Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Gary, IN

  • Published 2023/06/18

Gary is a city in Lake County, Indiana, that shares borders with the Indiana Dunes National Park and the southern shores of Lake Michigan, approximately 30 miles southeast of Chicago, Illinois.

The United States Steel Corporation established the city in 1906 to be the home of Gary Works (the largest steel factory in North America).

It was named after the founding chairman and lawyer, Elbert Henry Gary.

For many years, Gary’s economy was heavily dominated by industrial activity.

In addition to its manufacturing industry, Gary is the birthplace of the legendary singer and performer Michael Jackson!

Due to its location and rich heritage, the city has a wealth of historical landmarks, entertainment, outdoor spaces, and recreational areas open to visitors.

Below are the best things to do in Gary, Indiana.

Explore the Natural Areas of Marquette Park

Beach at Marquette Park

Eclectic Nature / Shutterstock.com

Marquette Park, originally known as Lake Front Park, is a local park on the border of the Indiana Dunes National Park.

Its stunning natural features include 1.4 miles of Lake Michigan shorelines, wetlands, inland ponds, an indigenous oak savanna, a lagoon, and dunes.

One of the most recognizable landmarks within Marquette Park is the Marquette Park Pavilion, formerly known as the Recreation Pavilion.

Pavilion at Marquette Park

chicagogeek, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This magnificent structure blends elements of Italian Renaissance Revival and Prairie School styles, creating a unique and eclectic design that is charming and elegant.

Over the years, the Pavilion has been a popular location for various celebrations, from weddings to civic events to social gatherings.

The grounds of Marquette Park

Peter Greenberg, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Enjoy a Night Out at the Hard Rock Casino in Northern Indiana

Experience ultimate entertainment at Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana, near the south shores of Lake Michigan!

This cutting-edge casino offers top-notch gaming and embodies the thrilling and energetic style synonymous with the Hard Rock brand.

Test your luck on the dynamic casino floor, where you can choose from many gaming options, including 1,600 slot machines and over 80 table games!

From the newest slot machines to the classic craps table, you’ll discover new and old favorites that will keep you captivated.

In addition to the gaming experience, you can indulge in a diverse range of dining options and bars that cater to your personal preferences.

Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana offers tempting choices for all types of visitors.

You’ll find a lively music scene, a fun night out with friends, or a sophisticated atmosphere for a relaxing drink.

Walk or Bike the Gary Green Link Trail

The Gary Green Link Trail is a 4.4-mile out-and-back trail that forms part of the Buchanan Street Green Gateway Project.

It also runs alongside the picturesque Grand Calumet River, starting from Bridge Street and extending to Broadway at City Hall.

Approximately half of the trail meanders alongside the river, offering scenic views, while the other half winds through the city.

Most of the trail consists of paved paths and extra-wide sidewalks, with clearly marked and accessible street crossings.

However, a short quarter-mile stretch shares the road with low-traffic vehicles.

The trail is well-equipped with directional signage, making navigation easy for trail users.

The Gary Green Link Trail is a well-maintained urban trail that boasts abundant trees along the river portion, adding to its natural appeal.

Enter the Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium

Exterior of Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium

Visviva, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium, built in 1921, is an exquisite example of neoclassical architecture designed by George W. Maher.

Its impressive stature has earned it a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium was saved from demolition by the Chanute Aquatorium Society in 1991.

Building sign of Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium

chicagogeek, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As part of the 2012 park improvements, the Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium underwent renovation.

Today, it boasts a flight museum, conference facilities, two beautifully landscaped courtyards, and a viewing terrace on the second floor that offers stunning views of Marquette Beach.

The building pays homage to Octave Chanute, the “grandfather of flight,” and the Tuskegee Airmen, who were forerunners in integrating the armed forces during World War II.

Spend Time in Nature at IDNP Miller Woods

IDNP Miller Woods is located in the westernmost part of Indiana Dunes National Park.

It is a pristine natural area in Gary’s lakeside neighborhood, Miller Beach.

This area is teeming with biodiversity, boasting a wide variety of at least 287 species of flora and fauna!

One of the highlights of IDNP Miller Woods is the Paul H. Douglas Trail, a picturesque trail that meanders through diverse habitats such as wetlands, black oak savanna, beach, and open dunes.

Tread carefully and stay in a single file on the narrow path to keep yourself from the poison ivy that lines the edges of the trail and safeguard the delicate lupine habitat.

