10 Unique Things to Do in and around Fort Wayne

by Michel C. Upton  |  Published January 11, 2024

From the humble beginnings as a wilderness fort at the confluence of three rivers, Fort Wayne, Indiana has grown into an All-America City on the verge of social, artistic, and innovative greatness.

Downtown Fort Wayne is made visually stunning with murals by local artists (Photo: Michael C. Upton for TravelMag)

Built in 1794 by American Revolutionary War general Anthony Wayne, the original fort—and thus the foundation of the city—bordered the indigenous lands of the Miami tribe. Over the years, Fort Wayne experienced a series of ups and downs and beginning in the 1990s launched an upswing as city leaders spurred efforts to reduce crime, diversify its economy, and redevelop downtown. Prime examples of these efforts are flourishing. The Electric Works, an excellent example of adaptive reuse turned a scuttled 39-acre General Electric plant into a thriving, mixed-use campus with businesses, learning centers, recreational facilities, and a multi-vendor food hall and market.

Downtown, The Landing is the newest example of Fort Wayne’s rebirth. Reimagining the spot once bustling with canal traffic, the city’s social hub stirs with coffee shops, breweries, and restaurants. Combine Fort Wayne’s creativity and passion for renewal with a lively art community and this city may be the next hot American Midwest destination. This city in renaissance generates many unique things to do. Here are ten ideas to get started.

Follow the eras of glass art in the Fort Wayne Museum of art (Photo: Michael C. Upton for TravelMag)

Experience art

While the Fort Wayne Museum of Art hosts special collections and travelling exhibitions of many mediums, it has etched a niche in glass. The museum has become a preeminent source for glass art and hosts the International Glass Invitational annually. Traveling and temporary exhibitions often include minority artists and subject matter. Theatre, ballet, and music fill spaces throughout the city, but the streets and buildings themselves are home to a cadre of artistic talent. The volunteer organization Art This Way works with the Downtown Improvement District to create and maintain more than 100 murals and sculptures. These can be found and followed using the Fort Wayne Public Art Trail Pass. Visitors can check in at art spots and receive prizes like mini buttons, keychains, and posters.

Enjoy urban flora

The Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory is always in season. Whether it is an evening light display during the holidays or Tai Chi sessions to relax throughout the year, this city oasis offers an escape from the outdoors year-round. More than 2,000 plants are housed in the 24,000 sq. ft. facility. The Showcase Garden changes seasonally, but permanent plants include bamboo, gardenias, and a creeping fig. Waterfalls flow through the Tropical Garden with tall palms providing “shade” for orchids and ferns. Kids love the Theobroma cacao, a.k.a. the chocolate tree. The Desert Garden replicates the dry environment of the American Southwest with showstoppers like the tall Saguaro cacti, flowering creosote bush, and the fun prickly pear. Special programming appeals to youth and adult visitors.

The Sweet Breeze and watercraft rentals get visitors on the water (Photo: Michael C. Upton for TravelMag)

Take a ride on Sweet Breeze

When guests board the Sweet Breeze, a replica 1840s canal boat once seen frequently along the Fort Wayne rivers, they set off for a journey through the city’s history. The rivers connected to the Wabash and Erie Canal allowing early shipping to the Great Lakes and Ohio River. Cruising the St. Joseph, St. Marys, and Maumee rivers, passengers get riverside views of parks, statues, and The Old Fort—a replica of the encampment decommissioned on April 19, 1819. The Sweet Breeze runs 45-, 60-, and 90-minute tours spring through fall. Special events are held throughout the year, excluding winter. More adventurous travelers can party onboard a Rum Runner Party Boat or enjoy a cool ride on Airboat 1.

Discover the Riverfront

Riverfront Fort Wayne, as it stretches along the shores of St. Marys River, combines public parks, a visionary organization, and a community movement to create a space for residents and tourists to enjoy. Founded on the belief rivers define and enrich our lives as year-round destinations, the Riverfront is home to Promenade Park, hiking and walking paths, and an amphitheater. Fort Wayne Outfitters is accessed by the pedestrian-only Wells Street Bridge and offers kayak, canoe, and bike rentals. The Urban Paddle Trail, which is part of several water trails in Allen County, takes kayakers on the Maumee River. The 26-mile Rivergreenway Trail runs along the shores of the St. Marys and St. Joseph rivers and all people-powered vehicles are allowed on the trail.

