A family experience

Muncie’s new and traditional spots make it a sensational spree for everyone
By Rebecca Berfanger // Photography by Minnetrista Museum & Gardens

Muncie, only 90 minutes from downtown Indianapolis, has a bustling downtown and has welcomed several new attractions recently, including a water table and train exhibit at the Muncie Children’s Museum.

Known for Ball State University and the school’s namesake — Ball Brothers, Muncie’s downtown has had a recent resurgence of culture, restaurants, cafes and breweries. Yet, the real jewel of downtown is the Minnetrista Museum and Gardens — 40 acres of gardens and educational and inspirational exhibits, just minutes from the city center and is open to the public year-round, Wednesdays through Sundays.

Cultural experiences
Muncie is also home to decades-old cultural institutions. The Muncie Civic Theatre, founded in 1931, will be hosting performances of “Mary Poppins” in June. Orchestra Indiana — the product of a 2022 merger between the Muncie Symphony Orchestra and the Marion Philharmonic, gives almost monthly performances in various locations around town.

Other cultural events this growing city offers include gallery walks, typically on the first Thursday every month, but in July on the second Thursday, free outdoor concerts at Canan Commons in the summer and various festivals.

For soul food, stop by Mama & Son Soul Food at 125 W. Charles Street. It was opened by Connie Nixon and her son, Dominique Isom, in June 2022. Also, check out The Bloom Downtown, 118 S. Walnut Street, for BBQ and homemade popcorn. Vera Mae’s Bistro, open since 2002 at 209 S. Walnut Street, accepts reservations for its unique, upscale fusion of tastes from Europe, Asia and the United States.

Muncie also offers other options to explore foods and drinks from other cultures.

Delicious Thai food awaits inside Tuppee Tong Thai Restaurant at 310 W. Main St. and AppeThai at 125 E. Main Street. Try some Mexican dishes at Casa Mexican Grill at 204 S. Walnut St., or for hearty sandwiches stop by Birddog Café, 113 W. Jackson St.; and Chesterfield’s Café, 125 S. High Street.

If you’re thirsty for a pint, visit: Elm Street Brewing Co., 518 N. Elm Street; Savage’s Ale House, 127 N. High Street; The Guardian Brewing Co., 514 E. Jackson Street; Twin Archer Brewpub, 115. W. Charles Street.
Patrons will feel like they’re in a medieval tavern at The Heorot Pub and Draught House, 219 S. Walnut Street.

Looking for a caffeine boost and a sweet treat? You can get that, too: Charmed Cupcake Co. at 114 N. Mulberry Street; and The Caffeinery, 401 S. Walnut Street.

A full list of dining options can be found on downtown Muncie’s website, downtownmuncie.org/restaurants

Minnetrista exhibits
The central building downtown is a two-story museum of rotating exhibits that is within walking distance of the mansions that were the homes of the Ball Brothers, sprawling gardens, nature preserves, and other delightful areas created for all ages. See the website for upcoming events, including Sunday brunches, Saturday farmer’s markets, art classes and guided nature walks. Annual events include Fairies, Sprites & Lights, July 25 to 27; a luminaria walk, Dec. 6 to 7; and the Garden Fair, every spring.

The Smithsonian Institute’s traveling exhibit, “Knowing Nature: Stories of the Boreal Forest,” June 29 through Sept. 22, offers an immersive experience, featuring the natural and cultural history of the forests that extend from Europe to Siberia and from Alaska to Canada. Photography and videography, first-person stories, authentic objects and interactive experiences will be presented in both English and Spanish.

Other exhibitions include the art of the “Hoosier Salon: A Century of Artistry from the Heritage Collection,” June 15 through Sept. 8, featuring the works by east central Indiana creators from the past and the present.

“Bird Photographer of the Year,” May 11 through Oct. 13, will bring to Muncie the world’s best images of “avian wonders,” along with specifics as to how they were all captured.

As with all exhibits at Minnetrista, these exhibits are meant to be visited by people of all ages. There are interactive games designed for children, as well as in-depth narratives for adults who want a deeper dive into the educational materials.

There are also exhibits created specifically for families with children, including “Young at Art: A Selection of Caldecott Book Illustrations,” May 18 through Aug. 18, in the Oakhurst Gallery. Imagination Playground, May 29 through September 1, features oversized, moveable and stackable foam building blocks.

Steps from the main building are various interactive exhibits for guests. Possibly the most famous is the Bob Ross Experience in the L.L. Ball Home.

A recreation of Ross’ “Joy of Painting” studio and several of his original works are on display throughout the home. There is a living room composed of furniture, books and other artifacts that are like Ross’s own living room.

Upstairs, take a painting class from an instructor specially trained to teach Ross’ methods. Be sure to reserve a space well in advance. Classes fill up quickly.

To step even further into history, visit the nearby “Oakhurst Experience.” A welcoming space for a warm drink or just to look around at how the Ball Family lived in the home constructed in 1894. Guests of all ages can see and interact with artifacts of the early 20th century, including books, art, kitchen utensils and period-appropriate appliances, and, of course, Ball jars and a history lesson about canning.

Paths wind through luscious gardens outside these and other historic homes of the Ball Brothers. They are kept year-round and feature educational activities for visitors. A playhouse offers creative outlets for little ones, while older guests may want to take in the beauty of nature or snap a few Instagram-worthy photos.

To step even further into nature, just north of the Orchard Shop, is the “Nature Area,” offering access via walking paths to three, distinct Hoosier habitats: tall-grass prairie, woodlands and wetlands. Locals are often spotted walking the slightly rugged trails on their lunch breaks. Check with guest services about a cart tour that can provide access to most of the Nature Area.

After checking out the various interior and exterior areas, consider stopping in the Orchard Shop where handmade jewelry, soaps, food products, toys, books, magnets by Muncie Map Co. (“Keep Muncie Weird”), garden décor and other items, including Bob Ross T-shirts and souvenirs are available.

Finally, for even more greenspace options, and found parallel to the Ball Brother mansions on the White River, visitors are encouraged to walk or ride at least part of the Muncie section of the Cardinal Greenway. The pathway stretches from Marion through Muncie to Richmond for 62 miles, the longest rail trail in the state.

Before you visit downtown Muncie, be sure and visit the website downtownmuncie.org for up-to-date information.