Best Indy 500 Weekend: 15 Things to Do in Indianapolis

Best Indy 500 Weekend: 15 Things to Do in Indianapolis

Memorial Day Weekend in Indianapolis offers tons of things to do when you're not at the Indy 500.

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Photo: Jonathan Ferrey (Getty Images)

The Indianapolis 500 may be the pinnacle of American open-wheel racing, but if you’re making the trip, you might want to experience a little more of what Indianapolis has to offer — especially since the event’s nonstandard format leaves plenty of free time between on-track activities. If you need a little something else to keep you occupied, we’ve got you covered.

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Find Your Favorite Driver’s Street Sign

Find Your Favorite Driver’s Street Sign

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Illustration: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Each year, different streets in downtown Indianapolis are temporarily renamed after all 33 drivers that will take the green flag on race day. If you’re an avid race fan, it can be a lot of fun to wander the streets and pose with your favorite driver’s sign.

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Check out the 500 Festival

Check out the 500 Festival

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Photo: Robert Laberge (Getty Images)

The 500 Festival is an organization that hosts tons of different events around Indianapolis inspired by the Indy 500. You can nab tickets to Breakfast at the Brickyard or line up to watch Saturday’s driver parade — both of which I highly recommend.

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The Last Row Party

The Last Row Party

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Photo: Michael Hickey (Getty Images)

Hosted by the Indianapolis Press Club Foundation, the Last Row Party is a way to celebrate — and roast — the drivers that make up the final and 11th row of the Indy 500 starting grid. These are the drivers that were just quick enough to make it into the show but who were still much slower than the pole sitter. The event takes place every year on the Thursday before the race; tickets are $75, but you get to eat tons of food (the buffet is excellent) and drink wine in the Pagoda. Worth it? Absolutely.

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Autographs, Autographs, Autographs

Autographs, Autographs, Autographs

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Photo: Richard Rodriguez (Getty Images)

If you’re keen on a driver autograph, it can be tough to get at the Indy 500. That said, on the Saturday of the race weekend, you can get to the track early to line up for the full-field autograph session — a name that’s a little misleading, since the field of drivers is split into their starting rows, and you have to select a row to nab autographs from those three drivers. I’ve been able to hit two or three rows in the past, but the session is only an hour, so you have to strategize! Start off in what you think will be the longest line (i.e. the row with the most popular drivers) and then hit up some of the shorter lines after. This session runs from 9 to 10 a.m. local time.

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Go to the Zoo

Go to the Zoo

Yes, this is me going nuts about the touch pool
Yes, this is me going nuts about the touch pool
Photo: Aleks Lynne

I love many things in this world, but there is no better weekend for me than visiting a zoo and then going to watch a race — and the Indianapolis Zoo is one of the finest I’ve ever seen. I make a point of going every year if I can, despite the fact that I am a grown adult.

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Have a Drink

Have a Drink

A cider and mead flight at New Day
A cider and mead flight at New Day
Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

If you’re of legal drinking age and wish to partake in some local brews, Indianapolis has an incredibly fun beer scene. I could go on and on about it for days, but my personal favorites are Metazoa (a dog-friendly bar), Daredevil Brewing Co., and Rad Brewing Co. (formerly Flat12). If you want a nice brew and a hot meal in Speedway after the race, check out Big Woods.

If beer isn’t your style, then I highly recommend New Day, a cidery/meadery with an incredible selection of drinks. I go every year to stock up on strawberry rhubarb mead... and usually end up bringing it to the race as my alcoholic beverage of choice.

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Never Stop Eating

Never Stop Eating

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

The first time I went to Indianapolis, I can’t say I was exactly expecting much of a food scene — but I was pleasantly proven wrong. Whether you’re keen on a fancy brunch at Café Patachou, hungry for a massive amount of cheap donuts from Long’s, or ready for fried chicken at The Eagle, you really can’t go wrong. Just be warned that hotspots like St. Elmo’s will be busy all weekend, so it’s best to make reservations for more popular places.

(And not to continue going on about Big Woods in Speedway, but their macaroni and cheese is literally worth driving across the country for. Trust me. I’ve done it.)

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is a gorgeous collection of 500 history that I recommend for any racing fan. Every time I go, I find some new tidbit that sends me off on a research spiral when I get home.

Pro tip: You’re definitely going to have a better time at the IMS Museum at any time that is not Indy 500 weekend (and if you go in the dead of winter, you can take advantage of discounted merchandise), but if you’re a history buff, it’s worth braving the crowd.

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Tour Speedway, IN

Tour Speedway, IN

Speedway, Indiana is technically the home of the Indy 500, and it’s a cute little town that plays host to Sarah Fisher’s karting facility, Ed Carpenter Racing’s shop, Dallara’s factory, and A. J. Foyt’s wine shop. Local residents also go all-out decorating their homes and yards for the race weekend; if you want to pass some time near the track, Speedway is the place to be.

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Children’s Museum

Children’s Museum

You don’t have to be a child to enjoy the Indianapolis Children’s Museum — you just need to access your inner child. During the month of May, there are always tons of racing displays.

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Indianapolis Cultural Trail

Indianapolis Cultural Trail

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail is an eight-mile long walking and biking path in downtown Indianapolis featuring different gardens, bridges, and more. I’ve tried to walk the length of it multiple times and have always failed, largely because you’re inevitably going to get distracted by a restaurant, bar, or other attraction.

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Visit Broad Ripple

Visit Broad Ripple

Just a little sample of the goodies you can buy in Broad Ripple
Just a little sample of the goodies you can buy in Broad Ripple
Screenshot: The Shop

Broad Ripple is a neighborhood just six miles from downtown Indianapolis, and it is gorgeous. If you’re a fan of boutique shopping, gastropub fare, and indie vibes, you’re going to love Broad Ripple. It’s one of the few places where I was able to find vegan food when I was of the vegan persuasion. I got tattooed in Broad Ripple. It’s also the home of The Shop, which sells tons of unique IndyCar merchandise.

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Eagle Creek Park

Eagle Creek Park

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Screenshot: Eagle Creek Park

Eagle Creek Park is the only place on this list that I haven’t visited, but I’ve wanted to for one specific reason: The Go Ape Treetop Adventure, where you can indulge in zip lines, rope crossings, swings, ladders, and more. I cannot imagine having any more fun than crawling around in the trees.

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Walk the Monon Trail

Walk the Monon Trail

The Monon Trail is a former railway line that has been converted into a walking and biking path in the Indianapolis area. It’s a whopping 26 miles long if you’re looking to check out the whole thing — but even just a short jaunt down the shade-lined path can be nice.

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Watch Some Other Sports or Something

Watch Some Other Sports or Something

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Photo: Bobby Ellis (Getty Images)

I hear that there are other sports that happen in Indianapolis, maybe with balls? I don’t know much about that, but you can probably find a stadium to tour or a game to see.

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