The Best 7 Things to Do in Madison County, Indiana

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The Best 7 Things to Do in Madison County, Indiana

Indiana isn’t just cornfields and open spaces. Tucked away in the quiet corners of the state, you’ll find a wealth of treasures. Today, let’s explore Madison County, Indiana, which is chock full of cool things to see and do. From stunning street art that brings ordinary walls to life to fantastic foodie experiences, these off-the-radar attractions are precisely the experiences that capture the unique heart of America.

Whether it’s exploring quaint downtowns, discovering hand-crafted goods, or enjoying the simple yet profound beauty of rural landscapes, Indiana’s small towns are a testament to the charm and richness of the American spirit.

Madison County, Indiana, is one of these rural areas that wowed this Hip Grandma. Located right in the center, or heart, of Indiana and a convenient 44 miles northeast of Indianapolis, approximately 100 miles southwest of Fort Wayne, and roughly 150 miles southeast of Chicago, you’ll find small-town charm and an array of unique attractions.

During my recent visit, I was impressed by the tasty food options, quirky landmarks, and friendly reception from the people. Here are my top 7 recommendations for anyone visiting this delightful corner of Indiana.

But First – A Stay at the Fairfield Inn

Before we get too far, let’s talk about a place to stay when you’re in the area. I stayed at the Fairfield Inn by Marriott in Anderson, Madison’s county seat, which was comfortable and convenient. The rooms were clean and well-maintained, and they offered a rock-solid breakfast buffet that helped keep expenses low by starting the day with a full belly.

When I travel, I often visit the buffet for a cup of coffee and a bite of protein before I head out for the day because I love to sample local breakfast joints. On my visit, I did exactly that!

The inside of a hotel room showing a bed and the coffee station.
a hotel bathroom in white
The breakfast area at the Fairfield Inn
multi-colored background with the words "let's be friends" printed on top with "click here to join the facebook group"

Discover the Murals

Part of the fun of exploring small-town America is finding local art that gives you a flavor for the community you’re visiting. In recent years, the notion that exquisite artwork is confined to the galleries and streets of big cities has been wonderfully dispelled. Across the United States, especially in the last two decades, a vibrant transformation has taken place in smaller towns and communities, where stunning murals have begun to emerge.

These large-scale, often breathtaking public art pieces have turned the walls of local buildings into open-air galleries. This burgeoning trend brings a sense of artistic pride and community to the nooks and crannies of our gorgeous country.

It’s a testament to the fact that great art can thrive outside the conventional urban spaces, bringing beauty and inspiration to every corner of the country. Madison County is no exception in that you’ll find vibrant murals around the area, including Pendleton, Franklin, Hamilton, and Elwood, to name a few cities. Here are just a few of the murals that I encountered. Imagine what you might find when you go exploring.

a long alleyway that stretches against a blue sky and a number of murals along the alley walls
a mural of several books stacked
an Americana mural with a blue background and white stars - all on the side of the building
a mural showing a pair of butterfly wings, some tomatoes, and the words Red Gold
a mural on a brick wall depicting the state of Indiana painted in a quilted pattern.
The Hip Grandma poses in front of a Madison County mural

Breakfast at Sophie’s Bagels

After I drove around and got the lay of the land and took in some lovely public art, it was time for a bit more breakfast, or as I like to call it, Second Breakfast, thanks to my husband, who has installed a love of all things Hobbit in me. But I digress.

Sophie’s Bagels in Pendleton was the perfect place to grab a more substantial bite. Stopping here was a decision well-made. They offer an excellent selection of freshly baked bagels and pastries for the perfect breakfast experience. My only problem was that I was wishing for more available stomach space to try all the goodies. I settled for a Cinnamon Roll muffin, fresh berries, and an oh-so-delicious and custom-blended Boba drink. The warm, friendly service and cool décor added to the homey atmosphere. And much to my delight, there were even murals here to enjoy!

