We recently asked our graduate students to tell us what made Bloomington a nice place to live, and were surprised by the range of answers we received. Whether you are into nightlife, the arts, sports, good food, nature, or just want a great community, Bloomington is one of the best college towns in the country.
One of the best things about Bloomington is simply the people who live here. One of our first years recently said “Never before have I been to a place where it was so easy to make friends. At the university, on the bus, in a store. Bloomingtonians are warm and welcoming, and that, above all, makes life livable in this town.” Perhaps that’s why, compared to the rest of Indiana, Bloomington has such a diverse and international community. Many people come for school and never leave, lulled by the warm Midwestern charm, the open-minded people, and the peaceful way of life.
Of course, it helps that the city of Bloomington seems to actively care about its residents. During the warm growing season, city hall hosts a huge Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning. The public library is considered one of the best in the nation, and has a huge browsing collection of books, music, and films. Public transportation runs on time, is easily accessible from everywhere in town, and most of the buses are hybrid electric. The area boasts a huge amount of public parks, and the city has been working hard to become the only sustainable city in Indiana.
Local businesses are eclectic and cater to every need. Downtown Bloomington has four local bookstores (Howard’s, The Book Corner, Caveat Emptor, and Boxcar Books), three local video stores with great taste (Plan 9, Cinemat, and Top Ten), and a selection of art galleries, jewelry stores, cooking and outdoor equipment outlets, record shops, bike shops, tattoo parlors. The local favorite grocery store is the Bloomingfoods Co-Op, with two locations downtown, and we are also served by Kroger and Marsh. There are great local coffee houses like Soma. And many popular retail chains are also accessible on the eastern and western edges of town, like Best Buy, Borders, Barnes & Noble, etc.
One of the best things about Bloomington is the food. You can find just about any kind of cuisine in Bloomington, from down-home American to Moroccan to Tibetan (all on one block). There are some great pizza places, like Greek’s and Mother Bears, as well as campus delivery staples like Mad Mushroom, Aver’s and Pizza Express. You’ll find your choice of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Thai restaurants, Indian, Afghani, Turkish, Algerian, Eritrean, French, Italian, Cajun, Mexican, etc., as well as great Barbeque, sandwich Bistros, greasy spoons, chocolatiers, cookie bakers, and ice cream. A famous New York chef recently opened an all-local, all-organic restaurant downtown (Farm). And if you just want fast food, we’ve got plenty of that too.
Some of the best places to eat are great places to drink as well. The Irish Lion is a traditional old Irish pub serving yards of Guinness and Irish stew. We have two great microbreweries (Upland and BBC) whose menus are almost as good as the beer. If you want to have few drinks with friends, try the Video Saloon, or Nick’s English Hut, serving Bloomingtonians and visitors forever. If you want to watch the game (or Greek pledges), try Kilroy’s, or Sports. You can find dancing at Jake’s and the Upstairs Pub. And if you’re looking for gay bars, try Uncle E’s or the Other Bar.
Many of the drinking holes in town are also great music venues. The Bluebird, the bar where John Mellencamp got his start, is nationally known and a major stop for tours of the Midwest. You can also catch jazz legend David Baker and other acts at Bear’s, an IU music school haunt. Other venues abound, like the Buskirk-Chumley, a renovated theatre from the 1920s, or the Waldron Arts Center, where you can see shows and take art classes. The All-Ages venue Rhino’s often hosts up and coming acts as well as local groups, and there a innumerable basement shows supporting a vibrant music scene.
Of course, IU has one of the best music schools in the country, a judgment easily proven by a trip to the Performing Arts Center. From opera to symphonies, IU attracts some of the best and brightest from around the world to perform and instruct. In the summer IU organizes the Early Music Festival, and a number of performance competitions open to the public. Bloomington also hosts the Lotus World Music Festival every fall, when musical groups from every corner of the globe perform on five different stages.
If you like the theatre, you can find performances anytime of year through IU. From one act plays to musicals, IU has it all. Bloomington also has the Bloomington Playwright’s Project, a publically funded organization that supports local writers and stages their plays. If cinema is more your thing, aside from the great video rental places listed above, there are a half a dozen film screenings happening at any one time. The most established film series is the Ryder which shows independent and foreign films at several locations, like Bear’s, the Art School, or in public parks. There is also the Atomic Age Cinema series and film series sponsored by IU departments. First run movies can be seen at either of the two Kerasotes theatres on the east and west sides of town, and there are weekly free newer films and sometimes sneak previews at the Student Union.
The campus and facilities at IU are impressive. Aside from the Union, one of the largest in the country, we have a full research library, two dozen satellite libraries, a rare books and manuscripts archive open to students, the archives and resources of the Kinsey Institute, a Fine Arts Museum with a surprisingly good collection (Picasso, Braque, Davis, Rembrandt, Monet, Pollock, Rivera, not to mention stunning ancient and non-Western collections), two massive fitness centers and an Olympic size swimming pool, as well as one of the most beautifully landscaped and wooded campuses in America, punctuated by graceful limestone buildings. It’s called Bloomington for a reason.
The natural beauty around Bloomington is hard to ignore. And with so many wildlife preserves, state and national forests, camping areas, wetlands, etc., you can’t go five miles from town without running into some gorgeous landscapes. The best places around are Lake Griffy (5 minutes from campus), Cascades Park (5 min.), Leonard Springs (10 min.), Lake Monroe and the Deam Wilderness (20 min.), Brown County State Park (20 min.), and McCormack’s Creek (30 min.).