This piece is part of a series of articles submitted to The Local Tourist through a cooperation with a 400-level travel writing class at Purdue University.
By Leighton Huber
I’ve always loved road trips. My family started making the 20-hour drive to Florida every year when we were super little, and I’ve craved being in the car ever since. While I love long drives, I have to say the short trip from my college in West Lafayette to my hometown in northern Indiana makes me giddy. It’s one of my favorite things, especially in the fall.
I was born and raised in Valparaiso. Meaning “The Vale of Paradise,” it is the home of Valparaiso University and Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn kingdom, neighbor to the towns on the shores of Lake Michigan, and located a short drive from the great city of Chicago. It’s a great day trip from the Windy City.
There are things in Valparaiso I crave when I return. From great downtown dining and breweries, to parks, orchards, and gardens… this itinerary is what I recommend for a fall day in Northwest Indiana.
Do you love road trips, too? Check out this list of road trip essentials.
Best Things to do in Valparaiso Indiana
Rise and Shine at Uptown Café
My favorite place to start the day is Uptown Café. It’s the type of place where no matter when you go, you are bound to run into someone you know. It is the only place where I can walk in and they already know my order.
I’ve known the owner, Shannon Rogers, since I was young. I remember when she started the café back in 2013.
Her reasoning for opening it was that she was a local who wanted to create a café that welcomes the community. Her goal was to do this through good fellowship, great food, and even better coffee.
To help create that sense of community, Shannon showcases local artists on the café’s walls. The food is tasty: my favorites are fresh Mediterranean toast and smoked salmon bagels.
They also offer a large selection of coffee, tea, and smoothies. As a self-proclaimed chai latte connoisseur, I have to say theirs is one of the best.
Uptown Café is located at 1400 East Lincolnway, uptownnwi.com
Hike at Indiana Dunes National Park and State Park
Indiana Dunes National Park and State Park is my happy place.
After grabbing a coffee or breakfast, head north 15-20 minutes to go hiking at Indiana Dunes National Park and State Park. The parks are known for their big beaches and hiking trails.
One great way to spend the morning there is going for a hike on one of the 15 trails offered. They range from easy to moderate to rugged, but each one provides a unique view of the Dunes or Lake Michigan.
My favorite trail is in the state park, and it is Trail 8 into Trail 4. It takes you to two of the highest points on the shoreline: Mt. Holden (elevation 184 feet) and Mt. Tom (elevation 194 feet). At the top of the hill are breathtaking views.
If hiking isn’t your thing, you can also have a great time on the beach. I like to take a blanket or hammock out there and spend time with friends just relaxing and catching up on life.
The best part of having the Dunes next door is the opportunity to catch the best sunrise or sunset in Northwest Indiana. It is one of the things I miss most when I’m not at home.
The sun sets right over Lake Michigan and above the Chicago skyline, which on a clear day, is visible from our side of the lake. The best areas to see it are at the beachfront of the Dunes State Park or Lake View Beach in Beverly Shores just west of Michigan City.
Explore Parks and Gardens in Valparaiso
If you’re looking for something more like a morning stroll, there are a multitude of parks and gardens in Valparaiso that are gorgeous on any given day, but especially in the fall.
One of my favorites is Rogers Lakewood. It offers disc golfing, kayaking, and hiking paths. The large lake in the center of the park, surrounded by trees, is a beautiful spot for picnics, hammocking, and picture taking.
Another beautiful park is Ogden Gardens. It is a botanical garden located near downtown Valparaiso. Its Japanese garden, trails and bridges, and large array of flowers make it a popular spot for engagements and wedding ceremonies.
The white gazebo at the front of the garden is a sight well-known to Valparaiso natives and is the perfect spot to enjoy the changing fall leaves.
Lunch at La Cabaña Mexican Restaurant
Every great town has an even greater local Mexican restaurant. Valparaiso is lucky because we have almost too many to count!
My favorite is La Cabaña Mexican Restaurant. Located in downtown Valparaiso, La Cabaña is an authentic Mexican restaurant with a diverse menu, delicious and fresh food, and the BEST margaritas you’ll taste.
If you want somewhere that is going to leave you full and satisfied, which who doesn’t, it’s a perfect spot for lunch.
I love to sit outside on their patio and watch all the traffic go by that’s heading downtown. In the early fall, the crisp air reminds me of eating outside in Florida after the sun goes down and the night air is a perfect 70 degrees.
