Every destination has its own story to tell.
Museums relay this information better than most attractions. These spaces are often in-depth stops for local history, art and culture. Together they provide a window into how an area came to be — its important people, places and movements.
It’s no different in The Bend, where several museums paint a vivid picture. Learn about South Bend’s history as a fur trading post at one or view fine art collections at another.
Use this guide as a starting point to visit our museums during your next visit.
Studebaker National Museum
One of The Bend’s crown jewels, Studebaker National Museum is home to one of the finest automobile collections anywhere. It covers 150 years of Studebaker history — from wagon makers to one of the country’s top car manufacturers. Some exhibits rotate, bringing in cars that aren’t necessarily Studebakers.
Among the pieces at the museum is the largest collection of presidential carriages in the world. It includes the very carriage president Abraham Lincoln took to Ford’s Theatre on the night of his assassination in 1865 by John Wilkes Booth.
The History Museum
If you’re curious about local history, this is the place for you.
Permanent exhibits include one on the St. Joseph River Valley. It covers pre-history, French exploration and beyond. Another exhibit covers the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, made famous in the Hollywood movie “A League of Their Own.”
Step back in time (not just figuratively) before you leave. Be sure to tour the 38-room Oliver Mansion, complete with all original furnishings dating back decades. Don’t forget to stroll through the lush gardens surrounding the mansion and explore the Worker’s Home, reflecting life in the 1930s.
Civil Rights Heritage Center
Engman Public Natatorium opened in 1922. Now it’s transformed into the Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center. The center is committed to educating people on contemporary issues of social justice and civil rights. It documents, preserves and shares our area’s civil rights history, including the movement to integrate the natatorium.
Indiana’s first zoo hosts more than 400 animals and boasts many rare and endangered species. Among them you’ll find a white rhino, okapi, amur tigers, snow leopard, red panda and spider monkeys. Enjoy 23 acres of beautifully landscaped zoo grounds, take a ride on the Potawatomi Zoo Train and don’t forget to visit the full-service concession stand and gift shop.
South Bend Chocolate Company
There’s only one way to experience the magic behind South Bend Chocolate Company — by touring it. You’ll get an inside look at how chocolate is made and an opportunity to make your own. Afterward you can check out the museum, which chronicles the history of chocolate making around the world. Reservations are best for large groups. The tour is 45 minutes long.
South Bend Museum of Art
Located inside Century Center in downtown South Bend, the South Bend Museum of Art provides insight into the art, history and culture of the region. It offers a full spectrum of historical and contemporary art in five galleries. The museum’s shop displays and sells works created by local and regional artists.
Snite Museum of Art
Snite is considered one of the finest university art museums in the country. It contains more than 28,000 works that represent many of the principal cultures and periods of world art history. The 70,000 square-foot building is a treasure trove of wonderful art. It’s an iconic landmark on Notre Dame’s campus. And admission is free.
Joshua Tree Earth + Space Museum
From meteorites to stalagmites, this museum in Lakeville is a great place to explore some of our planet’s wonders. You can check out fossils or even see pieces of the moon, plus browse one of the largest meteorite collections in the Midwest.
Military Honor Park + Museum
The Military Honor Park and Museum is home to military artifacts from all branches of service and represents all branches of U.S. conflicts. Uniforms, weapons, artifacts and motorized vehicles are on display.
Otis Bowen Museum
Born just south of The Bend, Dr. Otis Bowen led a distinguished life in our area. He served in World War II, became the 44th governor of Indiana and the 16th United States Secretary of Health and Human Services during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
The Otis Bowen Museum contains items Bowen used in medical practice, plus memorabilia from his time as governor and Secretary of Health and Human Services. Located on Bethel University’s campus, it’s open by appointment only.
The Potawatomi Conservatories are an oasis of tranquility within Potawatomi Park. Wander paths through the lush tropical foliage of the Ella Morris and Muessel-Ellison Conservatories, explore the shapes and textures of succulent plants in the arid Arizona Desert Dome or just sit quietly in the peaceful surroundings.