definitely welcome after a day of exploring in the insufferable heat.
If you dine at the hotel’s restaurant, Mastodon Grill, all kids eat free with paying adult. The kids loved their made-to-order pancakes and hot chocolate in the morning.
Tip: If available, try out their family suite, with a kitchen and bunk beds for the kids. How perfect, right?