There are plenty of cities that think they’re the Bloomington, but Bloomington, Indiana is definitely the best. This small but mighty town gets a majority of its character and reputation from Indiana University, but also has quite a history outside of education as well. “B-town” as it’s affectionately referred to by students, alumni, and citizens alike is a cultural hot spot buzzing with live music, art, and natural beauty, both in town and on its outskirts. If you’re hoping to join the Hoosier nation, or are looking for a low-key lifestyle in one of the finest small towns in the country, here are 22 things to know before moving to Bloomington, Indiana.
It has a rainbow connection
Bloomington’s laid-back and open college atmosphere attracts people of all types. Despite being in a state with a poor reputation for LGBT rights, Bloomington is one of the top-ranked cities for per-capita same-sex couples and is consistently touted as being the “best small town” to be LGBT.
It’s okay to “sink the biz”
Nick’s English Hut is a favorite haunt among students, faculty, and alumni, all looking to quaff away their worries or catch the cream and crimson in action. Smack dab in the heart of Kirkwood Ave, Nick’s is home to the drinking game “Sink the Biz” which involves pouring beer in an empty glass that’s floating in a large bucket of beer. Whoever sinks it, drinks it, then calls their parents to let them know what their child has become.
Watch out for cougars
Johnny Cougars that is. Well, just watch out for the John Cougar Mellencamp, the legendary rocker who calls Bloomington home and was born nearby. Also, he dropped the “Cougar” from his name a while back, so just watch out for John Mellencamp. And don’t be surprised when everyone around you erupts into a “small town”.
You’re a Hoosier now, don’t ask questions
The main thing you need to know about B-town is that it revolves around Indiana University. While its alumni and faculty are known for being quite creative, its founders were not, so they chose the Hoosier as the mascot. A Hoosier is someone from Indiana. That’s as much as anyone knows and will be able to tell you. Candy-cane striped pants not included with admission.
There’s nothing little about its 500
Bloomington is cycle crazy and the only thing little about the “Little 500” is the fact that there are no engines. “Little Five”, as locals call it, is a massive intercollegiate bike race and festival that attracts thousands of spectators a year. It’s I.U.’s biggest (i.e. drunkest) college weekend and is often accented by performances from big name bands that play at a frat house or one of the many stages downtown. Gentlemen, start your livers!
Before I.U. was founded, Bloomington’s crown jewel was its limestone industry, which still thrives today and plays a major role in the town’s culture. Millions of years ago, the greater Bloomington area was an inland sea full of tiny little creatures whose skeletons decomposed and over eons, formed limestone. Bloomington limestone adorns almost every building along the beautiful I.U. campus and many famous buildings across the nation. The Hoosiers sure do love their temples made of bones.
Buy a hoop
Bloomington folks sure do love a good old fashioned game of “put this sphere into that hole”, otherwise known as basketball. Seriously though, people love I.U. basketball here more than any other sport, and for good reason. The Hoosiers have quite the storied program, with greats such as Isaiah Tomas and current NBA players Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, and Eric Gordon, gracing the court of memorial stadium.
The whole town’s a stage
Bloomington has a thriving theater community both inside and outside of the university. The Indiana University Auditorium hosts scores of national headliners, while the Indiana Musical Arts Center (pictured above), affectionately called “The MAC”, puts on world-class ballets and operas year round.
This man is still a legend
Even though the volatile Bob Knight left Bloomington quite some time ago, “The General” is still a hero in B-town for his immeasurable contributions to the basketball program. It’s tough to find someone who doesn’t revere this lovable chair-hurler for his candid comments or strategic b-ball smarts. While his on-court persona was infamous, Coach Knight was often more reserved and friendly away from his anger trigger of “everything that happens during a basketball game”.
It’s confident in its skin
Indiana University is famous for The Kinsey Institute, which serves as the flagship research institution on human sexuality, gender, and reproduction. The institute holds one of the world’s largest collections of films of an adult nature (if you don’t count the internet).
