If you’re like me and have a kid with an appetite for wonder, an insatiable curiosity and boundless energy, you’ve found yourself looking for things to do in the area to keep the both of you entertained and, more importantly, sane. Personally, I moved back to Valpo in 2014 with my family from the wintry urban metropolis of Montreal, Canada after five years away from Northwest Indiana. When my wife and I moved back down with our young daughter, we wanted to put down roots and really take advantage of the ever-growing and changing town of Valparaiso and the region of Northwest Indiana and see what they had to offer. We have a dog as well, half Pomeranian and Cocker Spaniel, with no limit to his energy either, so it was clear we had to find some active and interesting activities to keep us all healthy and happy. Here are the top ten places I fall back on with my daughter when we’re out and about looking for things to keep ourselves entertained:
Sunset Hill Farm County Park – Located just off route 6 in Valparaiso, this wasn’t a place I was aware of until more recently but has quickly become a favorite of my family. It has beautiful, picturesque fields filled with flowers of all colors and trails that wind their way through, giving your kids a chance to immerse themselves in nature and take in the sights, sounds and chase after the creepy crawlies of the fields. They also have a farm section complete with chickens, geese, goats and a horse for the kids to look at and trails that wind their way through the hilly woods behind the farm. You can easily get an afternoon’s entertainment coming here and leave feeling a little more refreshed than when you arrived.
“Cheap Zoo” – This is something for the truly desperate parent that only needs to pique their kid’s interest for a few minutes while out shopping or running errands, and it can go a long way if your kid loves animals. If you haven’t guessed by now, the “Cheap Zoo” is something we have dubbed any pet store that sells animals. This is in reference to the HBO show Flight of the Conchords, where one of the main characters, Brett, refers to the pet store as such and talks about going to see the “budget bears” aka hamsters. It’s an easy way to entertain your kid for a minute, and pet stores are everywhere so it’s usually not too hard to find one.
Local Park – Northwest Indiana is full of fantastic parks, for me the closest one is the beautiful Ogden Gardens in Valparaiso, but there is most likely one near you where your child can find a playground or join in the latest craze of painting and hiding/finding rocks in the park which is guaranteed fun for any kid. It’s also a great opportunity for a little walk with your canine friend, if you have one.
Go to the beach – We are in a rare position here in the Midwest of being able to go to an actual beach despite being about 600 miles from the nearest oceanside beach, so go out and enjoy it! Kids have the rare ability of being able to entertain themselves by simply splashing in the surf and digging around in the sand, and with the Dunes there are also places to hike and run around.
The Actual Zoo in Michigan City – With peacocks freely roaming the grounds and a little train for the kids to ride in between taking a look at all the animals in the zoo, it’ll take up an afternoon to be sure, but what kid doesn’t like a trip to the zoo to see lemurs and lions?
Library – Go to the local library; most have some kind of play area or children’s section, and it’s a good way to encourage kids to read and get into picking out their own books. No kid can ever have too many books.
Play Catch at the Old Fairgrounds in Valpo – If you’re not in the mood for a hike but you want to do something active with your offspring, grab some old sporting equipment and head out to the Old Fairgrounds. There are four baseball fields to use and play catch with your kid, teach them how to use a bat or watch one of the games often going on there.
The Movies – For a rainy or lazy day nothing beats going to your local theater and finding a family-friendly movie that your little one can enjoy with some popcorn. There’s the IMAX in Portage for a truly special film and many other theaters in the region as well.
Go for a Stroll Downtown – Your town, or one nearby, generally has a downtown area to stroll down if you’re at a loss for ideas and pop into any store that seems of interest. There may also be a local farmer’s market going on or some sort of public event you can enjoy with your young one! I enjoy taking my daughter out for a little daddy-daughter lunch and seeing the sights and then enjoying the splash pad in downtown Valpo.
Sampling Desserts While Mom is Away – If you get the opportunity and your kiddo is behaving well, it never hurts to take them for a little treat every now and then and pick out a sweet delectable to enjoy.