Bourbon, BBQ and Black culture were the takeaways that I absorbed during my recent visit to Louisville, KY. The purpose of my visit was to volunteer at the Nomadness Festival which is dedicated to celebrating, providing resources and projecting the stories of BIPOC people in the travel space. In this travel guide you will get an overview of how to shake it up in Bourbon City. Get ready to learn, see and do all the things that Louisville, KY has to offer.
- Roots 101 African American Museum: The African American experience comes in all facets and the Roots 101 African American Museum gives you a lesson from the origins of mother Africa to the first enslaved African who touched the shores of the Americas. Mr. Lamont Collins founded the museum in 2020 and named his establishment to resemble a college course to bring awareness to African American history. During my visit, my tour group was treated to a musical interpretation performed by the Sanoka Players. Each song performed took me on a journey that evoked a reference to the past that weaved through the centuries . The museum spans two floors filled with the personal African artifacts from Mr. Lamont’s collection. The main floor is focused on the African continent, the middle passage and the Jim Crow era. As you ascend to the second floor, you will be immersed in Louisville black history. A replica of the room that was in the Allen Hotel is on display that has the moniker as being the largest hotel in the Green Book for Louisville. Further down the hallway you will see a room dedicated to Breanna Taylor that is adorned with murals. This particular exhibition was curated by the youth of Louisville as a memorial to the young lady that was murdered in her own home. The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10AM – 5PM. Depending on your age and affiliations prices range from $10-$13.
Munch Tip: The Sanoka Players can be booked as an add to your visit to the Roots 101 African American Museum for $25 per person.
- Kentucky Center for African American Heritage: The heritage center is a venue that answers the call of the neighborhood by being a hub for gatherings, cultural immersion and performances. My visit included a catered lunch that was provided by Nameless Catering Company which is one of the newest up and coming establishments that is currently operating out of the incubator, Chef Scape. My lunch consisted of a hot brown roast beef sandwich, pasta salad and their infamous sweet potato cookie. To drink, I had some of the best lemonade I ever tasted. Lorna’s Lemonade prides itself on only using three core ingredients of water, kane sugar and fresh fruit. The lemonade flavors offered were totally unexpected such as the Jalapeno Lime Lemonade. My experience was elevated with a one act musical of the blues legend, Mary Ann Fisher. This songstress is best known for being the principal singer for Ray Charles during his heyday. The play took us beyond the fame spotlight to how she grew up in Kentucky. The ironic tidbit that I learned was that Ms. Fisher lived directly across the street from where the Heritage Center is today. The museum is open Monday-Friday from 10AM – 4PM.
Munch Tip: When walking through the space, don’t overlook the section that is dedicated to all things Mary Ann Fisher where you will see portraits of the singer and concert posters with Ray Charles.
- The Muhammad Ali Center: One thing about Louisville is that they know how to celebrate their homegrown legends. If you don’t pass the likeness of the iconic boxing athlete on a mural or see his name adorned on a main throughway in the city, you definitely are living under a rock. The epitome for every boxing fan is to visit the Muhammad Ali Center which is the museum of Ali’s life from childhood to his humanitarian initiatives. The center is a massive structure consisting of four floors that are centered around Ali’s core principles of confidence, dedication, giving, respect and spirituality. The interactive exhibits showcase some of Ali’s most infamous fights and are displayed to allow for visitors to have the experience to feel like they are sitting ringside at an actual boxing match. On the fourth floor is where you will get to see all the memorabilia and accolades that Ali accumulated throughout his career. Starting from his childhood, you will learn that his boxing journey started when his red bike was stolen. Being upset by this, young Ali wanted to immediately fight the thief, but fate intervened and he was intercepted by police officer Joe Martin who steered him in the direction of a local gym to learn the art of boxing instead. Continuing on Ali’s museum journey, you will see a timeline of all his fights. I was surprised to learn that he would donate a portion of his winnings to a local charity that aligned with his beliefs. I appreciate how the center told the whole story of Ali and how abandoned his young minded misogynistic views and evolved into a man who was open minded and compassionate to all human beings. Overall, this is a must visit activity that you have to add to your itinerary when visiting Louisville. The center is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 12PM – 5PM. The admission cost is $20 for adults and $10 for children aged 6-17. Also, there are discounts available for active duty military and Louisville residents.