It’s a gateway to nature
Bloomington at one time touted itself as “The Gateway to Scenic Southern Indiana”, and while no B-towners actually call it that, there are scores of beautiful forests and nature preserves surrounding the area. Check out Turkey Run (pictured above), Brown County State Park, Hoosier National Forest, and Yellowwood State Forest for top notch camping and hiking.
You can escape to the Eighth Wonder of the World
Bloomington is within a short drive to the West Baden Springs Hotel and Resort, a world-renowned resort that at one point was called “The Eighth Wonder of the World”, because of its gigantic dome that spans over 200 feet. The entire resort houses golf courses, spas, and relaxing outdoor escapes, all in a place called “French Lick”.
Kirkwood Avenue is where I.U. goes to celebrate its latest victory in hoop-sports, and where students go to decompress after a hard day of slouching through lectures. Kirkwood is the home of Nick’s, Kilroy’s, and Kilroy’s Sports (called just “sports”), that for some reason are two separate bars, yet are some of the most profitable in the country. It’s a grand place to people watch and leads straight up to I.U.’s quintessential sample gates, made up of millions of tiny, beautiful sea skeletons.
It has holiday spirit
The Canopy of Lights Festival on the downtown square is the perfect small town kickoff to winter. Held on Thanksgiving weekend, Bloomingtonians bundle up and head down to gather en mass to watch the firing up of the town’s elaborate holiday light display, and to spread seasons’ greetings about town.
The grapes and barley
Southern Indiana knows how to farm, specifically for crops necessary for the creation of booze. Just on the outskirts of town is Oliver Winery, one of the largest wineries in the eastern United States. Closer to the heart of Bloomington is Upland Brewery, purveyors of excellent, locally made craft beer. Just make sure to have a designated driver if you’re planning on visiting both in one day!
The home grown grub
Bloomington being surrounded by farmland makes for excellent, fresh culinary experiences around every corner. For an offbeat farm-to-table joint, check out Farm Bloomington downtown or try Restaurant Tallent for an organic gourmet experience. Yes, both are within walking distance of Kirkwood.
It’s a town for all seasons
Bloomington’s temperate climate allows its residents to take full advantage of every season. The winters are cold (but not too cold), and the summers are hot (but not too hot). Fall is colorful and crisp, and spring is always full of bloom…ington. Someone call Goldilocks.
You can close a deal
You might as well call it “Boomington” because B-town was rated in Forbes’ top 25 “Best Small Places for Business”. I.U.’s Kelley School of Business is a big contributor to the ranking, and residents almost always hit up local businesses before settling on a chain.
You can find Nirvana
A lesser-known gem in Bloomington is the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. The TMBCC provides Tibetan cultural programs as well as Buddhist educational lectures. The Dalai Lama has even visited the site as his nephew happens to live in the Bloomington area. Lamas and cougars in one place, oh my!
But seriously, watch out for the cougars, and lions, and tigers…
The Exotic Feline Rescue center is less than an hour away and serves as a home for big cats who were down and out at some point in their nine lives. The 108-acre facility is home to over 200 wild cats across nine species. For $175, you can even stay overnight in a cabin and get lulled to sleep by the roars of gigantic felines.
Buckets are important
The Battle for the Old Oaken Bucket is a football rivalry game that takes place annually between I.U. and Purdue University (located two hours to the north in West Lafayette). Purdue leads the series 72-39-6, but I.U. leads the post-game “sink the biz” game 117-0.
It puts the ‘indie’ in Indiana
Bloomington’s music scene is unique and active, with I.U.’s music school providing a heavy pool of talent and influence within the small town scene. It’s not unusual to have concerts from world famous classical artists and veteran alt-rockers in the same night, as Bloomington is a mini music Mecca of sorts and has major cred among artists.
Ready to call beautiful Bloomington home?
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