There is a special magic in small town Indiana. It’s where Hoosier hospitality is readily available, a helping hand is eager to point you in the right direction, and if you look close enough, there are hidden treasures worth seeking out.
My name is Katie Doehrmann, and I have grown up in Columbia City, a small town in the heart of Whitley County. Katie Doehrmann
I was in the first class to graduate from Eagle Tech Academy, and I learned the ins and outs of my entire area through Leadership Whitley County. I also run my own small business from the comfort of my neighborhood.
That said, I know firsthand that this community of small towns in Whitley County has a lot of magic to offer—whether you are looking for home-cooked meals, creative culture, or something to celebrate.
Here are 10 things to eat, see, and do in Whitley County.
Craving the comfort of a warm family meal?
Whitley County has several local restaurants that provide homestyle meals—just like mom makes—each with their own special twists. Here are a few options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and afternoon pick-me-ups.
Big G’s is a local favorite, specializing in everything from biscuits and gravy to eggs and a haystack. Not only is the food delicious, but the entire sports cafe is adorned with the Indiana Colts memorabilia. Most notably is the decked-out blue horseshoe truck that sits outside in the parking lot.
Needless to say, the owner, Gary Parrett, is a huge Colts fan who takes the sports theme of the restaurant to the next level. If you decide to come back for dinner, you may be lucky enough to experience one of their famous fish fries. These specialty dinners are often put on to support local organizations, including area schools and (you guessed it) sports teams.
Big G's is a sports-themed breakfast spot in Columbia City.
From the outside, this may look like your average burger joint, but don’t be fooled. As soon as you walk through the doors of the Magic Wand, you’ll be greeted by the grinning smiles and cherry red noses of clowns on every inch of this restaurant’s décor. That’s right. Every wall, table, stool, and menu has clowns in all shapes, sizes, and forms, making it a fun spot to take the kids—or a cruel spot to torture that friend of yours who’s scared to death of clowns. Either way, you’re sure to enjoy a truly unique experience—and a local burger and fries. No joke!
The Magic Wand burger joint is located at 602 S. Main St. in Churubusco.
Howdy, partner! Tether up your horses, and kick up your spurs at this western-themed drive-in spot, known for its locally sourced coney dogs and hand-dipped ice cream. The Ole Hitchin’ Post is right off State Road 5 and offers an outdoor atmosphere for cowboys and cowgirls of all ages. During the summer, its tables by the fireside are the perfect place to unwind after a busy day of exploring. It features weekly entertainment from local bands and artists, too.
The Ole Hitchin' Post at 109 Center St. in Larwill.
Drink in local culture at the Brew’ha Coffee House in Columbia City.
My personal favorite coffee shop in Whitley County is the artsy Brew’ha in downtown Columbia City. Whether you prefer a latte, a smoothie, an iced tea, or a classic coffee, the Brew has a wide selection of drinks that range from delicious to absolutely scrumptious. Grab a monster cookie, parfait, or another small dessert to tide you over until your next meal. While you wait for your drink, explore the handmade crafts of local artists and businesses on the walls, and wander through one of the best local antique shops, Junk Gypsies, next door.
Cookies at the Brew'ha.
Supporting local artists, farmers, and business owners in Whitley County is a great way to get a feel for what the community offers.
The Whitley County area is home to many local farmers, gardeners, and craft extraordinaires. You can shop their products weekly at the Whitley County Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. May through October, the market is open 8 a.m. to 12:30, p.m. with vendors around the Whitley County Court House in downtown Columbia City. A new Winter Market runs from November to April on the first and third Saturdays each month, too. Check the market's website for details.
Between florals, wood-working, and lots of yummy treats, you never know what you might find at these Saturday markets. If you can’t make it during the weekend, you can still experience the market on Wednesday afternoons from 3-6:30 p.m. at the parking lot of the Parkview Whitley Hospital, located on US 30 at the intersection of SR 205.
Lunar Infusions Kombucha is a vendor at the outdoor Whitley County Farmers Market in Columbia City.
Art in the Alley 92 is a way for creators and their followers to connect. It offers a monthly marketplace for creators, artists, crafters, jewelers, sculptors, homemade goods, musicians, and more to share their work in the alley off of Van Buren St. in downtown Columbia City. It also features a monthly newsletter and an online marketplace to help creators sell their goods year-round. Follow the Art in the Alley 92 on Facebook for more information and updates.
Art in the Alley 92 fills a downtown Columbia City alley with local art and artists.
One of the best parts of living in a small town is the vibrant festivals throughout the year. While many gatherings were put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, be sure to add these local favorites to your social calendar when they’re back up and running. You can check their social media pages for updates on any COVID-19 restrictions or adjustments in 2021.
Party with local businesses in Columbia City at First Fridays.
Monthly First Fridays events shine a spotlight on local businesses by providing a block party for residents near and far in Whitley County complete with photo booths, drag racing, food trucks, bouncy houses, and more. Local bands perform while different companies manage booths and activities for entertainment. Many businesses even offer special deals and giveaways at their booths to add to the excitement. Mark your calendar for the first Friday of every month between May and October.
Local bands play during First Fridays events in downtown Columbia City.
- Discover local folklore at Turtle Days in Churubusco.
Have you heard about the Beast of Busco? There is a loch-ness monster of sorts in this small town named Oscar, who put Churubusco on the map for “mobs of sightseers” in the late-1940s. Oscar is a giant turtle who was first reported to be living in a seven-acre lake on a farm in Churubusco by a farmer in 1898. Fifty years later, his sight was reported again by two Churubusco residents who estimated that he weighed 500 pounds. As word and news reports spread about Oscar, national sightseers poured into the small town to get a rare glimpse at him, forcing state police to be called in for traffic control.
Though the turtle has never technically been found despite multiple attempts to photograph him and even drain the lake, that doesn’t stop locals from celebrating Oscar’s myth at their annual Turtle Days Festival. Happening the week before Father’s Day, Turtle Days gives residents the opportunity to enjoy town’s quirky “history” with themed food, activities, and vendors, honoring the great beast who made this tiny town famous.
A Turtle Race at the Turtle Days Festival in Churubusco pre-COVID-19.
South Whitley is one of the smaller towns in Whitley County, but don’t let that fool you. Their festivals pack a mighty punch of fun. Held every September, the South Whitley Fall Festival is determined to give families memories that last a lifetime. With their annual car show, bed races, basketball tournament, and more, they jam-pack as many events into their festival as possible in two days. Couple that with great food and vendors, and you have a weekend of activities outdoors just before the winter air sweeps in.
The annual Bed Races at the South Whitley Fall Festival pre-COVID-19.
One of the most significant events of the year in Whitley County is the area’s annual 4-H Fair. Since farming is a big part of the local economy and daily life, the 4-H Fair holds nothing back in getting locals excited to celebrate the hard work that goes into raising livestock and tending the land. Activities ranger from the Miss Whitley County Pageant to livestock showings, a small animal petting zoo, and competitions for kids. Whitley County’s 4-H Fair takes things to the next level with live concerts, a mean truck derby, and even line dancing activities.
Whitley County 4-H Festival has a Tough Truck competition.