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Dig for a dinosaur. Pretend to be an earthworm. Stand in a butterfly garden. Send a Morse code message. Or run a bulldozer. If kids created a place where they could do cool stuff like this, it might look like the Indianapolis Children's Museum -- the world's largest of its kind.
At this rather unusual exhibition, you won't see the customary "don't touch" signs or watchful guards. Here, kids are encouraged to put their hands on everything. And there are zillions of ways to do that in seven zones for playing and learning. Among the most popular:
While the children are busy, take a quick tour of the museum's outstanding artifact collection. A mastodon skeleton, a Chinese lion mask, a classic electric guitar, a Native American beaded bag, a full-sized polar bear, and a wire sculpture made by a child in Zaire are just some of the 105,000 objects collected since the museum opened in 1925 (not all artifacts are exhibited at once).
Exhibits are always changing, so check the Web site before you go. Tip: Arrive early or late on weekends -- the museum reaches its peak around noon. And on cold or rainy days, stay home. The crowds can become very large.
The Children's Museum isn't the only place in Indianapolis where kids can explore with their hands and feet. The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art is another great spot, especially for fourth graders. Here, exhibits are arranged by tribe rather than artifacts, giving kids a better understanding of how Native Americans lived.
Indiana takes its sports seriously. So seriously that Purdue University has a National Art Museum of Sport, and downtown has the NCAA Hall of Champions, with exhibits dedicated to college athletes. There's also the RCA Dome, currently home to the Indianapolis Colts and a host of conventioneers. Here are some other shrines to sports that are accessible and popular with visitors:
In Indy, everything's flat -- not a great selling point for tourism. But the city has capitalized on it, with 45 miles of biking and walking trails -- most of which have been created in the past five years. Ultimately, these pathways will connect 57 parks in and around town. Walk them or rent a bike downtown in White River State Park, and explore Indy's green side.
Type of trip: Educational, sports
Best ages: 5 to 11
Distance: Cincinnati (110 miles); Louisville, KY (114 miles); Chicago (180 miles)
Ideal trip length: Full weekend
Time to go: Summer. Indiana winters stretch on forever (no wonder everyone stays inside and watches basketball).
Weather: 73 F to 90+ highs in summer; much cooler (mid 60s in May and September)
The Children's Museum of Indianapolis 300 N. Meridian St. Phone: 317-334-3322
Eiteljorg Museum 500 W. Washington St. Phone: 317-636-9378
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum 4790 W. 16th St. Phone: 317-484-6784
Conseco Fieldhouse One Conseco Ct., 125 South Pennsylvania St. Phone: 317-917-2500 Note: Tours available 3 days a week; must be scheduled in advance.
The Monon Trail and Central Canal Towpath Indiana Greenways Phone: 317-327-7431
Eagle Creek Park 7840 West 56th St. Phone: 317-327-PARK
White River State Park Washington St. between White River Parkway and West St. Phone (bicycle rentals): 317-767-5072
Favorite local spot: Le Peep's Four locations, including downtown Phone: 317-237-3447 Expect: A casual breakfast spot where they do wild things with eggs.
Best souvenir: A replica of a winning Indy 500 car or a lapel pin for Dad from his favorite NASCAR event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum shop, a Native American dream catcher from the award-winning Eiteljorg Museum shop to take bad dreams away, or a talking globe that answers geography questions from the Indianapolis Children's Museum gift shop.
Reviewed May 2004.
Kids might be bored by the 30-minute drive from downtown Indy to Conner Prairie, an open-air museum. But they'll like taking part in this recreated pioneer village. Besides peering into Native American wigwams (or tepees) in the Lenape Camp, they can learn about the early fur trade at McKinnen's Trading Post, a log cabin. In another section called Prairietown, you can wander through an actual pioneer inn, weaver's cottage, woodworker's shop, blacksmith shop, and more, while the Pioneer Adventure area lets kids dip candles, wash clothes on a washboard, and process flax. The grand William and Elizabeth Conner Home is open for touring.
Conner Prairie Living History Museum 13400 Allisonville Rd., Fishers Phone: 317-776-6000