Whether you visit for a Notre Dame football game (or other event), pass through on an Indiana road trip to/from Chicago, attend the US Senior Open golf tournament, or other reason, I found some pretty surprising and fun things to do in South Bend you might enjoy. By the way, I learned that South Bend sits at the bend in the St. Joseph’s River. It flows into town from the north and flows north again (to St. Joseph’s Michigan).
Growing up in Miami Florida and then attending USC, South Bend Indiana—home of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish—is a place I long avoided. However, I do respect the university and program, as Notre Dame is one of the premier institutions in the USA and the world. Because of a prior planned trip assignment, I missed a chance to attend a Notre Dame football game in a suite last season. But when I received another opportunity to explore South Bend, I gladly accepted.
Fun Things To Do In South Bend Indiana
Visit South Bend Mishawaka Indiana hosted McCool Travel for much of this glorious trip but my message is carefully crafted for my awesome audience so that you can make informed decisions in order to Travel Happy on future trips.
I love that the Sound Bend tourism office and locals embrace the slogan “Mondays Can Wait,” meaning extend your weekend with these and other fun things to do in South Bend IN.
1. University of Notre Dame
Going to South Bend Indiana without seeing Notre Dame is like visiting Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. When I visited in June 2018, the Notre Dame campus buzzed from the recent Women’s basketball championship. I can write an entire article about Notre Dame (and I might) but here are some quick highlights.
The University of Our Lady of the Lake—Notre Dame’s original name, even though there are two lakes (Mary and Joseph)—was founded November 1842 and celebrated its 175th anniversary a few months ago. The over 1,400 acre (double the original size) campus is gorgeous, spacious, and not filled by tall structures like most US universities. Notre Dame is currently the 11th wealthiest university in the world, based on their endowment.
The famous golden dome building opened in 1879, after the prior main building was destroyed in a fire.
The Grotto is a 1/7 size replica of the Our Lady of Lourdes cave at Massabielle in Lourdes France.
The spectacular church underwent a major renovation in 1988-89 and people were astonished by the vivid colors when it reopened. The Pope conferred it as a Basilica in 1991. A more recent addition is the $4 million dollar pipe organ (only 2 years old). Basilica of the Sacred Heart houses the world’s largest collection of 19th Century French stained glass.
2. Notre Dame Stadium
Locals say that Notre Dame invented tailgating and created the first university marching band. The athletic program is historic and prominent. The football stadium opened for the 2017 season with a $500 million facelift and engine overhaul. While the stadium received a complete upgrade—with the world’s largest video screen, cutting edge technology, and artificial turf (not everyone is a fan)—the overall focus is the shell built around the stadium.
My stadium tour concluded with a walk through the historic player’s entrance tunnel, across the end zone, and to mid field. My iPhone battery died as I walked onto the Notre Dame stadium field but thankfully someone took the below photo of me. McCool Travel tip: carry a portable charger or even two chargers for important moments.
While maybe 10 events used the stadium in the past, the building now houses events almost every day of the year. Classes, testing, and student activities take precedent in many areas, on non-game days of course. Repurposing materials from the old stadium is a great touch. The student center hallway and the restaurant/lounges incorporate the old wooden benches.
3. The Studebaker National Museum
Studebaker operated a prominent business in South Bend from the 1880s to 1960s. The National Studebaker Museum in South Bend has more to see, however, than just classic Studebaker vehicles.
On display at the Studebaker Museum is the largest collection of Presidential carriages—two of which were Studebakers—including Abraham Lincoln’s carriage to Ford’s Theater. The impressive “Ten Cars That Changed the World” exhibit (as selected by Society of Automotive Historians) expects to run through January 2019.
4. Oliver Mansion at The History Museum
The Olivers were the wealthiest family in Indiana in the late 1890s, due to the invention of the plow blade by James Oliver. His son JD Oliver commissioned this state-of-the-art 12,000 square foot mansion with 38 rooms to be built and his family moved in on January 1, 1897. The Oliver Mansion remained in the family until it was donated, with all furnishings and paperwork, in the 1980s. The home remains decorated as when the Oliver family lived there and is operated by The History Museum, which also manages on-site galleries, the Oliver Gardens, and Kidsfirst Children’s Museum.
