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 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 Raceway, 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.
- Founded: 1824
- Named for: Indiana Governor William Hendricks (1822 – 1825)
- Population: 145,448 (2010 Census)
- Size: 408.78 square miles
- Carnegie Libraries: 3. What are they now?
- Danville Public Library
- Hendricks County Solid Waste Management District, Brownsburg
- Triangle Fraternity, Plainfield
- 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
Due to its proximity to the airport, there are several places to stay in Hendricks County. However, there are two that I’ve stayed at twice each and can personally, highly recommend, 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.
The cabin is a 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 and chatting about our adventures.
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.
Because Natural Valley Ranch is remote, spacious, and comfortable, I was thrilled when I was asked to host the 2019 Midwest Travel Network Writer’s Workshop and I learned the cabin would be the headquarters. I knew the location would be perfect, and it was.
We spent the first night in the living room getting to know each other, and I learned what they hoped to get out of the experience. The next morning after a breakfast of bagels and fruit we spread out at the large dining table.
Once it warmed up enough, we went outside to the porch. The change in scenery helped shake things loose, and the many nooks and crannies throughout the cabin provided places where they could write their exercises with relative privacy.
This combination of space and intimacy was the ideal environment for the workshop, and I highly recommend Natural Valley Ranch for any small retreat.
I will confess that my recommendation may be slightly biased because, not only are the cabin and lake everything you’d want in a rural retreat, they also have horses, and I love horses like a writer loves unabridged dictionaries (the big bulky kind that will only fit in the bottom bookshelf).
We took a 30-minute trail ride, and I’m proud to say that I didn’t squee! once (out loud), although I did grin like a Cheshire cat with a stocking full of catnip.
They’ve also got goats, miniature horses, farm cats, and Hank, a free-roaming potbellied pig.
Learn more about horseback riding at Natural Valley Ranch from a former volunteer who loves horses as much (or more) than I do.
Next time you want to get together with a group of friends or family, book the cabin at Natural Valley Ranch. And tell Hank I said hi.
Now that you know where to stay in Hendricks County, what’s there to do?
Things to do in Hendricks County
One of the perceived challenges of promoting a destination like Hendricks County is that there isn’t “one big thing.” It doesn’t have a Brown County State Park or a major university like Lafayette or Bloomington.
What it does have is a lot – and I do mean a lot – of unique small businesses. Individually, they provide intimate experiences. Collectively, this community of creative people becomes that one big thing.
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 in Danville 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. Seriously. If I go to Hendricks County without my husband and don’t bring back Beasley’s apple cider, I might as well not come home.
The Barn Market, located along with the cidery inside a post-Civil War peg-and-beam barn, offers more than apples. It’s a cornucopia of local produce and locally produced goods. (Get the pickles.)
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.
Fall is obviously a fantastic time to visit Beasley’s Orchard, 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 and sunflowers.
Go to Beasley’s Orchard, pick a pumpkin, and BRING ME SOME CIDER.
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.
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.
That coffee put some pep in our step and it was time to tour the courthouse. Inside, we looked up to see a giant American flag hanging from the stunning stained-glass dome.
Outside, the building was surrounded by scarecrows. Every fall 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
In recent years, I’ve learned that an intimate way to experience a place is to try a hands-on activity. One of my favorites has been a class at Hot Blown Glass, where I got to try my hand 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. Lisa walked us through a process that involved dipping a metal shaft into the furnace to extract the molten glass, coating it in color, and then spinning, turning, and molding until we had something we could display 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 artwork. 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.
The Tie-Dye Lab
Terri Fisher is not obsessed with tie-dye. You’d think that would be a requirement for someone who owns a DIY tie-dye shop, but not this biologist. In fact, she said she’d never even thought about it.
So, how did she and her husband come to own The Tie-Dyey Lab? Family friends asked if the couple wanted to go in on this business idea, and the couple said: “OK!”
For someone who had no urgent desire to open a place dedicated to creating multi-colored fabric items, Terri put in the work. For a year she experimented in her garage until she perfected the process that allows customers to come into their store, create their own wearable works of art, and walk out with them in about an hour.
“I’m still perfecting,” she said.
