Thanks to a wide and varied array of amusements that includes but isn’t limited to distilleries, top restaurants, parks, lakes, festivals, museums, historic sites and cultural attractions, life in Louisville truly is a vacation if you embrace it. Summer is the time and this is your starting point.
Midsummer Night’s Series
The play’s the thing wherein to catch the interest of Louisville’s summer theatergoers.
This summer, the 57th annual Free Kentucky Shakespeare Festival in Central Park will put on three Shakespearean plays– comedy, history and tragedy:
On July 22, the fourth annual Bard-a-Thon, all three productions will be performed in a single night starting at 4:30 p.m. The three productions will also rotate in repertory from July 11-23.
There will be a total of 66 performances of eight productions over 11 weeks, according to artistic director Matt Wallace – all free.
And there will be 30 more in-ground benches in the amphitheater this summer.
Kentucky Shakespeare is the oldest free Shakespeare festival in the United States.
Also, Kentucky Shakespeare’s Globe Players Professional Training Program for High School Students will present “The Merchant of Venice” from July 26-29. Admission for this one: a pound of flesh.
Finally, the company’s Community Partners weeks will close out the summer, featuring:
In August, the 113th Kentucky State Fair will open its 1.2 million square feet of space for its 44,000 entries of prize-winning baked goods, quilts, artwork, country ham, agricultural products and, of course, livestock for the 600,000 people who attend each year. Included among the activities is the 114th $1 million World’s Championship Horse Show in 15,000-seat Freedom Hall, “the richest and most prestigious saddlebred show” in the world.
The Circle of Champions is a three-mile-long ring of food tents, musical tents and other attractions.
There are 11 nights of free concerts at the Turf Concert Series (on the turf on Cardinal Stadium); and three Main Stage ticketed concerts in Freedom Hall.
The first Kentucky State Fair was held in 1902 at Churchill Downs.
This year’s dates are August 17-27, 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. Information, include admission prices and full schedules, is at kentuckystatefair.org.
HOT SUMMER, COOL MUSIC
What would summer be without music in the night?
The third annual Westport Village Sunset Concert Series will feature four free Friday night concerts, one a month from June-September. Each one is tied to a nonprofit organization. Here’s the lineup:
June 2: Funkasaurus. Attendees are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items to be donated to Dare to Care Food Bank. Everyone who donates will be entered into a drawing for a giveaway the night of the concert.
July 21: Hot Brown Smackdown. Bike to Beat Cancer, benefiting the Norton Cancer Institute, will be onsite to raise awareness and sign up family bikers.
Aug. 4: Kudmani. Family Scholar House will be holding its annual backpack drive to help send its 215 resident families back to school with everything they need. Attendees are encouraged to bring backpacks, pens, pencils and other school supplies. Everyone who donates will be entered into a drawing for a giveaway the night of the concert.
Sept. 8: Porch Possums. Norton Children’s Hospital Foundation will be collecting donations to stock its Secret Santa Shop for kids and their parents. Everyone who donates from the Foundation’s wish list will be entered into a drawing for a giveaway the night of the concert.
The concerts will begin at 7 p.m. and there will be giveaways, sales and food and drink specials during each. Go to Westportvillage.com for more information.
The Iroquois Amphitheater will have an entire summer of concerts, some free, some not, starting on June 2 (with Old Crow Medicine Show) and ending on September 9 (with the Louisville Orchestra).
One of the highlights, on the weekend of June 9-10, will be Cirque Louis’ troop of acrobats, jugglers, dancers and aerialists presenting “East of the Sun.” Tickets are $15 and $20, and showtimes both nights are 7:30 p.m.
On Sunday, August 6, Lyle Lovett and his Large Band will perform. Tickets for that are $47.50 and $67.50. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.
For the rest of the program, including movie nights and a great deal more) go to the web site iroquoisamphitheater.com.
The Norton Commons Music by the Water Series runs all summer long through August in their beautiful outdoor ampitheater. Bring the whole family and enjoy area restaurants, bars, gelato shops and music under the stars. On Friday, June 24, they’ll feature The Jimmy Lehoux band and Southern Sirens, starting at 6:30. On July 1, it’s an American celebration featuring Rock Before Dawn and the 36th Infantry Brass Band. Check out Nortoncommons.com/events for the entire summer schedule and updates.
Louisville is a city of parks.
