Is Elkhart, Indiana worth visiting? Unequivocally, my answer is YES!
In July 2022, six writers with the Midwest Travel Network visited Elkhart County on a trip hosted by the Elkhart County CVB. The writers met many of the friendly and creative makers who call the close-knit communities of Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury and Nappanee home, while experiencing the natural beauty, warm hospitality, and hand-crafted products that make Elkhart County special.
Here is one of the articles that Pam Howard of Indiana (Our Adventure is Everywhere) wrote of her experience.
About Elkhart, Indiana
Whether you are planning a trip to Northern Indiana, or just driving along the I-80 corridor, you’re bound to see signs for Elkhart, Indiana. Or maybe you live in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, or Ohio, and are looking for a fun day trip or weekend getaway. Are there plenty of things to do in Elkhart, Indiana? Should you consider Elkhart? Is Elkhart, Indiana worth visiting?
I want to thank the Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau for hosting my trip. All opinions, as always, are my own.
Where is Elkhart, Indiana located?
Elkhart, Indiana is located in Elkhart County in northern Indiana. It’s a little over two hours north of Indianapolis and about two hours from Chicago. It’s also just 2 miles south of the Michigan border.
Due to its location right off of I-80, it’s an easy stop for anyone heading east from Chicago.
What is Elkhart, Indiana famous for?
Known as the RV Capital of the World,” Elkhart is especially famous for the numerous RV makers in the region. Over 80 percent of the recreational vehicles manufactured in the world come out of Elkhart County. That’s a LOT of RVs!
What many people don’t know is that Elkhart is also famous for its musical instrument industry. In certain circles, it’s known as the Band Instrument Capital of the World.” At one point there were over 50 instrument manufacturers in the area.
Although that number has dwindled dramatically, there are still many experts as well as a few companies left that create high-quality instruments. So, for those in the know, Elkhart is still the place to go for musical instrument enthusiasts.
Elkhart’s third historically large industry was pharmaceuticals. Remember Alka-Seltzer? Flintstone’s vitamins? You can thank Franklin Miles who started Miles Medical Co. in Elkhart in the 1880s. This isn’t a big industry any longer in Elkhart, but the history and influence linger.
Are there Amish in Elkhart, Indiana?
Northern Indiana is well known for having one of the largest populations of Amish in the U.S. In fact, the area ranks third after Pennsylvania and Ohio.
So, of course, there are Amish in the Elkhart region. In fact, they are an integral part of the community providing much of the workforce for the RV industry. With a little exploration, you’ll also find many small shops that are Amish-owned selling beautifully hand-crafted items, food products, and more.
It’s not uncommon to see a horse and buggy while driving the country roads around the city, and you’ll definitely see the Amish shopping and working throughout the area.
What is made in Elkhart, Indiana?
RVs are still the main product made in Elkhart, Indiana, but one of the amazing things I discovered on my recent visit was how many artisans are in the area creating beautiful hand-crafted items.
If you enjoy shopping and purchasing one-of-a-kind, quality goods (baskets, beautiful furniture, woven items, quilts, etc.), you’ll find plenty of opportunities in Elkhart. In fact, shopping for hand-crafted items is one of the many interesting things to do in Elkhart Indiana.
As many of the Amish businesses are off the main road with just a small sign indicating their shop, stop at the Elkhart County Visitors Center for advice. It’s right off I-80/ I-90 at exit 92. Their knowledgeable folks can easily steer you to the type of shops you’d like to visit.
What are the top attractions to visit in Elkhart?
As a vibrant city of over 53K, you can find plenty of things to do in Elkhart, Indiana. Here are a few of the top attractions to visit:
Fun outdoor things to do in Elkhart, Indiana
Blessed with a full four seasons, northern Indiana is beautiful any time of the year, but late spring through early fall is prime time for outdoor activities in Elkhart. If you are looking for things to do in Elkhart, Indiana that are outdoors-based, start here:
Wellfield Botanic Gardens
A true “hidden gem,” once you walk through the entrance you’ll find an amazing oasis right in the heart of the city.
Follow the walkway into the gardens and discover dozens of lovely and unique gardens, peaceful spots (many with benches) to sit and reflect, educational information, and more!
A few favorites from my recent visit include the Island Garden and the Adventure Path. But truly, all of it is beautiful!
