What to see and do (and where to drink bourbon and beer) in Louisville for #ESA2019

Note from Jeremy: this is a guest post from Forrest Stevens, asst. professor in Geography and Geosciences at the University of Louisville. Tons of great stuff here–thanks very much to Forrest for taking the time to share so much local knowledge!


As a relative newcomer to Louisville, I can’t welcome all of you as a native might. But after taking a job as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Geosciences at the University of Louisville five years ago, the city and its surroundings have greatly grown on me.  It’s a unique city, with an interesting history and trajectory, and I’d like to share some of the sights and activities around town that are unique and interesting.  While not an exhaustive list, hopefully this spurs your search for things to do in your downtime while you’re visiting.

My personal shortlist of things that I wouldn’t miss, easily accessible from the Convention Center and downtown hotels (see below for links to some of these):

Spend an afternoon wandering past, if not touring, the Louisville Slugger Museum, even if you’re not super into baseball. The history and the area of main street is fun.  Across the street is the the Frazier History museum, and just down the street is a great spot for a cocktail and wander through the 21C hotel and art gallery (Proof on Main, nice, higher-end restaurant is also located here).  Downtown Louisville also has access to major stops on the “Urban Bourbon Trail,” and even if you’re not taking any day trips to Bardstown or any of the other fantastic distillery experiences you should make it a point to check out at least one of the distilleries/tours located downtown (Kentucky Peerless Distilling, Angel’s Envy, Michters Fort Nelson distillery, Old Forester Distilling, Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse, etc. etc.). See my more exhaustive list below and my takes on what might be worth a trip.
Heading the other direction down Main St., visit the NuLu area. This area has lots of shops, great restaurants (my don’t miss eats would-be Mayan Cafe, Harvest, Wiltshire on Market), and unique local experiences like Joe Ley Antiques, Muth’s Candy shop (get some bourbon balls!), and hit up Garage Bar for some bourbon and pizza before doing a tour at Angel’s Envy, Goodwood, or Akasha brewing.
Anyway, this turned into more content than I originally intended, but I really do hope you enjoy your time in our city.  It’s a great place to live and visit, and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to hit me up in the comments.  I’m looking forward to the conference and hopefully will cross paths with some of you!
Things to do outside:
A great afternoon or morning activity out of the heat of the day, and an excuse to head over to Indiana, the walking bridge nets you great views of downtown, the Ohio River and all of the economic activity along the waterfront. It also leads to nice spots to stop for a beer or meal on that side of the river.  If you’re bringing a bike or doing a bikeshare, it also offers access to some nice rides along the river.
Easily accessible via Lyft/Uber or from bike or even a long walk, from a biogeographical perspective, the Falls are a can’t-miss. When the water levels are low (check before you go) you can walk exposed karst, fossil beds with a window on strata of Devonian aquatic fossils.
The Olmsted Parks, especially Cherokee Park.
These are the gems of Louisville, and especially Cherokee, as an example of urban park design, are truly stunning. They offer some respite from the urban downtown area we’ll be in for the conference, and are well worth a run, walk, bike (there’s pretty great mountain biking and trail riding when it’s dry), or just a meander.
Rich in the history of Louisville, Kentucky, and the early years of the city, wandering this beautiful cemetery is a nice opportunity to reflect. Louisville is a crossroads city, nestled in the Ohio River valley and was a place where many people passed through, lived, died and the history represented through those interred here, and the landscape it represents, is also worth a visit.
Other outdoor-ish activities, depending on your palate for tourism, family-friendliness, and people:
Louisville City FC, our fantastic USL team.
Louisville Slugger Field (where Loucity play as well) and the Bats, the MLB Reds’ AAA minor league affiliate.
Bardstown Rd. and the Highlands Area (with easy access to Cherokee Park).
Things to do inside:
University of Louisville and the Speed Art Museum. Visiting campus, after walking a bit through Old Louisville and its Victorian houses/architecture you can find a really great set of galleries, modern and classic at the Speed Art Museum.  There’s also a fantastic spot for lunch at the Wiltshire at Speed cafe.
Worth a visit even if you’re not into baseball, the Museum is cool, and they have batting cages if you want to test out bats, new or classic.
Old Louisville and the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum. If you’re heading to Speed or staying between Old Louisville and the Convention Center, it’s worth a wander through the garden district of St. James Court, and a visit to the Conrad-Caldwell House, and a finishing with a decent beer at Old Louisville Brewing.
Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum. Even if you’re not a bettor, the Kentucky Derby museum is very, very interesting.And while there’s not much else to do in that area, if you have a car it might be worth a visit.
The Mega Cavern, Kentucky’s Largest “Building”.
Bourbon- and distilling-related activities (also beer):
This deserves its own section since the importance of bourbon, whiskey in general, and other spirits to the history of Kentucky and Louisville can’t be overstated. Any of these would be a great distraction for part of an afternoon, and offer up good views in on the process and history of making liquor, prohibition, and the modern renaissance in bourbon/rye, etc.
And to mention local beer, these are some of the more solid options that if you find them around town, even if you don’t visit their brewery or restaurant locations, are fully worth trying while you are here:
Gravely Brewing and Mayan Cafe food truck
Surrounding areas (day trips and longer):

If you have a day, or are arriving early/staying late then there are some great things to do in the surrounding area. First, I’d be remiss to not mention bourbon and its history to Kentucky and Louisville.  While a bit over-hyped, the Bourbon Trail and some of its stops are worth a side trip.  My absolute favorite (and some of my favorite bourbons and rye, even if you’re just tasting while in town) is Willett Family distillery.

Bardstown, where Willett and Heaven Hill, among other distillers are located, is a nice little town, with some fun history, shopping.

Buffalo Trace Distillery an hour east of Louisville.


Red River Gorge: For a longer day or while in-transit from the East, you can get to Red River Gorge, an essential stop if you’re a climber or interested in some amazing topography and biology.


9 thoughts on “What to see and do (and where to drink bourbon and beer) in Louisville for #ESA2019

  1. Thanks for sharing this with your readers Jeremy, I hope everyone enjoys their stay! One quick correction after re-reading the post, is that Buffalo Trace distillery is not located in Bardstown, though there are a handful of stops on the Bourbon Trail (Heaven Hill, Willett, etc.) there. Buffalo Trace is actually in Frankfort, about an hour to the east of Louisville.

    • Glad you’re finding some good spots! I didn’t touch on any of the food options that were covered in Blake’s write-up, but there are definitely some excellent choices for a variety of price ranges around town. If you have any questions or want specific recommendations let me know in the comments and I’m happy to provide them!

  2. I can report that Akasha Brewing is quite good, and that I am apparently the only ecologist prepared to walk 35 min. to drink beer. 🙂

    And I walked by Garage bar, and it was *rammed* on a Tuesday night with a young loud crowd in the big outdoor seating space. So, if you operate on the theory that the busiest place in town is probably the best place in town, Garage is probably the best bar in town.

  3. The Louisville Slugger factory is super-cool, but probably best for baseball fans (like me). And their gift shop was scientifically designed to separate baseball fans from their money. I didn’t know I *needed* an MLB-grade wooden bat until I went to their gift shop, but it turns out I did. 🙂

      • No, I left the bat* boxed up to travel, but I’m looking forward to going to my local cage the day after I get home.

        *When I say “bat” I mean “bats”, plural. Like I said, that place was designed to separate me from my money. 🙂

      • In my own defense, I broke my old maple bat the week before ESA, so I did in fact need a bat. Now, whether I needed a *MLB-grade* bat is another matter… 🙂

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