While most people would consider Louisville a place to go for great bourbon, I will forever think back on it as a place comprised of a different type of recipe – a perfect blend of both culture and modernization. During my recent visit to the city, I frequently found myself gazing upwards toward giant roadside attractions, discovering preserved retro memorabilia in their many museums, and sighing in awe at the sight of majestic historical landmarks – all of which were peppered in between sparkling newly built hotels and restaurants.
What’s Retro in Louisville?
When you first think of Louisville, the Churchill Downs probably comes to mind. This is notably one of the most recognizable destinations in the area due to the growing popularity of the Kentucky Derby races, which are held here each year. Visitors who are looking to get a taste of the Kentucky Derby – but are not visiting during the actual races – can visit the Kentucky Derby Museum located next door and still experience a small taste of the nostalgia that first took foot in the area back in 1875.
Just down the road from the Churchill Downs sits another noteworthy museum – The Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. Here you can go on a 30-minute behind-the-scenes tour of the factory where Louisville Slugger bats are being produced. While the tour was both educational and interesting, it was the small one room special exhibition that we walked through just after taking the factory tour that caught my attention. In this room we found fun interactive displays and historic memorabilia, such as old trading cards and Ringo Starr’s drumsticks – used in the Beatles Christmas concerts in 1964-1965. However, this special exhibit is only temporary and runs March 14 – October 4, 2015.
TIP: While the factory tour is family friendly, there are a few things to consider: there is a lot of sawdust flying around and the floors do get a bit slippery, it is relatively loud in the factory and basically you are just watching people run machines, which can be somewhat boring for children. However, if your kids can be patient for the tour, at the end each participant gets a small wooden bat to take home. In addition, there is no photography allowed on the tour.
An excellent place to take a photograph, however, is along side the giant replica of Babe Ruth’s Louisville Slugger bat which sits directly outside the front of the building. Similar to the giant roadside attractions made popular in the 1950s, this giant baseball bat towers over the building at 120 feet in length. Plus, if you like giant roadside attractions, Louisville actually has more than one! Just around the corner on Main Street also sits a 30 foot tall golden sculpture of David (inspired by Michelangelo’s).
If you’re traveling without kids, like my husband I were on this trip, the Pheonix Hill Tavern is a fun place to visit for drinks and entertainment. This gigantic, multi room concert lounge has a ton on vintage flare and different live bands each night.
Also along with these every day attractions found in the city, Louisville also frequently plays host to a wide variety of events. Some of these event, if planning your trip accordingly, would only add to the retro appeal of the city and to your trip. For instance, during the month of May Louisville welcomed the Beatersville vintage car show and the largest Beatles tribute festival in America -Abbey Road on the River.
What’s New in Louisville?
Along Fourth Street we found ourselves amidst a large outdoor entertainment district known as 4th Street Live!, which was covered overhead from the elements much like Fremont street is in Las Vegas. On this street we were able to find tons of dining and bar options, plus it looked like concerts typically take place in the courtyard. There were none playing while we were there. However, we were able to enjoy dinner at the Gordon Biersch Brewing Company on Fourth Street – a restaurant known not only for their handcrafted beers, but for their famous garlic french fries.
If you’re looking for a nice place to stay, Fourth Street and the neighboring streets are full of great options. We actually stayed on the Indiana side of the bridge for this trip, but if given the chance to visit again we would choose to stay in the downtown area in order to walk to all of our favorite destinations. Finding parking, like in most cities, can be an hassle.
Also be sure to check out these 7 FREE Things to Do in Louisville!