The exterior view of Sophie's Bagels - a brick building with a hanging sign.
The interior of the Simple Goodness soap company
a brown boba drink with a cinnamon muffin and a small bowl of berries
Michigan Road Trips banner image with pink background and navy and white words, including an image of Michigan

World’s Largest Ball of Paint

After my second breakfast, it was time to venture to one of the most unique attractions I’ve ever encountered. The World’s Largest Ball of Paint, in nearby Alexandria, is a delightfully quirky landmark. This giant ball began as a baseball. Thousands of layers of paint later, it’s a testament to creativity and persistence. It’s a must-see for anyone looking for something offbeat and memorable. You can read more about my experience at this unique attraction in Unveiling Indiana’s Biggest Attraction: The World’s Largest Ball of Paint.

A sign that says "world's largest ball of paint" on a grassy lawn
The Hip Grandma poses in front of the giant ball of paint with owner Mike Carmichael and his granddaughter Taylor
Mr. Carmichael and his lovely granddaughter Taylor posed with me before we left!

The Tin Plate – Fine Food & Spirits

The Tin Plate in Elwood, Indiana, is a fascinating stop for anyone interested in industrial history. And their food is just what a hungry appetite needs for a midday meal. Or an afternoon meal. Or an evening meal. Trust me when I tell you that you will eat well whenever you visit!

Built in 1927 by inventor and entrepreneur Doc Pettigrew, the site once served employees of the neighboring Tin Plate Factory. The original building housed a bar, a general store, and an upstairs area where workers could have, ahem, additional needs met. 

Time passed, and ownership changed hands, the factory shifted, and what used to be has become what is, a symbol of the area’s rich past and resilience. When you visit, ask owner Patrick Rice about the long-standing history here. He has many stories to share, and you won’t be disappointed in any of them!

I had a taste of a Manhattan, which I would characterize as a cousin to the Hot Beef Sandwich, but made with a tomato-based gravy (a nod to the Red Gold Tomato Factory, a major player in the area) stocked with shredded beef and poured overtop potatoes and bread.

If this doesn’t tempt you, then you can’t go wrong with their world-famous Breaded Tenderloin, which dwarfs the cute little bun it is served upon. The Tin Plate serves 6 tons of pork tenderloin annually, which equals 18-20,000 individual servings. Of course, this is just one reason the Tin Plate is a member of the Indiana Foodways Alliance. Its quality and high rating among the locals is commendable.

The menu from The Tin Plate Restaurant that tells some of the story of the place
A plate with a pile of mashed potatoes on top of a slice of bread, smothered in red tomato gravy
a giant breaded tenderloin on a bun with a side of onion rings
a book sits on a wooden table with greenery in the background. The book's title is Midwest State Park Adventures

Midwest State Park Adventures makes a great travel companion or gift. Some of the best travel writers in the Midwest collaborated to put this book together, which covers 12 Midwest States and hundreds of state parks.

And I, the Hip Grandma, contributed by writing the Michigan chapter!

You can click on the photo to order on Amazon or click HERE to learn more and order a signed copy directly from me.

Simple Goodness Soaps

The next stop on the agenda, and a must when you’re in the area, is Simple Goodness Soaps, a charming local business on owner Kelly Caldwell’s family farm. Her story is as unique as her business.

It all began when she began producing her own laundry soap made from 100% natural ingredients for her family’s sensitive skin. She began sharing the laundry soap with a few friends and then selling it at the local farmer’s market. Soon, the demand grew beyond the laundry room and into many other household and skin care products.

Brace yourself for the amazing smells that capture your senses when you walk through the door. Then, feast your eyes on the fantastic selection of products Kelly offers. I promise you won’t leave empty-handed.

a 4x4 post with a sign that says "slow kids at play" in front of a pastoral scene
a Red barn that houses the Simple Goodness Soap Shop.
The pink-haired Hip Grandma stands next to the owner of the Simple Goodness soap store.
The pink-haired Hip Grandma on a bench outside of the Simple Goodness soap shop

Catello’s – Authentic Italian Cuisine

After a crazy day running around and exploring the area, I can think of no better way to end the day than to visit Catello’s in Pendleton. I almost struggle for words to describe my experience at Catello’s.