I, too, have never been obsessed with tie-dye, but after making a t-shirt for my husband, I realized I could become addicted.
First, you choose what you’re going to make: shirt, hat, apron, tapestry, pillow-case; if it’s fabric, you can probably turn it into something colorful.
Then you choose the colors. There are charts on the wall that offer suggestions, as well as warnings that you might end up with a different color than you’d expect depending on the combination.
Next, you pick your pattern. There are different techniques based on whether you want a sunburst or lines.
Once you have your material, your colors, and your pattern, it’s time to glove up. Your station will be equipped with rubber bands and bottles of paint.
Tip: You’ll use WAY more paint than you think you’ll need, and Terri (or whoever is helping you) will urge you to keep going; add more. No more than that. Yes. More. Almost. Can you see white? More.
After you’ve painted, your creation will be whisked away and “baked” in the microwave. This helps set the colors in the fabric.
The final in-store step is to rinse. And rinse. And rinse. It takes a while for the water to run clear with all of that paint that’s been squirted into the fabric.
Then, you’re handed a bag with a special detergent and instructions. After you’ve washed your item a couple of times at home, it’s ready to wear or display.
The Fishers are looking at expanding, and if they bring one to McHenry County, Illinois, I’ll be a frequent customer. Until then, I’ll have to return to Hendricks County. (Oh darn.)
The Tie Dye Lab is located at 8100 E Highway 36, Avon, IN
Avon Gardens is a land of faeries and love. What started as a means to feed an addiction to growing things is now a gorgeous oasis.
Karen Robbins, the plantaholic genius behind the gardens, turned her need for green into a sprawling, beautiful, 5-acre display garden.
It’s a popular spot for weddings; more than 120 couples say their “I dos” each year, which is remarkable considering the short season the gardens are available.
They’re also a spot on Hendricks County’s Fairy Trail. Every week visitors come to the gardens looking for fairies. The mythical creatures have their own cottage, and people can create their own fairy gardens at home.
A walk through the gardens makes it obvious why this is such a popular place for weddings. Every turn reveals something new and enchanting. As you stroll, you’re sure to find something magical for your own home.
Who North America
This stop is guaranteed to make Dr. Who fans lose their minds: it’s 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.
Red Curb Improv Comedy
The art of improv comedy astounds me. It seems like magic, with its rapid-fire responses pulled out of thin air to create audible glee. I know there are techniques. I know there are classes. But it still seems mystical. I envy the quick thinking and the ability to take an idea some stranger throws at you and morph it into something funny.
Hendricks County recently got its own improv theater, courtesy of Will Pfaffenberger. Known as Smiley of The Smiley Morning Show on 99.5 WZPL, Will got his start at Comedy Sportz in Indianapolis.
Inside, Red Curb Improv Comedy is a big open space with black walls covered in signatures. Guests are invited to leave their “I was here” with silver Sharpies, and even though Red Curb had only been open a short time when I visited, it was still a challenge to find an open spot.
There are improv shows every Saturday at 7:30 and 10pm, and the earlier performance is kid-friendly. Check their calendar for occasional stand-up comedians.
Red Curb also hosts workshops so you, too, can learn how to be more improvisational. It’s not just for aspiring performers; these classes can help anyone who talks to people (so, basically everyone).
If you like laughing, at all, go to Red Curb.
With all of that activity, you’ve probably worked up an appetite. Good. Because now it’s time to eat your way through Hendricks County, and you’re gonna need your stretchy pants.
Where to eat in Hendricks County
The food in Hendricks County – oh, the food! Tenderloins. Fried chicken. Pie. Barbecue. Bread. Yum.
It was love at the first sight of that lovely neon sign.
I’m from Indiana and I love road trips. Put those together and they add up to a pre-destined love of the All-American Diner.
Naturally, that means I love Oasis Diner, because you can’t get much more All-American than this colorful piece of history. It’s on the National Road, for Pete’s sake, and it’s the only diner in Indiana that can claim that distinction.
Inside, one wall is decorated with license plates from around the country. Another, with lunch boxes. The old metallic kind that started to rust by the third or fourth hand-me-down.
Plus, they serve a breaded tenderloin that’s bigger than my head and just buried in gravy. (My arteries still haven’t forgiven me, but I DON’T CARE.)
