By most definitions, the towns in Hendricks County, Indiana, would be considered suburbs of Indianapolis.
They’re right next to the state’s largest city, and the Indianapolis Airport is on the county’s borders. But to use the word “suburbs” invites a specific connotation, one filled with strip malls and commuter towns that have no personalities in their own right.
When it comes to Hendricks County, that’s simply not true.
I went to high school in Carmel, on the north side of Indianapolis, and spent a great deal of my twenties in the state’s capital before moving to Chicago, yet I’d never been to Danville, Plainfield, Clayton, or Brownsburg, all towns within Hendricks County. It’s a classic case of missing what’s in your own backyard.
Now I know better, and I’ve visited this area a few times.
My introduction began in 2017. A group of travel writers, including me, was invited by Visit Hendricks County, a Destination Marketing Organization whose purpose is to promote tourism to the area. Their job is to showcase what’s best about their county, and ours was a jam-packed exploration of these towns over a span of 48 hours.
I returned in 2018 to attend the World’s Biggest Drag Race at Lucas Oil Stadium, and again in 2019 to lead a writing workshop in conjunction with Visit Hendricks County and Midwest Travel Network.
With each visit, I discover more reasons to return. Hop on, and I’ll show you how to be a Local Tourist in Hendricks County.
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An In-Depth Look at Hendricks County, Indiana
Hendricks County Basics
Hendricks County is in Central Indiana directly west of Indianapolis. Three major U.S. Highways (I-65, I-70, and I-74) and the Indianapolis airport provide easy access to the communities.
By the numbers
- Founded: 1824
- Incorporated: 1951 (population 2,000)
- Population: 145,448 (2010 Census)
- Size: 408.78 square miles
- Carnegie Libraries: 1
- Apple Cannons: who cares how many. There are apple cannons!
- Average Temperature: low of 18 °F (−8 °C) in January to a high of 86 °F (30 °C) in July
- Average Precipitation: 2.41 inches (61 mm) in February to 4.42 inches (112 mm) in July
Places to Stay in Hendricks County
I’ve stayed at both Staybridge Suites and Natural Valley Ranch twice, and I recommend them both, but for different reasons and different styles of travel.
Staybridge Suites in Plainfield will always have a soft spot in my heart. Why?
On my first stay, Jennifer Smith, Director of Sales for the hotel and President of the Hendricks County Tourism Commission made the most adorable cupcakes. Each one was designed to represent our group’s activities. There were pumpkins and a scarecrow. There was one with cakes and a whisk and a cookbook. And there was my personal favorite:
Those cupcakes were a one-time deal, but they’re not the only reason to choose Staybridge Suites while visiting Hendricks County. There are actually several reasons.
For one, the rooms are spacious; they are “suites,” after all, equipped with kitchenettes and separate seating areas. They all have a stovetop, microwave, dishwasher, and refrigerator, and some have a counter with seating.
TLTip: If you’re flying in or out of Indianapolis Airport, Staybridge Suites offers a free shuttle for guests.
On my first visit I’d picked up provisions at the store, but it turned out I didn’t need them. On certain nights they offer a complimentary buffet for guests. The selection changes depending on the evening; that night they had a salad bar and meatball sandwiches, and during my second stay I had grilled chicken.
The biggest surprise at Staybridge is that they also offer self-serve beer taps and bottles of wine. Check in, get your dinner, pour a couple of glasses, and eat in the large dining area or take your bounty back to the room to dine in comfort.
Breakfast is also included, so depending on what day of the week you’re staying, your accommodations could include two meals and drinks.
Natural Valley Ranch
I’m a sucker for cabins, and Natural Valley Ranch had me at Howdy.
This isn’t some rough-hewn drafty cabin with no amenities and outdoor plumbing. Natural Valley Ranch is a six-bedroom, five-and-a-half bath deluxe accommodation in the woods. It’s a 3,100 square foot rural palace, with a chef’s kitchen, a whirlpool tub and walk-in shower in the master suite, and a wrap-around porch with oodles of outdoor seating, all situated on a 3-acre lake.
It was the perfect place for our group of explorers during my first visit to Hendricks County. We took advantage of the glorious porch, enjoying some tasty brews from Brew Link Brewing as a bonfire provided the perfect scent of fall. We could’ve walked down the slight incline toward the lake to make ‘smores and warm our toes, but the scent of the bonfire, set up just before our arrival, was enough to complete the atmosphere.
Things to do in Hendricks County
If you’re in Hendricks County in the fall, you’re in luck. That’s prime time for visiting Beasley’s Orchard, a family-owned farm that’s been sharing its bounty since 1946. You can pick-your-own apples and pumpkins, and picking up some of their award-winning apple cider is a must. The Barn Market, located along with the cidery inside a post-Civil War peg-and-beam barn, is a cornucopia of local produce and locally produced goods.
A highlight of a visit to Beasley’s Orchard is taking a hayride around the sprawling property, but as fun as that was for this Indiana gal, even that was surpassed by the apple cannon. Yep. They’ve got bins of apples that didn’t make the cut for the cider or the Barn Market and you can SHOOT THEM OUT OF A CANNON.
When to visit Beasley’s Orchard: Fall is obviously a fantastic time, but you can almost go there year-round. (They’re hoping to make that possible soon.) During the winter they celebrate Christmas at the Orchard, and in summer there’s strawberry picking.
Tour Downtown Danville
When your lunch consists of fried chicken with bacon glaze, it’s a good idea to go for a stroll, so stroll we did. Unlike a lot of smaller towns, Danville’s downtown is no ghost town. There were several boutiques on the square, and I was thrilled to find Arcane Coffee Co. around the corner. Owner Dudley Foreman was in and gave us a sample of his cold brew. This is not a coffee shop. There are no fancy foamy drinks. Just really, really good fresh roasted coffee.
