Between Gary and South Bend towards the northwest of Indiana, La Porte is a delightful city in the Michigan City-La Porte urban area.
Something special about this place is the scenic chain of lakes in the north of the city, beginning within walking distance of the walkable downtown area.
These large bodies of water are bordered by parks, with public beaches, paved trails, mature woodland and spaces for festivals, concerts and other outdoor events.
Filled with shops, restaurants and service businesses, downtown La Porte is at the foot of a fine Richardsonian Romanesque courthouse, built from distinctive red sandstone in the 1890s.
1. La Porte County Historical Society Museum
In a handsome purpose-built building from 1994, the La Porte County Historical Society has a superb museum recounting life in the area over many hundreds of years.
This is a large and multifaceted attraction, presenting a number of different collections. Take the Kesling Auto Collection, with more than 30 historic automobiles, from 1903 Winton to a genuine DeLorean from 1982, including several cars made in Indiana.
The W.A. Jones collection features more than 850 historic weapons, purchased in places as far afield as Cairo and Jerusalem.
Also enthralling are the museum’s 14 period rooms, offering a vivid snapshot of local life in different periods and settings, from a Victorian dining room to a 1950s beauty shop.
2. Downtown La Porte
La Porte has a central business district in rude health, abounding with independent businesses, fine old facades, a vibrant events calendar, lots of entertainment and plenty of places to eat and drink.
There’s also a robust local food movement in the city, underpinned by a bustling farmers’ market, taking place On Saturdays late May to early October.
For shopping there are more than 30 independent stores packed into a few blocks, specializing in fashion, shoes, musical instruments, jewelry, antiques & primitives, collectibles, art, flowers and furniture.
The Downtown La Porte Historic District has 70 contributing buildings, mainly on the arterial Lincolnway and the northernmost blocks of Michigan Avenue.
3. La Porte County Courthouse
La Porte has been the county seat since 1832, and the courthouse rising over the city today is the third on this site. In the Richardsonian Romanesque style, and composed of Lake Superior red sandstone, this grand monument was completed in 1894.
The stone was shipped to Michigan City and then transported to La Porte by rail. Some 130 years later, the tower, with its unusual loggia and pointed roof, is still a defining landmark for La Porte.
Some of the building’s outstanding details are its 270-piece skylight, 45+ gargoyles, gilded friezes and exquisite stained glass.
4. Fox Memorial Park
Established in 1911, this gorgeous park on the shore of Clear Lake covers 170 acres and is possibly the prettiest park in the city.
The grassy shoreline, edged by century-old mature trees, abounds with waterbirds in the spring and summer, and there’s an unbroken view to the tower of the La Porte Courthouse.
This is the setting for the Dennis F. Smith Amphitheater, which hosts the Arts in the Park festival in the summer, staging a series of outdoor concerts on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays until as late as September.
Clear Lake is a prime spot for fishing and boating, while many elements at Fox Park have been updated in the last few years.
These include a multi-use trail on the lakeshore, the park’s playgrounds and the Thrills N Spills Skate Park.
5. Soldiers Memorial Park
Also moments from downtown La Porte is this inviting 550-acre park, embedded among the lakes in the north of the city.
Soldiers Memorial Park encloses the 160-acre Stone Lake, and is near to the southern shore of the enormous Pine Lake.
There’s more than 620 feet of accessible shoreline on Stone Lake, ringed by a paved trail, and the big draw in summer is the swimming beach, with lifeguards on duty (check the schedule).
Aside from the Lake Michigan shore, this is undoubtedly the area’s best beach, and you can also launch boats and kayaks at the park.
Away from the water are majestic expanses of native old growth woodland that can be traversed on walking and MTB trails.
6. Indiana and Michigan Avenues Historic District
After exploring downtown you can continue a walking tour along these beautiful parallel avenues, running southeast from the central business district.
The maple trees, planted along these arteries in the 1850s, are what led to La Porte being known as the Maple City.
Developed between 1860 and 1963, the avenues are home to much of the city’s most elegant residential architecture, in styles ranging from Italianate to Queen Anne, Prairie School, Colonial Revival and American Craftsman.
A real standout is the Eclectic Francis H. Morrison House (1904) at 1217 Michigan Ave..
Prominent among the other 223 contributing buildings are the Rear Admiral R. R. Ingersoll Residence (1908), the Swan-Anderson House (1870), the Carnegie Library (1920), the Hobart M. Cable, Jr. House (c. 1925), the John Secor House (c. 1890) and the Emmett Scott House (1915).
7. Hesston Steam Museum
An amazing repository for all things steam powered, the Hesston Steam Museum is a short drive north of La Porte.
Most of the exhibits are in working order, and the main attractions are the three different railroads, from narrow gauge down to 7.5-inch gauge, displaying how steam locomotion was applied to various industries and hobbies.
