Four Years in South Bend

Author: Ava Downey

Notre Dame was the only school I applied to that was located in the Midwest. For high school me, growing up in Southern California and being a member of my school’s surf club, I never thought I would end up at a school that was not next to an ocean … unless you count Lake Michigan as one. While discerning where to go to college, I had made pro and con lists. Some of the pros for Notre Dame I listed were its mission, Catholic identity, dorm system, strong alumni network, and football tradition. On top of the cons list was Notre Dame’s location. South Bend? Indiana?? Before moving into Notre Dame freshman year, I had never even visited the midwest, not even Chicago, the famous windy midwestern city. However, at the time, Notre Dame’s pros outweighed the cons and I underwhelmingly landed in the small South Bend International Airport in August 2020 for my first year of college. Driving through South Bend, nothing about it stood out to me. There were enough conveniences like a Target, a decent grocery store, and a mall with plenty of stores like Aerie and Macys where I felt like the area had everything I could need, but it did not feel like anything special. Both without a car and during a pandemic, I limited my interactions with South Bend until sophomore year.

A coffee shop in South Bend, Indiana

Luckily, I was able to have a car starting my second year and this gave better access to engage with South Bend. While Notre Dame students have free bus access, and it is easy to get a ride share, it is best to have a car or get a ride from friends for the most efficiency. With the convenience of my car, I quickly began to explore the different restaurants, cafes, activities and stores that I never heard about before. After a couple weekend visits to various parts of South Bend, I realized that there is so much more to South Bend than I previously thought. When you look up “Top 10 things to do in South Bend, Indiana” the list is boring, generic and mostly includes sights on Notre Dame’s campus. Instead what I encountered was cool coffee shops like Cloud Walking and the Local Cup, restaurants like the Lauber, Roselily, and Craft One Half, and activities like Rum Village, ice skating at Howard Park and jazz concerts at Merrimans’ Playhouse. However, it took some time in the community to discover these great places, and for busy college students it would be hard to commit time to finding cool places on a busy schedule and without knowing where to go. It is also often a financial commitment to get off campus (rideshare costs, food, etc.), so I thought it would be a good idea to lower the barriers to discovering unique places in South Bend through creating an Instagram blog called Outside Notre Dame (@outide.nd) and provide guides and recommendations on where to go in South Bend. It has been almost two years since I first started exploring South Bend, and I have realized that it has been a great place to spend my undergraduate education because of its affordability, accessibility to fun things to do, a great food scene, and unique city community. It has also taught me the lesson that it does not matter where you go, as long as you make the most of your experience and try to learn about the people and places that surround you, you will find yourself making a home at Notre Dame and in South Bend. Throughout my time at ND, I have been able to meet cool community members, take classes that actively explore South Bend through the Center for Social Concerns, and be a local when showing my friends and family different parts of South Bend when they come into town. It is because of these experiences that I will always appreciate the time I had in South Bend and I am looking forward to seeing its continued growth.

A local store and coffee shop in South Bend, Indiana.

My version of Top 10 Things To Do in South Bend:

  1. Dinner at Roselily

  2. Run or Walk the East Bank River Trail start at Howard Park

  3. South Bend Farmers Market (and its cafe!)

  4. Car Races at South Bend Motor Speedway

  5. Open Warehouse Sales at Gage Goods

  6. Tacos at Rosales Market or Taqueria Chicago

  7. Afternoon pick-me-ups at the General or if appropriate Hammer & Quill right next door

  8. Jazz Concert at Merrimans’ Playhouse

  9. Thrifting at Rocki Button or next door at House Wins for decor and furniture

  10. Various shops and Local no 6 in the Near Northwest Neighborhood