Wellfield Botanic Gardens offers free admission on Tuesdays for Elkhart County residents which is a nice perk for locals.
In addition to enjoying the gardens, every season there are numerous special events – many reasons to return and visit over and over. I know I’d like to come at Christmas and enjoy the Winter Wonderland Holiday Lights!
Elkhart’s Riverwalk and the downtown district
If exploring a thriving downtown is on your list of fun things to do when visiting a new spot (it’s on mine!), then you are in for a treat when visiting Elkhart.
Downtown Elkhart stretches several very walkable blocks and offers multiple boutiques, restaurants, an amazing hotel, cultural activities, and more.
A few highlights include the Riverwalk as well as the many murals, sculptures, and flowers galore. Every block has something interesting and unique to admire. And as an added bonus, it’s one of the many free things to do in Elkhart!
The Elkhart Riverwalk is a paved trail running along the river. With a local brewery located overlooking the trail (along with a sweet shop), it’s a great option for getting a little exercise, or sitting and enjoying the view.
Downtown also hosts multiple festivals and outdoor concerts during the warmer months – so almost every week you’ll discover something happening!
Cultural things to do in Elkhart, Indiana
For a fairly small city, Elkhart has more than its share of cultural activities. If you enjoy theatre, the arts, and museums, you’ll be in luck by visiting Elkhart, Indiana. There are plenty of things to do in Elkhart Indiana that relate to the arts!
The Lerner Theatre: Built in 1924, The Lerner Theatre opened in downtown Elkhart as THE place to enjoy a show. Unfortunately, after a few years, it was sold to Warner Brothers and then later became the Elco movie theater. It was often known as the “dark and dirty” theater in Elkhart during that time period.
Luckily, after years of sitting empty (but not demolished), Elkhart decided to restore The Lerner to its former glory and reopen it. The work was done over several years and finally completed in 2011.
Today, The Lerner is a cornerstone of the revitalization of downtown Elkhart. National shows regularly make The Lerner part of their tours. In addition to the 1,741-seat theater, on the second floor is the lovely Crystal Ballroom – a perfect place for conferences, weddings, and other events.
Insider tip: The Lerner is home to a 1924 Kimble Organ which has been restored and is in use today! If you take a tour be sure to ask where it is housed.
The lower floor of The Lerner is home to Premier Arts, a community theater with multiple productions each year, classes in singing, dancing, and acting, and an opportunity for the youth and locals to get involved in and learn to love performing arts.
If you are looking for some family things to do in Elkhart, Indiana, watching one of the youth productions would be fantastic!
Even if you can’t catch a show while you are in town, you can enjoy a backstage tour of The Lerner by calling the box office to arrange it. Tours are led by volunteer docents and last about an hour to an hour and a half. If you love history and theater, definitely add this to your visit!
Midwest Museum of American Art: Just catty-corner from The Lerner is the Midwest Museum of American Art. The museum is located in a renovated bank building (they even kept the old vault doors!).
The permanent collection contains over 6,000 works of art, but the museum only displays around 1,200 at a time so that even frequent visitors can always enjoy something new. The museum is one of only 20 American Art museums in the country.
A few of the highlights of the museum include an impressive hand-signed collection of Norman Rockwell collotypes and lithographs (they own 68 in total), several pieces of Overbeck pottery, and an original Grant Wood.
With a mix of always-changing exhibitions and numerous community events, as well as lectures from locals and visiting artists, it’s truly an Indiana treasure for any art lover!
Ruthmere: Do you love to tour historically restored homes? Me too, and Ruthmere is a terrific one to add to your list of things to do in Elkhart Indiana.
Originally the home of Albert and Elizabeth Beardsley, Ruthmere is now a lovingly restored 1910 Beaux Arts home. The furnishings are a unique mix of various styles that the Beardsleys admired and some of the rooms are quite over the top – which is really fun to see!
Not only is the house a showcase in itself (gorgeous woodwork, beautiful grounds, etc.), but it also houses multiple pieces of art such as several Tiffany art glass pieces and Rodin bronzes.
Something I really appreciated about the museum (aside from its beauty and attention to detail) is the wide variety of special events held. You can enjoy everything from piano concerts in the basement (often with famous musicians) to Coffee on the Piazza on Saturday mornings in the summer. The list of events is on the website - so be sure to check it out to find plenty of unique fun things to do when you visit!