The museum also has an awesome sawmill with a 60-inch blade, an electric power plant & stationary engine, a steam traction engine, a spectacular Browning Locomotive Steam Crane, a telegraph office and a blacksmith shop.
Be sure to check the website for details of when each piece of equipment is operating.
8. Luhr County Park
Just shy of 100 acres, this scenic park in the very south of La Porte comprises four distinct habitats.
These are prairie, wetlands, upland forest and a managed pond, stocked with bass, catfish and a bluegill for catch and release fishing.
The park’s various districts can be discovered on trails, which include interpretive signage, an observation tower and a boardwalk in the wetlands.
The nature center, open March through October, has live animals, a wildlife observation area and child-friendly interactive displays about this natural setting.
There are also two shelters and a hall that can be rented, as well as a one-acre bark park (registration required).
9. Pine Lake
North of Soldiers Memorial Park and Stone Lake is the 540-acre Pine Lake, mostly bordered by quiet residential communities, and with a couple of public parks on its shores.
One desirable location is Holmes Island, a peninsula jutting into the lake from the western shore, almost dividing the lake in two.
On the south shore, next to Waverley Road is the small but attractive Pine Lake Ski Beach, with a sandy beach area, backed by grass, trees and picnic tables.
On the eastern shore you’ll find Pine Lake Marina, which offers a range of motorboats and tow packages. Just to the north is Kiwanis-Teledyne Park, with a fishing pier, lighted lakefront path and stunning views at sunset.
10. Chessie Trail
When we wrote this article there was a paved, multi-use trail system under construction, set to link the lakes in the north of La Porte with the downtown area.
Up to 2021 the Chessie Trail was 1.5 miles long, running from Kiwanis-Teledyne Park on the eastern shore of Pine Lake, down to Newporte Landing, close to Lily Lake.
The trail is on the old right-of-way of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, a freight line serving La Porte from the late 19th century.
The trail will include a spur for Fox Park, making it easier to walk or ride from downtown to outdoor concerts and festivals here in summer.
11. Garwood Orchards
Just west of La Porte is a fruit farm that has been in the same family for six generations and 190 years.
The current farm is on 350 acres, 200 of which are dedicated to a range of apple varieties, and the remainder to a wealth of other produce including peaches, sweet corn, raspberries, blueberries, cabbages and pumpkins.
June through October is U-Pick season, culminating with apples in late summer and fall. Garwood Orchards grows 21 different apple varieties, from Zestar to Braeburn, and there’s a detailed guide on the website letting you know when your favorites are available.
The farm market sells homegrown produce, as well pickles, sauces, dips, apple cider, pies and donuts made to order.
12. Beechwood Golf Course
One of the best public courses in the area is right here in La Porte, barely five minutes from downtown.
Donated to the city by the wealthy Fox family, Beechwood Golf Course was laid out in the 1930s by famed course architect W. H. Diddle (1882-1985).
Loved for the quality of its greens, the course has a traditional layout and requires every club in the bag. Some of the holes to look out for are the par-5 6th, a long hitter’s dream, the tricky 8th, which is a par 3 over a pond, and the dicey dogleg 17th, also a par 5.
The course has a fleet of 2020 Yamaha carts, a pro shop, a new pavilion and chipping and putting facilities where you can hone your short game.
13. Kesling Park
On the southern edge of the city, Kesling Park is on 90-acres, growing steadily from a two-acre land donation in the 1970s.
Ideal for a family get together, this park has several picnic shelters, and kids will adore the newly renovated Fort La Play Porte playground, which even features a zip line.
Among the wealth of active recreation amenities at Kesling Park are baseball/softball diamonds, tennis courts, basketball courts, volleyball courts, soccer fields, and an excellent sledding hill in the winter.
14. Lakeside Lavender and Herbs
Just the kind of business you would hope to find in a place like La Porte, Lakeside Lavender and Herbs is just past the northern shore of Pine Lake.
This is a small-scale lavender farm, welcoming the public onto its picturesque fields during the flowering season in June/July, when you can pick your own lavender.
You’ll find out about the farm’s different kinds of lavender, and the work that goes into growing, harvesting, drying and processing this herb.
There’s also a variety of lavender products on sale, as well as a choice of jams from the farm’s own blueberry and blackberry bushes.
15. La Porte County Fair
The La Porte County Fairgrounds are on the city’s western margins, and host a lineup of expos and concerts throughout the year.
The big annual event is of course the county fair, which has been going for more than 175 years and normally takes place around mid-July.
This seven-day celebration brings tons of music and entertainment, a world of family fun and classic fair food, all in a friendly atmosphere.
There’s a demolition derby and tractor pulling, as well as the usual livestock auctions and 4-H events, with all kinds of animals to see.
Another educational way to keep children occupied is the Curious Kids Trail, exploring agriculture and the history of the community.