Looking at Fishers today it’s hard to believe that as recently as the 1950s just a couple of hundred people lived here.
The earliest Euro-American resident was the famed trapper William Conner, who in 1802 settled a plot of land on the east bank of the White River, now preserved as the fantastic Conner Prairie living history museum.
Now a large suburban city northeast of Indianapolis, Fishers is home to some 100,000, and has fresh new downtown areas to cater to its skyrocketing population.
One is the Nickel Plate District, taking its name from the old railroad that used to come through, and has now been turned into a mixed-use trail.
This is the backdrop for all manner of events and get-togethers, hosted by a state-of-the-art amphitheater.
1. Conner Prairie
This famous living history museum is on the historic estate of trapper, entrepreneur and politician William Conner (1777-1855). His Federal-style house from 1823 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and is open for tours.
In the early 1930s, the estate was purchased by another important Indiana entrepreneur, Eli Lilly (1885-1977), and turned into a visitor attraction.
Always vibrant, Conner Prairie is populated with costumed actors and mixes compelling permanent attractions with a wealth of regular programs, from Civil War reenactments to a Headless Horseman ride in the fall.
For a brief summary of the many things to visit, there’s Create Connect, devoted to entrepreneurism in Indiana, the Makesmith Workshop showing off traditional skills and Prairietown, bringing to life a pioneer community from the 1860s.
Kids can meet some 18 domestic animal species at Animal Encounters, while the 1863 Civil War Journey documents Morgan’s Raid, and the Lenape Indian Camp is a faithful representation of a Native American settlement from that time.
2. Nickel Plate District
Fishers’ historical core and the home of its local government, the Nickel Plate District is a thrilling community hub that has grown at an amazing rate in the last few years.
This downtown area has been intelligently planned to cater to pedestrians and bicyclists, and has a network of trails that link with the Nickel Plate Trail, on the course of the 19th-century railroad.
Outdoor space abounds here, as you’ll see at the amphitheater, which can accommodate thousands of spectators and has something new going on almost every day in the summer.
At the time of writing there more than 150 businesses in the Nickel Plate District, among them restaurants of descriptions, galleries, boutiques, studios and home design stores.
3. Nickel Plate District Amphitheater
First unveiled in 2012, the Nickel Plate District Amphitheater quickly became a cultural and entertainment linchpin for Fishers, staging the weekly summer farmers’ market, movie nights, free outdoor concerts and music festivals.
The free concerts are an opportunity to catch up-and-coming talent and world-renowned artists, and performances attract audiences of up to 7,000.
The amphitheater is such a staple of local life that it was recently given a makeover, keeping up with the fast-changing district around it.
Some new features include a raised lawn for better views, a big screen for movies, a larger stage, a pavilion with extra bathrooms and a plaza that has a fountain with 24 jets to entertain kids on hot summer days.
4. Nickel Plate Trail
In line with Fishers’ remarkable transformation, a long stretch of the old Nickel Plate Railroad is being turned into a multi-use trail.
This project has already changed the way people travel in Fishers and is being completed in phases. When we wrote this article it was already possible to travel from 146th to 106th street without deviating from the Nickel Plate Trail.
One noteworthy element is the new tunnel under 116th street, so you can continue your journey in the Nickel Plate District without having to contend with road traffic at the old intersection.
At the entrance to this is a monumental stairway with a bike ramp, creating an access point for pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as tiered seating for events on the trail-level plaza.
5. Fishers District
Just east of the Nickel Plate District, at the intersection of East 116th Street and IKEA Way, is an 18-acre mixed-use development that has become a new dining and shopping destination for the city.
Complementing two Hyatt hotels and a high-end, luxury apartment complex is a directory of local and regional restaurants, bars and entertainment amenities.
One great initiative here is the Fishers Test Kitchen, a kind of food hall where innovative chefs can try out new dining concepts and fine-tune their menus.
This sits next door to a branch of Indy’s famous Sun King brewery, and both can be found on The Yard, a lively green space at the heart of the district.
6. Fishers Farmers’ Market
May through September there’s an acclaimed producers only market at the Nickel Plate District Amphitheater on Saturdays, 8 a.m. to noon.
This is a great way to shop local, and there’s a huge choice, with more than 50 vendors on a typical week.
What makes the market so special is the large quantity of small-scale farms, nurseries, bakeries and special ingredient producers based close by in central Indiana.
Fishers Farmers’ Market is the top-ranked farmers’ market in Hamilton County, and one of the best in the Indianapolis area.
Most weeks there’s live entertainment, children’s activities and cooking demonstrations, for a perfect morning out.
7. Ruoff Music Center
The largest outdoor music venue in the Indianapolis area is just a short hop to the north of Fishers. The Ruoff Music Center opened in 1989 as the Deer Creek Music Center and has a capacity for close to 25,000 spectators.