The Parklands at Floyds Fork is just one of them and one of Louisville’s greatest new treasures-- a celebration of nature, great open spaces and healthy recreation. The park was funded by private donations. Its original capital campaign was $125 million. This year, the first year the entire park will be fully opened, its operating budget is estimated at $4 million. There is no charge to enter the park. The only charge for facilities is a requirement that you need a permit from the Louisville Dog Run Association to access the park’s large fenced-in dog run in Beckley Creek Park.
Its four individual-but-connected parks have gradually been opening to the public since 2011. The final element was completed last fall.
And more still comes. This summer, the Silo Center Bike Park has opened– a series of mountain bike trails in Turkey Run Park, specifically for off-road biking. It’s the first trail in the park dedicated solely to biking. All the other trails in the park are shared by bikers, runners, hikers, dog walkers, etc. Not a biker? There’s so much more to explore. (You can spend the entire summer enjoying our city’s parks. Find one with the amenities you’re looking for at louisvilleky.gov/government/parks/find-park.)
WALK WITH THE BUTTERFLIES
The Butterflies n’ Blooms exhibit opened in late May at the Louisville Zoo. Guests can walk among hundreds of native butterflies sipping nectar from colorful flowers in the new 1,000 sq. ft. outdoor flight house located in the Africa Zone. Presented by Ford Motor Company, the exhibit runs through September 23.
Sting Like The Greatest
The champ’s six core principles will be the centerpiece of the “I Am Ali” festival at the Muhammad Ali Center starting June 3, one year since the former heavyweight champion passed away.
There will be programming and events tied to these core principles:
The festival will run until July 15.
The citywide Ali appreciation gala will also include two girls’ basketball tournament events—the Run 4 Roses Basketball Classic and Battle in the Boro—at the Kentucky Exposition Center. More than 15,000 female athletes, along with their families, are expected to attend.
THE MOCKINGJAY AT HOME
The Frazier History Museum is holding a summerlong Hunger Games Exhibition, recreating the world of Panem with “more than one-thousand authentic costumes and props, high-tech and hands-on interactives and detailed set recreations.”
Highlights include iconic costumes from the films, such as the Girl on Fire dress, the Mockingjay dress and the Mockingjay armor; key artifacts including the Mockingjay pin, Cinna’s sketchbook and Katniss’ bow; and interactives, including an exploratory map of Panem, a gamemaker’s control table, and a stunt choreography interactive.
The exhibition runs until September 10. Tickets are $27.50 for adults, $26 for children 4-11, $26 for seniors, $26 for military, $16 for Frazier members. The price includes access to all museum exhibits.
The Frazier History Museum is at 829 W. Main Street.
Mega Cavern is the biggest attraction in Louisville that Louisville doesn’t seem to know enough about. It is ranked the Number One Attraction in Louisville by Trip Advisor, but its attendance is dominated by out-of-town tourists.
Perhaps people think it’s a big cavern with stalagmites and cool rock formations. And it is. But it’s so much more. It’s also an underground funhouse.
Mega Cavern has seventeen miles of underground passageways, available for a two-and-a-half hour adventure and education tour, whether you walk or zip. “Where else can you zipline underground in the middle of the city?” asks Charles Park, Executive Vice President of Louisville Megacavern. There are six zip lines and two challenge bridges. The zip line is the world’s only fully underground course – as much as 165 feet underground, below the city’s highways, roadways and even at one point under the Louisville Zoo.
Altogether, the Louisville Mega Cavern is 4 million square feet large .
But there’s more.
It’s the world’s largest indoor bike park, the only underground bike park in the world. More than 320,000 square feet over 45 trails – jump lines, pump tracks, dual slalom, BMX, cross-country and single track.
“If you’re a family that loves to go mountain biking, you can spend the entire day at our bike course,” says Park. “It’s a two-to two-and-a-half-hour challenge course.”
And still there’s more.
An electric bike tour – an electric-powered bike with brakes and minimal pedaling – for an hour-and-a-half guided behind-the-scenes tour of the cavern. It’s the only attraction in which customers get to view all areas of the cavern and experience a moment of total darkness.
And still more.
There’s also a more sedentary tram tour that traverses the floor of the cavern and discusses its history. (In 1963, during the Cuban missile crisis, it was ready to be the city’s bomb shelter… just in case!) It also discusses the cavern’s geology, mining, recycling and green-building technology, as well as the “storm dog” and the “pigeon-eating hawk.”
And in the summertime, the cavern is a cool 60 degrees at all times, and never closes because of a little summer rainstorm.
There are age and height requirements for some of the attractions. Best bet is to visit the web site louisvillemegacavern.com.
