This summer I had the opportunity to visit Bloomington, IN with the intention of exploring a bit more than I have in the past. Now that I am living back in the States, it’s really important for me to have the chance to still explore new places Since travel is not nearly as cheap or convenient in the States as Europe, one has to be creative.
Personally, I enjoy the smaller towns over a big city. Cities are fun, but can often be overwhelming, especially for a wheelchair user like myself.
I grew up 45 minutes outside of Bloomington (B-town) in Columbus. I visited often, mostly for dinner at a family favorite restaurant, FARMbloomington. I had also spent a handful of weekends in college exploring the nightlife. But, I had never considered B-town to be a tourist destination. To me, it was just that college town through the Brown County hills.
My visit this summer made me quickly realize that B-town is a perfect little weekend getaway and also provides an extremely welcoming community. As a wheelchair user, I found many things to do and in many cases felt like I ‘fit-in’ and was meant to be there. Let me explain what I mean by this. I’ve traveled to a lot of places where disability is not a part of everyday society. Infrastructure and cultural barriers made it seem that I was an outcast and not meant to be there. Obviously, the US is far ahead in the disability movement of inclusion, but some cities do it better than others!
So, let me walk/roll you through my weekend!
The nice part about B-town is that it is extremely walkable. As a tourist or non-local, almost everything you would want to see is downtown. If you must drive, the traffic is minimal. Additionally, there is a fully accessible bus program.
Where to stay:
I stayed downtown at Springhill Suites. I’ve always found the Marriott brands to have high standards and great rooms. We had an amazing, spacious double room with a huge bathroom – highly recommend staying here!
What to do:
We wasted no time and started the afternoon off at the new Upland sour beer brewing facility – The Woodshop. I am on a sour beer kick so this was a must! We booked a tour and tasting which were wheelchair friendly. Helpful staff and great brews. My one critique is the bar doesn’t have any low tables. While, this is OK for someone who may have a rising chair or can transfer, but it would be a pain for others. It’s a simple addition that I intend to discuss with them.
Bloomington has a really convenient, flat trail called the B-line that runs about 3 miles through the city. We took a 20 minute walk along the trail to hit up Cardinal Spirits. I had never heard of this place, but they had recently started serving food in addition to their extensive cocktail menu. This place is SO cute! Perfect indoor seating and a huge patio. The menu is also seasonal, full of quirky dishes. Friendly staff and a fully accessible venue. This will likely be one of my new favs!
After dinner drinks are a necessity! We stopped at Atlas – a one-story bar with skee-ball! Sometimes I have great visions of being a pro at games like this…let’s just say I’m not a pro and seated skee-ball can be dangerous! Thankfully a spacious atmosphere and a large menu of affordable beers/drinks.
Bloomington does offer more of a club/late-night scene, but I’ve found some of these places to be hit or miss on accessibility. A handful of bars are upstairs, with no lifts. As frustrating as this can be, I remember there are many other locations that don’t have any access problems. I recommend calling ahead to nightclubs to ensure they can provide you with access. Now, if you’re like me, I often make people carry me up the stairs 🙂 Kilroys and Nicks (no accessible toilet) on Kirkwood have accessible first floor options.
I must be clear! You can’t end your night without getting a grilled cheese sandwich from the food truck, Big Cheeze! Often parked on Kirkwood, this truck produces the most delicious cheezzzy goodness! I dream about it!
I’m a sucker for a Farmer’s Market and the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market is one of the best I’ve attended. It occurs every Saturday, April – November at Showers Common. The market is located just west of the Courthouse at the intersection of 7th and Morton Streets. Amazing veggie selection and small treats to snack on while you walk/roll. Wide paths on smooth pavement.
I spent most of Saturday strolling around downtown, eating my way to pure bliss. Here were a few more favorite spots:
- Rainbow Bakery – I’m not vegan, but I do love my veggies and creative baked goods sans gluten. I snagged a Lavender doughnut and chilled on the new outside patio!
- Hopscotch Coffee – Killer cold brew and a nice, chic space. A few tables for sitting, but not tons of options. The other location on the B-line has more space.
- La Vie en Rose Cafe – Upon first glance you might assume this cafe is not wheelchair accessible. But, I had the best experience! I approached the door and noticed a little sign for a ramp. The owner saw me and quickly brought out a ramp. Easy solution for the one little step! Go support these people who make the extra effort!
- Hive – delicious lunch spot outside of town. It’s in a strip mall, but don’t be fooled. Fresh food and creative dishes!
Bloomington is famous, of course, for the Indiana University campus. Taking a stroll through the campus is a nice afternoon activity. The majority of buildings are made from beautiful limestone and are surrounded by abundant trees and grassy parks. In the summer, the campus is quiet and relaxing.
On my way home, I escaped the bustle of downtown and headed east to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. It is here you can center yourself with a walk throughout the peaceful grounds and immerse yourself in learning about another culture at the Interfaith temple. While not all paths to the temples are barrier-free, there is a large path that runs through the entire park. I felt my experience was still enjoyable and could see plenty of the sites!
I could likely write a book on all the fun things to do in Bloomington, but hopefully these ideas encourage you to take a quick drive from Indy or other places a few hours away. Each place I’ve listed is wheelchair accessible and most meet typical ADA guidelines or have accommodated. The downtown area is 85% perfect when it comes to sidewalk accessibility. Unfortunately there are a few curb cuts that are steep or not smooth. There was always an alternative route if this was the case. The majority of shops on the square are also fine to enter with a wheelchair, but may not always have an electric door.
It’s clear B-town is trying hard to ensure their city and businesses are accessible and inviting. I think for a smaller town in Indiana they have made it a priority to ensure an inclusive environment. While there is always room for improvement, the city is on the path to making accessibility a priority. I’ve found that if places have a positive attitude towards improving it goes a long way! I’ll definitely be popping over to B-town for more weekend fun!
This article is sponsored by Visit Bloomington, but opinions are true to the author.