First and foremost, Owner Catello himself is a story. Catello came from Naples, Italy, in 2015. He quickly fell in love with America, specifically Indiana. Soon after his arrival, he opened his restaurant. Catello comes from a line of cheesemakers. His father made aged cheese, but he specializes in fresh cheese, which we enjoyed during our visit. Catello himself made fresh Mozzarella and Burrata tableside for us.

His presence is extraordinary; he is a quiet, soft-spoken man whose hands work magic while you watch. He happily answered questions while preparing the appetizers, which was almost as lovely as the eating experience.

As we enjoyed the cozy and inviting atmosphere and the fresh cheese, we perused the menu to make our dinner choices. We hadn’t had enough of Catello’s charming company, so we ordered the Cheese Wheel pasta, also prepared tableside from a 90-lb. ring of Parmesan Cheese. This Alfredo sauce mixed with fettuccini and topped with roasted Pork Cheek was the best I have ever enjoyed. Yum!

I could talk for days about our time at Catello’s. This dining establishment perfectly reflects the small-town warmth we experienced all around Madison County. The dishes we enjoyed were cooked to perfection, offering a taste of authentic Italian cuisine. Who knew you could find this right here in Pendleton, Indiana!?

The exterior view of Catello's Italian Restaurant
The interior of Catello's Italian Restaurant
A pink-haired Hip Grandma poses with Chef Catello
a pile of fettuccine covered in alfredo sauce and topped with Pork Cheek

Uranus Fudge Factory

A stop at the Uranus Fudge Factory in Anderson, Indiana, is a great way to end your visit to Madison County. Initially founded in Missouri in 2015, 2022 brought an expansion of Uranus when Anderson became home to the second location.

From the cheerful “Welcome to Uranus” greeting when you enter to the many, many tongue-in-cheek comments from employees throughout the store, you will blush and giggle through the experience of visiting this cheeky candy and ice cream shop.

In 2024, this location will open a mini-golf course and a go-kart track to create an entire experience. Until that’s up and running, you can enjoy a selection of homemade chocolates, the famous Fudge from Uranus, and a vast assortment of t-shirts and other paraphernalia printed with audacious catchphrases that will have you snorting and snapping photos.

But if chocolates, gag gifts, and t-shirts aren’t enough, head across the parking lot to the second building, where you’ll find 32 flavors of homemade ice cream served with all the impish smiles and playful wisecracks you would expect.

A note of Hip Grandmotherly caution here:  The jokes bandied about will likely go over the heads of younger children, but if you bring a teen or preteen, be prepared to be lightly scandalized or in a position to answer some uncomfortable questions. For adults and those who can handle irreverent humor, this is a fun stop to grab a snack and a laugh. And honestly, their fudge is really delicious!

A pink-haired Hip Grandma poses in front of a giant ice cream cone and the sign for the Uranus Fudge Factory
a floor mural with an eyeball that has an ice cream cone in the center of the pupil. The author's feet are at the bottom of the mural.
a Neon sign on a brick wall showing a UFO sucking up a cow
The inside of the Uranus Fudge Factory showing racks of items for sale.

Wrapping it all up

Madison County combines culinary delights, historical intrigue, artistic discovery, and whimsical fun. This area truly captures the essence of Indiana’s small-town charm.

Be ready to hear unique stories and make memories while in town. Whether you’re a local or a traveler seeking new adventures, make sure Madison County is on your radar! Pack your bags, set your itinerary, and get ready to explore Madison County and discover what helps make Indiana the “Crossroads of America.”

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PIN sized image for the article entitled "The Best 7 Things to do in Madison County, Indiana" with a photo of the author posing in front of a Madison County mural