Minnesota Monthly

Oct 6 2022

Regional Travel: Southern Indiana Charm: Exploring the Patoka Lake and French Lick Area

Home to NBA star Larry Bird, this area offers history, charm, and luxury

I was recently invited to explore and discover the regional offerings of Southern Indiana, and to my delight there was much to see and experience in an area. I truthfully had not known much about it, other than it was home to NBA legend Larry Bird. The majority of my time was spent in the areas of Patoka Lake and French Lick. I visited President Lincoln’s boyhood home, hit a few wineries and distilleries, went on an amazing cave tour, stopped by a pioneer village, took a spin around the state’s largest reservoir, donated some money to the local casino, and topped it all off by taking aim and firing away at sporting clays.  These are just a few of the highlights of an area that I admit came as a surprise for its geographical beauty, unique recreational offerings, luxury accommodations, and historical significance. And a visit of the area all comes with homespun Midwestern friendliness and a dash of Southern charm.

A cheap flight or 11-hour drive, here are my suggestions to Eat, Play, and Stay in Southern Indiana.


What: The Overlook Restaurant
Where: 1153 W. State Road 62, Leavenworth, Indiana

The restaurant is uniquely built on a bluff offering a 20-mile panoramic vista of the Ohio River. Order regional favorite the “Hot Brown,” featuring oven-roasted turkey served with mornay sauce, bacon, and tomato atop toasted white bread.

What: Upland Brewery
Where: 707 W. Riverside Drive, Jeffersonville, Indiana

Located right on the Ohio River with a tri-level patio overlooking the Louisville skyline, this brewery has 20 taps featuring Upland classics, seasonals, sour ales, small-batch innovations, and Naked Barrel Hard Seltzer. Pair your favorite beverage with a well-crafted menu featuring pub classics and creative options for vegetarians.

What: Speakeasy Pizza
Where: 120 W. Jefferson St., Orleans, Indiana

Experience this locally-owned wood-fired brick oven pizzeria with specialties like the Rueben pizza made by staff who lovingly call themselves the “knuckleheads.”


What: Patoka Lake Winery
Where: 2900 N. Dillard Road, Birdseye, Indiana

The winery features more than 20 wines including gold-medal winners Captains’ Chardonnay and Biker’s Black and Blue. Be sure to sample and leave with one or more of their famous 26 varieties of wine-infused slushies as well.

What: Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
3027 E. South St., Lincoln City, Indiana

Abraham Lincoln grew from youth to manhood on Southern Indiana soil where his character and moral traits were formed and nurtured. Explore the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial and learn about the boy who one day would become the leader of the United States.

What: Marengo Cave Tour
Where: 400 E. State Road 64, Marengo, Indiana

This U.S. National Natural Landmark is Indiana’s most-visited natural attraction, for good reason. Embark on the Crystal Palace tour, packed with formations and huge flowstone deposits.

What: Spring Mill State Park
3333 State Road 60 E., Mitchell, Indiana

The water flowing from several cave springs led to the founding of an industrial village in the early 1800s. Pioneer entrepreneurs took advantage of a constant water source that never froze, using it to power several gristmills, a wool mill, a saw mill, and a distillery. Restored in the late 1920s, today there are 20 historic buildings to explore.

What: French Lick Sporting Clays
8670 W. State Road 56, French Lick, Indiana

Take aim on a unique challenge at the 75-acre sporting clays range. Fire away at clay targets or test your skills at archery.

What: Spa at West Baden
Where: 8670 W. State Road 56, French Lick, Indiana

With 28,000-square feet in a two-level natatorium layout, this luxurious spa has marble floors and hand-blown glass. Indulge in signature treatments, then use the fitness center and indoor lap pool.

What: French Lick Winery and Spirits
Where: 8145 W. Sinclair St., West Baden Springs, Indiana

A family owned and operated winery and vineyard, the French Lick Winery has been producing award-winning wines since 1995. One of the premiere Southern Indiana wineries is now producing half a dozen products under the Spirits of French Lick moniker as well, including aquavit, absinthe, brandy, vodka, and whiskey.


What: Patoka Lake Marina and Lodging
Where: 2991 N. Dillard Road, Birdseye, Indiana

Unique accommodations include houseboats, floating cabins, winery suites, silo suites and cabins.

What: West Baden Springs Hotel
Where: 8670 W. State Road 56, French Lick, Indiana

The luxury hotel was built more than a century ago, and the atrium that spans 200 feet was once called the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” The hotel is located close to the stables and a quick trolley ride will take you to the casino and French Lick Springs Hotel, and is truly one of the most amazing properties I have stayed at while on a travel assignment.

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