Bloomington, IN (WCIA)

For those looking for a magical Midwest getaway this holiday season, Bloomington, Indiana is a small Midwestern city serving up all the cozy small town feels with big holiday magic: think charming hometown events, traditional décor, warm comfort food and wine, winter wildlife, beautiful outdoor landscapes, and more.

Here’s why this college-town destination feels like the setting of a Hallmark holiday movie:

Festive Fare and Cozy Cuisine: With over 350+ restaurants, Bloomington is a small city serving up some big, bold flavors with its international dining scene. Fresh, seasonal dining is available year-round, and winter is no exception. Visitors can expect festive fare at restaurants across the city. With artisanal coffee shops, bakeries, and restaurants, there is something delicious to discover. Popular winter bites include a Ginger Molasses Sandwich Cookie or Sweet Potato, Zucchini & Goat Cheese Hand Pie from Two Sticks Bakery, or a Santa-shaped Sugar Cookie or Sugarplum Donut from Rainbow Bakery. For something savory, Big Woods Bloomington’s Holiday Feast Burger, Cranberry Brown Sugar Meatballs is a must try. There’s also the Cajun Meatloaf, Seafood Gumbo, or Pot Roast from Uptown Cafe. Taste of India is another fantastic spot to warm up with cozy flavors — their authentic curry, tikka masala, and vindaloo dishes are some of the best international plates in town.

Making spirits bright: Cardinal Spirits, Bloomington’s only distillery, rolls out a few holiday-themed cocktails each year, this year’s being their Spiked Eggnog, Cider House Yules, and Miss Mint cocktails. Made with craft-distilled liquors, their cocktails are just as beautiful as they are delicious Switchyard Brewing Co. offers a Chocolate Cherry Stout and Winter Wheat, in addition to a few other seasonal releases. Function Brewing offers an Oatmeal Stout, and Lennie’s brings back their Java Porter during the winter months. Don’t miss Upland Brewing Co.’s line of Teddy Bear Kisses brews, featuring Bourbon Barrel, Orange Zest, and Toasted Coconut flavors. The Tap makes their coffee-flavored Midnight Fuel Stout available to the masses each winter as well.

A hidden home away from home for the holidays: For those who need more room than a traditional hotel, and with many still opting for private accommodations like Airbnb and VRBO, Bloomington is home to several unique and under-the-radar vacation rentals like the hidden Red Rabbit Inn, an architecturally designed secluded cabin; the luxe Scholars Inn Keep; The Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center Yurts which offer three fully equipped retreat yurts and several retreat rooms on the second level of the Cultural Center Building. A perfect fit for spiritual retreats or anyone seeking solitude and reflection; plus others.

Winter hikes: The beauty of fallen snow on Southern Indiana’s landscape cannot be understated. If you’re looking to explore Bloomington’s natural wonders firsthand, take a look at some of the area’s best winter hikes at spots like Lower Cascades Park, Griffy Lake Nature Preserve, and the Bloomington Rail Trail. The Bloomington Rail Trail and Clear Creek Trail in Bloomington offer a combined 4.4 miles of cross-country skiing possibilities, but for real adventure strap on your skis and hit the trails at Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area or Morgan-Monroe State Forest. Check out the top 5 winter hikes here.

Here to stay is the new bird. Your chances of seeing wildlife increase significantly in winter since trees have shed their leaves and opened sightlines even in the densest forest. When it comes to bald eagles, there’s no better place than Monroe Lake south of Bloomington, where the majestic birds have staked out a winter home. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources launched its bald eagle restoration efforts at Monroe in 1985 and the species has become the poster child of the DNR’s Nongame & Endangered Wildlife Program.

Seventy-three eaglets were released at Monroe over a five-year period in the late 1980s with a goal of 50 nesting pairs. That threshold was crossed in 2008, prompting the removal of bald eagles from the state’s endangered species list. Today, more than 300 nesting sites are scattered across Indiana, with Monroe as their main hub. Golden eagles, rare in Indiana, are occasional visitors. Read more here.

The best time to snag tickets to the game: Bloomington is well known as being home to one of the top college campuses in the U.S.: Indiana University. IU is also known for its college sports. An insider tip: The winter and holiday season is one of the best times to snag tickets to its popular basketball games. It’s also a great time to pick up souvenirs and holiday gifts for the IU fans in your family.