For the past few years I’ve referred to Fort Wayne as the family fashion capitol of the midwest, and I’m not wrong. With Vera Bradley and Matilda Jane and Peg Perego headquartered in Fort Wayne, this is a very happening place when it comes to family, fashion and the hippest things to do. There are a lot of reasons to visit, and I’m not just referring to the giant Vera Bradley Outlet Sale that takes place every spring.
Fort Wayne has the feel of a small, tight-knit, caring community with the opportunities and amenities of a large, busting city. The new Promenade Park at the riverfront is going to be a defining moment for the future of Fort Wayne tourism, job development, small business start-ups and entertainment. Fort Wayne, we see you!
Visit Fort Wayne and Indy with Kids have an unpaid relationship, however parts of my visit were complimentary. We only work with and write about businesses we love because we know you’ll love them too! The opinion of Indy with Kids writers cannot be bought and all thoughts honestly reflect our experiences.
Where to Stay in Fort Wayne
Traveling with a large family is always hard but we don’t let it stop us. We love being close to the action but having a location that provides us with much needed rest after a day of fun and sun and activity.
Holiday Inn at Purdue Fort Wayne
This hotel offers your typical hotel room with two beds but they also have family suites available and I hear they have bunk beds for the kids in a separate area! We typically go the value route and squeeze everyone in to one room and bring along our own travel crib, but someday soon we won’t be able to do that any longer!
Courtyard by Marriott
We’ve stayed at this property a few times and I love that it’s right in the heart of all of the fun! If you aren’t lucky enough to be able to take in the Tin Caps game from the windows in your room, no worries, it’s just a few yards from the hotel. With several restaurants on property and many others close-by, you won’t go hungry.
Where to Play in Fort Wayne
I can’t believe how many fun things there are to do in Fort Wayne with kids! From indoor activities to outdoor fun, one weekend isn’t enough to pack it all in! That just means you’ll need to make a few day trips, stay for a few nights or come back several times.
If you hear from a lot of other parents, you’ve probably heard that Fort Wayne has a zoo, and people REALLY love this zoo! The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is a must-do. There are so many Fort Wayne Zoo fanatics, you’ve got to get out there and see what everyone is raving about! It’s totally easy to accomplish a complete zoo visit in less than a day, but you could stretch it out even longer if you wanted to. There are fantastic animals to see, but the best part is, you can get up close to so many of them! This week, we fed a giraffe and walked on a path through a kangaroo habitat, where these funny looking guys could cross the path at any time! There are a few rides that get you a new view of the animals and the zoo loop makes it super easy to see everything without missing anything.
I’ve always wanted to see Fort Wayne’s baseball team in action and it finally happened this summer. Every seat is a great seat, the kids all had a wonderful time and it was the perfect size for a family to walk around and take it all in. There’s a kid zone with activities for an additional cost, just in case your little ones get a little bit antsy, and the field is conveniently located within walking distance (you can see the field from your hotel room, and your hotel from the field). With ticket prices set around $10 each, it’s a great way to spend the evening.
Science Central is the children’s museum of Fort Wayne. With pretty much every space available for kids to touch, play and participate in hands on activities, Science Central is one of those places you’ll be dragging your child away from because there’s just never enough time to do it all. My kids loved building cars and racing them around the slot track. My oldest discovered electricity and friction on their giant, multi-story slide, my middle kids loved the animals in terrariums and my little loved all of the buttons and levers.
Fort Wayne Museum of Art
The Fort Wayne Museum of Art was a surprise hit with my seven and nine year old. There were many visually stimulating things to see and my oldest daughter loved reading about the artist and then looking at all of their work. She was fascinated with the sculptures and really liked walking around looking at the photographs. All of my kids liked our visit to the Early Learning Center where we read books about art, drew pictures and wall murals and built our own sculptures with LEGO bricks.
The riverfront in Fort Wayne is active with wildlife, rushing water and boats! Take a scenic boat ride aboard a unique boat! Airboat 1 is piloted by Mike Gasdorf and it’s a really fun ride! Tour the area, departing from the Gas House restaurant. Airboat rides are available Thursday – Saturday during the summer on a first come, first served basis. The airboat seats 6 at a time. Private charters are also available.
Take a river tour on the canal river boat, Sweet Breeze. Take a 45 minute or 90 minute ride, narrated by a Friends of the Rivers docent, who will describe the sites you’ll see and canal boat history. All tours depart from and return to Headwaters Park West.
The Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory is open year round for exploration of the gardens. Step inside a tropical garden, bright with flowers and greenery and then slip in to the Desert Garden to see the 72 different varieties of cacti! There are several interactive play areas for children throughout the conservatory. Visit late spring to early summer to see the butterflies. They’ll flutter past you and take a rest on you. The Botanical Conservatory offers $1 admission on the first Thursday of each month, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. On the 4th Saturday of each month, there is family garden close-up programming available. These activities are included in the price of your admission.
