While I’m still a few months away from moving, it hits me every so often that I’m going to be leaving Louisville, Kentucky. The place I call home. And I start to get really nostalgic and think of memories and stories and friends and places. But regardless of where I go or where I end up, this city will always be home. Certain places will always have my heart. For anyone who wants a little peak at why I love this city so much, here is a list, my own attempt at a travel guide, of my favorite spots in the Ville:
This coffee shop is locally owned, has three locations, and is also a roastery, so you know the beans are fresh and you’re getting a darn good cup of coffee. They also have the best Dirty Chai on the planet. The Woodlawn location is spacious and homey, and my favorite spot is somewhere in the big semi-circle couch. More often, however, I end up at the eclectic Preston Street location, with the yellow speckled table and vinyl green chair. Its proximity to UofL keeps it alive with a mix of studious and hipster students – and donuts from its next-door neighbor Nords are almost always present among the customers.
The bag says, “You Deserve a Donut,” and I always believe it. Nords is a local bakery with donuts that will make you never settle for Krispy Kreme again. Its trademark donut is the maple bacon – a long john with maple icing and a fully cooked crispy strip of bacon on top. Yours for the helpful-to-college-students price of 95 cents. While this donut and the chocolate long john are basically all I get because they’re addicting, Nords has a variety of donuts, danishes, muffins, and cookies, plus you can order cakes and other pastries from them for special events. They’re always hoppin early in the morning, but the long line is totally worth it, and it’s also your only shot at getting that maple bacon.
This old-fashioned ice cream stand is a lesser-known local favorite. It’s cash-only, but trust me, your stop by the ATM will be totally worth it. Soft serve ice cream, sundaes, frozen bananas, and hot dogs. Just go. You’ll be happy you did. *disclaimer: not open in the winter because who wants to go to an outdoor ice cream stand when it’s freezing?
Another local coffee shop (who recently extended their influence with one shop in Indianapolis), Quills is also a roastery and its coffee has its own unique fresh taste. They often host latte art competitions, and you know their baristas are “crushing it.” They have a large location right off of UofL’s campus, and while the store has normal business hours, the lobby area is open all night for students who need a place to study or hang out. The Baxter Avenue location is smaller but very hip, located in the heart of the “Keep Louisville Weird” Bardstown Road.
Ramsi’s Cafe on the World
Speaking of Bardstown Road, this restaurant is one of my favorites. Reasonably priced, it has delicious well-portioned options from tacos to pasta to burgers, all with a unique cultural take. The outdoor patio is my favorite in the summers, and it’s great for people-watching, too.
The Highlands: Bardstown Road
“Keep Louisville Weird” is the motto, and they do that quite well. This strip of shops and restaurants is a mix of consignment shops, tattoo parlors, coffee shops, bicycle and running stores, hookah bars, dancing bars, karaoke bars, costume shops, Baxter Avenue Theatres, zombie walks, and more. While visitors tend to go to 4th Street downtown for night life, this is where all the locals are. It’s an extremely walkable and bike-able area, there’s always good coffee and food, and the shops all offer something different. There’s too many places to make a list of recommendations, so I guess you’ll just have to go check it all out.
Just down the road from Bardstown is Louisville’s largest, most beautiful, most confusing park. Designed by the same guy who designed NYC’s Central Park, it has a 2.4 mile “scenic loop” with driving lanes and a biking/walking lane. The rolling hills and trees are absolutely beautiful in the fall. When it snows, you can be sure that Dog Hill will be overcrowded with anxious sledders ages 5-65. In the summer, people will be wading and swimming in the creek and jumping off of Big Rock. Picnics and parties are always happening at the top of the hill in the Witch’s Hat pavilion. And if you want a good pickup game of ultimate frisbee, look no further than the flat grassy areas. (Seneca Park is another good one for frisbee too! Definitely a favorite summer pastime.)
Hands down, the view of Louisville from the Big Four Bridge over the Ohio River is my favorite. The Indiana side is finally completed, so now you can walk from Waterfront Park in Louisville to downtown Jeffersonville, Indiana. Sometimes I just go up there and breathe in the fresh air and pretend I’m in a movie. There’s always families, couples, runners, and bikers enjoying the picturesque scene. If you’re lucky you’ll hear some jazz music, or dance under the broken “strobe” light, or enjoy the music from a happy-go-lucky guitarist.
There’s this wonderful tradition that started happening a few years back. It’s called Waterfront Wednesday and it’s sponsored by the local radio station 91.9 WFPK. Starting in April/May (it’s April 22 for the 2015 season), the first Wednesday of every month until October is an incredible free outdoor concert, packed to the brim with people, and it happens right under the Big Four Bridge. There’s food and beer and ice cream for sale, people of all ages come, and even if you have no clue who the artists are, it’s always a good time.
