When looking for a quick getaway, you might not consider leaving the capital for one of Indiana’s smaller metros. But just two hours northeast of the Circle City, Fort Wayne hosts attractions like a nationally recognized zoo and a flourishing arts community. Here’s a roundup of five ways you can enjoy a summer day in the state’s second-largest city.
Fort Wayne TinCaps
The first thing you notice when you walk through the gates of Parkview Field is the aroma of fries that slams your senses. But when you go to buy some of your own during a lull in the third inning, you might find it difficult to choose between the four main concession stands and the 20-plus other food carts and bars available at the single-A TinCaps’s stadium. After you settle on a vegetarian black bean burger or a custom-made burrito, you’ll inevitably be tempted instead by the huge cone of hand-dipped ice cream melting onto the hands of the kid in the front row.
Since Parkview Field opened in 2009, it has become a popular weekend destination for all ages in Fort Wayne, from children who just want to meet Johnny Tincap to young couples looking for casual dates with great photo ops. Get a group together and watch the action from the luxury of an air-conditioned suite, or bring a blanket and sprawl out picnic-style in the outfield lawn, just $5. But if you go for the lawn, start moving toward the infield seats during the last inning to make sure you have a clear view of the fireworks show, launched directly from the field after nearly every game this season.
Until then, don’t miss the Bad Apple Dancers and occasional visits from Jake the Diamond Dog between innings. The 21-and-over crowd can also look forward to bourbon and wine tastings coming up this summer, or stick to the $1 beer on Thirsty Thursdays every week.
Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo
The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo got its start as a small nature preserve in 1952. Now considered one of the 10 best zoos in the country, it’s home to around 1,000 animals. Despite new additions every summer (a Canadian lynx and some Tasmanian devil brothers make their entrance this year), frequent visitors still memorize the same old corny jokes of Croakie the frog and look forward to a spin on the Z.O.&O. Railroad, now wheelchair accessible.
The park’s geographically themed areas include the African Journey, where you’ll see zebra herds and big cats like the African lion. Beware of sticking your fingers through the savannah fence, or you just might suffer an ostrich bite. It’s best to save your excitement for the giraffe exhibit, where their blue tongues can grab chunks of lettuce from your hand. Petting is still off-limits, though, so resist the urge.
Other areas include the misty Indonesian Rainforest, an indoor dome where you’ll meet 3-year-old orangutan Asmara and try to spot the free-range birds that have mastered hiding from view. The Australian Adventure features the zoo’s newest renovations, while the Central Zoo is home to all the classics. You’ll want to pack light for the long walks, but don’t forget sunscreen. Or you could brave a rainy day, as the animals are usually more active in cool weather.
Coney Island & Yummi Bunni
Nearly anyone who grew up in Fort Wayne has some nostalgia for the steamed buns and glass-bottled Cokes of the Coney Island Wiener Stand. In a cramped storefront downtown, where you’re lucky to find a seat during lunch time, this no-nonsense hot dog joint never seems to change. You can almost always expect an out-the-door line before squeezing past the carryout section to choose your seat. Some tables line the far wall, but aim to sit at the counter. From there, you’ll be able to spot the long spatulas where cooks hastily prepare 10 coneys at a time, complete with mustard, sauce, and chopped onions. Your order of three squeezed onto a tiny white plate might look messy, but flavor trumps presentation here. After you finish the last bite, don’t take too long studying the family photos and gift-shop signs that cover the wall behind the bar—someone else is eager to fill your seat!
Remember to save room for dessert. The Yummi Bunni that opened next door a few years ago has made coneys and ice cream a go-to combo. Catering to the severe sweet tooth, this shop specializes in a sandwich of enticingly flavored ice cream scoops layered between slices of glazed doughnut. Crunchy toppings include all your favorite sugary cereals (Fruity Pebbles and Cap’n Crunch are popular choices), along with classic rainbow sprinkles and chocolate chips. Follow Yummi Bunni’s Instagram for updates on their tempting “Bun of the Week” creations and more information about a second location opening in Indy’s Fountain Square this summer.
Explore the rivers
Fort Wayne is still developing the banks of the three rivers that converge downtown, but you can already enjoy the water. Prepare for sore triceps if you bring or rent a kayak to paddle along the mild current, but the area feels like an out-of-place refuge. It’s often quiet enough to spot a great blue heron even as you glimpse tall buildings and city life through the trees. Those wanting a more easily accessible river experience might enjoy the variety of themed boat tours, and land-dwellers can walk or bike along the 25-mile Rivergreenway.
Three Rivers Festival arts activities
During the first weekend of the nine-day Three Rivers Festival, nearly 300 artists gather to beautify a canvas that will disappear come Monday morning rush hour. Chalk Walk, hosted by the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, divides Main Street into 8-by-8-foot squares for participants to fill with vibrant images of chalk and temporary paint. Reservations begin three months in advance, and this year’s spots are all sold out, but you can still go watch as chalk-covered artists try to hide from the burning sun and shield their knees from the pavement. Some participants work through the night so their work is on display (and not under car tires) for as long as possible, but others push the pastels well into Sunday afternoon. An insider tip if you want to join next year: A few layers of hair spray help your masterpiece survive at least a little longer! Just down the street in Freimann Square the same weekend, you can also peruse and purchase some more lasting creations at Art in the Park.