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Indy, indeed, is easier on the pocket
By Jacky Runice | Family Travel
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Published: 4/26/2008 11:01 PM

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I've often wondered why Chicagoans and their suburban brethren would travel to a city such as Indianapolis for an urban getaway when they have Chicago at their feet. After spending a spring-break day with my son in downtown Chicago, my beloved native town, I went through money like celebutantes knock down vodka shots at a Las Vegas party.

Don't get me wrong -- I l-o-v-e my city, and you can't beat Wrigley Field, the Art Institute and Alinea, but add up admission prices, transportation and parking and it's costly to be a visitor in your own town. For a family trip to the big city, Indianapolis is looking pretty appealing these days.

The capital of Indiana is no cow town; it's the third-largest city in the Midwest and 13th-largest city in the U.S. with a population nearing 900,000. It's a very walkable city, with more than 200 restaurants and 50 attractions within walking distance of downtown hotels. You can park in one of the 55,000 downtown parking spots for as low as $3 per day and wave at the taxi cabs as they search for fares. Circle Centre Mall, in the heart of downtown, offers three hours of parking for $1.50.

Tell the kids that the Soldiers & Sailors Monument, in seven-block Indiana War Memorial Plaza Historic District, is only 15 feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty as you climb to the top for a panoramic view of the city (www.state.in.us/iwm). An elevator ride to the top costs just $1. The Indianapolis Museum of Art offers free admission and it's home to Picasso, van Gogh, Gauguin and the original three-ton "LOVE" sculpture by Robert Indiana, located outdoors amid 52 acres of trees and botanical gardens (do you sense a Kodak moment? www.imamuseum.org).

Other venues offering free admission include the National Art Museum of Sport, one of the largest collections of sport-related art in the nation, and the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, with exhibits ranging from sculpture to graffiti and video art.

The Indiana State Museum is a world-class facility in downtown's White River State Park with hands-on exhibits covering art, science and culture. Come by on the first Tuesday of the month and you'll pay half price for standard museum admission tickets and $2 off IMAX theater tickets. Learn more at www.indianamuseum.org.

Then, it's time to visit the largest children's museum on the planet: the Children's Museum of Indianapolis (www.childrenmuseum.org). Just a few of the attractions in the 400,000-square-foot space include a Victorian railway depot, complete with a 19th-century locomotive and tool car to ride; a planetarium; state-of-the-art dinosaur exhibit; an authentic Indianapolis 500 race car to climb in; a science center; and an antique carousel to ride. You could easily spend the whole day here.

Granted, it's not Wrigley Field, but younger kids will be happy just to cheer on the Indianapolis Indians at Victory Field, "The Best Minor League Ballpark in America" according to Baseball America. Older kids can try to spot the players who will move up to the majors. Only a half-mile from Monument Circle, Victory Field's tickets range from $8 to $13. Go to www.indyindians.com to read about Friday night fireworks, the Monday dollar menu and free giveaways.

A mile and a half from Indianapolis's Monument Circle, funky Fountain Square is a fun, retro neighborhood packed with independent restaurants, one-of-a-kind shops and two bowling alleys: Action Duckpin Bowl and the '50s-style Atomic Bowl Duckpin. The Fountain Diner, housed in what was once the luncheonette of an F.W. Woolworth store, serves up breakfast, cake doughnuts made fresh each day, big burgers and hand-dipped shakes and malts. Check it out, Daddio, at www.DiscoverFountainSquare.com.

Consider one of the family packages offered by many Indy hotels that include admission tickets to attractions.

For example, the Dinos & Dolphins Package at downtown's Crowne Plaza Hotel at Historic Union Station includes four tickets to the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, four tickets to the Indianapolis Zoo and a chance to see the new underwater dolphin dome, plus accommodations for $159 per night. You can book this via www.indy.org or by calling (800) 556-4639.

Among the White River State Park Packages with Courtyard by Marriott is a Lights, Legends and Lions package that includes admission to regular features at the IMAX Theater, NCAA Hall of Champions and Indianapolis Zoo and White River Gardens. Go to www.in.gov/whiteriver/packages for details.

Downtown Indianapolis is about a three-hour drive (about 183 miles) from Chicago. When I went to AAA's fuel cost calculator site (www.fuelcostcalculator.com/TripGasprice.aspx), I learned that, with my particular vehicle, gas would put me back $26.29 one way. Do the math and plan your big-city getaway at www.indy.org.