Louisville is a pretty darn cool town, y’all. Big enough to have tons of amenities, but small enough that you can get around easily between our interesting inner-ring neighborhoods. Southern enough to be featured in Southern Living, but not Southern enough to serve our tea sweet. (Indiana is right across the river, after all.)
While you’re here: focus on the vibrant arts culture, the truly amazing food scene, and the walkable, shop-able neighborhoods like Crescent Hill, Clifton, and the Highlands.
I could have gone on forever, but this list is a solid start to planning your time in Louisville.
Carmichael’s Bookstore. Louisville’s independent bookstore. Two locations in two great neighborhoods: 2720 Frankfort Ave (Crescent Hill) and 1295 Bardstown Road (Highlands). Carmichael’s Kids, a dedicated kids’ store, is two doors down from the Highlands location at 1313 Bardstown Road.
Nanny Goat Books. Used and new books in Nulu, a fun, walkable neighborhood just east of downtown. I’m fond of Nouvelle, the wine bar next door—don’t miss their patio if the weather’s nice.
Sunergos Coffee. My favorite, but a bit off my beaten path. 2122 South Preston Street (U of L), 306 West Woodlawn Ave (Iroquois Park), 231 South Fifth St (downtown)
Please and Thank You. Small-batch Southern bakery and coffeehouse. No decaf. Amazing baked goods. 800 East Market St (NuLu) and 2341 Frankfort Ave (Clifton)
Heine Brothers Coffee. Louisville’s original independent roaster. 14 area locations; I wrote most of Reading People at the Shelbyville Road store.
Atlantic No. 5. Eatery and general store offering espresso drinks plus a selection of homemade sandwiches, biscuits salads, desserts and grab-to-go meals. West Main (downtown)
Quill’s Coffee. Great coffee, beautiful stores. 800 E. Main (Nulu), 930 Baxter Ave (Highlands), 327 W Cardinal Blvd (U of L), and 117 St Matthews Ave (St Matthews).
Proof on Main. Smack in the heart of downtown, in the 21c Museum Hotel, which is worth a peek inside. (Don’t miss the bathrooms.) Southern influenced cuisine and seasonal cocktails. The museum features national and international art and installations. 702 West Main St
Butchertown Grocery. This just might be my favorite in Louisville. 1076 E Washington St
Seviche. This upscale Latin fusion restaurant is a personal favorite. 1538 Bardstown Rd (Highlands)
LouVino. This is a great place for a girls’ night; I keep meaning to stop in with my husband. Southern-inspired small bites, wine, wine flights, desserts, and Sunday brunch. 1606 Bardstown Rd (Highlands), 11400 Main Street (Douglass Hills)
Café Classico. European-style café offering a quick lunch or full dinner, plus Illy espresso drinks. 2144 Frankfort Ave (Clifton)
Mojito Tapas Restaurant. Amazing tapas and a family favorite. 2231 Holiday Manor Center (Holiday Manor)
Royals Hot Chicken. Nashville-style hot chicken in Nulu. 736 East Market St
Mayan Café. Local, seasonal Mayan food, and a longtime Louisville favorite. 813 East Market St (Nulu)
The Silver Dollar. Southern eats, a million varieties of bourbon, excellent brunch. 1761 Frankfort Ave (Clifton)
Grind Burger Kitchen. Grind started as a food truck and now has a beautiful brick and mortar home, with a great porch. All ingredients are locally and sustainably sourced. 829 East Market (Nulu)
Blue Dog Bakery & Café. Illy coffee, baked goods, seated breakfast and lunch service. Their bread is on the tables of nearly every fancy restaurant in the city. 2868 Frankfort Ave (Crescent Hill). Don’t miss their sister butcher/restaurant Red Hog down the street.
El Mundo. Made from scratch Mexican food and drinks. It’s hard to beat their nachos for dinner on the patio on a beautiful night. 2345 Frankfort Avenue (Clifton)
To Go Sushi. This may sound like a bad idea but this little place on Lyndon Lane does amazing (and huge) rolls at a great price. Small amount of eat-in seating but this isn’t a place you visit for the atmosphere. 700 Lyndon Ln (Lyndon)
Taco Luchador. Great tacos and sweet potato fries in a casual setting. 938 Baxter Ave (Highlands) and 112 Meridian Ave (St Matthews)
Graeter’s. The city’s best ice cream in multiple locations, including St Matthews, the Highlands, and Crescent Hill.