Fort Wayne’s industrial heritage is celebrated today through art from The Hedge (Photo: Michael C. Upton for TravelMag)

Learn printmaking

The Fort Wayne Museum of Art curated a wonderful print collection, delving into the history and importance of printmaking. Across town, The Hedge (short for hedgehog) is a hands-on print shop combining the mechanical art of printing with today’s technology and style. Established in 2013 by Julie Wall, The Hedge began as a fine art printshop; the work continues, but Wall also holds special events and private workshops. As an artist, Wall’s work echoes her environment, by intersecting flora, fauna, and the human form with distinct patterns. Her art takes the shape of murals in several spaces throughout the Midwest, including Coco + Ash the Salon (Illinois) and The Parlor Beauty Co. (Ohio). Wall’s work can be seen in hotel decor and murals around Fort Wayne.

Bag a room or souvenir

The Bradley Hotel anchors The Landing and is the namesake hotel of American bag designer Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, co-founder of Vera Bradley (based in Fort Wayne). In partnership with Provenance Hotels, the luxury, boutique hotel incorporates the signature Vera Bradley style and Baekgaard herself can often be spotted making additions to the décor with fresh flowers. The Bradley offers rooftop dining and drinks at Birdie’s, with splendid views of the city. Every year in May, the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum packs with shoppers for the Vera Bradley Annual Outlet Sale. The five-day, ticketed event has become a tradition for many and draws thousands of visitors to Fort Wayne.

Fort Wayne’s industrial heritage is celebrated today through art from The Hedge (Photo: Michael C. Upton for TravelMag)

Eat breakfast downtown

The 99-block downtown of Fort Wayne is a hub of business in the morning, as banks, county offices, and law practices gear up for the day. A handful of patrons can eat breakfast at Cindy’s Diner, which proudly serves “the whole world, 15 people at a time.” Inside seats are tight, but locals are friendly and eager to suggest their favorite menu items. “Garbage” stands out on the menu, a “special blend of eggs, potatoes, cheese, onions, and bits of ham prepared our special way.” Down the street and around the corner, GK Baked Goods serves quality coffee and pastries created by pastry chef/owner Grace Kelly May who returned to Fort Wayne after stints in bakeries around the US.

Catch a Tin Caps game

From April through September the boys of summer hit the grass at Parkview Field in Downtown Fort Wayne. The Tin Caps, named after Fort Wayne resident Johnny Appleseed, are a MLB minor league affiliate of the San Diego Padres. The field has been completely renovated for the 2024 season. The team runs unique events throughout the season, including benefit jersey auctions, postgame fireworks, and autograph sessions. The park has been rated the top ballpark experience in Minor League Baseball and is famous for its apple dumpling dessert. With a seating capacity over 8,100 fans have several options for viewing the game including club seats behind home plate and a home run porch off the short left field.

Breweries like Junk Ditch Brewing keep the city hip and happening (Photo: Michael C. Upton for TravelMag)

Grab a beer

For those arriving in Fort Wayne by plane, the first adult libations offered upon arrival are in the main concourse at Chapman’s Brewing Company. Gnome Town Brewing is a Landing hotspot, serving a variety of IPAs, ales, and seasonals. Their sister restaurant, The Hoppy Gnome, is located downtown. Across the St Marys, Hop River Brewing taps seven year-round brews and offers a wide variety of seasonals including a summer ale, a marzen lager, and an imperial stout. In southeast Fort Wayne, near Indiana Tech, Summit City Brewerks offers specials throughout the week. Those who know to never judge a book by its cover will find Junk Ditch Brewing (named after the stretch of water behind the brewery) beer and food better than its name sounds.

Search your past

Fort Wayne is home to the second largest genealogical library in the United States. This little-known fact is housed in a $65 million state-of-the-art facility downtown as part of the Allen County Public Library. The center offers access to world-class digital resources, a massive library of physical records, and free help from professional genealogists onsite. Open seven days a week, the center’s collection tops one million items from census records to city directories. A collection of Native American and African American records contains highly sought after information. Visit Fort Wayne offers a Genealogy Center Welcome Guide, which can be viewed online or picked up at the Fort Wayne Visitors Center, 927 S Harrison St.