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My Culinary Adventure

How I explored the Indiana Dunes — one bite at a time

By Shanley Cox

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Food and travel are my two favorite things. Fortunately, my long weekend at the Indiana Dunes satisfied my appetite for both. After flying in on a Friday afternoon from Kansas City, I set out to savor the area’s fall beauty, dip my toes in Lake Michigan and walk along its idyllic sandy beaches. But ultimately, I went to eat.

A memorable meal

After stepping off the train in Chesterton, I had burgers on the brain thanks to a lunch suggestion from my seatmate. I armed myself with a long list of researched restaurants and cozy cafes, but I was easily swayed by something called a “Figgy Piggy” from Octave Grill. Grass-fed beef burgers were the claim to fame at this downtown Chesterton eatery—and the “Figgy Piggy” was just one of twelve on the menu. It came with fig jam, capriole organic goat cheese, bacon and greens, and was sandwiched between brioche buns—a monumental meal, to say the least.

A bottle of wine and a glass of wine sit on a wooden barrel in front of a brick wall in Indiana Dunes, Indiana
A wooden box with chalk labels on a table holds glasses of cider in front of a brick wall in Indiana Dunes, Indiana

I stumbled upon Running Vines Winery (just a few doors down) after stretching my legs after lunch. I decided to celebrate my good fortune with a wine flight. Among the six I sampled, favorites included a light-bodied Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Sauvignon with hints of black pepper and cherry. I could’ve stayed for another glass of red, but more adventures awaited.

At Aftermath Cidery & Winery in Valparaiso, another local recommendation, I ordered a flight of ciders. Made from pressed and fermented apples, each sip felt like a comforting taste of fall. The cidery’s selection ranged from dry, brut styles, to seasonals, such as the Flare—infused with citrus and clove. I settled in with a Butterbeer, a delicious butterscotch-infused cider and took in the views of a bustling downtown Valparaiso.

Beautiful historic accommodations

As the day came to a close, I had sleep on my mind. It had been a busy day of traveling, dining and drinking, after all. I decided to make my way back to Chesterton and check into my hotel, The DunesWalk Inn at the Furness Mansion. The beautifully restored 1881 mansion was a traveler’s dream, located just minutes from the Indiana Dunes State Park. Upon arrival, I noted a charming sitting room, complete with a library and fireplace. My room included stunning views of the newly turned fall foliage and a whirlpool tub. I was more than set for my two-night stay.

A white bowl containing a smoothie sits on a wooden table while a woman's hand holds a spoon above at Roots Organic Juice Cafe in Indiana Dunes, Indiana
A woman's hand holds a blue and white coffee cup in front of a white wall in Indiana Dunes, Indiana

The next morning, appetite fully regained, I headed back to Valparaiso for breakfast at Roots Organic Juice Cafe. A friendly cashier walked me through the menu of fresh, organic fare. I happily ended up with a green juice and matcha smoothie bowl, an emerald-colored concoction topped with fresh strawberries, coconut flakes and shaved almonds.

Indiana Dunes, Indiana
Indiana Dunes, Indiana

It was a mild October day, so I walked to the downtown farmers market and perused its selection of pumpkins, gourds, fresh flowers, honey and locally made popcorn. A flower vendor recommended the “best coffee in town,” so I headed to Fluid Coffeebar for a much-needed caffeine fix. Boasting handcrafted espressos, pour overs, nitro cold brews and locally baked treats, it was easy to see why Fluid was a favorite among locals. My vanilla latte gave me just the burst of energy I needed for my next adventure: the Indiana Dunes.

Stunning natural beauty and Mediterranean eats

I arrived at the Indiana Dunes State Park midday and was immediately stunned by its beauty: serene woodlands to my right, hiking trails to my left and the aquamarine waters of Lake Michigan ahead. Although it was an overcast day, the warm weather brought troves of visitors to its 15-mile coastline and I observed a variety of activities, from sand volleyball to Frisbee. Even the Dunes themselves provided entertainment for a group of kids who made a game of sliding down its sandy slopes. After capturing all the photos my camera’s memory card could hold, I noticed a hot dog truck parked nearby and I realized it was already dinnertime. I loved how the sunset dappled pinks and purples over the lake.

Small waves break on the lakeside shore in Indiana Dunes, Indiana
A sandy path surrounded by greenery rises on a sand dune in Indiana Dunes, Indiana

I headed to dinner at Meditrina Market Café, a cozy little Mediterranean restaurant in downtown Valparaiso, for my last evening in Indiana. It was quite lively and I was lucky enough to get a small table by the window with a direct view of the menu board. Steamed littleneck clams, feta-stuffed dates and roasted eggplant crostini were just some of the offerings. I opted for the sampler platter to start, which included a basket of fresh pita bread, hummus, tabouli and baba ganouj. The hummus was gone in minutes. Then I devoured a fattoush salad with grilled salmon. Sprinkled with baked pita chips and a light, lemon-olive oil dressing, the salad was a revelation. But I didn’t stop there. A homemade mango sorbet called my name. After polishing that off in record time, my waitress, who noticed my enthusiasm for the food, surprised me with a warm, sugar-dusted date cookie.

Indiana Dunes, Indiana
Indiana Dunes, Indiana

An incredible meal and double desserts: I couldn’t think of a sweeter send-off to my weekend at the Indiana Dunes.

Explore more of the dining scene in the Indiana Dunes.