Each visit I make to Louisville, Kentucky never seems to be enough. The old saying “time flies when you’re having fun” is certainly applicable or perhaps you’ve just enjoyed too much bourbon.
Set along the Ohio river, Louisville is a vibrant community that offers everything we love about the south. Great food, friendly people and great food. (Wait, did I mention the food thing already?) From the local favorite Jack Fry’s with its old school club atmosphere to the quirky named breakfast joint Wild Eggs – a lack of dining choices is never an issue.
The folks at GotoLouisville.com would love for you to stay a week, two weeks – maybe a month. But, the truth is Louisville, Kentucky is an incredible spot for a weekend getaway with enough to keep you busy within walking distance from a great downtown hotel. I recently stayed at the 21 C Hotel on Main Street – a mix of hotel, art museum and restaurant that could best be described as… interesting. The bathroom in my room was lit by black lights and a plastic “rubber ducky” was waiting for me in the shower. (Was I supposed to take it home?) The art museum downstairs is open 24 hours a day so you’re required to use your room key to access the hotel elevators. If you want a boring, standard hotel room – this is not the place for you. The folks that worked there were all friendly and each time I mentioned my amusement – staffers replied “Yeah, we hear that a lot.”
Along Main street, or “Museum Row” – there are at least 9 different attractions to keep you busy. The most well known is the Louisville Slugger Factory & Museum. While interviewing Executive Director, Anne Jewel for a radio interview – I discovered that they just recently welcomed their 4 millionth visitor. The basic tour includes a look at how baseball bats are produced and a museum full of bats used by iconic baseball players like Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter and of course Babe Ruth. Hard core fans can put on a pair of gloves and hold onto an actual bat used by a baseball legend or step into a batting cage. The factory tour itself is the big draw – as your senses tingle from the smells of fresh cut wood and the sounds of sawing, sanding and branding each Louisville Slugger bat.
One piece of “road quirk” outside the factory is the massive baseball bat – the biggest in the world at 120 feet tall – that’s propped up along the front of the building.
Not too far down the road is the Muhammad Ali Center that tells the story of a boxing legend that became as famous for his personal beliefs as he was for his fights in the ring. Personally, I didn’t know all that much about Ali – though I did know he was from Louisville – but the center perfectly lays out his core thoughts and values in neatly produced displays. The visit begins with a short film and the theater doors open up to exhibits focused on confidence, dedication, giving, respect, spirituality and conviction.
An oval shaped space pays tribute to Ali’s boxing career and around the corner is a regulation sized boxing ring that was used in the movie “Ali” the starred Will Smith. Other cool pieces include the torch that was used in the Atlanta Olympic games in 1996 as well as video screens displaying over a dozen his famous fights.
Other fun things just a short walk away include the Kentucky Science Center, the Frazier History Museum and the Belle Of Louisville – America’s oldest steamboat still in operation. Last year, I toured the Belle and did a fun video segment on board the boat. Fun Fact – the Smithsonian asked for the engine of the steamboat but they were denied that request as the folks that run the steamboat said they had no intention of docking her for good. (The President of the Belle told me the engine can go another 100 years.)
One thing that comes up in conversations no matter where you are in Louisville is bourbon. While at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience I tasted the town’s famous beverage for the first time. Not being much of a drinker, I quite literally gave it a shot. Three “shots” later, I was certainly more enjoyable to be around but not completely converted into a local. Several years ago, the new bourbon craze sparked the design of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Visitors can pick up a passport and visit 9 distilleries around Kentucky, collecting stamps along the way. It’s been a huge tourism draw for the state and each completed passport earns the visitor a free t-shirt that declares your accomplishment.
Of course the biggest event in Louisville is the Kentucky Derby. The derby is the longest running sport in America dating back to 1875. Susan Dallas of the Louisville CVB notes that “tickets are almost always available to the Kentucky Derby despite the perception that it’s always sold-out.” She adds “people can buy a ticket for about $60 and spend derby day in the inner circle at Churchill Downs.” The downside is that you will probably not see an actual horse. But, if your goal is to experience the event or mark it off your bucket list – it’s certainly doable.
Last but not least – my favorite experience during this most recent visit to Louisville was spending the day at the Louisville Mega Cavern. In a nut shell – the abandoned cave was purchased in the late 80’s to use for a high security storage facility. Co-owner Jim Lowery discovered zip-lining on a family vacation and decided that an underground zip-line would be a great addition to his property. His business partner told him it was the dumbest idea he’s ever had in their 30 plus years of friendship. That all changed when his partner experienced zip lining for himself and I’m sure there was some sort of apology involved.
The cave includes six zip lines that are all underground and pretty much in the dark with the exception of a small flashlight on your helmet. I had only tried a zip line once before and this was leaps and bounds ahead of that. The staff was personable and friendly, providing some history of the cave along the way and making guests feel safe and comfortable.
In addition to the zip lines (which sell out nearly everyday) a brand new underground bike course is set to open that has the entire biking community, around the world, beyond excited. Its opening day will be featured on The Today Show in addition to the dozens of media outlets that have taken note of the unique concept.
By the way – in case you’re wondering, the cave itself is noted by geologists as the safest place to be in the entire state of Kentucky – safe from weather, nuclear attack or earthquake.
So, what’s your favorite thing to see or do in Louisville, Kentucky?