What’s in a name. A lot! If you want to sound like a local you say . . . LOO-A-VUL. If you don’t mind being labeled as a tourist . . . then go ahead and pronounce it how it looks . . . LOOEYVILLE or, even worse, LOUIS-VILLE.
If you are an avid horse racing fan, or just someone looking for a reason to wear a fancy hat and go to a party, then don’t miss Derby Day. Ah, but there is way more going on in Louisville than thoroughbreds. Baseball fans everywhere know the name Louisville Slugger. The iconic bat maker has been putting wood in sluggers hands since 1884 and created many hero’s. Muhammad Ali, another great American slugger, hails from the city. Bourbon is the drink of choice. The Ohio River is king. Hot Browns are a delicacy. Lewis and Clark started a journey here. Louisville is home to a printing house that changes lives. And yes, where horses run fast.
Betsy and I were lucky enough to be accompanied by my sister, Lora, and three of her kids. Did we drag the kids to distilleries and museums? Oh, yea! But they were good sports and seemed to enjoy the cross section of history and culture that had us all learning about candy making, junk collecting, a great boxer and found us leading them into the “darker side” which included a tattoo parlor and bourbon.
What to see . . .
Kentucky Derby Museum
You may not make it to Louisville on Derby Day but definitely don’t miss the Kentucky Derby Museum located at Churchill Downs. Here you will be entertained by a 360°panoramic movie, interactive exhibits, fascinating history, a trip to the stables and a chance to watch a prospect training on the track. You will be immersed in the pomp and circumstance and learn about the history of the race, talent of training, art of jockeying, and the amazing three-year olds that reach fame and make millions. This is a great interactive museum that will find kids and adults entertained for hours. There are many different tours offered so plan ahead.
As lovers of factory tours, this was a definite “no miss” for us. Outside the downtown factory you are greeted by the “World’s Largest Baseball Bat” and inside you will be amazed at the process of turning a rough piece of wood into something that makes hero's and brings them millions. The tour gives you a behind-the-scenes look at how bats are made, lets you take a swing in the batting cage, and brings to life the importance of bats in the great game of baseball.
This was definitively one of the most interesting museums we visited. Founded in 1858, the American Printing House for the Blind is the world’s largest creator of educational products for the visually impaired and has been enhancing peoples lives since 1858. The museum offers a glimpse at the history and innovation that led to Braille – the world-wide accepted printing method. But it doesn’t stop there because there is so much more innovation and technology that has happened. From canes to guide dogs to talking computer software to calculators to maps you will be amazed at all that has developed bringing independence to so many individuals. The museum is very interactive and we even learned Braille and took a turn at writing our names with the braille typewriters and punch cards.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” was the most recognized saying out of the mouth of one of the most famous heavy-weight boxers, but not the only one as poetry was something he loved. The center is six floors of exhibits, halls, and education facilities that celebrate the ideals, accomplishments, and legacy of Ali. The museum was a wonderfully captivating, interesting, and interactive museum that amazed us and kept my three teen-age nieces and nephew interested and engaged. Here you can challenge the champ with shadow boxing, practice on a punching bag, and watch his prize fights. The museum also brings to the forefront his humanitarian agenda and compassion for misfortunate people. Plan on spending a few hours here, there is lots to see.
The Bourbon Side of Things . . .
The Evan Williams Experience brings you back in time to the start of the Kentucky Bourbon Industry with the pioneering distiller Evan Williams. The facility is located downtown along the historic “Whiskey Row” and takes you back in time with movies, recreations of saloons and speakeasies, and historic bourbon making equipment. At the end of the tour is a tasting room and plenty of items in the gift shops. Sorry kids, no tasting for you, except a bourbon ball.
Originally opened on Derby Day 1935 and reopened in 2014, the Stitzel - Weller Distillery describes itself as a “true Cathedral of the American Whiskey Industry.” We just say it is a really cool place with a great tour and delicious bourbon. But, certainly all those accolades work. Just five minutes from downtown Louisville, this tour gives you an up-close and personal look into Kentucky’s famous caramel colored beverage. Here you will get to learn about the bourbon making process, tour a rickhouse, learn about the importance of the grains and barrels and even step into Tom Bulleit’s office.
The Funky Side of Louisville . . .
“Jerry’s Junk” is the lifelong passion of collecting the odd, funny, nostalgic, practical, and unique for Jerry Lotz. His flagship collection sits in, and around, a house on a corner lot along US 60. To call this “junk” is a little harsh because Jerry’s collection is more a crazy myriad of antiques and fun memorabilia. While you can’t go inside you are encouraged to peer through the fence and if Jerry is around he just might invite you to get a close-up look in one of his other four houses. As he did with us. While we normally don’t follow strange men into unfamiliar dwellings when they say “come here I’ll show you something you’ve never seen before” we did this time. Jerry mentioned that his family and neighbors don’t always appreciate his collection but it definitely draws plenty of tourists and gawkers. And yes, Jerry says everything is for sale.
When my nieces and nephews found out there was a tattoo museum, they were finally jazzed about having a museum on their daily itinerary that was for them. There is nothing wrong with taking underage teenagers to a tattoo parlor if there is a museum – then it becomes educational. Charlie (and his late father) amassed a huge collection of tattoo history from old patterns, tattoo guns, pictures, and dyes. Unfortunately, not too much of it is on display due to this being a working tattoo parlor and limited space but from what one of the artists told us there is lots more to the collection. Call ahead to find out when Charlie is going to be there. Apparently he loves showing off his collection and may bring out more.
Across the river in Indiana is a candy shop that has been in business since 1891. While the candy is delicious, the displays of old jars, candy dispensers, tins, presses, and other memorabilia are another draw. We arrived just in time to witness the owners making their famous cinnamon red hots which is followed by a tasting of the warm candy hot out of the press. We spent a good while talking to the owners and browsing through their collection of candy memorabilia in the museum. They even had some memorabilia from my great-great grandfathers St. Louis candy company, Busy Bee Candy Company. The old fashion soda fountain still serves traditional sodas and sundaes as well as lunch fare and homemade pies.
Where to Stay . . .
We opted to stay across the river in Indiana at the Louisville Metro KOA since it was close to all the downtown sights we wanted to see. The downside was the traffic associated with road construction and that the campground is essentially a glorified parking lot with short, tight sites very close together.
Yes, Louisville is a fun city. There is LOTS to do and see and we could not do it all. Our days were filled with adventure made all the more fun by spending it with my sister Lora and her three kids (Emma, Garrett, and Olivia) who were fun, easy-going, and kept us laughing and feeling young.
As for Spirit . . . she loved playing with the three energetic, dog-loving teenagers and didn't mind posing with Lewis and Clark at the Falls of the Ohio (where the duo first met to begin their journey westward with the Corps of Discovery).
If you have not been to Louisville, we advise making a swing through and staying a while. Stay tuned for a lot more on the Bourbon Trail!