Today’s Mini Moon feature comes from one of our favorite photographers in the South, Nina & Wes…
When I first came to Kentucky from Upstate New York, I knew virtually nothing about it. I knew that some fried chicken restaurant was started there by some colonel….I knew that the people spoke with that southern drawl that we northerners so often poked fun at….but beyond those few trivial things, Kentucky was a mystery to me.
Nearly 20 years later, I now proudly call myself a Kentuckian. I went to college here. I got my first career job here, and I met my husband (of almost 12 glorious years!) here. I even seemed to collect a little bit of my own southern drawl here…and I’m okay with that. And aside from a three year stint in South Carolina, I have called Central Kentucky, home, all this time (we tried giving South Carolina a chance, but we missed our beautiful Kentucky home too much, and she welcomed us back with open arms).
Some people may wonder why they should make a visit to our small city of Lexington, Kentucky. Well, Lexington is known largely for basketball and horses. So let’s start there.
University of Kentucky men’s basketball is more than just a sport here. It is a tradition. It is a legacy. Some may even call it a dynasty (I know I do!). Kentucky Basketball is a way of life. We are the winningest basketball program in history, and arguably the best program since the inception of collegiate basketball (okay…so maybe I am a fan). One of the first outfits a baby of a Kentucky fan receives, is a Wildcat Onesie. It is inevitable.
When it comes to Kentucky basketball and its fans, there are no strangers. You could be walking the streets of Jerusalem wearing your favorite Wildcat t-shirt, and inevitably someone will shout out, “Go Big Blue!”, because Kentucky fans span the globe, and when they find you, you are considered a friend (this may have happened to us while we were in Israel). When you make a trip to Lexington, try to visit during basketball season, and see our beloved Rupp Arena covered in a sea of blue, as fans come out to support their Cats, who are basically Kentucky royalty. There is nothing like it in college basketball. Yes, we have some crazy fans out there (what team doesn’t?!), but for the most part, you will find that Kentucky fans, while passionate, are a happy lot (especially when we are winning), and will welcome you in to enjoy a game with them. So you get my point….We love the Kentucky Wildcats.
Horses. Everywhere you go in and around Lexington, you will see horses. There is a reason they call Kentucky the Horse Capital of the World. They are beautiful and majestic creatures, and they are the royalty of the animal world here in Kentucky. You will find that many horses here in the Lexington area have better homes than we do. I’m only a little jealous. No visit to Lexington is complete without a visit to Keeneland Race Course, which has been running races here since 1936. Keeneland has made appearances in movies such as Sea Biscuit and Secretariat, and its spring meet offers several preps for the Kentucky Derby. So if you come to Lexington in October or April, you need to make a visit to Keeneland’s live race meets. You may just meet a future Triple Crown Winner. If you visit the track any day of the week from 6-10am, you can watch the trainers/jockeys circling the tracks with their equine partners, training for their next race. And don’t forget to make a stop at the Track Kitchen. You just may find yourself eating breakfast next to a famous jockey.
And right next door to Keeneland, you could stop by and snap a shot of our one and only castle, The Castle Post. But that’s all you’ll get out of it. It’s not open to the public, so unless you’ve scheduled a meeting there, or pay top dollar for a wedding or special even there, you won’t be getting past those turrets.
And just past the castle, you’ll find old Pisgah Presbyterian Church, which was built in 1784. It is a beautiful old church, and draws many visitors from all over as it is surrounded by breathtaking views of vast horse farms and the roads are lined with Kentucky’s historic dry-laid limestone rock fences.
So we’ve covered horses and basketball (although to be honest, I could go on about those two things for days!). Let’s move on to the every day of life here in Lexington, KY.
Kentucky summers are hot. Not only are they hot, but they are sticky. If you have kids and you need some relief from the heat, you could drive to the outskirts of Lexington and head to the Jessamine County Aquatics Center. They have slides and pools for all ages and its very affordable. But if free is your game, then you can simply park near the courthouse downtown, where you will find fountains in the square, where adults and children alike have fun in the crossing spurts of water.
