Named for a Native American princess, the daughter of Shawnee Chief Elkhart, Mishawaka is a city on the St. Joseph River, just upstream from South Bend.
The river, feeding Lake Michigan, helped make Mishawaka an industrial center in the 19th century, known for wool, rubber, agricultural windmills, as well as peppermint, which thrived in the fertile black loam surrounding the city.
The St. Joseph River is still at the heart of Mishawaka’s appeal, with a line of riverside parks linked by the looping Riverwalk trail.
The regional University Park Mall is here, and you’re never more than a few minutes from the culture and attractions of South Bend and the prestigious Notre Dame University.
1. The Riverwalk
The St. Joseph River is a real strong point for Mishawaka, flowing through the city at a gentle pace, apart from where it tumbles down the Mishawaka and Twin Branch dams.
Lining the river in the heart of the city is a looping pedestrian/bicycle trail on both banks between the Mishawaka Dam in the east and the S Logan St. bridge in the west.
The Riverwalk is endowed with lighting, dainty landscaping, signage, a footbridge between Beutter and Battell Parks, and constant views of the river.
On Sundays during the summer months, this is a convenient way to get to the Mishawaka Farmers’ Market, which takes place on Sundays, 11am to 3pm, at Ironworks Plaza on the south bank.
2. Central Park
When we wrote this article, this lovely riverside park had just reopened following a big renovation.
Central Park is on the Mishawaka Riverwalk, with a footbridge crossing the river close to the dam, which creates a stretch of whitewater.
Here you can check out the Mishawaka Fish Ladder, allowing salmon and trout to access their hatchery upriver.
The park is a magnet for families in summer for its splash pad, and there are outdoor concerts on Thursday nights at the modern bandstand.
Also on hand at Central Park are lighted tennis courts, a children’s playground, a lighted basketball court, five pavilions, picnic tables and grills.
3. South Bend
Mishawaka is contiguous with the fourth-largest city in Indiana, so you’ll be a matter of minutes from some big sights, museums, entertainment venues and a host of other attractions.
We’ll also talk about the University of Notre Dame, which deserves a separate paragraph.
But some of the many things to keep on your agenda in South Bend are the National Studebaker Museum, the sublime Morris Performing Arts Center (1922), the South Bend Museum of Art, the CircaArts Gallery and the History Museum, exploring the history of Michiania and preserving the 38-room Oliver Mansion (1895).
As with Mishawaka, the St. Joseph River is a big part of South Bend’s story, and downtown you can admire the River Lights, an exciting art installation erected in 2015. Also on the river is the East Race Waterway, a magnet for paddlesports enthusiasts.
4. University of Notre Dame
Also impossible to ignore is one of the top universities in the United States, just a stone’s throw from the northern end of Mishawaka.
You don’t need to be a prospective student to take a guided tour of the campus, and these start at the Eck Visitors Center.
The main tour gives a sense of the history and daily life of the university and include the main sights like the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes (1896), Basilica of the Sacred Heart (1888), Main Building (1879), and the Hesburgh Library (1963), famed for its monumental mural, known as “Touchdown Jesus”.
Sports fans will know all about the Fighting Irish, and you can go on a separate tour of the Notre Dame Stadium, which opened in 1930 and can hold more than 77,600 fans.
5. Battell Park
Slightly downriver from Central Park is another glorious waterfront park that is also connected to The Riverwalk.
Battell Park was established in 1881 and has been preserved as a Historic District, on the National Register of Historic Places since 1996.
The two contributing monuments here are the Soldiers’ War Memorial (1884) and an elegant, copper-domed bandshell, in the Classical Revival style, completed in 1927.
Also lovely is a five-tier cascading garden, with several pools, an arched bridge and a waterfall, added as a Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.
6. Potawatomi Zoo
Although it’s not strictly in Mishawaka, you can get to this acclaimed zoo in under five minutes from Battell Park. Potawatomi Zoo has a season from April through October and celebrated its centenary in 2021, making it the oldest zoo in Indiana.
This is a conservation-oriented attraction, engaged in more than 50 Species Survival Plans worldwide.
A large portion of the zoo is dedicated to African species, with lions, okapis, warthogs, Diana monkeys, plains zebras, okapis and many more.
Also prominent is Australian Outback, a walk-through exhibit with kangaroos, wallabies, emus and kookaburras.
The Americas features the likes of bison, North American river otters, capybaras and American alligators, while The Learning Center has habitats for smaller primates, reptiles and invertebrates.
Finally, don’t miss the Cat House, built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s and home to Amur leopards and snow leopards.
7. Robert C. Beutter Riverfront Park
Another scenic place to relax or be active by the water, the St. Joseph River is the main attraction at Beutter Park.
One of the anchors for the Riverwalk and a venue for concerts and other outdoor events in summer, Beutter Park has picturesque landscaping in seven acres.
