Kentucky holds a wealth of American history, some of the greatest of the great outdoors, and many truly unique sights to see. The Blue Grass State is famous for its horses and horse racing, celebrated for its natural wonders, and renowned for many “only in Kentucky” sights. It is not easy to whittle them down to a “Top Five” but that is the goal, so here goes:
Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill
It is a more intimate and gentle version of some of the more famous restored historic towns you can think of – and preserves the Shaker movement, with a fabulous collection of original historic buildings in a beautiful country setting. You will be amazed by the ingenuity of the Shakers, and their industry, from the finely crafted furniture to forefront strides in the methods of agriculture and animal husbandry. Be sure to see the presentations in the meeting house, the docents who bring Shaker life to life are tremendously talented and inspiring. One of the joys of your visit is that you can stay in the original buildings, from the elegance of the Trustees’ Office to the convenience and ease of the smaller cottage lodgings scattered about the village. Do not fail to have dinner in the dining room, The Trustees’ Table, offering one of the great memorable meals of America. The shops are filled with Shaker oval boxes, handmade brooms, soaps, lotions and jellies. A world class antique show and sale happens on June 20-21. While at Shaker Village, also visit Berea, the Boone Tavern and the fabulous shops filled with Kentucky arts and crafts, just an hour away. I have listed these two destinations together, but even if they were separated, they would rank as first and second on my top five list.
Mammoth Cave National Park
You know it has to be fabulous; since it is one of our National Parks. Mammoth is the world’s longest known cave system, comprising more than 400 subterranean miles that have been explored, and counting. Book your tours in advance; consider the Historic Tour and the Domes and Dripstones Tour. The Violet City Lantern Tour is particularly amazing, since it covers portions of several other shorter tours, and you do the entire tour by lantern which lends a lovely light and an added mystique of adventure. Whichever tours you take, you will not fail to be impressed by the Cave’s size and the sense of grandeur. Remember to take along a sweat shirt to wear, because no matter how hot it is above ground, it is a constant chilly 54 degrees Fahrenheit in the lower depths. There is plenty to see above ground, too. I recommend the Cedar Sink Trail, a forest, cliff and waterside stroll of about two miles that leads you to the famous disappearing river. You must visit Sand Cave if you are a history buff; it is where Floyd Collins languished amid nationwide press coverage before he met his untimely end. There are many nearby lodging choices; if you seek one that is unique, beat a path to the Wigwam Village where you can spend the night in a teepee. Hint: For a whole different cave experience, go to Louisville’s Mega Cavern where you can zip line underground. You know you want to go. Other irresistible great outdoor destinations in Kentucky include Natural Bridge, Red River Gorge, and Cumberland Falls.
National Corvette Museum
Wow! Some of the most iconic vehicles America has ever made are here under one roof. Bowling Green is the only place where you can see this collection of rare and unusual Corvettes. The displays present every generation of the top auto by Chevrolet from the first generation Harley Earl design of 1953, to the present day, and describes the features and refinements of each. The displays also change often, so there is also something new to see. Some may wonder: Have they cleaned up after the sinkhole? Yes! In fact, the famous sinkhole is now a feature of the museum. People who are Corvette fans—and who isn’t?—love the gift shop’s extensive selection. Even the restrooms are Corvette custom. The whole experience is pure fun and if you weren’t a fan of America’s only production sports car before your visit, you will be afterward. Some of the parking spaces are reserved for “Corvette Only”. And here’s a bonus, since the Corvette is made in Bowling Green, you can watch the fortunate folks who ordered ‘Vettes picking them up, too! Just don’t blame me if you end up ordering a Corvette of your very own!
Kentucky Horse Park
If you love horses, if you have ever wanted to visit a working horse farm, if you want to experience the mystique of thoroughbred racing without race day crowds, if you want to see some of the top competition horses of recent decades, then the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington is your kind of place. Visit the International Museum of the Horse, a Smithsonian Institution affiliate museum. You cannot miss the Man o’ War Memorial statue at the famous horse’s gravesite, and while you view it, be sure to also see the stride lengths that lead to the statue. Plan to take in the “Horses of the World” show, presented twice daily, featuring rare and familiar horse breeds from all over the globe. There are also special equine events scheduled throughout the year. It is a destination for the whole family, and offers pony rides, blacksmithing and horse-drawn tours. Plan to picnic on the grounds, or buy your meals at the Park’s concession stands. Yes, you can also go to Churchill Downs and see the Oaks or the Derby if they are on your bucket list; but for a day of horsing around, don’t miss the Kentucky Horse Park.
Louisville Slugger Museum
This is truly a sweet spot. To find it, just look for the giant baseball bat. The only word for it is impressive. Allow about two hours for the tour and museum experience. Your admission includes a free Little Slugger at the conclusion of the factory tour. The movie is informative and well done. Try out the batting cage; hold Babe Ruth’s bat, or Mickey Mantle’s, or Cal Ripken Jr’s or Johnny Bench’s. This is one of the best factory tours for kids, anywhere. The Museum Store and Personalized Bat Shop are open seven days a week. Hint: Order your personalized bat when you get there and by the end of your tour, it will be ready and waiting for you to pick it up. Before or after your visit, take a walking tour of downtown Louisville, stroll, shop at the many fine boutiques and galleries, see “KentuckyShow!” at the Kentucky Science Center, and then go round to Brown’s Hotel to admire the glorious vintage lobby and have a legendary Hot Brown sandwich for lunch.
Bonus: For a unique all American experience plan a side trip to Bardstown to see the outdoor musical drama: “The Stephen Foster Story”. 150 years after they were written, Foster’s songs such as “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” “Way Down Upon the Suwannee River” and “My Old Kentucky Home” remain beloved by all who have a love of the USA. The performance is professional, the music tugs at the heartstrings, and you depart glad to know more about the man behind the music.