La Cabaña Mexican Restaurant is located at 807 E Lincolnway, Valparaiso, IN, lacabanarestaurants.com
Afternoon Apple Picking at County Line Orchard
The gem of Autumn in Northwest Indiana is located just outside Valparaiso. County Line Orchard attracts thousands of visitors every year. It has become a yearly tradition for many Northwest Indiana residents, including myself, so much so that it is typically just referred to as The Apple Orchard; no further explanation necessary.
The orchard is known for, of course, its apple-picking. It is the closest U-pick orchard to Chicago, impacting a much larger group of people than just its immediate surroundings.
To pick the apples, tractors will take you throughout the scenic fields, where you can choose from over 25 types of apples.
Along with apples, the orchard also has fields of sunflowers that you can stroll through or buy until late September. In October, they switch gears and fill the orchard with bright, orange pumpkins, available for pictures and purchase.
Additionally, they have honey bees on the property, which you can go see at work and try some of their honey products after. There are tons of family events to keep everyone entertained.
Love apple orchards and pumpkin patches? Check out Beasley’s Orchard in Hendricks County, Indiana
Probably the most important thing at County Line Orchard to us locals is the donuts. Pumpkin and Apple Cinnamon donuts.
I ran into a friend there recently who told me: “Yeah, we just came here for the donuts and pictures. We knew the pumpkin donuts would sell out, so we got here early. Now we’re leaving.”
It’s that serious.
They are made right there in the orchard barn, fresh every day. The 28,000-square-foot barn at the front of the orchard is lined with bakery products, souvenirs, preserves, apple cider, and more. It is always busy with people rushing around or just wandering on through.
County Line Orchard offers things to do for all ages. For younger kids, they have a petting zoo and “moo-choo” train. There is a large corn maze to try your luck at, food trucks, live music, and tractor rides to spend some time at when you aren’t busy picking apples, sunflowers, or pumpkins.
To me, the orchard is always nostalgic. I’ve been going there ever since I was little, and it reminds me of my family and my friends from home. It is the perfect and inexpensive way to end an afternoon, and one of my favorite things to do in Valparaiso.
County Line Orchard is located at 200 S County Line Road in Hobart, Indiana, countylineorchard.com
Dinner and Nightlife at Aftermath Cidery & Winery and Stacks Bar & Grill
If you’re looking for something in the heart of downtown Valparaiso, I would suggest Aftermath Cidery and Winery or Stacks Bar and Grill.
Locally owned, Aftermath Cidery and Winery, which only allows those 21 and older, offers a large selection of wines and ciders that you can buy by the glass or as drink flights, so you can try many of the different flavors.
They also offer flatbreads, charcuterie boards, and dessert to pair with your drinks. It is a very open atmosphere with a rustic feel. Many of my “girls night outs” start out here since it is within walking distance to most of the Valparaiso nightlife.
Stacks Bar and Grill is another unique option that offers more food than Aftermath. It is home to my favorite steak tacos in the entire world.
Stacks is known for their excellent food, large drink menu, and rooftop bar. It has three levels and an outdoor patio for dining. The bottom level and patio are great for larger parties and people under 21.
The second level is the rooftop, which you must be 21 to go up to, and it has an open feel to it but is closed once winter hits.
The top floor is completely open and offers a view of the Central Park Plaza. If you’re looking for a fun night out, a look over town, or just a nice dinner, this is a great option.
Autumn, falling leaves, and cooler temperatures tend to bring out the homesickness in me. I long for those days of playing football with my Dad in our backyard, huddling around a bonfire on the beach, and going on drives through the hilly areas in town while the leaves are changing.
No matter where I end up in the next few years, I’m sure that I will always be ready to spend a fall weekend in Northwest Indiana.
More Fun Things to do in Valparaiso, Indiana
- Stroll the gardens at Gabis Arboretum, formerly Taltree Arboretum & Gardens
- Browse Brauer Museum of Art, a fine arts museum featuring American art.
- Explore the past at Porter County Museum and take a free walking tour
- Be inspired at the Chapel of the Resurrection, which is on the National Register of Historic Places
- Catch a show at Chicago Street Theatre
- Get a touch of Spain at Don Quijote Restaurante
- Revel in live music at Memorial Opera House
- Dine on innovative cuisine in an historic building at Lincoln Flats
What’s next? After you’ve explored Valparaiso, head east on the Lincoln Highway for things to do in Fort Wayne.