Explore this remarkable wilderness’s beauty and diversity, offering a unique and awe-inspiring experience for nature enthusiasts and hikers alike!

See Michael Jackson’s Childhood Home

Exterior of Michael Jackson's Childhood Home

littlenySTOCK / Shutterstock.com

See the birthplace of the legendary Jackson Five, notably the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson, at the Jackson Family Home.

It is most commonly known as Michael Jackson’s Childhood Home.

Regarded asone of the most influential families in the music business, the Jacksons had humble beginnings in Gary.

Following a year of courtship, Joseph and Katherine got married in 1949.

The Jackson legacy was born after they bought a modest two-bedroom home at 2300 Jackson Street in Gary, Indiana, in 1950.

Sculpture in front of Michael Jackson's Childhood Home

littlenySTOCK / Shutterstock.com

All ten children were born in Gary; Michael was the eighth, and Janet was the youngest.

The house consisted of a living room, a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a compact utility room for the freezer and washer.

Joe and Katherine shared one room, while the sons shared the other, and the girls slept in the living area.

To direct travelers to the small white home of the Jackson family, road signs were placed along local roads as well as Interstate 80/94, stating “Home of the World-Famous Jackson 5.”

Although Michael Jackson’s Childhood Home is not open for tours, seeing this piece of history about one of the greatest artists of all time is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Browse the Art at Lake Street Gallery

Lake Street Gallery has been a proud provider of original art, quality crafts, and custom framing to the Northwest Indiana community since 1993.

Their expertise lies in creating local art that draws inspiration from Lake Michigan’s shorelines and the Indiana Dunes.

Lake Street Gallery also displays various photography and abstract art.

All gift items available are carefully crafted by skilled artisans from the local area and across the United States and Canada.

Visit Lake Street Gallery and discover the perfect piece to enhance your home, office, or personal collection.

Swing by the Sparkle House

The Sparkle House is a hidden gem that came to life in September 2019 when Jennifer Taylor acquired an abandoned home in the city.

Jennifer lovingly restored it, transforming it into her art studio during winter and an enchanting Airbnb during summer.

In the spring of 2020, the exterior was painted in vibrant pink, with the fence adorned in purple, and embellished with donated jewelry and fragments of mirrors from friends and family, adding a touch of whimsy and sparkle to the neighborhood.

Step inside, and you’ll be captivated by the equally mesmerizing interior, brimming with artwork that transcends the ordinary imagination.

The Sparkle House, with its Jewel Box Greenhouse and eclectic garden, aims to inspire the community, welcoming visitors to explore its charm.

If you are in the area, swing by and experience the sparkle firsthand, or book a stay for a truly delightful and unforgettable experience.

Catch a Tournament at the U.S. Steel Yard

Aerial view of U.S. Steel Yard

Matt Gush / Shutterstock.com

U.S. Steel Yard is an outdoor baseball stadium in Gary’s Emerson neighborhood, adjacent to I-90.

The stadium has a seating capacity of 6,139 people.

It is the home field for the professional baseball team Gary SouthShore RailCats, an American Association of Professional Baseball member.

In addition to hosting RailCats games, U.S. Steel Yard is a popular venue for Little League and high school baseball games.

The field of U.S. Steel Yard

Fatmatt777 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Steel Yard is notable for hosting a memorial service for the late music icon Michael Jackson in 2009.

The event, attended by over 6,000 fans and Jackson’s family, was a significant cultural moment for the city.

U.S. Steel Yard has welcomed over 2 million RailCats fans through its gates, cementing its reputation as a beloved local institution.

Grab Dinner at Flamingo Pizza of Miller

Welcome to Flamingo Pizza of Miller, your friendly local bar and grill!

Flamingo Pizza of Miller takes pride in serving delicious hand-tossed and stone-baked pizzas, fresh, flavorful salads, lake perch, a wide selection of local craft beers, and more.

This laid-back restaurant offers a cozy and welcoming setting, perfect for enjoying a leisurely meal or grabbing a quick bite.

Conveniently located just steps away from the shores of Lake Michigan, Flamingo has a rich history in the area.

Gus Romeo launched Flamingo Pizza In 1941, regarded as one of the first pizzerias in the city and, according to some, the entire state.

It’s a great spot to unwind with a cold drink and grab a bite to eat before or after a day at the beach nearby.