The cavern is at 1841 Taylor Ave., 40213, not far from the Poplar Level Road exit on the Watterson Expressway.
There are group rates available and reservations are advised. Call 877-614-6342.
99 Days of Summer
There is an interactive calendar on the Kentucky Department of Tourism web site (kentuckytourism.com/99 days/) that offers an activity a day through June, July and August. (e.g. – June 14: National Bourbon Day; July 4: Independence Day, fireworks around the state – but you probably knew that; July 21: Rosine Bar Jamboree – visit Bill Monroe’s hometown; music, dancing, barbecue; August 9: National Quilt Museum in Paducah). And so much more – 95 days more!
We Also Have Bourbon
Kentucky is justly proud of its bourbon, and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is an excellent way to get out into the countryside, learn about bourbon distilling and sample some product.
As America’s only native spirit, bourbon is is an $8.5 billion signature industry in Kentucky alone, where 95 percent of the world’s supply is crafted. In 2016, Kentucky distilleries filled 1,886,821 barrels of bourbon, the most in a year since 1967. There are now 1.5 barrels for every person living in Kentucky.
The Kentucky Bourbon Association hosts an informal Bourbon Trail tour of distilleries, with a passport and map directing you to the 10 major brands, from the Frankfort-Versailles corridor in the east to Makers Mark in Loretto, in the south, and back up I-65 to Louisville.
In 2014, a Craft Tour was established, adding 13 smaller distilleries.
Adam Johnson, director of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Experiences, estimates that in 2016 there were almost 400,000 passports requested and one million distillery visits.
The longest distance between any two of the major distilleries is 81 miles, between the Town Branch distillery in Lexington and the Bulleit Experience in Louisville.
The addition of five Louisville distillery locations – The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience, Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse, Angel’s Envy and Copper & Kings Brandy Distillery – has made it more convenient for Louisvillians who want to stay in town. But a summertime trip to the countryside is never a bad option.
Get your passport stamped at every distillery, and the Kentucky Bourbon Association will send you a T-shirt.
And don’t forget that urban bourbon trail: It’s more than a tour. It’s an assignment. If you choose to accept, you’ll receive a passport with the names and locations of 35 participating bars and restaurants. The task, then is to visit them and have your passport stamped.
Get your passport stamped six times, and you’ll receive an Urban Bourbon Trailblazer t-shirt and an official Citizen of Bourbon Country certificate. Get 35 stamps, and you’ll be guaranteed an experience of wonderful food and drink. We don’t recommend getting all 35 stamps on the same night.
You can start by picking up the printed passport at the Visitors Center on Fourth and Jefferson. You can also download an electronic passport using the iPhone or Android app. Or you can start at any of the participating joints, getting your passport and your first stamp.
The app includes a list of participants and a map. Or you can download the list and the map at bourboncountry.com/things-to-do/urban-bourbon-trail.
You don’t have to purchase bourbon to get a stamp. But why in the world would you not??
BUT, WAIT, THERE’S WINE
Less well-known than Kentucky bourbon is that Kentucky had the country’s first winery – appropriately called First Winery –founded in 1797 in Jessamyn County.
A new winery is operating on the same site, also called First Winery. Tyler Madison, grape wine and spirits programs manager of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, says that visible at the bottom of the terraced slopes are some of the ruins on the old winery.
There are now 64 commercial wineries in Kentucky, covering 228 grape-bearing acres, that produced 89,000 cases of wine worth $12.8 million in sales last year. Retail and restaurant sales were nearly $3 million.
The largest winery in Kentucky is the Purple Toad Winery in Paducah, which produces 35-40,000 gallons of wine per year.
Second-largest is the Old 502 Winery in downtown Louisville, described by Madison as “a unique business model – the only urban winery and, in fact, a ‘virtual winery.’ “ It owns no vineyards, buys its grapes from all over the state and elsewhere, and produces the wine in a warehouse full of huge tanks right in the middle of town (116 S. Tenth St.).
These and the other wineries are on the Kentucky Wine Trail, to be found on the app Drink KY.
Download the passport and get it stamped at seven wineries, and the state will send you a t-shirt; 14 stamps will earn a set of leather-embossed Kentucky wine coasters; at 21 stamps, you’ll receive a “corkcicle” – an icicle-shaped bottle-stopper with a cork that will keep your open wine bottle cold.
The Grape and Wine Council has also partnered with the Kentucky Guild of Brewers, representing 32 craft beer breweries in the state – 25 of them on the Craft Beer Trail, 11 of those in Louisville.