Ohio River Greenway
For another breathtaking view of the city, Ohio River Greenway across the river offers a picture-perfect view of the skyline. So picture-perfect that on a good day, you will nearly always find wedding, engagement, or senior photo shoots happening. One good thing about this part of Indiana is that you have a good view of Kentucky (Louisville).
Thunder Over Louisville
If you’re not from Louisville, you most likely have heard of the Kentucky Derby, which happens at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of May. I personally couldn’t care less about the Derby, but I love all of the pre-Derby events put on by the city. One of my absolute favorites is Thunder Over Louisville. It’s a huge fireworks show over the Ohio River two Saturdays before Derby. Everyone spreads out blankets and picnics on Waterfront Park’s Great Lawn. There’s an air show and food and drinks and music, and then a fireworks show larger than most of those on the 4th of July (actually, this show is the largest annual pyrotechnics display in North America).
I’m a big fan of the big city feel, and for that reason I sometimes find myself strolling (or rollerblading) down Main Street. It’s mostly businesses, plus the UofL YUM! Center and Kentucky Center for the Arts, the Slugger Museum, the Bats stadium, and the Science Center. Hillbilly Tea is a super cute restaurant right off of Main on 1st, and I’d also recommend the Atlantic No. 5 cafe. A lot of the businesses are still run in the original buildings from Louisville’s founding. There’s also a bunch of facades with no actual building, and they look pretty cool. The city is working on doing some new artsy things with them, like the ReSurfaced initiative that launched this past summer. Even though this area is mostly for business people and tourists, I think it’s a staple of the identity of Louisville.
Toast on Market
Breakfast? Brunch? If you say either of those words (or “coffee”), you have my full attention. Toast on Market is just one of the many local and delicious restaurants in the NuLu area of Market Street. Toast is probably my favorite breakfast/brunch place in town. I usually get their Lemon Soufflé pancakes, but literally everything I’ve tried here is good so you really can’t go wrong. They have two main dining rooms, and the first is actually a converted patio so the floor is a unique cobbled brick. They are also open for lunch, and while I’m sure it’s delicious, this breakfast freak can’t really comment.
Flea off Market
The Flea off Market is an outdoor flea market/live music/food truck/beer garden event that happens the first weekend of every month, March-November. From a $10 Polaroid camera to a $20 ginormous tote made from a coffee bean sack, you’re sure to find some little knick-knack that will suit your fancy. And did I mention the food trucks? And the live music? Even if you’re not in the mood to shop, it’s a great place to come hang out on a nice day.
Also the first weekend of every month – the first Friday, actually, to be exact – is the Trolley Hop. It happens on Frankfort Avenue as well as Market Street. Everyone gets all dressed up and shops stay open late, restaurants are packed, and usually there’s some sort of art gallery or two or three to look at. Plus, the whole point of the “trolley” part of the hop is that Louisville’s very own trolley is roaming up and down the street for easy transportation from one location to another.
This place is where I always end up whenever I trolley hop. I also end up here a lot of other times. They offer wood-fired pizzas and craft beer, outdoor seating at picnic tables, two outdoor ping-pong tables, and a huge firepit for chilly nights. Lots of long talks and laughter and “ping-pong around the world” has happened here.
Speaking of craft beer, Four Pegs is an absolute must. I’ve never had a bad drink. On Sunday nights you don’t want to miss a competitive game of trivia (which I am horrible at but play nonetheless). In the summer, sitting inside is only for those who didn’t get first dibs on the back patio with twinkly string lights strung up around the fence and overhead. Plus, chicken and waffles sandwich. If you’ve never had it, don’t judge – it will literally blow your mind. And if you’ve had chicken and waffles before, I swear they put something special in their sauce here because no other chicken and waffles even compares.
Shakespeare in the Park
One of my favorite summer traditions is walking or biking to Central Park in Old Louisville to watch a little Shakespeare. Depending on the season, they have shows almost every night and it is completely free (though there is an optional donation for the support of the arts). The Shakespeare set is up year-round, but when the show season starts, you’ll see trailers and actors and costumes as the prep for the various theatrical goodness that will take place under the summer stars. If you’re early for the show, take a stroll around St. James Court, one of the oldest and most beautiful Victorian neighborhoods.
While most of this list has consisted of downtown areas or the highlands, most of Louisville’s inhabitants reside in the suburbs. And while I haven’t listed a whole lot of things out there, there really are some beautiful parks, some delicious restaurants, and of course friendly people. However, I do have one favorite spot tucked inside a little area called Anchorage, where the streets are lined with trees and the speed limit is 25mph. It’s the Anchorage Trail that is always a peaceful getaway just to walk and be alone with your thoughts, or to swing from an old-fashioned seat hung in a huge tree. I’m also pretty sure that almost every Louisville native has gotten their senior pictures done here by the railroad tracks. While you’re there, make sure to check out Anchorage Cafe for a quick bite and, of course, some coffee.