I have a crush on Louisville. I visited this charming city a few months ago and was completely taken with its historic atmosphere, creative spirit, and genteel hospitality (I'm not gonna lie, I really like being called "sweetie"). Louisville is famously home to the Kentucky Derby, but there is so much more to be discovered, from a vibrant art scene to fabulous dining to architectural gems. I highly recommend a visit.
• Speed Art Museum: Kentucky's largest art museum contains both classic and contemporary works with a rotating exhibition calendar.
• Locust Grove: A national landmark, Locust Grove was originally built as a home and farm in 1790. The home has been visited by a number of presidents and also hosted Lewis & Clark on their return from their exhibition to the Pacific.
• Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft (pictured above): This is a great place to visit for anyone interested in arts and crafts, as the museum focuses on folk and craft traditions, including applied arts and design. Definitely check out the museum shop as well.
• Churchill Downs. Visitors can watch premiere thoroughbred racing and explore the historic grounds through organized tours.
• Old Louisville (pictured above): A walking tour of historic Louisville is a wonderful way to learn about the unique Victorian architecture and engaging history of the city's grand mansions and winding tree-lined avenues.
• Louisville Slugger Factory: Great experience for baseball and non-baseball fans alike. It's fascinating to see the craftsmanship that's been going into Louisville Slugger bats since the 1880s.
• Louisville Glassworks: Tour glassblowing and flameworking studios in downtown Louisville. Also open for drop-in workshops and glassblowing classes.
• Bourbon distillery tour: Louisville is bourbon country, and located about an hour outside of Louisville are some of the world's most famous distilleries. 1792 and Makers Mark offer tours where visitors can learn about each distillery's unique bourbon making practices and, of course, sample fine whiskeys.
• Joe Ley Antiques: (pictured above) Located in an 1893 schoolhouse, this is an interesting place to simply wander for an afternoon. The building is packed with a vast array of salvaged goods, which range from the sublime to the ridiculous.
• Scout: Unique home store that carries a modern mix of furniture, artwork, décor, and gift items. It's also an incredibly fun place to browse, with a friendly helpful staff.
• Architectural Salvage: A sprawling 24,000 sq. feet of vintage and faux-vintage home furnishings and décor. It's a bit like wandering through a dismantled life-size dollhouse, where you can tote home anything from a glass doorknob to an antique sink.
• Dandelion Home: A tastefully curated shop filled with beautiful home goods and jewelry. Owner Andie Frisbee is also an interior designer and offers personal design services for individuals and businesses.
• Revelry Gallery: A wonderful space that celebrates the work of local artists and artisans. Great selection of local art and handmade items.
• Greenhaus Market: An incredibly cool shop that is part beer and wine purveyor and part art and homegoods dealer, otherwise known as sheer bliss.
• Work the Metal: Originally opened as a store specializing in metal products, the shop has recently expanded to include a wide variety of home goods as well as gift and specialty items.
• Harvest: Dedicated to working with area farmers and supporting sustainable agriculture, Harvest features seasonal ingredients in regionally-inspired dishes. Wonderful local food, warm, friendly atmosphere and a commitment to sustainable practices = win win win.
• Ramsi's Café on the World: An eclectic menu with lots of vegetarian-friendly options and (I've heard) a pretty killer all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch.
• Proof on Main (pictured above): An award-winning restaurant featuring modern American cuisine in a gallery-like atmosphere.
• Toast on Market: Located in the "NuLu" area, Toast is open for breakfast and lunch every day except Mondays. Peach-basil iced tea and bread pudding pancakes are a sample of the delicious offerings. Be prepared to wait for a table on the weekends.
• Hillbilly Tea: If "hillbilly" means dining on white bean and sage fritters and chilled peach soup with pecans and cream, then sign me up! Truly, this is a beautiful restaurant with a team that is taking traditional southern cuisine in a whole new direction.
• Lynn's Paradise Café: I'm typically not a fan of OMGthisplaceissoCRAZYandsomuchFUN type restaurants, but Lynn's is, well, pretty fun. It's also loud, crowded, and the décor is an intentionally over-the-top mix of vintage pieces (Cracker Barrel on acid?). Their version of the famous Louisville "Hot Brown" sandwich is widely acclaimed, and very importantly, their bartenders serve up stiff drinks. I ordered a mint julep that I'm pretty sure was 6 oz. of straight bourbon, but I'm not complaining. Worth checking out, and if you're not having OMGsomuchFUN, just order a mint julep. It helps. A lot.
• Mayan Café: Wonderful fusion of traditional cuisine from Mexico's Yucatan peninsula and local, seasonal ingredients. Check out Market Mondays, where meals are prepared using a farm-to-table approach, with ingredients coming from one local farm.
• Bluedog Bakery and Café: Located on Frankfurt Avenue in a beautiful historic area of the city, this is a lovely spot to relax over a sumptuous scone and coffee or a delicious sandwich served on artisanal bread.
• Safier Mediterranean Deli: Located downtown a few doors from the Brown Hotel, Safiers has lines out the door at lunchtime. It's a bit of a hole-in-the-wall so takeout is your best option. The food is fantastic and the owners are super friendly.
• Jockey Silks Bourbon Bar (pictured above): Located in the Galt House Hotel, the bar features over 150 bourbon varieties. Try a signature bourbon cocktail or bourbon flight.
• Old Seelbach Bar: Located in the historic Seelbach Hotel, the bar features a wide selection of bourbons and cocktails, and live jazz on the weekends.
• The Monkey Wrench: Relaxed atmosphere, great drinks, light fare and no pretense.
• Zanzabar: Wide selection of beers and spirits, along with a nice outdoor patio, regular live music, and vintage arcade games.
• Magnolia Bar: If you're up for getting down, check out this first-class dive bar. Dark, old-school, lots of beer.
• 21 C Museum Hotel: Highly acclaimed 90-room boutique hotel and contemporary art museum. Specially commissioned art pieces can be found throughout the hotel, including the iconic red penguins.
• The Brown Hotel: Voted one of the best 500 hotels in the world by Travel & Leisure in 2012. Originally built in 1903, The Brown was saved from disrepair in the 1980s and now shines as one of Louisville's classic hotels. Rumor has it that the hotel is also haunted!
• Seelback Hilton Hotel: Located in downtown Louisville, guests can experience genteel Southern charm in tastefully updated guestrooms. The hotel also has an impressive claim, having served as the location for Tom and Daisy's wedding in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.
(Images: 1. Flickr user silicon640c licensed for use under Creative Commons 2. Carrie McBride 3. Old Louisville 4. Flickr user quinn.anya licensed for use under Creative Commons 5. Proof on Main 6. Jockey Silks Bourbon Bar 7. 21C Hotel Museum/Louisville)