Appears in the April 2023 issue.

Northwest Indiana carves out an identity all its own

Lake View Beach
Lake View Beach

To grow up in northwest Indiana is, in many ways, to be without a state—not quite Indiana and not quite Illinois. A sense of forced independence among those living in these no-man’s-land communities has, over time, hardened into defensive pride for the area known as the Calumet Region (or simply “the Region”). And it has helped shape this corner of the Hoosier State into a place all its own, complete with distinct traditions, quirks, and discoveries.

‘Secret Northwest Indiana: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure’ by Joseph S. Pete

Joseph Pete (like this writer, a Region native) knows the area inside and out. As a scribe for the Times of Northwest Indiana and an author of several books extolling the Region’s unique charms—including his latest, Secret Northwest Indiana: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure—he knows it’s probably not the first place most Illinois residents think to visit, but he also knows well what they’re missing by not making the (surprisingly short) trip.

“Some people have a misconception that it’s farther away than it actually is,” Pete says. “It’s really just another bedroom community for Chicago but with a vibe all its own. And for those who love getting out and exploring and soaking in nature, arts, and culture right in their backyard, there’s plenty to see and do just across the border.”

Pete’s book is a treasure trove of eccentric sites and uncategorizable oddities from not only northwest Indiana but nearby communities in south suburban Illinois and southwestern Michigan as well. Here are a few of his top picks for a weekend in and around the Region.

The Lubeznik Center for the Arts
The Lubeznik Center for the Arts

A Bustling Arts Scene

Amid the area’s surprisingly vibrant—and growing—arts and culture scene, the Lubeznik Center for the Arts in Michigan City is a true standout, according to Pete.“It’s really stepped up its game in recent years with several blockbuster exhibits,” he says. “It’s also a short walk from Washington Park along the lakefront and the Uptown Arts District, which is home to galleries, theaters, restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques, antique stores, and an artists’ colony.”

The COP Florida Tropical House
The COP Florida Tropical House

A Trip Back in Time

While northwest Indiana is home to a number of notable local museums—including the popular Old Lake County Sheriff’s House and Jail in Crown Point (from which John Dillinger famously escaped)—one of the most fascinating historical sites is the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress Homes in Beverly Shores. “A developer planning a resort community on the Indiana coast moved the experimental homes by barge across Lake Michigan after the 1933 world’s fair,” Pete explains. “They showcase then-futuristic building materials and include the striking Florida Tropical House—a pink pastel marvel on a bluff overlooking the expanse of Lake Michigan.”

Natural Wonders

Though it’s heavily industrialized with steel mills and oil refineries, northwest Indiana remains one of the most biodiverse places in the country, and the Indiana Dunes (which encompasses both Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton and Indiana Dunes National Park in Porter) is the crown jewel of this natural landscape. Says Pete: “A great way to experience the rich diversity of the dunes is to hike somewhere like the Cowles Bog, where you trek for miles through varied habitats like wetlands and woods before ascending a steep dune to be rewarded with a panoramic view of the glistening horizon of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline off in the distance.”


Photos courtesy of Indiana Dunes National Park (beach and house), Lubeznik Center for the Arts, and Reedy Press (book cover)