Travel Guide: Girls Weekend in Hamilton County (1) | chicago foodie girl


Travel Guide: Girls Weekend in Hamilton County (1)

Before moving to Chicago, my travel wishlist was solely focused on big city explorations. I lived in a small Midwestern town and longed to spend my free time working my way through the bustling and exciting restaurants, museums, and theatres of major metro areas. While I still do love the thrill of absorbing the vibe of a new-to-me major city, now that I've been in Chicago for just over eighteen years (where did the time go?!), I'm finding myself being drawn to some smaller towns filled with quirky shops, massive farmers markets, family-owned restaurants, and admittedly, a far slower pace. I've especially come to appreciate the lesser-known spots in the Midwest; while millions of tourists are flocking to Chicago and other metro areas like Milwaukee each year, more and more, I'm seeking out local travel destinations that offer a quieter and quainter getaway, like in Hamilton County, Indiana. 

Located just north of Indianapolis, the cities and towns of Hamilton County are frequently lauded as some of the best places to live in the Midwest, thanks to their high marks in quality of life ratings. While the county is one of the fastest growing in the United States, it still offers residents and visitors alike plenty of small-town charm. When the fine folks at Visit Hamilton County reached out to inquire if Diana and I would be interested in a weekend of foodie explorations, we took one look at their lineup of cute restaurants, markets, and festivals and immediately knew it was the perfect spot for our next girls getaway!

We kicked off our visit to Hamiton County in the Arts & Design District of Carmel, their super adorable (and walkable!) downtown area filled with tons of art galleries, boutiques, restaurants/cafes, and specialty shops. The cultural district is also filled with public art, including the Man-on-the-Street series, life-size bronze sculptures depicting everyday slice-of-life moments.

Our first stop (and ultimately, one of my favorite experiences of last year!) was to Tina's Traditional Old English Kitchen & Tearoom, a woman-owned authentic tea house offering everything from a range of jams and preserves based on her grandmother's recipes to daily high tea to a full English breakfast on Sundays. Owner Tina Jesson originally hails from Derbyshire and found that the downtown area of Carmel reminded her so much of her native town that she chose to open her first tea room there in 2014. We ordered the Queens Royal High Tea, a three-layer tied stand with assorted finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones with Devonshire clotted cream and homemade preserves, a selection of pastries, and a pot of tea for each of us.

I especially loved Tina's loose leaf Vanilla Chai, a blend of Ceylon black tea, spices, and vanilla.

How cute are these cookies?!

After lingering over tea (and yes, we demolished every last bite of that delicious tray!), we took some time to explore the space. It's so cozy and filled with the cutest details - most definitely a place any Anglophile will appreciate.

We loved these colorful and adorable miniature teapots (of course, a few of them just had to come home with us!).

Once we finally finished our lovely lunch, we headed down the block to work off our stack of finger sandwiches and pastries at The Museum of Miniature Houses, one of the few museums in the country dedicated to the art of fine-scale miniature. The homey museum hosts thousands of items including a wide range of historically accurate, perfectly precise miniature room settings, as well as various donated antique dollhouses. While neither Diana nor I are miniaturists, we had a fantastic time exploring all of the displays and totally nerding out over the intricate collections. We both especially loved the display depicting a scene from Han Christian Anderson’s The Twelve Dancing Princesses, in which the artist incorporated over 150 twinkly lights.

My inner ten-year-old exploded with girly joy over this miniature house of unicorns!

We continued our tour of the Arts & Design district with a stop at Peace Water Winery, just a few blocks down the street. Their Carmel location has a full tasting room with at least fifteen of their wines available at all times. Peace Water owns nine vineyards in California, but only sells their wine in Indiana taprooms in order to maintain a local connection. In fact, owners Laura and Scott Burton are so involved with the local community that 50% of their wine bottle sales are donated to local charities. Their tasting room is relaxed and whimsical and there's also a lovely outdoor patio with a large fire pit.

Not only does Peace Water offer a modern and comfortable environment but also the staff is all extremely friendly and knowledgeable. As someone who's not a big wine drinker (I'm more of a gin girl), I'm often hesitant to visit tasting rooms. Our server first took the time to discuss my likes (sweet-ish) and dislikes (super dry) and then narrowed down their offerings to the fantastic crisp and fruity Nonno Pugno Sparkling Rosé.

One of our favorite parts of our visit was the wine flights - such a perfect idea for when you want to try a few of their offerings or you don't want to commit to a single wine! Diana and I both especially loved their Inspire Rosé and the bright and lemony Radiant Unoaked Chardonnay.

With its hints of blackberry, boysenberry, and black pepper, the Zen Zinfandel was also a big hit!

After boozing it up at Peace Water, we still had a few hours to kill before dinner, so we decided to spend some time checking out various shops and galleries in the area. Realistically, we could have spent all afternoon strolling through the district and exploring - it's such an interesting area! One of our favorite stops was the Evan Lurie Gallery, which specializes in contemporary abstract art. I fell hard for the gorgeous oil paintings by Cuban artist Alexi Torres. Does anyone have a few thousand dollars they want to donate to bring that amazing Frida Kahlo piece home to me? ;-)

We ended our first day of exploring Carmel at divvy, a locally owned contemporary American restaurant focused on a shared dining experience. This 21+ (no kids!) spot offers diners a diverse mix of small plate options, along with wine taster tours and a wide range of craft beers. The menu is huge (90+ items!), so it's a good bet just about anyone can find something to enjoy. I kicked off our meal with an Elderflower Gimlet: gin, cucumber extract, agave nectar, and lime...

...while Diana chose the New Fashioned with bourbon, blood orange, and cherry bitters.

Along with wine taster tours, the restaurant also offers food tours, consisting of their most ordered items. We ordered one of the tours and then pieced together a few other bites we really wanted to try; some of our favorites included the Beer Cheese Fondue, the Sizzlin' Shrimp, and the Corn Crème Brûlée (🤤🤤🤤).

One of the best sellers and a standout of the evening was the light and super creamy Whipped Feta and Chilean Cucumbers.

Blistered Brussels Sprouts with red pepper flakes, pine nuts, and roasted garlic - so crispy and perfectly done!

We also absolutely loved the Sesame Tuna with Thai chili teriyaki, pineapple, and crushed wasabi peas; in fact, we loved it so much that we ended up ordering a full plate of it after our tasting tour! While seared tuna and pineapple is a fairly standard dish that we both always enjoy, the additional heat and crunch from the crushed wasabi peas took it to a new level.

After our day of exploring and eating our way through Carmel, we finally made our way out to the Holiday Inn Express Noblesville where we were greeted with a plate of warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies. The perfect end to our first day in Hamilton County!

See the rest of our Hamilton County adventures here!

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