I had the pleasure of visiting Louisville, Kentucky recently and phew! What a weekend. I had never been to Louisville before and while I had some preconceived notions, I went in with an open mind. Luckily, we had a born and bred local, Katie of Go To Louisville, show us the ropes. It didn’t take me an hour in Kentucky to learn three things that they take very seriously: horse racing, bourbon, and the pronunciation of their city. It’s loo-ah-vull, by the way!
Overall, my expectations were completely exceeded. This isn’t some honky tonk town, this is a thriving, cultural, trendy city with some of the nicest folks I have ever met. I felt right at home on Day 1 and wasn’t ready to leave come Day 3. So come along with me as I walk you through the highlights of this weekend and add some things to my own to-do list for when I return.
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WHAT TO DO
Distillery Tour/Bourbon Tasting: My weekend in Louisville was spent in a bourbon haze. Kentuckians can drink Carolinians under the table and are proud of it! But c’mon, we are in bourbon country. While just about every bar, restaurant, and venue will offer you a sweeping spread of their favorite spirit, you’d certainly be missing out not learning how its made.
There are currently six operating distilleries in Louisville, nine by the end of 2018, so there are quite a few options. We spent the morning at Angel’s Envy Distillery and the afternoon at Stitzel-Weller. Angel’s Envy bourbon is unique as it is finished in one of their hand-selected finishing barrels, ruby port or rum, giving it a new complexity. The Bulliet Frontier Whiskey Experience at Stitzel-Weller Distillery allows you to go beyond the distilling process and enter the rackhouses, which smell amazingggg. Originally opened on Derby Day in 1935, Stitzel-Weller Distillery is a mainstay of Louisville and such a fun, under $10 way to learn about the past, present, and future of Kentucky whiskey.
If you’re already a bourbon connoisseur, try your hand at the Urban Bourbon Trail. It features a collection of nearly 30 establishments with knowledgeable bartenders that stock at least 50 bourbons. Pick up a passport at any of the venues and try to fill it with stamps as you go. Once you have six, you’ll be rewarded with a t-shirt! Challenge accepted.
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Watch a Horse Race at Churchill Downs: Upon first stepping in to the historic racetrack, you can feel years of Kentucky pride and tradition. From the famed steeples, to the Mint Juleps, to the bugle command, this car racing aficionado was converted to a horse racing fan. I quickly learned that every Louisville resident had a story that begun with: “that time at the Kentucky Derby”… They were unquestionably my favorite stories of the trip!
As I said earlier, Louisville is famous for two things: bourbon and horse racing. Luckily at historic Churchill Downs, you are able to combine both of those with one of American’s favorite pastimes, gambling, for a truly unique experience. But be sure to grab a program and an expert, because betting on the ponies is far more complicated than I had anticipated!
While The Kentucky Derby would be a treat, there is actually quite a bit of live racing at Churchill Downs, so be sure to check their calendar while planning your Louisville trip. Chances are, you’ll be able to catch a race and a mint julep 😉
Spend Time Outside: Louisville has endless options for spending time outside, most notably, visiting their famous parks. If you are traveling to Kentucky in the month of October, Iroquois Park’s Jack o-Lantern Spectacular is a can’t miss. It was my favorite stop on our trip and such a special tradition for the residents of Louisville.
Venture down a 1/4-mile walking trail through over 5,000 jack o-lanterns and 26 themed areas. As you move from theme to theme, the music and pumpkins change to fit the motif. And these aren’t just any pumpkins; these pumpkins are hand-carved by artists and you won’t believe the detail! Plus, there are hot chocolate, apple cider, and of course, alcohol vendors on site, so you don’t have to roam the trail empty handed.
If Halloween isn’t your thing, trek across the Big Four Bridge, a former railroad truss bridge turned pedestrian/bike path that connects Kentucky and Indiana. The views of downtown Louisville are stunning and the grub on the Jefferson side is the perfect treat.
WHERE TO EAT
Harvest: Harvest is the epitome of a farm to table restaurant, southern style. 80% of their ingredients are locally sources from within a 100-mile radius and many are baked, cured, smoked and preserved in-house. That’s tough to beat! I got the bourbon queso with Old Forester, Kenny’s white cheddar, Klaus’ pretzel hoagie and the buttermilk fried Kentucky catfish with andouille gumbo, grits, charred okra and am hungry just thinking about it! Harvest is also a part of the Urban Bourbon Trail and their staff taught us how to create their personal favorite version of the Old Fashioned, complete with muddled apples.
Proof on Main: What a unique restaurant! So unique, in fact, that not only does their menu change often, the decor does as well. Owned by one of Louisville’s most eccentric couples, Proof on Main will have you ooing and ahhing at their adjacent art gallery before ever even laying your eyes on the menu.
You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but be sure to order the Bones as your appetizer.
Gralehaus: A mainstay on brunch favorites lists in Louisville, Gralehaus is the place to try unique, hipster remakes of the classics. And if you’re an espresso until prosecco kinda girl, then this is your place! They are well-known for their extensive espresso menu featuring coffee drinks mixed with local honey, jasmine, and even activated charcoal. But stay past brunch to see this locale turn into a beer garden. Talk about all of my favorite things rolled into one!
The menu is constantly changing, but if you ask me – get the french toast. All french toast will now pale in comparison to Gralehaus’ which is topped with apple preserves and ricotta. Whaaaa?!
Hi-Five Doughnuts: You didn’t think I could do a whole post on Kentucky and not mention fried chicken, did you? You’re in the home of KFC – they put chicken on literally everything and an enormous glazed doughnut is no exception. Hi-Five Doughnuts is what cheat days are made of! But if you’re looking for a breakfast more sweet than savory, they are are s’mores doughnuts – complete with a toasted marshmallow on top – and my personal favorite, the Fruity Pebbles doughnut.
If you haven’t considered adding Louisville to your list of must-see cities, I highly suggest you do! I was overwhelmed at all the options and honestly, two and a half days isn’t near enough time to see all the city has to offer. There is food, drink, sport, culture, and the friendliest Southerners. Thanks for having me, loo-ah-vull!