5. South Bend Cubs
South Bend is located between Chicago and Indianapolis but the majority of residents follow Chicago sports teams, especially for baseball. The South Bend Cubs are a Class A affiliate team of the Chicago Cubs and is a fun show for kids of all ages. During the game I attended at Four Winds Field, a member of the All-Girls Baseball League from World War 2 signed autographs. McCool Travel tip: try the adult beverages from the tiki hut.
6. South Bend Farmers Market and Cafe
Chef Nate runs the cafe inside the South Bend Farmers Market and he estimates that 85% of the ingredients going into the dishes are from the farmers market. While we ate breakfast, he walked by with boxes of fresh tomatoes and asparagus from a nearby vendor. Inside the cafe, Jen prepares ice cream floats with ginger beer, pumpkin pie cola, and other craft sodas. Most of the farmers market vendors are at least 3rd or 4th generation. Inside the South Bend Farmers Market, look for Hobo Jim hot sauces, onsite butchers, and loads of local fresh produce and crafts.
7. Where to Eat in South Bend
In addition to the above South Bend Farmers Market cafe, try these South Bend restaurants.
Macadoo’s Family Restaurant in Mishawaka won the Best Breakfast in St. Joseph’s County. Try Macadoo’s pancake of the month.
The View Tavern earned the Best Burger in Northern Indiana in 2014.
Other places to eat in South Bend include:
- Rohr’s at Morris Inn on the Notre Dame campus (really tasty steak salad for lunch)
- Crooked Ewe (remarkable fries)
- La Rosita (Mexican ice cream and treats)
- South Bend Chocolate (the downtown store has a Chocolate Lounge and grill)
8. South Bend Chocolate Company
When I saw the sign on the side of a building near my hotel for World’s Largest Chocolate Store, I had to go there!
Current owner Mark Turner is an avid dinosaur hunter. He found a full dinosaur skeleton, which he named Julia after his wife. South Bend Chocolate is building a massive complex, scheduled to open in 2020, which will have a huge chocolate factory, dinosaur museum, and much more. Mark’s father operated a classic candy store in downtown South Bend. Their three original flagship products were Domers, Hoosiers, and Rocknes. Now with 17 locations, South Bend Chocolate makes everything in house and operates a vibrant wholesale and retail business.
Where to Drink in South Bend
IRONHAND Vineyard tasting room is across the street from farmers market and opened while I was there in June. It is owned by two local doctors and the winery itself is located on private property. Crooked Ewe has a dozen small batch brews on tap and really great food. South Bend Brew Werks has a great downtown location. Check out Visit South Bend’s guide to craft beer in The Bend.
Miscellaneous South Bend Information
I was surprised to learn that South Bend has a vibrant Polish community and has USA’s 2nd biggest Dyngus Day celebration (after Buffalo). West Side South Bend is undergoing rejuvenation so look for upcoming exciting food, drink, and attractions around La Rosita. Potawatomi Zoo is the oldest zoo in Indiana and has 500 animals. McCool Travel tip: Potawatomi recently started serving local craft beer. Yes!
Famous people from South Bend (not including Notre Dame alumni) include Vivica Fox, Dean Norris (from Breaking Bad), Ryan Newman (NASCAR), Jon Gruden (NFL), John Wooden (coached at South Ben High School), and the DeBartolo family (shopping malls and former NFL).
Where to Stay in South Bend IN
Courtyard South Bend Downtown sits across the street from the South Bend convention center and is the newest hotel in downtown. McCool Travel tip: walk through the convention center to see the East Race waterway—home of the first man-made whitewater rapids—and the nightly River Lights show.
Click here to see a video of an amazing South Bend hotel room at the Courtyard.
Getting to South Bend Indiana
Allegiant, American, Delta, and United provide nonstop flights to/from South Bend airport and more than a dozen US airports. The train from Chicago Millennium station to South Bend (SBN) airport is called South Shore Line and costs about $15 one way. McCool Travel tip: a local resident told me that up to three children can ride for free with each adult fare. Wow! Find other public transportation options on the South Bend airport and Notre Dame websites.
Map of South Bend IN
What are your favorite things to do in South Bend Indiana?