The concert season begins at the start of May and continues into fall. This is an amphitheater-style venue, with a large area of covered, tiered seating around the stage, and sloped lawns behind for blankets.
A small selection of performers over the last decade includes Foo Fighters, Green Day, Kenny Chesney, Weezer, Dave Matthews Band, Iron Maiden, Phish and Chicago.
8. Flat Fork Creek Park
Fishers’ newest park is in the east of the city and has quickly earned a reputation as a top mountain biking destination.
Flat Fork Creek Park is on 60 acres, and among the features and amenities are three treehouses for kids to explore, a charming little creek, a sledding hill and fishing pond.
The network of mountain biking trails is considered excellent for newcomers, with bypass options and numerous line options in the southern portion. The sledding hill is of course popular in the winter, but also grants some pretty spectacular views all year round.
9. Topgolf Fishers
Fishers has had a branch of this high-tech driving range concept since 2017. For the uninitiated, Topgolf is a bit like bowling, except you’re hitting golf balls from a bay.
The balls have a microchip and you’ll compete with your friends to hit targets in competitive games designed for a whole spectrum of skill levels.
There are more than 100 climate-controlled hitting bays on three levels at Fishers’ Topgolf, as well as a full-service restaurant and several bars. Technology is a big part of the experience and the facility has more than 230 HDTVs.
10. Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve
One of Hamilton County’s two designated state nature preserves is right in the middle of Fishers, just a couple of miles southwest of the Nickel Plate District.
There’s an interesting diversity of habitats in this space, with parcels of woodland (home to a 19th-century family cemetery), wetlands, a creek and prairie, all ready to be enjoyed on 10 different trails adding up to more than 2.25 miles.
One scenic route is the Creek Ridge Trail, winding down to the banks of Cheeney Creek on the preserve’s north side. If you visit early or late in the day you may well spot deer and owls in the woods, while the wetlands are a magnet for several waterfowl species.
11. Cyntheanne Park
Another of the 24 parks set across the city, Cyntheanne Park is in the northeast of Fishers and shines for its many amenities, especially for the family.
The highlight has to be the children’s playground, which is an Evos Playground, designed by Landscape Structures, especially set up to encourage continual movement, unstructured play and physical fitness for kids.
Fishers has a highly competitive pickleball community. Four courts were opened in the park in 2015, and due to the high demand, another four were added in 2019. There’s also a series of five multipurpose sports fields, all encircled by a one-mile trail.
12. Sun King Tap Room and Small-Batch Brewery
Sun King is an Indy-specific beer brand, established in 2008 when it became the first full-scale brewery to open in the city for more than 60 years.
Sun King cans are now sold at more than 1,000 locations across Indiana, and the brand has started to branch out around the Indianapolis area.
A new arrival in the Fishers District is a small-batch brewery with a three-barrel brewing system.
Sun King’s year-round favorites like Pachanga (Mexican-style Lager) and Wee Mac (Scottish Ale), are on draft at the tap room, along with seasonal releases, limited editions and one-off creations you can only find at this location.
Food is also served here, and there’s an exciting menu offered by three restaurant partners at the Fishers Test Kitchen.
Late June is the time for Fishers’ largest annual event, which grows with each new year and makes the most of the new outdoor entertainment venues like the Platform at the Nickel Plate Trail.
There’s always something new happening at Spark!Fishers, but a few of the perennial favorites include open-air concerts and dance performances, a 5k run/walk and a car & arts show.
The festival runs Wednesday to Saturday, and on the final day there’s a street fair festival, parade and a firework show at the Municipal Complex celebrating the community.
14. Symphony on the Prairie
In a tradition going back more than 40 years, Conner Prairie hosts a beloved summer concert series, normally kicking off in late June and taking place on weekends.
The venue is the Conner Prairie Symphony Bowl where the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra gives crowd-pleasing concerts to thousands of people.
Be sure to bring a picnic and blanket/lawn chair, and you won’t have to worry about missing anything, as there are three massive LED screens for a better view. Reserved seats and tables are also available if you want to get closer to the stage.
15. Hamilton Town Center
Close to the Ruoff Nature Center, northeast of Fishers is a large outdoor mall that opened to the public in 2008.
Billed as a “retail lifestyle center”, Hamilton Town Center has classic architecture, with brick and stone facades on streets with rows of trees, flowerbeds, shrubs and elegant street furniture.
This is the setting for more than 90 stores, restaurants and entertainment amenities. A few of the brands here include JCPenney (with a Sephora inside), rue21, Kay Jewelers, Old Navy, GameStop, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Victoria’s Secret and American Eagle.
Among the 15 different dining spots are Five Guys, Red Robin, Olive Garden, QDoba and McDonald’s.