Exploring the Art, Shopping, Food and Beaches of Indiana Dunes Country

The sun sets over Lake Michigan in Beverly Shores

submitted by Allyson Baughman

Five and a half years ago, my husband and I moved to Chesterton from Southern Indiana. Adapting to this new community has been such a joyful experience. Porter County is home to an extraordinary number of restaurateurs, retailers, artists, recreation site managers and event planners who grasp the significance of consummate attention to fine detail. Crafting an itinerary for the perfect day in Porter County, therefore, is both a pleasure and a challenge; the former due to the abundance of opportunities for inclusion in such a schedule, and the latter from endeavoring to limit the selections for it!

In the following itinerary for a Saturday in Porter County, I’ve targeted what I feel are some of the most unique eateries, recreation spots and experiences that I’ve discovered in the area so far. Two disclosures: First, my husband’s position as Property Manager of Indiana Dunes State Park allows us to live within property boundaries. Second, I am the new Manager of the Chesterton European Market. While I’ll admit to a bit of bias in including this pair of attractions in the selections below, I can honestly assure the reader that to exclude them would be to miss two of the most delightful offerings of the region.

Breakfast and shopping at Chesterton’s European Market

Every Saturday from May through October, the Duneland Chamber of Commerce hosts Chesterton’s European Market, an extraordinary farmer’s market located in the historic downtown area next to Centennial Park. In addition to the traditional locally-grown produce, herbs and flowers, this Market offers a selection of uncommonly talented artisans, food vendors and live entertainment. All week long, I look forward to a delicious Market breakfast of sweet and savory baked goods, fresh-brewed coffee and specialty cheeses. I also pick up my cooking supplies for the week from a series of vendors offering unique, high-quality ingredients and accoutrements. My family and friends have become quite enthusiastic about my Market shopping, as they benefit from frequent gifts of finely hand-crafted, eclectic or rare products that can’t be found elsewhere. It feels so energizing to begin my day by exploring the Market…especially because all of my purchases are supporting the creativity and hard work of local craftspeople and entrepreneurs!

The Brauer Museum of Art

Located within the Center for the Arts at Valparaiso University, the Brauer Museum offers a fine collection sourced in the American art tradition, with the earliest pieces dating to the 1800s. Special exhibits routinely feature Midwestern regional art, and the museum’s seven galleries also house a significant selection of works inspired by world religions.

Lunch at Uptown Cafe

Uptown Cafe offers a convenient, cozy and delicious venue for a midday meal. I love the Mediterranean flatbread pizza, topped with prosciutto, caramelized onions, basil pesto and cheeses. Also be sure to try the raspberry brewed tea for a rejuvenating, guilt-free dessert.

Shopping in Valparaiso

Visiting three of Valparaiso’s most irresistible shops is a perfect follow-up to lunch at Uptown. For high-quality, private label women’s clothing, Beyond Pink is peerless in Northwest Indiana. One would have to travel into Chicago to find a boutique of similar stature. Similarly, Lifestyles – a home decor shop and art gallery – offers merchandise and a shopping environment that could easily compete with its counterparts in New York. To round out the retail therapy experience, I highly recommend a stop into Sheep’s Clothing, a charming shop in the downtown area devoted to knitting supplies and lessons. The staff is incredibly warm and engaging, and it’s such a pleasure to talk with these master knitters and see the exquisite pieces they are creating!

Afternoon appetizers at Bartlett’s

No itinerary would be complete without a visit to Bartlett’s Gourmet Grill and Tavern in Beverly Shores. This rustic chic venue offers the best blue point oysters and Bloody Marys in the region….as well as amazing griddled crab cakes.

Beach walk, swimming, picnic and sunset in Indiana Dunes State Park

Five and a half years after my first visit to Indiana Dunes State Park, I’m still captivated by the place. But it’s not just the feathery, fine-grained beach, or the diverse hiking trails, or the newly renovated nature center that continuously capture my attention, though all of those features are engaging. It’s not even that the property is the birthplace of modern ecology, which it is. To me, the most intriguing aspect of Indiana Dunes State Park is its dynamism…the continual reinvention of water, sky and sand dune silhouette by the smooth hand of the infamous northern wind. The lake itself is gloriously moody in its incarnations, providing in turn dramatic whitecaps, gentle lapping tide, and hushed turquoise plane worthy of a Caribbean postcard. I’ve often heard it said by visitors that when they enter the park, they no longer feel like they’re in Indiana. The best part about that sentiment is the fact that exactly where they feel they are changes constantly…from the Pacific Ocean, to St. Lucia, to the Southern European coast. The answers are as myriad as the hours in a day…which makes this a perfectly rejuvenating destination not only for first-time visitors to the area, but for long-time residents as well.

The top of Devil’s Slide sand dune, which is accessible to the east of the main parking lot, provides the best vantage point for picnicking and watching the sunset over Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline…a sublime juxtaposition of natural and engineered beauty. It’s a bit of a hike to the top, but the unparalleled view it offers of the park’s three mile crescent of beach is worth the exertion. Additionally, a good portion of the property’s more than 2,100 acres of sand dune blowouts, black oak forest and wooded wetlands is also viewable from the summit.

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