General George Rogers Clark founded Louisville, Kentucky on the banks of the Ohio River in 1778. Throughout the century when the Ohio River represented the dividing line between America’s North and South, slaves would swim from Louisville to freedom in Indiana. The states’ historic ties are celebrated today in the seven counties of Greater Louisville. Pronounced Looavul, LUHvul, Lou-EE-ville, Looaville or Looeyville, the region is ideally suited to car travel and is centrally located within a two-day drive from many areas in the United States and Southern Canada. Here are the must-sees.
Kentucky = Horses
A must-see in Louisville is the course at Churchill Downs, the oldest continuously operated racetrack in the US. For the last 135 years, every first Saturday in May, Churchill Downs hosts the running of the Kentucky Derby – the greatest two minutes in sports.
Start your trip to the track with a tour of the interactive Kentucky Derby Museum. There are a number of hands-on exhibits, including the official jockey scale, where almost all of us – including many children – weigh more than the little horsemen. When weather permits, walking track tours are offered, with wheelchairs available free of charge. To enjoy live racing you’ll need to visit during the Spring (late-April to early-July) and Fall meets (Oct-Nov). Children are allowed to view the races, but betting is entertainment for adults only.
Speaking of the Kentucky Derby, if you happen to be planning a vacation around Derby time, Louisville is home of the Kentucky Derby Festival which takes place in the two weeks before the Kentucky Derby (the first Saturday in May). Events in the festival include the Great Balloon Race, the Great Steamboat Race, the Pegasus Parade, the Derby Marathon and Mini-Marathon. The biggest event is called Thunder over Louisville, which is the largest fireworks display in the United States and has been ranked in the top 100 events in North America.
Many of the spectacular Kentucky Derby thoroughbreds are born and trained in the rolling hills surrounding Lexington, a leisurely 1 hour drive east from Louisville. On the outskirts of Lexington lies the Kentucky Horse Park, a showcase of museums, galleries, theaters and working farm exhibits. More than 50 breeds of horses graze upon its lush pastures. Horse-drawn tours are included in the price of admission. Horse, pony and carriage rides are available for hire.
Off Track Attractions
A great way to experience the beauty of both coasts, including Louisville’s Waterfront Park with its children’s play space, is on a sightseeing cruise with the oldest operating river steamboat, the Belle of Louisville. Built in1914, she sails annually from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Elevator access to the second floor makes this ship particularly relaxing for seniors, and many locals throw birthday parties and reunions on board.
Fun can be had with a tour at Hillerich & Bradsby’s Louisville Slugger Bat Factory and Museum (502/585-5226). Home to the world’s largest bat, everyone who tours the facility is presented with a souvenir miniature bat. Note that bats are not manufactured on Sundays and they are only manufactured on Saturdays from April through November. With that said, because of factors beyond the museum’s control, there may not be bat production on your tours, and you should call ahead to make sure that the museum is working its normal schedule, as well as to find out how to get your own custom made bat. Speaking of the museum, it is across the street from Louisville Slugger Field, the home of the Louisville Bats, the AAA affiliate of the Cincinatti Reds. In other words, it is the same park where Jay Bruce became one of the top prospects in baseball.
Another custom-made project awaits at Louisville Stoneware, established in 1905. The stoneware is hand crafted and unique pieces are considered collectors items. If you choose to paint your own, along with their craftspeople, it is a bit more historic than the average pottery place. We decided to create our own works of art and have them shipped, rather than wait the few days for glazing and firing.
History buffs should make a pilgrimage to the Locust Grove Historic Home, the 1790 Georgian mansion and National Historic Landmark which served as the last residence of city founder and Revolutionary War hero General Clark. Locust Grove housed African slaves from 1790 to their emancipation in 1849. There are other historic homes in Louisville you may want to include on your visit. At Farmington, a pre-Civil War hemp plantation, the home was built by slaves according to a Thomas Jefferson design that features two octagonal rooms. Older children may appreciate Riverside, the Farnsley Moremen Landing, an interpretation of a 1830’s farmhouse located on the river in the southwest part of the county.
For up-to-date and youthful fun, the Speed Art Museum boasts of the Art Sparks Interactive Gallery for children, which features 30 activities, multi-media and works of art including the Electronic Art Room. Even little ones can join the action at Planet Preschool.
There are actually nine museums in a six-block neighborhood called Museum Row and it includes Glassworks, Frazier International History Museum, the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, the Louisville Science Center & IMAX Theatre, the Kentucky Musuem of Art and Craft, 21C Hotel and Museum, the Muhammad Ali Center (more below) and the Kentucky Center for Performing Arts. Louisville is the only other location besides England where you can find the London Royal Armouries, with its collection of more than 70,000 pieces.
The King Comes to Louisville
If you and/or your kids love boxing and history and are interested in an interactive education, Louisville is the dream tourist spot. The Muhammad Ali Center is a fun learning experience with all the modern trimmings.
Not only is the center an historical place of reference for Ali fans, it is also a place for children who don’t know much about him to learn not only about his boxing career, but about the life philosophies that led to his success. Interactive pavilions and multimedia presentations show visitors of all ages how Ali’s six core values of respect, confidence, conviction, dedication, spirituality and giving can make anyone a success.
