Corvettes have been made here—and only here—since 1981. Cake-mix king Duncan Hines was a native son. And Bowling Green is headquarters for Fruit of the Loom, the undies giant. Located in South Central Kentucky, just about an hour north of Nashville, this lively burg is in the heart of some of the most popular outdoor recreation in the Blue Grass State. It’s also home to Western Kentucky University and a Minor League baseball team called—naturally—the Hot Rods. With just over 60,000 people, Bowling Green is the third-largest city in Kentucky, but its historic downtown is loaded with small-town character. If you’ve been bypassing it, here’s what you’re missing:
1. VROOM Time!
At the National Corvette Museum, see more than 80 of these American beauties—including classics in cherry condition, prototypes, and racing champs—housed in period settings. The museum has a KidZone, Corvette Store, and Corvette Café. You can even register to win one of these GM hotties while you’re there. At the museum’s Motorsports Park, cruise around the track in your own car, or pay $100 and go for a 100 mph “Hot Lap,” (which is actually 2 laps) driven by a pro. (And if you bring your Vette to town, you’ll be happy to know there’s a “car-friendly” B&B in town. Spongie Acres has its own 9750-square-foot garage to cradle your baby while you slumber.)
Need more speed? Head to the Beech Bend Park and Raceway for stock car racing, drag racing, and other national auto events. At nearby Beech Bend Amusement Park and Splash Lagoon, take a spin (and scream your head off) on the super-twisted wooden coaster, the Kentucky Rumbler.
2. Historic Town Square
The land for downtown’s Fountain Square Park was donated back in 1796. Today, it’s surrounded by restored 19th-century buildings, an Art Deco theater, and plenty to see and do.
3. Amazing Caves
Bowling Green’s Lost River Cave is just that—a river running through a seven-mile cave system, offering Kentucky’s only underground boat tour. Nearby is the phenomenal Mammoth Cave National Park, home of the longest cave system in the entire world.
4. Whiskey, Ice Cream, Chocolate
Kentucky has long been known for its spirits, and downtown Bowling Green fits right into that tradition with Corsair Distillery—an independent micro distillery making handcrafted batches using classic pot stills. No designated driver? At Mary Jane’s Chocolates, where the motto is “Cave to the Crave,” you’ll find the offerings just as heady. Or opt for Chaney’s Dairy Barn, hosting “Ice Cream & A Moovie” on their lawn during the summertime—and yummy ice cream all the time.
Catch national acts and other really big shows, like Pippin and 42nd Street, at the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center—SKyPAC—or tune into the locally lauded Lost River Sessions on WKU PBS for American roots music.
6. College Hangouts
Follow the crowd to Tidball’s Bar, a popular venue for live music, and the White Squirrel Brewery, which opened in 2015 and offers small-batch, handcrafted beer. White Squirrel is also known for its community involvement, locally sourcing as much as possible, giving spent grains to farmers for their livestock, and contributing to local charities.