Visit the Gary Land Company Building

Exterior of Gary Land Company Building

Lotzman Katzman, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Gary Land Company Building is a historic building in Gary, known as the city’s first structure and first Town Hall.

This one-and-a-half-story balloon frame structure, built in 1906, is about 20 feet wide and 40 feet deep, with a cross-gable roof.

The Gary Land Company Building was used as a city hall, a post office, a school, and a commercial building.

It was converted into a residence in 1909 and was relocated to its current site in 1956.

The Gary Land Company Building is now a significant historical museum and visitor center that welcomes tourists and school tour groups to the area.

In 1979, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its historical significance.

Join an Event at the Marshall J. Gardner Center for Arts

The Marshall J. Gardner Center for Arts is a spacious 6,000-square-foot facility promoting visual and performing arts and community engagement.

The Center hosts various events, including live music concerts, an art festival, film screenings, dance performances, and rotating art exhibits each month.

Additionally, the Center organizes artisan fairs, biennial public street art festivals, an annual cultural week featuring Tibetan monks, and a seasonal Farmers Market from June to August.

Most of these events are offered at little to no cost, making them accessible to everyone.

In addition to its programming, the Marshall J. Gardner Center for Arts is also available for private events such as weddings, receptions, birthdays, and community meetings, providing a versatile space for various occasions.

Visit Marshall J. Gardner Center for Arts, where creativity, culture, and community thrive!

Go to the Indiana Dunes National Park West Beach

Located within the picturesque Indiana Dunes National Park, West Beach is a popular destination that offers a variety of recreational activities for visitors to enjoy.

With its bathhouse facilities, expansive sandy shoreline, and summer lifeguard station, West Beach is a prime spot along the shores of Lake Michigan.

For a more immersive experience in the park’s natural beauty, the Dunes Succession Trail features 250 stairs to climb, with a mile-long boardwalk through interdunal ponds and dunes.

It connects with two other trails that cover an entire trail network of 3.6 miles.

Aside from hiking, West Beach also offers opportunities for swimming (with caution due to large waves and rip currents), picnicking, and wildlife watching along the pristine shores.

Access to West Beach is convenient, with a designated parking lot on North County Line Road in Gary.

Check Out the City Methodist Church

Exterior of the City Methodist Church

Kevin Key / Shutterstock.com

The City Methodist Church was once the largest Methodist church in the Midwest.

However, it ceased operations in 1975 after more than 50 years.

The church likewise suffered as the city of Gary declined throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

The church had begun to deteriorate by the 1990s, and a fire in 1997 caused additional damage.

Despite its disuse, the church has grown in popularity for urban exploration.

Interior of City Methodist Church

Kevin Key / Shutterstock.com

In recent years, it also became a popular venue for Goth weddings.

The church also served as a film location for various movies, including A Nightmare on Elm Street, Soul Survivors, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Sense8, and Pearl Harbor.

Although the complex still stands, most of it is beyond realistic restoration.

The City Methodist Church has been included in the list of Indiana Landmarks’ 10 Most Endangered Places in Indiana.

Ruins of the City Methodist Church

Boyd Hendrikse / Shutterstock.com

Other Things to Do Nearby

Take the Kids to Bellaboo’s Play and Discovery Center

Bellaboo’s Play and Discovery Center is a vibrant and engaging play facility in Lake Station, Indiana, ten minutes from Gary.

It offers a safe and stimulating environment for children up to nine years old.

Spanning an impressive 23,000 square feet, this imaginative and colorful center is filled with hands-on activities designed to foster intellectual growth and social development through play.

Children can engage in self-guided play in various themed areas, such as a child-sized supermarket, a pizza parlor, and a construction zone, where they can interact with others and engage in dramatic play.

In addition, Bellaboo’s Play and Discovery Centeroffers an art studio, DIY face painting and cooking, dress-up, a reading room, a performance area, a dedicated space for infants and toddlers with play activities, and so much more.

For special occasions, Bellaboo’s Play and Discovery Center also offers five private birthday party rooms that are perfect for celebrating your child’s special milestone.

Final Thoughts

Gary is an ideal destination for a weekend escape, a family holiday, a business trip, or a casual night out on the scenic shores of Lake Michigan.

With its proximity to downtown Chicago, Gary also offers easy access to world-class entertainment, dining, and outdoor adventures.

Make the most of your visit to this stunning lakeside destination with the best things to do in Gary, Indiana!

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