City life has its perks: the 3 a.m. Indian takeout, the often delayed yet functioning subway system, the jam-packed social calendar. Still, sometimes the crowds and traffic jams get on our nerves to the point where it might just be time to escape. If this is how you feel, a day trip or weekend getaway to a smaller town will be pure bliss.
If you’re in the Midwest and looking for day trips from Chicago, a great option is to travel to South Bend, a charming and bustling town just 90 miles southeast of the Windy City.
Even though South Bend is a smaller city, it combines the excitement of a college town with the charm of a tight knit community to create a truly unique destination. And there are tons of fun things to do in South Bend if you’re staying there for the weekend! The city is home to the University of Notre Dame, so there is no shortage of great restaurants, bars with cheap cocktails, and shopping spots in South Bend. The city offers lots of other activities, like local museums, and beautiful scenery along the river downtown. If you’re interested in art galleries, then you should stop by the South Bend Museum of Art, which features work from contemporary artists like Roger Brown and Ray Yoshida. Without a doubt, you’ll find plenty of South Bend points of interest worth exploring, from historical landmarks to hip restaurant spots.
If you’re interested in getting away and exploring this gem in northern Indiana, here are a few recommendations of fun things to do in South Bend. Whether you’re traveling alone or with family and friends. the city offers plenty of fun and affordable activities…
1. Visit the Notre Dame campus
Notre Dame is known not only for its high profile research courses, incredibly competitive sports teams and huge number of successful alumni, but for the beauty of its architecture and the history of its campus. Part of the campus was initially built in the mid-1800s and, by the end of the century, it had numerous building including many libraries, dormitory halls and chapels. In addition to the historical buildings, the university has plenty of green areas perfect for an afternoon walk or a morning jog. If you go during the summer, you will pretty much feel like you’re in your own private yard with most of the college students gone. The campus was named one of the most beautiful colleges in the United States by Travel + Leisure Magazine, so definitely stop by if you’re in South Bend and take a Notre Dame campus tour!
2. Visit the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame
If you are into architecture, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart will knock your socks off (even if you’ve been to Rome or Paris!). This historical church combines the neo-classical style typical of the 1800s with beautiful murals and more than one hundred stained glass windows, handmade with over one thousand individual panels. The decorations in the altar are made of bronze, and most of the art in the Basilica was brought from France and Italy when the church was built in 1888. Also, the bell tower stands at 218 feet and is the tallest one in the country. By all means, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart is a “must see” South Bend attraction.
3. Attend a Notre Dame football game
It’s time to check out the ‘Fighting Irish!’ While you might have to check the South Bend calendar of events and plan this day trip from Chicago a little while in advance in order to get tickets to a game, attending a University of Notre Dame football game is definitely an experience any sport fan would not want to miss. Notre Dame is a Division I school, which means they compete at the highest level in college sports, and its football team is one of the best in the country! Also, you can make a day of it by arriving at the stadium early to experience the whole game package: tailgating, beer, hot dogs, beer, face painting, more beer, etc. etc. etc. (Massive throwback to college days!)
4. Visit South Bend’s downtown
Just walking around downtown South Bend, you might stumble across some of the coolest activities in the city. The breathtaking view of the St. Joseph River, that stretches northeast of the city offers much more than sightseeing.
In the spring and summer, it is not uncommon to see adventurers rafting or kayaking on the East Race Waterway, the part of the river that borders the downtown area. The South Bend Parks and Recreation Department offers white water rafting and kayaking on the weekends for both experienced and beginner rafters. For those who aren’t scared of getting soaked under the Indiana sun, this is a great midday activity to consider. And for those not so into adventure, the walkway along the river stretches for five miles, so you can have a picnic while viewing the water sports or even just take a nap under a tree.
5. Go to a concert or play at the Morris Performing Art Center
The Morris Performing Arts Center in downtown South Bend is a state landmark. The theater was built at the beginning of the 1920s and is famous for hosting national touring Broadway shows like Mamma Mia and Book of Mormon, and top-notch singers and bands. Throughout the years, the South Bend events stage has welcomed legends such as Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, and most recently stars like B.B. King, Aerosmith and Bob Dylan. Also, each December the South Bend Dance Theater performs The Nutcracker at the Morris.
6. Eat, eat, and eat some more downtown
Like in most suburban towns, there are plenty of places to eat in South Bend. Some traditional eateries have become local institutions over time, and here is a selection of the best ones!
The South Bend Chocolate Cafe is probably the best example of a local business that has grown and evolved into a to-go spot for locals and visitors. The cafe is a branch of the South Bend Chocolate Company, a chocolatier that first opened in 1991. But don’t let the name fool you! The cafe, that now has five locations in town (the biggest and most famous one is downtown), offers much more than just truffles. The selection for breakfast includes muffins, bagels, sandwiches and many options for coffee, tea and other soft drinks; there are salads, soups and sandwiches for lunch and many desserts and sweet and savory threats, perfect for the mid-afternoon, like cheesecake, croissants and cakes. And of course, they have truffles too – and dark chocolate sea salt caramels, caramel pecan turtles, butter toffee, pecan clusters, fudge, chocolate-covered pretzels… I can’t even! Oh, and rumor has it their milkshakes are bomb!
LaSalle Grill is certainly another option to consider when dinning out in downtown South Bend, especially if you’re down for something a little fancy – or like me, obsessed with tapas-like small plates featuring fresh seafood and baked cheeses. The restaurant is perfect for a special dinner with friends or a romantic date. LaSalle is an award-winning restaurant (they frequently receive the Four Diamond Award and the Wine Spectator Magazine Award of Excellence) and their menu highlights a variety of original dishes with ethnic inspiration. From a raw bar to filet mignon, grilled lamb and braised duck, the menu of LaSalle will delight everyone, even palates trained to the highest standards (say New Yorkers, Chicagoans, Bostonians).
If you’re looking for something more casual, and perhaps beer-related, your best bet will be to visit Fiddler’s Hearth, an Irish pub that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and, of course, lots of Guinness and a great variety of beers on tap. Plus, they have live music pretty much every day and their chefs cook using locally-sourced products from different farms and artisans in Indiana. Some of their menu highlights are the steak and Guinness pie, the smoked salmon dip and breakfast buffet. Also, the cozy fireplace and the ever-so-Instagrammed graffiti wall make Fiddler’s Hearth a local favorite South Bend attraction.
As you can see, it’s not hard to find fun things to do in South Bend. Whether you are there to visit friends at Notre Dame, take your family on a day trip from Chicago, or to simply escape the city and explore a new place, South Bend will welcome you with a scenic river view, delicious food, top-notch entertainment and much much more.