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Travel Like a Local: Northwest Indiana

The Fusion sculpture in Gary, Ind.
The Fusion sculpture in Genesis Center Plaza in Gary, Ind., was installed in 2006 to mark the city's centennial. Photo by Joey Lax-Salinas.

Like many high school graduates, Joseph Pete, BA’06, couldn’t wait to leave Northwest Indiana, see other parts of the country, and possibly find himself along the way.

After earning a degree in English from IU Bloomington, Pete served in the U.S. Army before working as a newspaper reporter in Indianapolis. Eventually, he began to feel like Hammond, Ind., where he was born, was calling him home.

Joseph Pete standing in front of a steel mill
Joseph Pete at a steel mill in Gary, Ind. Courtesy photo.

“I didn’t fully appreciate it as a kid,” Pete says. “As a teen, it was easy to go up to Chicago all the time, so I didn’t appreciate the full majesty of nature [in Northwest Indiana]. It’s what drew me back and part of what drew me to write about it.”

On Sept. 15, 2020, Reedy Press published Pete’s 100 Things to Do in Gary and Northwest Indiana Before You Die as part of its 100 Things series.

Long a bibliophile, Pete says he always wanted to be a writer. In his first book, Lost Hammond Indiana, Pete gives an in-depth look into his hometown. He intended to follow that up with a travel log about Northwest Indiana on a broader scale, which is where 100 Things comes in.

The book covers a range of places to visit and notable locations across the Calumet Region, with Pete spilling his knowledge about the sand dunes, steel mills, and sandhill crane migration.

“There’s so much off the beaten path. Part of my aim is to celebrate the culture and cuisine and heritage of my home, but also to shine a light on places people overlook,” he says.

In the following Q&A, Pete shares how he’d spend his time as a visitor in Northwest Indiana.

Food and Drinks

What are your favorite restaurants in Northwest Indiana?
Joseph Pete: I recommend The Commander Restaurant in Munster, Ind.; Jedi’s Garden Family Restaurant in Griffith, Ind.; and Round the Clock in Highland, Ind., which is open 24/7.

What about bars or breweries?
: There is an abundance of craft breweries in the area. 3 Floyds Brewing is well known and located in Munster. I also recommend 18th Street Brewery in Hammond and Wildrose Brewing in Griffith.

Exterior photo of 3 Floyds Brewing
3 Floyds Brewing in Munster, Ind. Courtesy photo.

Sightseeing and Entertainment

What is your favorite way to spend a day in Northwest Indiana?
: I’m fond of visiting the Miller Beach neighborhood in Gary, Ind. There’s an art gallery called Lake Street and a museum dedicated to American writer Nelson Algren.

For those who enjoy a hike, Miller Beach has several trails. I recommend the Beachfront, the Chanute, and the Nelson Algren trails. And if there’s time, make sure to visit the Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium inside Marquette Park. It’s home to a replica Octave Chanute glider, a Tuskegee Airman jet sculpture, and informative historic plaques about how early flight experiments were conducted there.

Indiana Dunes on a sunny day
A stretch of beach at the Indiana Dunes. Photo courtesy of Indiana Dunes National Park.

When is the best time to visit? Is there an event people should plan to attend?
JP: Summer is when the region truly shines. Pierogi Fest, which takes place in July in Whiting, Ind., is a whacky tribute to Eastern European culture. The festival draws more than 300,000 people each year and has garnered the attention of Oprah, the Food Network, and the Travel Channel. Whiting is also home to the WhoaZone, an inflatable water park, at Whihala Beach.

A group of women dressed as old ladies
The “busha ladies” are a whacky fixture at Pierogi Fest. In Polish, Busha means grandmother, and this group of women dressed in aprons, compression socks, and wearing curlers, symbolize the festival founders’ love and respect for grandparents and family traditions. Photo courtesy of Pierogi Fest

The Indiana Dunes Birding Festival takes place in May every year. That same month, 3 Floyds Brewing hosts Dark Lord Day, a craft beer festival, in Munster. The event celebrates the release of the brewery’s Dark Lord Imperial Stout, which is only available once a year. People come from all over to listen to death metal bands and trade rare bottles of craft beer.

For more Northwest Indiana recommendations, purchase a copy of Joseph Pete’s book 100 Things to Do in Gary and Northwest Indiana Before You Die.

This story is part of our travel series, Travel Like a Local, which features IU alumni living in major cities all around the world.

Written By

Rachel Wisinski

Rachel Wisinski, BAJ'14, is a freelance writer and editor from the suburbs of Chicago.

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