We Have Horses. Don’t We?
What would any discussion of Kentucky activities be without talking about horses? And this is a special summer. It’s the 100th birthday of Man O’ War, the great thoroughbred of the 1919-1920 racing seasons who did not win the 1920 Kentucky Derby because his owner felt a 10-furlong run was too long for a three-year-old.
The Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs, will celebrate Man O’ War’s legacy this summer and offer its full array of award-winning activities.
The 18-minute video, “The Greatest Race,” is a hoof-pounding, 360-degree, high-resolution experience that is updated after every Kentucky Derby. In 2015, the Museum spent $3 million to update the video’s technology, that year featuring footage of American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in the Museum’s history. The Always Dreaming footage will be unveiled in early June.
General admission is $15/adults; $8, 5-14; free, under 5. That includes the video, which is shown nine times a day at 10 past the hour.
The Museum hosts 220,000 visitors a year. A globe at the entrance records the home city and country of every visitor. Currently, 69 countries are represented on the globe with little red dots plus, says marketing and communications director Brittney Gorter, “a bizillion dots just in the U.S.” Gorter insists the “bizillion” reference is a rough guess.
In August, there will be a Man O War tour, featuring a temporary exhibit loaned by collector Ken Grayson. It will also include lunch at Derby Café and an afternoon visit to Mt. Brilliant Farm, just outside of Lexington, where Man O War’s barn was. The cost for that will be $99/person.
Up the road in Lexington...
Man O’ War is buried in the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year. While it’s not actually in Louisville, it’s located an easy hour drive away up 64-- making it prime staycation material. (You can hit end the day back home with a riverfront dinner or walk on whiskey row.)
Admission for all the park’s attractions is $20/adult, $9/children 6-12. There’s also a fee schedule for using the park’s 260-site campgrounds, depending on whether you want a “primitive” site, a paved side or a primitive site with electricity. There are also separate charges for weekdays and weekends.
Daily attractions include a Parade of Breeds and the Hall of Champions. Also the International Museum of the Horse, which traces over 50 million years of equine history.
The barns house around 24 different breeds of horses. During the summer, there are about 120 horses on the property. Three of the most popular, presented daily, are Da Hoss, Breeders Cup champion in 1996 and 1998; Funny Cide, the 2003 Kentucky Derby winner; and Go for Gin, the 1994 Derby champion who is, at 26, the oldest living Derby champion in North America.
This summer, the park will have several events featuring Man O’ War, including a movie night on June 24, showing something like “Seabiscuit” or “Secretariat” (the exact movie has not yet been chosen); an ongoing Man O’ War exhibit in the International Museum of the Horse; and, in late summer, a presentation by veterinarian Ed Bowen and sportscaster Ersel Ellis, both of whom saw Man O’War up close when they were boys.
A list of the summer’s events is online at kyhorsepark.com/events-all.
Since 2014, the Fund for the Arts has run a summer program called the Cultural Pass, an opportunity for local students up to age 21 “to use the city as a classroom,” says Eric Gurevitch, director of communications and engagement.
This year, Churchill Downs Inc. donated a sizeable undisclosed sum-- said to be the corporation’s largest single philanthropic gift in history – to widen the program and enhance the pass. In 2016, there were 29 participating venues. This year, there are 38.
The pass allows users, plus one family member, free access to a variety of local cultural venues – including Actors Theatre, American Printing House for the Blind, Bernheim Forest, Carnegie Center for Art & History, Filson Historical Society, Frazier History Museum, Gheens Science Hall & Rauch Planetarium, the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Looking for Lilith Theatre Company, Louisville Ballet School, Louisville Civic Opera, Portland Museum, Muhammad Ali Center, Speed Art Museum, the library, the zoo, the Kentucky Science Center, Louisville Nature Center, Waterworks Museum, Youth Choir, Yew Dell Botanical Garden (and that’s just a partial list). There’s even a scavenger hunt at the 21c Museum Hotel. It’s also tied to the Louisville Free Public Library’s summer reading program.
Passports can be picked up at any of the city’s 18 public libraries or 17 metro community centers. Or apply at fundforthearts.org/2017culturalpass/. Passports are valid from June 3 through August 12.
Gurevitch says 150,000 passports have been distributed since 2014. In 2016, 40,000 passports were distributed and more than 20,000 visits were logged.
This year, too, Fund for the Arts has launched a free Louisville Arts app – a digital central arts calendar – making it easy for anyone to experience all the city has to offer.