After cooling off in the fountains you can drive a short distance over to Manchester Rd. (passing some super cool art work on the way), one of the newer food scenes in Lexington, and grab a scoop of delicious, hand crafted ice cream at Lexington’s own Crank & Boom. Honey & Bourbon flavor is my favorite!
Once you finish every last bit of that creamy treat, take a 50 foot journey over to Kentucky Knows. There you will meet Tony. He is a passionate artisan who takes extreme pride in all that he does. He loves taking his customers through the history of his company. He takes old bourbon barrels and brings them back to life by turning them into functional pieces, such as bottle openers, cutting boards, plaques and Lazy Susans. And, as he is very quick to point out, he is not there to push his products on any customer. He is there to share his passion for what he does, and integrity in business. You will not be disappointed with a visit to the little gem. If you have a mind that loves to learn, and a heart for people, you will love meeting Tony and hearing his story. He also makes delicious bourbon infused coffee beans, as well as bourbon infused charr that will bring your grilled burgers and steak to life.
If you’re still in the mood for libations – you don’t want to miss taking a pub crawl tour on a 15 passenger pedaler!
Now for the food. There are so many amazing restaurants in Lexington, and it seems more and more are popping up every day. Here are a couple of my favorites.
National Provisions. This restaurant is housed within the walls of a former soft-drink bottling plant at National and Walton Avenues. It includes a bakery, brasserie-style restaurant, Beer Hall, wine shop and a large market with fresh, locally produced food and delicacies flown in from around the world. This place is full of atmosphere, and gives you a taste of Europe which most certainly comes from the French owner. This place wins my heart with its brightly lit glass cases, filled with pastries and fresh meats and cheeses!
Wines on Vine. This restaurant is my newest (new to me, but it’s been around for years) favorite in Lexington. I could seriously eat here every day! The owner has made this place feel like home. You will see regulars here all the time, because they are treated like family. If you love wine, the sommelier, Mick, is top notch. And the chef, Bryan, is amazing! He will come out and visit, and take special care of you. Be sure to get the cheese plate when you visit. The raspberry chutney is like christmas in a ramekin, and when paired with the cheese and baguette, heaven on earth will be experienced. And for the main course, the Kentucky Proud Filet Mignon is food bliss for my soul.
And then if you want to finish off the night with a little entertainment, try the Kentucky Theatre (originally called simply, the Kentucky), a Lexington landmark since 1922. You can watch current blockbusters, or smaller independent films at this beautiful old theater.
If you want to venture just a little ways outside of Lexington, you should visit Shaker Village. This is one of my favorite spots in Central Kentucky, and it is home to about 3,000 acres of gorgeous Kentucky landscape. It is home to 34 original Shaker structures, and the largest National Historical Landmark in Kentucky. It is a great spot to take your family and learn about the way of life of the Shakers, including activities like sheep shearing, wagon rides, and soap making. It is also home to a beautiful restaurant, The Trustees’ Table, which serves seed-to-table southern food, meaning much of their food comes straight from their land and the surrounding farms.
And finally, before you leave Lexington, and before you leave Kentucky, make a few stops on the Bourbon Trail (if not all nine stops!). We Kentuckians are proud of our horses, we are proud of our basketball, and we are proud of our bourbon! Take a tour of Woodford Reserve Distillery and you might just see the guide shed a tear as he passionately explains the history of their bourbon, and all the drive and passion that went into making it a reality. Makers Mark is another favorite of mine, where you can even dip your own bottle of bourbon into that iconic red wax. The distilleries are often found on beautiful pieces of Kentucky landscape and the scenic drives alone are worth the visit.
And if you are just passing through Lexington, if nothing else, hopefully you’ll catch a glimpse of one of our magical Kentucky sunsets. I’ve traveled the world many times, and I’ve seen the sun set over many different landscapes and oceans. But this is where I find the most special kind of beautiful sunset, and it’s what always calls me home when I’ve been far away.
We hope to see you soon in Lexington, a hidden gem in the South.