Louisville is a pretty laid back city but with some pretty exciting things to do. You’ll find ties to horses, bourbon, and baseball here, as well as a good ole dose of Southern hospitality. Our itinerary for a perfect day in Derby City will take you to some historic places in the city as well as give you the opportunity to try some of Louisville’s favorite foods.
Breakfast at Wagner’s Pharmacy
3113 South 4th Street
Take a drive out to Churchill Downs this morning and enjoy a traditional breakfast at this iconic establishment. An unassuming diner with limited hours (only open til 2:30PM on weekdays, noon on Saturday), this has been the local hang out of those in the horse racing industry since 1922. For jockeys, trainers and local newsman, it has been the place to go for a basic breakfast or a hot cup of coffee thanks to its proximity to Churchill Downs.
Don’t expect anything fancy here, instead you’ll find a simple but nostalgic diner. The walls are decked out with pictures of past Derby winners as well as famous people who have visited Wagner’s through the years. Wagner’s also has a general store and pharmacy; it’s a true piece of Americana.
Kentucky Derby Museum and Churchill Downs
704 Central Avenue
The Kentucky Derby Museum is a must-see and not just for horse racing fans. You’ll find a colorful, interesting, and interactive museum offering something for everyone to enjoy including an interesting display of some of the more extravagant hats worn to the Derby over the years and a colorful display of racing silks. You’ll be able to announce a Derby race, sit on a horse in the gates while dressed up as a jockey, learn how to bet on a horse race, and test your Derby knowledge.
Be sure to catch the short film about the Kentucky Derby offered in the theater! There’s also a gift shop onsite which sells Kentucky Derby related merchandise from picture frames to jockey pins. Finally, you can take a 30 minute walking tour of the historic Churchill Downs (included in your museum admission, no reservations required). Plan to spend about 2 hours here to enjoy the museum and gift shop, but plan for more time if you also want to do the walking tour.
Lunch at J. Graham’s Cafe at the Brown Hotel
335 West Broadway
A sweet and savory lunch awaits you at the Brown Hotel. Not only will you have a chance to visit a luxurious and historic landmark hotel in downtown Louisville, but you’ll be able to enjoy two of Louisville’s most famous foods, the Hot Brown and Derby Pie. The Hot Brown was created at the Brown Hotel during the roaring ’20s to appease its late night party crowd, so there is no better place to try it in town. It’s an open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon, tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and Mornay sauce. Although delicious, the hot brown is certainly a rich and filling dish. If you are traveling with a friend, you can ask to split your Hot Brown. Your server will present you and your friend each with a perfect single serving to enjoy.
Don’t forget to save room for a slice of famous Derby Pie, a chocolate and walnut tart with a pastry dough crust. Derby Pie has been made by the Kern’s Kitchen since the 50’s. Although they do not have a storefront, they bake these pies fresh every day and distribute to various restaurants around Louisville. The Brown Hotel serves a Kern’s Derby Pie, so be sure to try it while you are here. I would probably recommend sharing a slice with a friend unless you really love sweets!
Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory
800 West Main Street
You can’t miss this building when you are driving down Main Street, as there is a big bat out front (an exact replica of Babe Ruth’s 34-inch Louisville Slugger). This marks the place where the world-famous baseball bats are made.
You’ll have a chance to walk through the factory and see how these bats are produced for the average Joe as well as professional baseball players. Guided tours are offered every 20 minutes (no photography is allowed), and at the end of your tour, you receive a free miniature souvenir bat.
The exhibit area has a few galleries where you can get a chance to swing bats that were actually used by some of baseball’s greatest players and get a closer look at baseball memorabilia while walking among the life size sculptures of some of baseball’s most popular players. After touring the museum, take a walk towards the back of the building where you’ll find an onsite indoor batting cage. You can also buy a great souvenir here, a personalized Louisville Slugger baseball bat that you can have engraved while you wait. Allow 2 hours to fully enjoy everything this stop has to offer.
Bourbon Balls from Cellar Door Chocolates
1201 Story Avenue
You will not have a whole lot of time for shopping on this itinerary, but with gift shops at both the Kentucky Derby Museum and Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, you’ll have no problem finding a great souvenir before leaving Louisvile. However, there is one thing you should go out of your way for before leaving Louisville, and that is a Bourbon Ball from Cellar Door Chocolates.
A bourbon ball is a chocolate truffle made with bourbon. Cellar Door Chocolates offers bourbon balls made with popular bourbons or specially flavored ones like a Baked Apple Bourbon Ball or Ginger Bourbon Ball. The truffles here as well as their other chocolate offerings are all top notch using fine ingredients and decorated beautifully. A visit to Cellar Door Chocolates is worth the short drive from downtown Louisville. It’s located at the Butchertown Market complex which is just a few minutes away.
Dinner at Sidebar at Whiskey Row
129 South 2nd Street
In a historic building known as Whiskey Row, you’ll find an upscale bourbon, beer, and burger joint. Here, you’ll find one of the best burgers in town as well as a large selection of bourbons and beers in a relaxed but smart environment. I recommend the Hung Jury or the Philadephia Attorney burgers and do not leave this place without trying the Tomato Salad (yum!).
Before dinner, have a drink at the bar where you’ll find friendly bartenders eager to educate you on bourbon. We stop at this wonderful establishment whenever we are in Louisville and highly recommend you try it out for a great burger and bourbon, too. It’s located on a side street right off of Main Street across from the KFC Yum! Center.
Cocktails at the Garage Bar
700 East Market Street
For a fun night out away from the tourist zone, make your way over to the Garage Bar in Louisville’s East Market neighborhood. Just a short taxi ride from city center is where you’ll find this quirky bar housed in a former auto garage. When the weather is nice, the garage doors go up. You’ll be able to sit outside under the strung lights or play some ping pong under the night sky as you enjoy your bourbon cocktails or craft beers. This festive bar is always buzzing and is a great place to unwind after a day tripping around Louisville.
Swap It! If you want to swap out the morning or afternoon, consider this alternative.
Jim Beam American Stillhouse
526 Happy Hollow Road, Clermont, KY
If you are interested in visiting a bourbon distillery while in Louisville, you can easily visit the distillery of one of the world’s biggest producers, Jim Beam. The Jim Beam American Still house is conveniently located just 30 miles from downtown Louisville. You’ll be able to book a guided tour, which takes you through the entire Jim Beam Bourbon-making process, from start to finish. At the end of the tour, you’ll go to the modern tasting room for a bourbon tasting (included in the tour price). Here, you’ll have a chance to taste a few different bourbons made at the distillery including not only Jim Beam, but Knob Creek and Baker’s, too.
You’ll also be able to keep your Jim Beam tasting glass as a souvenir, but there’s also a large two-story gift shop onsite to load up on more souvenirs including t-shirts, cooking sauces, bottles of bourbon, etc. To ensure you can get on a tour during busier times (e.g, Kentucky Derby week), consider making an online reservation in advance here. Allow 3 hours (includes round trip travel time).
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