Munch Tip: On the fourth floor, head to the back of the floor and you will see a fabulous view of the Ohio River. This definitely is the perfect picture opportunity.
- Trolley De’ville: I’ve said time and again, the best way to get accumulated to any city is to hop on a tour that will give you an overall glimpse of the city. This veteran owned tour company takes you throughout the downtown Louisville area and beyond. One of the highlights of the tour was driving through the historic Old Louisville district which is known for its large collection of Victorian mansions. Home after home in this area was preserved to resemble what it looked like in its heyday in the 1870s. Also, during the tour, you will have the opportunity to see the entrance of the University of Louisville and get a quick view of the Kentucky Derby Museum during your one and only bathroom break on the tour. The length of the tour is 90 minutes and is priced at $30 for adults and $20 for children. The daily tour runs Wednesday to Sundays at 1PM and 3PM.
Munch Tip: Interested in the scarier side of the city? For the same price as the regular tour, you can book the Boo Lou Trolley tour.
- University of Louisville – Charles H. Parrish Jr. Freedom Park: During the Trolley De’ville tour, the guide gave a quick highlight of the University of Louisville’s Freedom Park as a site that should be visited. When good advice is given, I definitely made it a point to visit this site. Freedom Park was named in honor of Charles H. Parrish Jr. who was the first African American professor hired at the University of Louisville. Constructed in 2012, the park provides a space to highlight Louisville’s African American contributions spanning from 1750 to present day. The paths from both sides of the park lead you to several glass panels that honor Kentucky residents that contributed to the progression of the African American community in Louisville by participating in the civil rights movement to holding political positions in the city. This walkable park is free to explore and is open 24 hours a day.
Munch Tip: This hidden gem could be hard to find if you are not familiar with the campus. Head on over to the University of Louisville’s visitor information center to grab a map.
- Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory: Another baseball memory in the books for me. You’ve probably heard of the reference to the famous baseball bat in many songs such as Before He Cheats by Carrie Underwood. This trip was my opportunity to see how these famous baseball bats were made and why they are the equipment of choice for several Major League Baseball Teams. Founded in the late 1800s by Bud Hillenrich, the son of a woodworker who did not like baseball, it was ironic that Hillenrich saw potential in the game and believed in the potential for it to become a profitable business. His vision inspired him to submit several patents for the creation of the bats that were eventually named Louisville Slugger in honor of the 1884 professional baseball player, Pete Browning. The museum is centrally located on Main Street in downtown Louisville and can easily be seen from miles around because of the giant sized baseball that is taller than the museum building. Entering the space, you feel like you have entered sacred space. There is an expansive wall that has signatures of every player that has created a bat with specifications. The complex has different stations that provide you with historical baseball facts that can be added to your repertoire. For the adult ticket price of $22, you can view the museum that has wax figures of some of your favorite baseball players like Jackie Robinson or Derek Jeter. Live demonstrations are also interwoven throughout the museum to give you an in depth view to how the bats are made. The best part of the experience is walking the floors of the factory to see the entire process from a slab of wood to a piece of equipment dedicated to scoring home runs. I was shocked to learn that the bats were hand dipped one by one in paint to make each baseball bat a unique piece of art. As if the factory tour was not the ultimate treat, at the end of the tour you are given a mini Louisville Slugger baseball bat as a souvenir.
Munch Tip: Make sure to charge your phone. You will be taking tons of pictures during the factory tour because videos are not allowed.
- Women Owned Wallet (WOW): You know what makes a local shopping extra special? When the establishment is dedicated to supporting all things that pertain to being a woman. Every product that is sourced for Woman Owned Wallet (WOW) is made or owned by a woman and promotes putting money back into the women’s pockets. Located right smack dab in the NULU (New Louisville) section of the city, you can purchase t-shirts with empowering statements to candles that look and smell like peach cobbler. I had the most lovely conversation with Page, the store manager who gave me a rundown of all the go to spots to check out in the district. If you can’t make it to the store, they have a very extensive online shop.