A unique experience in Elkhart
If you are at all curious about how an RV is manufactured, or just enjoy peeking into RVs, then a stop at the RV/MH Hall of Fame needs to be added to your agenda of things to do in Elkhart Indiana.
This museum houses dozens of motorhomes from different manufacturers as well as time periods. It’s fascinating to see how the styles have changed, and the improvements made from the earliest versions.
I especially enjoyed the RVs I could actually walk into (and there were many!) – it was fun to imagine them in their heyday.
Insider tip: Well-behaved pets that are controlled (leash, harness, stroller) are allowed in the museum. Great benefit for folks who travel with their pets!
Shopping in Elkhart, Indiana
If you love to shop, you’ll enjoy the wide variety of places to indulge in your habit when visiting Elkhart, Indiana.
Downtown Elkhart is home to quite a few unique boutiques scattered along the main streets. Parking is easy to find, so leave your car behind and stroll the streets to see what new treasures you can discover!
If you look, you’ll also find many small artisans working out of their homes and storefronts, so leave yourself a little time to explore the backroads.
Restaurants in Elkhart, Indiana
With all these fun things to do in Elkhart Indiana, you are sure to work up an appetite. Luckily, there are plenty of Elkhart Indiana restaurants to choose from. A few favorites include:
Coffee shops/ Breakfast
I always like to start my day with a good cup of coffee and downtown Elkhart boasts two excellent options! Grab a coffee and delicious homemade pastry at The Relish Cafe, located inside the Hotel Elkhart. The baked goods are made fresh throughout the day, although you could also sit down and order from the menu if you prefer.
I can personally attest to the delicious Americano – it kept me going during my very busy days exploring Elkhart County!
Another fun option downtown is The Electric Brew. It is THE local coffee shop in the region. The downtown location has a cute little section with outdoor seating perfect for sipping on your latte and enjoying the start of a fun day of sightseeing!
Lunch and dinner restaurants in Elkhart
There is no shortage of amazing food in Elkhart when lunch or dinner rolls around. If you are staying at the Hotel Elkhart (or maybe seeing a show at The Lerner), definitely grab a bite to eat at The Corner Bar.
If the weather is nice, the outside seating makes for ideal people-watching. Plus, since it’s just across the street from The Lerner, you can check out all the concert goers - especially if it’s a fun show where the audience dresses up. The food is delicious with a nice variety - something for everyone!
For a true foodie experience, enjoy dinner at Artisan. This chef-driven restaurant uses fresh ingredients prepared exceptionally well. It’s pricey, but you’ll get to enjoy a memorable meal.
If you like elevated bar food in a fun setting, grab a table overlooking the river at Brass Elk Brewing and enjoy some tasty brews and good food.
Where to stay in Elkhart
It’s easy to find the perfect place for everyone to stay when visiting Elkhart.
My top choice for a place to stay in Elkhart is hands down Hotel Elkhart. Not only is it in the ideal location for exploring Elkhart, but it’s also absolutely gorgeous.
As a boutique hotel (part of the Hilton Tapestry collection), the amenities and personal attention to detail are top-notch. The Elkhart Hotel is located across the street from both The Lerner and The Midwest Museum of American Art in a lovingly restored historic hotel.
The rooms are spacious and thoughtfully decorated and you’ll get to enjoy real coffee (no Keurig here!) and amazingly comfortable beds. Free parking is located right behind the hotel - which is a nice benefit for such an upscale, downtown location.
You really can’t go wrong with a stay at this gem!
👉 Book your stay at the Hotel Elkhart today!
Chain hotels along I-80/ I-90 Indiana East-West Toll Road
If a chain hotel is more your speed (or maybe you don’t plan on spending much time at your hotel), there are a variety of hotels off the toll road.
Close to the Elkhart toll road exit, and just 4 miles from downtown Elkhart you can find almost any hotel brand you desire. Many of them offer free breakfast and often have a swimming pool, so one of these might be a better option if you have kids. Something to consider.
👉 Ready to book your stay in Elkhart? Find the right hotel in Elkhart Indiana here!
Is Elkhart, Indiana worth visiting?
Unequivocally, my answer is YES! Whether you like fine dining, upscale accommodations and cultural activities, or outdoor activities, and local beer (or all of the above like me), you’ll find plenty of things to do in Elkhart Indiana!