Entrepreneur Orville Redenbacher made Valparaiso synonymous with popcorn, but a variety of attractions make spring the perfect time for visitors to “pop” in.
Valpo – as locals call it – is a bustling college town with a thriving downtown and a population of just over 30,000. Located near Lake Michigan’s south shore and Chicago, it’s an attractive vacation destination.
“Our residents take pride in the city. They’re always looking for ways to make it better, and that shows in our downtown business sector. The best way to experience it is to take a walk down the street,” says Kurt Gillins of Valparaiso’s Chamber of Commerce.
The Great Outdoors
Get a breath of fresh air and snap a picture with Valparaiso’s most famous resident at Central Park Plaza, where a statue of Redenbacher is seated on a bench. Other features of the park, which is nestled among unique shops, include an amphitheater and splash pad.
Along with outdoor adventures, there are even more family-fun options. Inman’s Bowling and Recreation Center celebrates 77 years this year. It’s the city’s longtime destination for bowling, billiards, roller-skating, video games, paddle soakers and more.
Zao Island is another popular family-fun place, featuring mini golf, go-karts, bumper cars, laser tag and mazes, batting cages and more.
For big-screen fun with a nostalgic setting, the 49er Drive-In Theatre is an award-winning location. Named one of the top 10 drive-ins by USA Today, it’s a popular warm-weather setting. “People come from all around. There’s never a night it’s not busy,” Gillins says.
Taltree Arboretum offers a variety of bird trails and gardens. In addition to rose, native plant and children’s adventure gardens, its railway garden shows how steam engines affected American history and topography. The garden comes to life each April as the staff creates multiple train loops with water features and miniature conifers.
A Bit of Culture
The Chicago Street Theatre and Memorial Opera House, built in 1893 to honor Civil War veterans, are two community-based entertainment venues. Both offer plays, musicals, concerts and a variety of other shows, as well as theater classes.
Valparaiso University’s Brauer Museum of Art has paintings by renowned artists Georgia O’Keefe, Frank Dudley and more. “It’s a hidden gem,” Gillins says.
Those attractions are enough to make visitors work up an appetite, and Valparaiso has many dining options.
“Downtown boasts at least 10 locally owned fine-dining restaurants,” Gillins says.
Ethnic cuisine is prominently represented, from Japanese restaurant Furin to Mexican eatery Casa del Mar. Restaurante don Quijote offers traditional Spanish fare, while Sage is a chic, casual Italian café. For a taste of the South, try Fork and Cork. And for modern American cuisine, there’s Main + Lincoln.
Another unique theme is found at the Industrial Revolution Eatery and Grille, near the university campus. With industrial art, a model train and “How It’s Made” on its TV screens, the atmosphere and menu – from burgers to pot roast – are testaments to American ingenuity.
Tony’s Place is Valpo’s landmark pizza restaurant, established in 1955 and still a popular choice. Diners can purchase and take home jars of its bottled marinara.
Sip a Cold One
Adult-beverage connoisseurs can find a cold drink to suit their tastes at several microbreweries and wineries. As its name reflects, Four Fathers Brewing honors both American founders and the main beer ingredients – water, hops, malt and yeast. Other breweries to try include Ironwood and Figure Eight.
Aftermath Cidery and Winery donates a portion of its earnings toward helping people affected by natural disasters, while Misbeehavin’ Meads specializes in fermented honey drinks. Anderson Vineyard and Winery is located on Valpo’s periphery.
For information about things to do in Valparaiso, call the chamber at 219-462-1105 or visit its website, valpochamber.org.