Munch Tip: There is a woman owned self guided walking tour that plots out all the shops and restaurants that are located within the NULU district. It’s definitely worth supporting these establishments if you have the time.
- Kentucky Derby Museum: Louisville is most recognized for the annual Kentucky Derby races that take place at Churchill Downs. However, many are unaware of the Black jockeys and trainers that spearheaded and contributed to the popularity of racing culture in Kentucky. My tour guide, Keyana exudes her passion for this subject matter by eloquently weaving the stories of the jockeys into her tour and in particular the story of Isaac Murphy and how he was the first black jockey to win three running’s of the Kentucky Derby in 1884, 1890 and 1891. The Kentucky Derby museum collaborated with the Roots 101 African American museum to develop an exhibit that tells the story of these incredible sportsmen. As part of the tour we even got to see a live horse race which was an exhilarating once in a lifetime experience. A visit to the racing track, museum and the The Great Race film displayed on a 360 degree movie screen cost $20 for adults and $12 for children (ages 5-12). The operating hours for the museum are Monday to Saturday from 8:30AM to 4:30PM and Sunday from 11:30AM to 4:30PM.
Munch Tip: The Black Heritage tour is only available on Mondays and costs $35 per person. Make sure to ask for Keyana to be your guide.
- Evan Williams Bourbon Experience: You cannot come to Kentucky without strolling through downtown and stopping at one of the many distilleries in Louisville . There literally is a bourbon trail that annotates a watering hole every ½ a block. During this trip, I was able to experience the oldest and most well known distillery in Kentucky, Evan Williams. Founded in 1783, this distillery specializes in producing straight bourbon that is smooth and can have an alcohol content that can go up to 100 proof. The building has four floors that focus on all aspects of the bourbon process. The tours are offered to give you the backstory of Evan Williams and how he became the first licensed distiller in Kentucky. A well rounded visit to a drinking establishment should always include a tasting of the libations. There are several tasting tours available, but on this visit I was afforded the opportunity to be transported back in time to the prohibition era on The Ideal Bartender Experience. The host during this speakeasy tasting is Mr. Thomas Bullock. Who is Mr. Bullock? He was the first African American to write and publish a cocktail book in the United States. Walking us through the tasting, Mr. Bullock presented two of Evan Williams most popular bourbons and taught us how to craft the perfect old fashion. I walked away with a better appreciation for the distilling process of the popular dark liquor. This was a comped experience for me, however this add-on is exclusively for adults, 21 years and older and has a price tag of $35 per person.
Munch Tip: The gift shop has everything that you can think of that is related to the Evan Williams brand. During the holiday season, the original southern eggnog & pumpkin pie liquors are released and offered on a limited basis.
- Cave Hill Cemetery: To some, going to a cemetery during your travels may seem morbid, I would have to kindly disagree. I find it to be a way to take a glimpse into the foundations of a city based on who is buried there. By far the largest cemetery in the city of Louisville is Cave Hill. It’s design reflects the Victorian era in which it was established and recognized on the National Historic Preservation list in 1979. The grounds are beautifully manicured and have several lakes intertwined throughout the property to allow visitors to have a quiet place for remembrance of their loved ones. The goal of my visit was to pay my respects to Muhammad Ali who was buried in the cemetery in 2016. Consistent with his demeanor, Ali’s grave is elegant and subtle and is inscribed with several notable sayings that he lived by. There are quite a few famous people buried in this cemetery and I made it a point to stop by the Kentucky Fried Chicken founder’s grave, Colonel Harland Sanders. The headstone for the Colonel has a bust so that you can easily distinguish where it is located. Cave Hill Cemetery is open everyday from 8AM – 4:45PM.
Munch Tip: The cemetery provides a map of all the famous people buried on their grounds. You can see the map at the following link.