The Comfy Cow. Also possibly the city’s best ice cream in three locations. Try an ice cream flight while you’re there. 2221 Frankfort Ave (Clifton), 1301 Herr Ln (Westport Village), 13301 Shelbyville Rd (Middletown)
Steel City Pops. Gourmet pops made from all-natural ingredients, in flavors like elderflower, pineapple jalapeño, and buttermilk. If you’re lucky you may spy their popsicle stand at a local park on a nice summer evening. 1021 Bardstown Rd (Highlands) and 117 St Matthews Ave (shared space with Quill’s Coffee, St Matthews)
Sweet Surrender Dessert Café. Decadent desserts with an emphasis on lavishly frosted layer cakes. 1804 Frankfort Ave, just by A Reader’s Corner (Clifton)
Forage. All plants, all the time, in a storefront that just begs to be Instagrammed. 1201 Goss Ave (Germantown)
Mahonia. Perhaps my favorite place in Louisville, packed with plants and home furnishings. 822 East Market St (Nulu)
Work the Metal. This unique establishment features a diverse and ever-changing assortment of handmade jewelry, art, clothing, home decor, local foodstuffs, and more. 1201 Story Avenue (Butchertown)
Scout. Modern, eclectic mix of furniture, home accessories, art, and jewelry. 720 East Market St (Nulu)
Architectural Salvage. Renowned home of thousands of hard-to-find and one-of-a-kind decor items that draws builders and regular folk from all over the country. Acres of antique salvaged glass, mirrors, tiles, furniture, fixtures and a sea of miscellany. 618 East Broadway (downtown)
To See and Do
Frankfort Avenue Trolley Hop. Free trolleys circulate between over a hundred galleries, shops, and eateries on the final Friday of each month. (Crescent Hill, Clifton, Nulu)
Old Louisville. Louisville is home to an impressive number of preserved and lovingly restored Victorian mansions in the country. (Old Louisville, near U of L)
Speed Museum of Art. Re-opened in early 2017 after a long renovation. Features global works, with a focus on Western art. Free admission on Sundays. 20345 South Third St (U of L)
Kentucky Museum of Arts and Craft. Don’t let the name mislead you: this is a contemporary art museum with a very cool gift shop. 715 West Main St (downtown)
Louisville Slugger Museum. Even if you’re only a halfhearted fan, this is a pretty great museum. If you’re in the area be sure to goggle at the 120 foot-high baseball bat out front on Main Street.
Daisy Buchanan’s house. Historians and lit-lovers disagree on which Highlands home actually served as inspiration for Daisy’s home in The Great Gatsby, but 1400 Cherokee Rd is the frontrunner. (Highlands)
The labyrinth at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. An authentic labyrinth, located just off the entrance to the seminary at 1044 Alta Vista Rd. (Lexington Rd)
Churchill Downs. Home to the Twin Spires, the Kentucky Derby, and live racing. 700 Central Ave (near U of L)
The Bourbon Trail. Bourbon country is just outside Louisville in Central Kentucky. Explore the historic distilleries of Kentucky’s beautiful countryside, on your own or by guided tour.
21 C Museum Hotel. Voted by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine Reader’s Choice Awards as the #1 hotel in America. Modern boutique hotel with interactive art exhibits, even in the lobby’s bathroom! 700 West Main St (downtown)
The Seelbach Hilton. This historic hotel appears in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. 500 South Fourth St (downtown)
Aloft Hotel Louisville. Louisville’s newest boutique hotel on historic Whiskey Row. 102 West Main St (downtown)
The Omni Louisville. Louisville’s newest hotel in downtown Louisville features a library bar, on-site dining and coffee, and an incredible pool deck. This is where I escaped to write when I was finishing Don’t Overthink It. 400 South Second St (downtown)