Weekend Guide: Louisville, KY

Meg McKinney
What to do on a fun-filled weekend

No matter which way you see Louisville, you'll make it to the winner's circle. A bumper sticker sums it up perfectly: "I wasn't born in Kentucky, but I got here as fast as I could."

Few other cities have such a diversity of activities to fit any taste and budget. Sneak an inside peek at the Thoroughbreds that gallop around the track at historic Churchill Downs, or wander the hot, new downtown entertainment district. You can even nourish your love for the arts at the first-rate theaters and museums. Come along for the ride as we show you three ways to enjoy this fun-filled city.

Galloping Good Times
For you horse lovers out there, visit Louisville now to take advantage of the track tours offered by the Kentucky Derby Museum ($6 for tour, $9 admission to museum) at recently refurbished Churchill Downs. Get up early; the tours start at 6:45 and 8 a.m. (beginning in mid-March). Trip Trivia: If you're lucky, a trainer will invite you over to pet a Thoroughbred as it munches on its morning hay. Speaking of breakfast, walk over to Wagner's Pharmacy, where trainers and jockeys eat. The drugstore/diner, open since 1910, also features a tack shop. Order a fried-egg sandwich for $2.25, and look at all the photos of famous horses and jockeys.

Related: Kentucky's Red River Gorge

Shopping with an equine theme is easy in Louisville. The best place to find horse-related items is A Taste of Kentucky. Sherry and John Hassmann fill their friendly store with everything from sterling silver mint julep cups ($260) to fun T-shirts that say, "Talk Derby To Me" ($15). Trip Trivia: The most popular souvenir? A dirty, old horseshoe from Churchill Downs for $3--bound to bring you lots of good luck.
Another great shopping spot is Louisville Stoneware. Pick up some of their hand-painted china depicting thundering Thoroughbreds, a fleur-de-lis, or the original Bachelor Button pattern ($30 per plate) before lunching at The Brown hotel's J. Graham's Restaurant, home of the Hot Brown ($11.50). The delicious combination of turkey, bacon, and cheese sauce on toast was invented here. Trip Trivia: Follow up with a piece of Derby-Pie ($5.50), which originated in Louisville at Kern's Kitchen and can be found in restaurants around town. This delicacy is filled with chocolate and pecans and topped with whipped cream.

Now it's time to visit a venue that represents another sport of kings--boxing. The new Muhammad Ali Center ($9 adults, $8 seniors, $5 students, $4 ages 6-12) features exhibits, a theater, and two art galleries.

Continue the equine theme into dinner at Equus restaurant. A Louisville favorite for 20 years, this venerable spot offers more than 250 bottles of wine in its cellar, and chef/owner Dean Corbett uses the finest regional produce in his fabulous cuisine. Order the deservedly famous Parmesan-crusted sea bass ($30). Trip Trivia: Cross the sweet finish line with their signature dessert--Equus Chess Cake, a confection filled with chocolate, ice cream, and cream filling ($8).

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You'll sleep well in the new Marriott Louisville Downtown, where crisp white linens and wonderful service promise and deliver a great experience.

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Big Fun in the Bluegrass

You can have a great time in Louisville without spending a lot of money. Go visit the Louisville Zoo, where the first daffodils of spring turn the pathways into a yellow-brick road. This one-time cornfield now bursts forth with five major exhibit areas spread over 134 acres. Don't miss the "Gorilla Forest," one of the most popular spots in the 1,300-animal menagerie. Trip Trivia: Buy a ZooTram ticket for $2.50, and ride all day. (Admission: $10.95 adults, $7.95 ages 2-11.)

Take a shopping-and-dining break at the hottest new venue in town. Fourth Street Live occupies an area of downtown once filled by a sleepy indoor mall. Open now for a year-and-a-half, the lively space has enticed visitors and locals alike back to the heart of the city. Don't miss a pin-popping game of bowling in Lucky Strike Lanes, and grab a gigantic burger at Hard Rock Cafe ($9). Peruse Borders for books by local authors, and then plan to come back in the evening, when lights and live music fill this place with a rollicking crescendo of fun.

But before the music starts, take in a Louisville Bats baseball game at Slugger Field (home games begin April 14). You'll love the stadium, with its friendly feel and excellent food. Browning's, one of the restaurants in the ballpark, serves up a great pulled-pork barbecue sandwich ($7.25) and a plate of miniature cheeseburgers ($7.50).

Now, head back to Fourth Street Live. Just follow the sound of music and laughter. Have a drink at Maker's Mark Bourbon House & Lounge. Toast the town with a perfectly made mint julep ($8), or just sip on a smooth Woodford Reserve bourbon ($6). They have Late Night Bites and drink specials after 11 p.m. every Friday and Saturday. Walk on over to the Marriott Courtyard Downtown or Galt House for a night of sweet Kentucky dreams.

Head over to The Speed Art Museum, where you'll see a special exhibit that includes works by Rembrandt. Permanent exhibits feature bronze sculptures by Henry Moore and paintings by Cézanne, Picasso, and Chagall. Have lunch in the museum's Café Bristol, where their chicken salad sandwich ($5.75)--spruced up with celery, raisins, and pecans--is pretty and delicious.

After browsing the Speed's museum shop, continue that same trend at Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft. Not only will you find wonderful exhibits, such as innovative woodwork and textile creations, but you'll also discover terrific gift items by 200 different artists. The gallery shop holds its derby hat show every spring, with lots of fancy toppers to try on (starting at $150). Trip Trivia: Pick up a pair of handcrafted earrings for $20.

More art and shopping await at Glassworks, where you can watch the glassblowers at work and then buy a finished piece. Discuss your evening activity choices over dinner at Artemisia. Try Chicken Marchan de Vin ($17). The New Orleans-style dish comes with a red wine sauce and aromatic veggies.

This month (March 7-April 8) features the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre, which showcases new productions each year. Or take in an event at The Kentucky Center, where you'll see a ballet, symphony, or Broadway play.

For a perfect ending, check in to The Brown hotel, with its large rooms and picture-perfect lobby. Sleep well, and dream of places yet to see.

It's a sure bet that you'll love Louisville in the spring.

For more information: Call (502) 582-3732, or visit www.gotolouisville.com.

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WHEN YOU GO

"Our Weekend Guide To...Louisville" is from the March 2006 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.

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