“So I’m going to Fort Wayne this weekend,” I informed my husband over a spotty Skype connection as he sat 5,000 miles away in Russia.
“Remember, that place we went last year with the cool vintage shop… and the fort… and it was so cold we barely saw anything?”
He remembered. I remembered. We all remembered being so cold last year we could barely stand to hop out of the car for longer than a few seconds at a time.
I felt like Fort Wayne deserved a second chance – I mean, I barely saw it! – and when Visit Fort Wayne invited me up before winter set in, I jumped at the chance. So off I headed, just two hours north of Indy, and explored as much of Fort Wayne as I could in just one short weekend. Feel free to pick and choose from my guide to best suit your needs.
I woke up bright and early prepared for a long wander around downtown. Because of the Courtyard’s close proximity to the convention center, the streets were already bustling even on an early-ish Saturday. I loved it – such a nice contrast to the empty streets of my last visit!
My favorite bit, aside from the beautiful tropical section? Sitting on the bench outside so quietly I terrified a chipmunk brave enough to pop out of the bushes. Nature and city – who can beat that?
If you’re a human who – unlike me – requires breakfast, you can pop into the Empyrean Cafe at the front of the conservatory. I recommend relaxing in their outdoor seating with a latte and pastry as you plot your day.
Prices are super reasonable and you can even pick up a plant cultivated in the conservatory right alongside your morning meal!
After my morning of leisure, I chose to wander around downtown. It’s hard to miss/not appreciate the beauty of the Allen County Courthouse and its surrounding buildings. If you’re like me and want to know more about the city’s history you should definitely check out Architecture & Community Heritage‘s events page. I was lucky enough to go on a haunted tour of downtown Fort Wayne with ARCH and it was both informative and a lot of fun!
If you haven’t been to Fort Wayne yet, walk north up Spy Run Avenue over the river and visit the old fort. I visited the last time I was in Fort Wayne. There’s also several lovely parks that run along the river, perfect for fair-weather trips.
Saturday afternoon was an homage to all of the interesting, offbeat museums Fort Wayne has to offer. One of the coolest places I’d never heard of (nor had other people!) was the Karpeles Manuscript Museum (there are two in Fort Wayne, I visited 3039 Piqua Avenue).
Located across the USA in at-risk historic buildings, the Karpeles Museums disply some of the rarest documents and manuscripts in the world. (I saw the first printed map in the world!) Be sure to check out their website before you go as the exhibits rotate over the months.
Next, head further south of downtown and check out the Wunderkammer Company (free, 3402 Fairfield Avenue) – it’s impossible to miss the heavy graffiti across every wall. The organization has pledged to revitalize communities through contemporary with “exhibitions, educational programs, performances and special events that push boundaries, defy convention, spur conversations – and yes, sometimes court controversy.” It’s the space you wished you’d belonged to when you were a crusty, disaffected teen – very, very cool.
Head back downtown for a more traditional museum at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art ($8, 311 E Main Street). As I mentioned on my Instagram, I’m not a huge fan of the traditional museum so the FWMOA was a perfect bite-sized space which could be enjoyed but didn’t overwhelm.
If you get there in the next few days you’ll have a chance to enjoy the incredible Picasso and Léger exhibition they have on. (Is it terrible of me to say I loved all the Léger stuff far more than Picasso?) But no matter when you go, you’ll be treated to the sight of one of Chihuly’s famous glass sculptures as you walk inside – so cool!
After you’re done, I’d recommend grabbing lunch at The Hoppy Gnome ($$, 203 E Berry Street). For meat-eaters there are a ton of lovely options from their fresh-focused, scratch kitchen; for vegetarians like me, the pickings were limited but they do offer several vegetarian and vegan options which are quite delicious.
With a name like that the focus is definitely on the beer, but I actually opted for one of their (marvelous) cocktail options.
After you’ve taken a long lunch (or returned to the hotel for a quick nap – guilty!) see everything else downtown Fort Wayne has to offer!
I started the evening by wandering through the bustling City Exchange (127 West Wayne Street). Full of local businesses ranging from a cold-pressed organic juicery to hipster lifestyle heaven, the City Exchange is trying to bring back the habit of downtown shopping – something that’s fallen to the wayside in many smaller cities!
My favorite shop? The Narwhal and The Manatee, a personalized bath boutique with an emphasis on responsible luxury. I got one of their bath bombs ($8) which lasted for 3 luxurious baths! Lucky for you, they ship!
Next be sure to follow your nose across the street to DeBrand Fine Chocolates ($$, 878 Harrison Street), where you can pick up any number of decadent, gourmet treats!
Finish the night with an epic, locally-sourced meal at Tolon (614 Harrison Street). I really appreciated that – while small – the menu was varied enough to offer plenty of options for all diets. I tried a kale salad (something I never thought I’d say!) and several other dishes that really highlighted Tolon’s mission to show off elevated Midwestern cuisine.
Be sure to grab a seasonally-themed cocktail or two with your meal – they’re seriously good!
Finish your Fort Wayne adventure with a quick dose of caffeine followed by a leisurely stroll through nature so lovely it’s hard to believe you’re less than 20 minutes from downtown Fort Wayne!
Rev yourself up with a coffee from Fortezza Coffee (819 South Calhoun Street). Don’t be too intimidated by the swaths of Fort Wayne’s hippest – the coffee is great! Be sure to check out the cool street art just across the street before you hop into the car!
If you veer south (perfect for those going back to Indy), you’ll be able to stop by Fox Island County Park ($2, 7324 Yohne Road). With 605 total acres (and 270 designated as a state nature preserve), Fox Island offers seven miles of trails through a variety of habitats. As you may have guessed by the name, there’s a good possibility you can see hundreds of species – particularly if you go on a quiet morning.
Perhaps even better, follow Branstrator Road for some of the coolest farm/quarry/abandoned house views you absolutely wouldn’t expect so close to the city.
All in all, Fort Wayne totally exceeded my expectations on this trip. My lackluster first visit can definitely be attributed to the freezing cold weather.
Do I have you convinced? What would you most like to see from my 36 hour itinerary?