Activities at the Ali Center that the entire family can enjoy include a recreation of the Ali Deer Lake Training Camp, where you can practice your skills on both the heavy bags and the speed bags; you can also learn techniques from Ali’s daughter, Laila. Also, the man himself makes surprise appearances from time to time!
There is more education besides boxing at the Ali Center; there are various exhibits and galleries that cover the people and events that were famous during the time of Ali’s life. Multimedia exhibits include features on Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Ali himself. Video footage, memorable quotes and photos from that famous era are available to visitors. How much time should a family allocate for a visit to the Ali Center? Tours can take anywhere from an hour to a day; in fact, for it may be closer to a day because of the diverse exhibits. All guests have a chance to be photographed in front of a backdrop that represents the Ali Center experience and shop in the Ali Center Store, which offers a variety of mementos for the family to take home.
Around Kentucky & South Indiana your 3rd or 4th Day
However, if there’s time you might want to check out the rest of what Kentucky has to offer. You can take a day trip to Central Kentucky and explore Kentucky’s number one attraction, the Mammoth Cave. Located about 90 miles from Louisville, Mammoth Cave attracts 2.5 million visitors annually by offering a variety of things to do. Tours of the cave, camping and horseback riding along with boating and swimming makes this National Park a must-see. However be sure to make reservations before you go. For more information visit Mammoth Cave National Park.
The Louisville Zoo is another attraction that is good for all members of the family, especially your youngest. Attractions include the Tiger Tundra exhibit, gorilla program, giraffe or lorikeet feedings and tiger training.
Even if nature isn’t your thing, don’t fret because South Central Kentucky offers lots to do. For car enthusiasts, one can visit the Corvette Plant (the only one in the world) and the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Over the river, there is lots to do in Southern Indiana, too. In Starlight, Huber Orchard and Winery (800/345-9463)offers more mature family members cheese-making demonstrations, wine tasting, a pick-your-own produce, a petting zoo and fun hay rides.
Grazing and stabling are key aspects of any visit to the area. Between and Lexington and Louisville, be sure to stop for a southern-style meal at The Claudia Sanders Dinner House in Shelbyville. Mrs. Sanders opened the original restaurant in 1968 in the building her husband, Colonel Harlan Sanders, used as an office and warehouse for his Kentucky Fried Chicken empire. It was located on the grounds of the couple’s former home, and rebuilt after a fire in 1999 by current owners Tommy and Cherry Settle. (Click here for Mrs. Sanders’ Fried Chicken recipe with those 11 herbs and spices the Colonel made famous!)
Other restaurants to tempt your palate include the funky eatery, Lynn’s Paradise CafÃ© – home to Louisville’s best homemade biscuits. Many of the city’s fine dining establishments cater to families with young children, including Le Relais, a French restaurant situated at the small Bowman Field airport; the English Grill at the Camberely Brown Hotel and The Oakroom in the Seelbach Hilton Hotel. Families with older children will enjoy the sophisticated elegance of Morton’s of Chicago, a steakhouse where your server will bring a live lobster right to your table – if you like it or not!
If your family consists of night owls, be sure to check out the summer concerts at Waterfront Park and Actors Theatre of Louisville (for annual favorites like Dracula and a Christamas Carol). Some of this company’s stellar productions have made their way to Broadway. Stage One: The Louisville Children’s Theatre is a nationally recognized professional theater geared to youngsters.
Don’t worry about stabling the whole family, Greater Louisville has more than 20,000 hotel and motel rooms. The centrally located, historic AAA Four-Star, Five-Diamond Seelbach Hilton Hotel at 500 Fourth Street, Louisville, KY 40202 (502/585-3200) and the five-diamond Brown Hotel at 335 West Broadway, Louisville, KY 40202 (502/583-1234) welcome guests of all ages. For more information, a visitor’s guide and a brochure devoted to the region’s multi-cultural history, contact the Greater Louisville C & VB (800/626-5646). See Louisville Hotels for more lodging suggestions.
Although we couldn’t get anyone to divulge The Colonel’s Secret Recipe for finger lick’en Kentucky Fried Chicken, we did find a Fried Chicken recipe in The New Claudia Sanders Dinner House Of Shelbyville, Kentucky, Cookbook.
— 1 frying chicken, cut into frying pieces
–1 cup flour
–2 eggs, well beaten
–2/3 cup milk
–1 ½ tablespoons Claudia Sanders Chicken Seasoning (Marion-Kay Company)
–Enough vegetable oil, or shortening, to cover bottom of your skillet about 1/8 inch.
Combine eggs and milk. Set aside.
Combine flour with the 1½ tablespoon Claudia Sanders Chicken Seasoning.
Dip chicken pieces in milk-egg mixture and roll them in the flour-seasoning mixture.
Fry pieces in low to medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once.
Remove from fire. Drain and serve.
Serves 2 to 4.
Claudia Sanders Chicken Seasoning is available in gourmet shops, local markets or dealers.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.