It???s been a while since I last visited Bloomington, Indiana. So long, in fact, that I was a recent college graduate at the time.

I???ve done some growing up, and Bloomington has, too.

I fell under the spell of the little town back then, what with its boutiques, late-night eats, college bars and classic Indiana University campus. But in 2009, the Indiana Arts Commission accepted 60 blocks of the city as an official state cultural district. The Bloomington Entertainment and Arts District (BEAD) today claims some 100 specialty shops and 90 restaurants as well as galleries, live music and performing arts venues, parks and hotels.

Erin Erdmann lives in the thick of it, settling in downtown Bloomington after graduating from IU in 2005. She describes her town as ???that perfect blend of campus and community,??? and the itinerary she suggested is every bit as balanced ??? part sophisticated adult, part happy-go-lucky co-ed.



Getting ready to enjoy the weekend in Bloomington. Photo courtesy of visitbloomington.com.

Friday night
???The great thing about being in a college town: Everybody???s ready to go out on the weekends,??? Erin begins. If your visit coincides with the first Friday of the month, join the downtown gallery hop. Any weekend, dinner and a show are musts. (That???s the other thing about being in a college town: You never know when you???ll catch one of those acts you???ll someday be telling an ???I saw them when?????? story about. Erin remembers Mumford & Sons playing to a small crowd in Bloomington years back. I saw them last month with an absolute??sea of fans around me.)

Erin's picks: View contemporary photography at Pictura Gallery; experience fine dining courtesy of Chef Dave Tallent and his pastry chef wife Kristen at Restaurant Tallent (Erin recommends the bar menu for budget-friendly eats); listen to live music at The Bluebird or The Bishop. Wherever you end up, order a local brew. Ask for selections??from Upland Brewing Co. or Bloomington Brewing Company.

Saturday morning/afternoon
After sleeping off your late night, hit the Bloomington farmers??? market for breakfast. One of the state???s largest, the market packs the parking lot of Bloomington City Hall with some 5,000 fans of live music and fresh food (8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays, April through November).



Bloomington's farmers' market regularly draws thousands with live music and the freshest food. Photo courtesy of visitbloomington.com.

Buy this at the market:
???Kettle corn is totally Indiana. And in the summer, the tomatoes and peaches are insane,??? Erin raves.

Next, go back to school. The IU campus is full of free museums and things to do (including??the I.M. Pei-designed IU Art Museum and the Lilly Library, where you can try your hand at 400 mechanical puzzles from the museum???s 30,000-piece collection).

Saturday night
It???s only fitting to hit a quintessential college bar following your afternoon on campus. Nick???s on Kirkwood has been serving co-eds (and ???every famous person who comes through [Bloomington],??? adds Erin) for more than 80 years. I was there so many years ago, and it was a rush raising a glass alongside so many high-spirited regulars.

Later Saturday night
No outing aimed at re-living your college years is complete without late-night eats. Nick???s serves food until 1 a.m. on weekends. ???Their kitchen is so small, you have no idea how they pump out so much food. But their pizza and stromboli are so worth it,??? Erin says with a laugh. Two gourmet food carts have begun serving late-night snacks in downtown (usually until 3 or 4 a.m. on weekends). Track Happy Pig and Darko Taco on Twitter ??? Erin reports that ???both are amazing.???



Where campus meets community, you'll find a carefree weekend getaway. Photo courtesy of visitbloomington.com.

Sunday
For breakfast, don your sunglasses and shuffle over to Bloomington Bagel Company for ???The Hangover,??? a bagel sandwich piled with egg plus meat, meat and more meat. If you believe in that ???hair-of-the-dog??? business, order a mimosa or bellini with breakfast at Michael???s Uptown Caf??.

Next, walk the B-Line Trail, a linear park that tracks the western edge of downtown for three miles. The stroll is punctuated by sculpture and points of interest including WonderLab, a hands-on children???s museum with permanent stations (fossil dig; WonderGarden) and visiting exhibits (TOYS: The Inside Story runs June 2 -Sept. 4 and allows kids to learn how some of their favorite games and playthings work).

Erin says: ???If you???re lucky, get one of the tables outside at Michael???s Uptown Caf?? and order the cr??me br??l??e French toast. It???s to die for.??? Traveling with children? Taste of Bloomington promises restaurant samples, live music and kids??? activities on June 18.

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