With that pep in our step we toured the courthouse. Inside, we marveled at the flag hanging from the stained glass dome. Outside, the building was surrounded by scarecrows. Every year Danville runs a contest and turns the lawn of the government building into a creative and charming welcome.
My favorite part of downtown Danville was, of course, the Carnegie Library, one of 1,679 libraries built through the philanthropist’s largesse. A couple of additions have been added to the original and it houses the Danville Center Township Public Library.
As we browsed we came across a tour that was learning all about the library’s past, so be sure to see if one’s available when you visit.
Hendricks County Historical Museum
If you’re a history buff, like I am, then you’ll adore the Hendricks County Historical Museum. It’s in the old Sheriff’s Residence – and jail – and is stuffed with remnants from the area’s yesteryear. Even the building itself is historical, since it’s the only surviving example of the Second Empire style of architecture in the county.
The rooms are decorated in various periods and you can see what it was like to live during those times. They do a great job of recreating the environment, which is fantastic – unless you’re in the jail. That is an experience that, shall we say, I was glad to escape from!
Hot Blown Glass
After doing some serious damage to that tenderloin and my arteries, we trundled off to Hot Blown Glass to try our hands at glass blowing with artist Lisa Pelo.
Go ahead – insert “full of hot air” joke here. I can take it. It’s not like I’ve never heard it before…
There’s very little actual blowing when you work with glass. We had the opportunity to try it for ourselves, and each of us was individually walked through a process that involved dipping a metal shaft into the furnace to extract the molten glass, then spinning, turning, and molding until we had something we could display on our coffee tables at home. Both Lisa and her assistant and fellow artist, Clayton, were patient – especially when I grabbed so much glass I could barely heave the thing from one piece of equipment to the next.
As we waited our turns, we could browse through her gallery of completed art work. There were gorgeous flowers and pumpkins and vases and much more. Lisa’s been doing this for quite some time, and you can see both her skill and her artistry.
If you’re interested in trying your hand, Lisa offers classes, and they’re amazingly affordable.
Who North America
Our next stop was guaranteed to make Dr. Who fans lose their minds. It was Who North America, the only retail store for Whovians in the U.S.
Before Keith Bradbury and his wife began selling Dr. Who merchandise state-side, the only way you could get it was to cross the ocean. Now you can get your very own Adipose plushie, Assault Dalek, or 11th Doctor figurine. And no collection would be complete without a TARDIS bobblehead. Just keep those weeping angels away from me.
While you can order these items online, visiting Who North America is a must for any true fan. It’s impressive to see, in-person, the sheer quantity of items available. There’s even a museum so you can get a glimpse of what was available before the Bradburys turned their love of the series into their own Who-dom.
Where to eat in Hendricks County
The food in Hendricks County – oh, the food! Tenderloins. Pie. Barbecue. Bread. My advice for visiting? Pack your stretchy pants.
Two things: 1) I’m from Indiana. 2) I love road trips. Put those together and they add up to a pre-destined love of the All-American Diner. Naturally, that meant I loved Oasis Diner.
You can’t get much more All-American than Oasis. It’s on the National Road, for Pete’s sake, and it’s the only diner in Indiana that can claim that distinction. Plus, they serve a breaded tenderloin that’s bigger than my head and just buried in gravy. Sigh. It was love at the first sight of that lovely neon sign.
If it weren’t for the Town of Plainfield, Oasis Diner might have been a lost love. The building had made the 10 Most Endangered Indiana Building list in 2010, but the community rallied, the diner was moved to a better location, and it’s been serving handcrafted sodas and all-day breakfast ever since.
Shooting apples out of cannons is hunger-inducing, so it’s a good thing our next stop was at Mayberry Cafe. Yes, this cafe is all about that mythical land of Aunt Bee, Andy Griffith, Opie, Barney, and Gomer. It’s located right on the square in downtown Danville and you can’t miss it – Sheriff Andy’s car is parked out front, just waiting for you to take a picture. Inside there are wall-to-wall memorabilia and television screens broadcast episodes from the series.
The menu is an homage to Aunt Bee’s legendary cooking. It’s all homemade, and they specialize in down-home comfort food, just like you’d expect. You can’t go wrong with Andy’s Tenderloin or Aunt Bee’s Fried Chicken with bacon glaze. Just be sure to clean your plate, or they’ll issue you a ticket before you leave.
The Bread Basket
First off, this restaurant’s in a bungalow. I’ve never had a bad meal in a restaurant that’s in a bungalow. Second, the first thing you see when you walk in is a glass case filled with cakes and pies and other assorted pastries.
Basically, they had me at hello.
Then, not only did they serve a delicious dinner made with seasonal ingredients, they followed it up with a pie-making demonstration and some Q&A.
Brew Link Brewing
Brew Link Brewing takes Midwestern grains, farm fresh hops, and a whole lot of crazy and crafts some darn fine beers. Nuttercup is a chocolate peanut butter porter. Pretty Pretty Awkward Milkshake is, believe it or not, an IPA that’s been brewed with oats and lactose and finished with orange and vanilla. The Ivory White Stout is a stout, which everyone knows is a dark beer, and they’ve made it light. I tried these, and somehow they’ve made them all delicious.
After tasting my first question was “do you distribute in Chicago?!” Sadly, they don’t. Not yet, anyway. Looks like I’ll just have to make another trip to Hendricks County!