Kentucky Places: The Louisville List

Downtown Louisville as seen from Indiana
This weekend, a Nashville-based friend Facebooked me for recommendations for a summer trip to Louisville.  I guess it's where I've lived in (and loved) three amazing Southern cities, but I get  variants of that email all the time.  "Where should I stay in Louisville?"  "Where are the best places to shop in Nashville?"  "Where should I eat after a day at Keeneland?" -- I actually keep my responses on file in my email account and then re-work the answers to compliment individual friends' personalities, tastes, traveling preferences and companions.

Now, my friend is planning for an early June trip to a concert at the Yum! Center and a few days' stay in downtown Louisville.   She's never been to Louisville before, and wants to get a sense of the city.   There are so many attractions within walking/easy driving distance that this trip virtually plans itself.  Even though it's the middle of winter, talk of a Downtown Louisville summer puts me in the mood for Proof's gelato, a ride on the Belle, and a seat on Molly Malone's patio. -- HCW

The Yum Center and Downtown Museums
The Ali Center
I've never really been to the Yum! Center, but it's supposed to be an incredible venue.  It's right in the middle of Downtown Louisville, and you could have a fantastic trip without ever leaving the Downtown area.
The guys on the trip will probably want to see the Louisville Slugger Museum. If baseball's your thing, the RiverBats - the Minor League team - play downtown. The Frazier Museum has a lot of historical war/arms stuff. The Muhammad Ali Center is also quite neat -- it's kind of a walking tour of The Champ's life, as well as a cultural center that supports a lot of education and charity events.  There are also some very cute galleries/museums up and down Main Street, near Slugger, Frazier and the Ali.
The Seelbach lobby
As for hotels, I would strongly suggest either 21C or the Seelbach. 21C is a very hip and boutique-y museum hotel. The restaurant inside -- Proof on Main -- is extremely cool. Excellent locally sourced food, insanely good cocktails, and a very artsy decor -- all without being too pretentious. Proof also has a fantastic gelato cart on the street during the summer -- I can't recommend it highly enough.
The Seelbach is way more traditional with four-poster cherry beds, marble lobbies, etc. I feel like a princess every time I stay there.  It has some really cool little bars, the best Starbucks in town, and an amazing day spa.  It also boasts the only five-diamond restaurant in the state.  They're even dog-friendly, and treated Max like a visiting dignitary.  Fitzgerald actually got thrown out of the Seelbach for public drunkenness and then set Daisy's wedding there when he wrote The Great Gatsby.
Outside Jeff Ruby's
The Galt House is kind of a non-descript conventioners' hotel, but it does have an amazing view of the river. There is also a really good high-end steakhouse, Jeff Ruby's, at the Galt House that's like a regional Ruth's Chris. Good, big steaks and a fantastic wine list.
Food/ Entertainment

Max  visits Fourth Street Live.
My very favorite breakfast in the world is at Toast on Market. The Blueberry-Lemon Pancakes are insane, as are the pancakes that are dressed out like a pot roast sandwich. Their hash brown casserole is incredible as well. Also on Market is Garage Bar, which is a high-end wood-fired pizza place that also includes a great oyster bar.
The Belle of Louisville
Downtown, just by the Seelbach, is a kind of touristy entertainment district called Fourth Street Live. There's a Hard Rock, a MakersMark-themed restaurant/bar, and a lot of little restaurants and bars. It's a fun place to people-watch and go out for drinks. I think they even have Yum! Center adjacent parking, and there is often live music and other event-y kind of stuff going on.
Oh, and if the weather permits, you can go out on a steamboat. The Belle of Louisville and the Spirit of Jefferson do lunch and dinner cruises and little sightseeing excursions. It's a very neat way to see downtown from the river.
The Highlands
Molly Malone's
If you want to venture just out of Downtown, the Highlands is a fun, eclectic neighborhood just minutes away. Very cute and cool (we lived there for years) shops and some of the best food anywhere. Lynn's Paradise Cafe is a cute, funky diner with fantastic food. Lunch and dinner are really good, and the breakfast/brunch is legendary. Wick's Pizza is kind of a neighborhood favorite -- huge pizzas with tons of quality toppings. There are some really great nicer restaurants up and down Bardstown Road (the main street going through the neighborhood); if you're up for Latin Fusion, Seviche is our favorite restaurant anywhere -- fantastic seafood and mojitos, and my beau loves their skirt steak, too.
I absolutely love the Louisville Stoneware factory--they do tours, paint-your-own, etc., and their big summer sale should be going on. There are also several really cute Irish Pub kind of places in the Highlands -- Molly Malones and O'Shea's are the kind of places where everyone from college kids to Congressmen go -- very laid-back and fun.
Churchill Downs
The one thing that would be worth driving out of downtown would be Churchill Downs. The summer meet will be in full-force by early June. For just a regular weekend race, you should be able to get tix -- you'd be fine to just dress like you would for an afternoon wedding or a "coat and tie rather than suit" church.  If you're in town on the right weekend, I'd hit up Downs After Dark, which is a fun night-racing event.
Louisville in general
Louisville is a really fun city. It can be a little more Midwestern than the rest of Kentucky -- people talk and walk a little faster and sure do drink in public more than they do anywhere else in the state. I think y'all will really like it, though. It's beautiful in the spring and summer! Also, it has really easy roads to navigate for a city its size; you really can get from one part of town to another pretty rapidly.
The biggest drawback to Louisville in the late spring/early summer is the weather. It's located right along the Ohio river and gets a lot of the river basin storms/tornado watches.

What about y'all, dear readers?  What's on your "Must-See Louisville" list??

(All photos are my own.)