- Lalai Day Spa: My always on the go nature during my travels can sometimes get the best of me, so relaxation time is required in some instances. Located outside of the Louisville city limits is the day spa Lalai. You initially might miss the business because it’s located in a courtyard within a shopping center. I wasn’t sure I had arrived in the right place, but my confusion was immediately erased when I was greeted by my massage therapist. Specializing in the art of Thai massage, the focus is to work out all your knots by finding the trigger points to relieve the tension. My massage therapist was an expert that quickly identified what needed to be relieved and made me feel like a new person. This service was gifted to me, but if I was a local to the area, I would definitely make it a part of my wellness routine.
Munch Tip: A car is definitely required if you plan to visit the day spa. However, once you get here there is plenty of free parking available.
- Cherry Pickin’ Juicery & Goods: Anytime I visit a new city, I like to hit the pavement and have my stomach do the leading. This led me to the new black owned establishment, Cherry Pickin’. The basketball term plays off the owner’s love for the game and their connection as b-ball players. The juicery’s goal is to provide healthy and richly delicious foods and drinks derived from the best ingredients that nature has to offer. At the time of my visit, the establishment was still in the process of bringing their menu up to full capacity. So I only ended up ordering the gold medalist smoothie. It was made with coconut water, pineapple juice, apples and chia seeds. It was delicious and I was hoping they had a larger cup size.
Munch Tip: There are several options on the menu such as overnight oats and smoothie bowls. Don’t forget to check out the fridge as well to buy a bottle of fresh pressed juice to take home with you.
- Guacamole – Modern Mexican: Food cravings can be overwhelming at times and the modern Mexican restaurant, Guacamole quieted my hunger pains. I have never been to Mexico City, but this is what I would envision the city to be like; adorned with bright colors and Mexican pride. I knew from this first impression, I was in store for a good meal. I settled up at the bar and began my meal with a Cantanto which was made with Patron, fresh lime and grapefruit. The clay pot rim of the cup had a spicy concoction that I could drizzle on anything. As an appetizer, I ordered the guacamole in three different ways and quickly realized that I could have made this my whole meal because it came with a huge basket of chips to scoop up the dip. To round out my meal, I ordered the shrimp tacos with squid ink tortillas. This was the first time that I had these type of tortillas and now I cannot see having them any other way.
Munch Tip: The décor of this restaurant is so inviting and the staff was top tier. Make sure to head to the rooftop deck to see the mural of Frida Kahal.
- Royals Hot Chicken: Most people associate Kentucky with Colonel Sanders’ famous fried chicken, but there are so many other restaurants that offer a variation of chicken options that will satisfy any palate. Located in the NULU district of the city is Royals Chicken that specializes in making a variation of Nashville hot chicken. The preparation of the chicken can come in the form of a sandwich, tender or salad. Taking the lead of the cashier, I ordered meal #1 which consisted of the jumbo chicken tenders with French fries. Not being familiar with the heat scale and how hot, hot was I settled on the “some” heat level which equates to medium on the Royals Chicken meter. In fear of feeling the heat pain later, I ordered the seasonal apple pie milkshake. This dessert drink was absolutely delicious! There were very noticeable pieces of apple and graham crackers mixed throughout the shake. The chicken was fried perfectly. The skin was crispy and once you broke through you were greeted with the most tender and juicy chicken meat you ever tasted. A slice of bread and two pickles are part of the meal and can be used to break up the spiciness permeating from the chicken. The combo meal also comes with a dipping sauce and I opted for the Kentucky honey mustard.
Munch Tip: Want to take your milkshake up a notch. Add a shot of bourbon to make it an adult beverage.
- Abyssinia Authentic Ethiopian Cuisine: Ethiopian food is a cuisine that I’m slowly becoming acquainted with every time that I have the chance to expand my food boundaries, I’m always up for the challenge. At the suggestion of one of my dinner companions, we headed to the Ethiopian restaurant, Abyssinia Authentic that is located within walking distance of 4th street. The meal experience is very communal and requires you to eat with your hands. For a first timer, this may seem a little off-putting but it’s imperative to the whole experience. Injera, the Ethiopian flatbread is the vehicle used to pick up your entrée and wrap it into bite sized morsels. My platter was beautifully proportioned into little mounds of chicken, beef, potatoes and vegetables. The dish was reasonably priced at $16.