Public Art and Murals in Fort Wayne
Fort Wayne is brimming with colorful murals and interesting sculptures. My children love posing with the public art and I really like the way the photos in front of the murals turn out!
Sweetwater Music Campus
Until last week, the brand Sweetwater meant nothing to me. Today, I’m in awe of this Fort Wayne business that has a local campus that reminds me of the IKEA of the music and recording industry — that’s a compliment. Whenever we spend time at hotel pools, I tend to talk with other travelers and this time I met a family that was staying the weekend in Fort Wayne just to visit Sweetwater. I added this to my itinerary and I’m so glad I did!
This mega musical instrument store is so much more than that! With rooms full of drum kits, my kids were in heaven and tried every single one of them. We tickled the piano keys on several dozen pianos and strummed the strings on all of the guitars. Then we snooped around at the artists in the recording studios, visited the cafe and game area and finally found exactly what my four year old needed to see, the shipping and fulfillment warehouse (who knew?) We watched boxes criss cross the warehouse on conveyor rollers and talked all about the process of ordering things and having them delivered to your house. It was amazing!
Sweetwater was a huge highlight of our Fort Wayne trip, and I am in awe of this business and their campus.
Taylor’s Dream Playground at Kreager Park
Taylor’s Dream Boundless Playground is an award winning playground that was built because a child had a dream that children of all abilities could play together in one space. The playground equipment can be accessed by children in wheelchairs and there are sensory and developmental activities for children of all abilities. This large play area includes several play structures, interactive game equipment, a splash pad and several types of swings.
There’s nothing like a few hours running and playing indoors on a rainy day or on a super hot day. Jungle George’s offers free admission for kids to play in their bounce houses! Arcade games and virtual reality are available for a fee. Jungle George’s has an all you can eat pizza deal for $5 per person. On specific days of the week, they offer half price menu items and half price fees for activities. But seriously, bounce house play is free!
This classic theatre stage is buzzing with activity! From musical shows to juggling acts, there’s always something interesting on the schedule. The Fort Wayne Embassy Theatre has a full calendar of your favorite Broadway shows, you may want to book your visit based on when your favorite acts will be in town.
Where to Eat in Fort Wayne
Yummi Bunni Ice Cream (OUT OF BUSINESS)
Yummi Bunni is a kid pleaser, and parents will love it too. With Gluten free and vegan options available, ice cream lovers of all types must visit Yummi Bunni, right next to Coney Island Hot Dogs. Have your ice cream served up in a cup, a cone or on board a donut bun! Smother it with your favorite toppings and you have a culinary masterpiece!
Cosmos House of Pancakes is the perfect delicious stop for breakfast lovers. Order up local favorites like the Fort Wayne Skillet or Croissant French Toast, or grab a short stack of pancakes with delicious toppings. There are two locations in Fort Wayne.
Coney Island is one of those places that you see and think nothing of, but when you take a peek inside and see the time capsule that is Coney Island, you have to stop in, step up to the counter and try a dog or two. Table service is available at this no frills indoor hot dog stand. If you’re feeling really fun, park behind the building and walk in through the kitchen via the backdoor! This is allowed! My kids loved the soda selection (soda is a treat with our crew) and the chili.
This Fort Wayne essential is a can’t-miss stop on your itinerary. You’ll spend a few bucks more than you would at DQ, but it’s worth it! We let each kiddo select a single chocolate and then we shared the sundae. Ohmigosh! Get the raspberry syrup paired with the caramel syrup, this combo has the most amazing flavors with the Debrand chocolate cup and ice cream. The cafe is pretty picturesque too! And don’t forget to check out the Women’s restroom, it’s adorable! Debrand offers tours every week, if you’re in town, I recommend adding the tour to your list! Just $5 and it includes samples and a $5 voucher at the end!
A few years ago during a visit to Fort Wayne, I was pregnant and craving bagels. I happened upon the Bagel Station and I was blown away with how delicious their bagels and sandwiches were, how gorgeous their pastries and cakes looked and the perfectly concocted cream cheese mixtures.
Don Hall is a brilliant guy with some awesome restaurant concepts. While we were in Fort Wayne, we tried the Gas House and Hall’s Hollywood Drive-in. Both restaurants offered very similar menus, perhaps even identical but one was overlooking the river with either indoor seating or outdoor deck seating and the drive-in took place in my car, with a carhop taking our order and bringing our food to the car. My kids had a great time at the drive-in!
I just know that there are so many more things to discover in Fort Wayne, more restaurants to try, more parks to play at and more adventures to be had. I can’t wait to return after August 9th when they new riverfront park is open to the public!
Don’t forget about visiting the Fort Wayne Santa Train during Christmas and the holidays.