On a return visit, I had the tenderloin on a bun with tater tots and coleslaw. In a state that prides itself on its pork tenderloins (there’s even a Tenderloin Lovers Trail), this is one of, if not THE, best.
This treasure almost went the way of the Edsel, and if it weren’t for the Town of Plainfield, Oasis Diner would 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.
Welcome to Mayberry Cafe, a cafe that’s all about the 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 (also on the Tenderloin Lovers Trail) 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.
Bread Basket Cafe and Bakery
I feel good just walking into Bread Basket Cafe and Bakery. It’s not just because it’s in a bungalow, and I’ve never had a bad meal in a restaurant that’s in a bungalow. It’s also not only because I’m immediately greeted with a glass case filled with cakes and pies and other assorted pastries.
It’s those, and it’s also because everyone is so gosh-darn nice.
The smile you see above is standard uniform. Judy Sexton and her daughter, Jinayla Bollman, run the show with beaming, happy faces. This is the kind of place you go to when you’re in a bad mood and come out in a good one.
The family-owned business buys local produce, eggs, coffee, tea, and whatever else they can find nearby. From their chicken salad, which is an old recipe of Judy’s, to their French silk pie that’s so rich it’s almost fudge, I’ve loved everything I’ve eaten of theirs.
Two personal favorites are the cinnamon roll French toast (OMG) and the ham and swiss sandwich. The latter is spread with apricot preserves and has forever changed how I think a ham sandwich should be.
When you visit, I sincerely hope you’re not gluten-free, because their bread is some of the best I’ve ever had.
Speaking of bread…if you like dipping warm bread in a flavorful sauce, then you need to visit Charbonos in Avon. Their dipping oil is spicy and so good that they sell it by the bottle.
The restaurant is part of Cunningham Restaurant Group, which also owns Boulder Creek Dining Company in Brownsburg and Bru Burger Bar in Indianapolis, among others. Charbonos is a Tuscan steakhouse, with woodfired pizzas, several pastas, and a nice selection of seafood.
I went with the steak frites, which was served with polenta fries instead of the traditional shoestring.
Topped with garlic butter and a touch of pesto, the steak was tender and flavorful.
The star, though, even for this carnivore, was the bread.
On the way out I noticed a sign that means I’ll return even if I didn’t want to stuff that loaf in my purse. There’s a fountain as you enter the dining room, and the sign announced that any coins tossed into it are given to Sheltering Wings, a local organization that provides a safe haven for women and children affected by domestic violence.
Good job, Charbonos. Good job.
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 all of those, ahem, interesting combinations, 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! (Are you seeing a theme?)
Rusted Silo Southern BBQ & Brewhouse
Rusted Silo is destination-worthy, pull off I-74, go out of your way barbecue. Opened by husband-and-wife team Rob and Tina Ecker in 2018, this shack by the tracks is everything you want in a barbecue joint.
There’s a wall of beer as soon as you enter the building, which is made of reclaimed barn wood. Past that and the cash register is a contraption that’s been dubbed the Ferris wheel of meat.
As the name implies, it keeps those ribs and briskets rotating so they cook slowly and evenly. One look and I wished I could do a blind taste test with Chicago’s South Side aquarium smokers. After trying some of Rob’s brisket, sausages, and pulled pork I knew that if I had, the one sure winner would be me.
I skipped the beer because I had a long drive ahead of me, but it didn’t hurt to look. There were over a hundred, most of them brewed in the Midwest.
But the thing that got to me was the pecan pie. I took one bite and said, “That’s my grandmas’ pie.” Nobody makes pie like my grandmas did.
Groan-worthy smoked meats, a brewmaster’s idea of a beer cooler, and pie that makes me cry. Rusted Silo Southern BBQ & Brewhouse is the trifecta of barbecue joints.
Read more about Rusted Silo and why it’s destination-worthy.
I know there’s more to do in Hendricks County. I haven’t eaten everywhere; I haven’t done everything. But I have done enough to know that this is a special place, and it’s a destination I want to visit again, and again, and again. I hope you’ll want to visit, too! When (not if) you do, please leave a comment and let me know!