Munch Tip: Order an extra side of Injera. You’re definitely going to eat every single drop of your entrée.
- The Village Market Food Hall: The benefit of having different vendors under one roof is having the opportunity to try different cuisines without the hassle of moving your car. Nomadness Fest, the travel conference that brought me to Louisville, held the closing reception at this gathering space. Attendees received a $20 gift card to spend at one of the five different vendors. After browsing each menu, I narrowed in on the Asian restaurant, Sarap Filipino Eatery. The lechon kawali (fried pork belly) on a stick immediately drew me in. The meat was juicy, fatty and tender. I ate the meat on a stick so fast, I immediately regretted not ordering a second skewer. For my main dish, I ordered the pancit with one lumpia which was satisfying and filling. This dish was made fresh to order and fulfilled my mid-day craving.
Munch Tip: This venue is a hot spot for community events. There also is a $5 happy hour drink special that takes place Monday to Friday. If you are attending a show at the Old Forrester’s Paristown Hall next door, you will receive 10% off of your food purchase. Just make sure to show your ticket from the show.
- The Local Selzetry: If there is one thing I’m addicted to, it’s my love for bubbly drinks. So you could imagine my excitement when I saw there was a bar dedicated to carbonated drinks. The Local Selzetry specializes in making hand crafted sparkling cocktails that you can customize with different flavors and alcohol based on your preferences. The jalapeno pineapple and dreamsicle flavor piqued my interest, so that’s what I ordered. The big bonus about these drinks is that every drink only equates to 100 calories or less. At the time of my visit it was happy hour, so the two drinks that I ordered were half price. All the drinks are reasonably priced and range from $8.50 to $12. For those who like to try a little bit of everything, seltzer flights are offered for $10 (3 flights) and $18 (4 flights). The bar is open Wednesday thru Sunday and the times vary depending on the day.
Munch Tip: Want to take your favorite drink home? Your drink of choice can be canned on site in 2 or 4 pack.
- Feast BBQ: BBQ is my cuisine of choice and my trip would not be complete without trying some of the local BBQ. Now it’s rare that I get blown away so quickly about a BBQ dish, but the pork cakes had me excited and confused all at the same time. What is a pork cake you ask? It is two mounds of pulled pork formed into patties that are fried and topped with BBQ sauce and coleslaw. You would think that frying the pork would dry out the meat. Instead the fried outer shell kept the meat hot and moist. This dish was so filling, that I could have just gotten away with having this as my entire meal. However, I kept pressing on and I ordered the pulled chicken platter with collard greens and baked beans. All I had room for was the sides and both were delicious. One thing I learned from this experience was that if you come hungry, you still will leave with leftovers.
Munch Tip: The restaurant does not take reservations. Seating is first come first served, so get there early.
- Please & Thank You Coffee Shop: My breakfast of choice is a vanilla latte with oat milk, so getting my morning started can be a struggle if I don’t get a cup of my favorite coffee. As I searched for the best latte via google, it suggested that Please & Thank You would fit what I was craving. Luckily for me it was located diagonally across the street from my hotel in NULU district. While looking over the menu, I saw that they had a butterscotch latte and I quickly abandoned my plan of ordering a vanilla latte. The mixture of the smoky sweetness of the butterscotch and the espresso shot was a welcome boost to get my day started. The was establishment has been voted as the #1 cookie shop in America by USAToday. That distinction alone prompted me to find out what all the hype was about. The chocolate cookie was insanely rich, soft and full of chunks of chocolate. There were other sweet treats such as the brownies, which I also ordered were equally as delicious.
Munch Tip: If you’re interested in trying the cookies for yourself, the establishment ships nationwide and also has a subscription service where you can get the cookies on a regular basis.