The main feature is a long river race, popular with water birds like ducks and geese, and bordered for its length by a neatly tended perennial garden. At the head of the race is the modern River Shards sculpture by Indianapolis artist Jan R. Martin, installed in 2004.
8. University Park Mall
Not far from the Notre Dame campus in the north of Mishawaka is a super-regional, upscale mall, owned by Simon Property Group.
Serving Mishawaka, Elkhart, South Bend and Southern Michigan, University Park Mall has upwards of 120 stores and is anchored by JCPenney, Macy’s and Barnes & Noble.
A few of the many famous brands here are Apple, Foot Locker, Sephora, Michael Kors, Kay Jewelers, J. Crew, Forever 21, American Eagle, Vans and Loft.
For dining there’s a line of chain restaurants like LongHorn Steakhouse and Wendy’s along Grape Rd, while the mall has Five Guys, Chick-fil-A and food court mainstays like Charley’s Cheesesteaks and YiHi Japan.
9. Evil Czech Brewery and Public House
There’s a flourishing brewpub in Mishawaka, for innovative American comfort food and a range of craft beer to suit all tastes.
The flagship beers at Evil Czech are General George Patton (Lager), Evil Czechmunk (IPA), Bigsby White Stout, Stalin’s Dark Side (Russian Imperial IPA), Jesús Mexican Lager, Static Chipmunk (Hazy IPA), Nefarious Harbor (New England IPA), Three Six Hoppia (IPA) and Voodoo (Porter).
There’s a window on the brewhouse at the spacious pub, where you can pair your beer with unique takes on tacos, poutine, mac & cheese, sandwiches, woodstone pizza, burgers and much more besides. The Sunday brunch does small plates, so is a fine way to sample different menu items.
10. Merrifield Park
One of the prettiest stretches of the St. Joseph River can be found at Merrifield Park, tucked into a bend on the south bank.
The waterfront here is traced by Prospect Drive, affording scenic views to the large houses on the opposite bank.
The park is home to Mishawaka’s outdoor community pool, which we’ll talk about later, as well as a wealth of other amenities like an up-to-date children’s playground, baseball/softball diamonds, a football/soccer field and a boat launch.
From early December to the start of February, Merrifield Park is home to an outdoor ice rink, with extended hours on weekends and during the winter break.
11. Strikes and Spares Entertainment Center
As the name suggests Strikes and Spares Entertainment Center has multiple attractions under one roof, ideal for a date night, family outing or fun with friends.
To sum up, you’ve got a bowling alley offering blacklight cosmic bowling, an indoor go-kart track, junior karts, nine holes of mini golf, bumper cars, a Ninja Warrior-style agility course, bounce houses and a bounce pad.
This is all combined with arcade games, a snack bar and a lane-side bar & grill for handmade pizzas, burgers, wings and more.
12. Putt-Putt Fun Center
Mishawaka has a location for this large mini-golf chain. Generally open spring through fall, Putt-Putt Fun Center has three 18-hole courses to take on.
These have enough variety that you could play the same course more than once and not get bored. There’s also an absence of wacky obstacles, which means that skill and accuracy are rewarded here.
If you can’t get enough or are in a big group, then specials are available for multiple games. The courses are complemented by an arcade, packed with ticket redemption games.
13. Shiojiri Niwa
Not far from the riverbank, next to Merrifield Park, is one of Indiana’s few Japanese-style gardens.
Shiojiri Niwa was dedicated in 1987 to celebrate the relationship between Mishawaka and its Japanese sister city, Shiojiri in Nagano Prefecture. Complete with a teahouse pavilion, this authentic strolling garden was designed by Shoji Kanaoka, landscape architect at Disney World’s Epcot Center.
Shiojiri Niwa is imbued with plenty of symbolism: The Garden Bridge represents the link between this world and paradise, while, according to legend, the zig-zag bridge allows the people who cross it to evade evil spirits.
There are over 200 boulders in the garden, some partly buried to give the sense that they have been here for a long time.
As is the convention these rocks are always grouped in odd numbers, which is thought to be a way of contrasting the garden’s man-made elements with natural irregularity.
14. Merrifield Pool
In the park of the same name you’ll find Mishawaka’s Olympic-size outdoor pool. This is open early June to mid-August and has designated hours for lap swimming, if you want to get some exercise, and open swim, mostly for kids.
A few of Merrifield Pool’s many amenities are a hoop for water basketball, two diving boards, a 180-foot water slide and a concession stand. Residents and non-residents can purchase season passes, and there’s a learn to swim program for children.
15. Blueberry Ranch
Often described as a superfood, blueberries are as healthy as they are delicious, and there’s an organic farm in Mishawaka offering U-Pick during the summer season.
Usually this begins around early July and continues through mid-August.
You can check Blueberry Ranch’s website or facebook pages for precise information. The farm store also sells pre-picked blueberries, jam, pie and blueberry bushes that you can plant in your own yard.
Also available are frozen blueberries, and there are regular pop-up sales throughout the year for this product.