Kentucky With Kids: A One-Week Travel Itinerary

Head to the Louisville Zoo first thing in the morning when the animals are more likely to be active.
Head to the Louisville Zoo first thing in the morning when the animals are more likely to be active. Photo © jdj150, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Kentucky loves kids, inviting them almost everywhere to do almost everything. But let’s face it, there are certain activities kids prefer more than others. Although they can tour a distillery, they’re probably not going to enjoy it. Although they’re welcome at horse farms, they’re probably not particularly interested in how horses are bred. They will, however, most likely love petting sharks, observing gorillas, riding a boat through a cave, and meeting Daniel Boone. We all know that happy kids make for happy parents, so if you have the young ’uns in tow, consider the following itinerary for your travels through the Bluegrass State. Alternatively, consider Kentucky’s state parks, which are among the most family-friendly destinations in the state.

Day 1

Louisville can keep kids busy for days, but if you have a schedule to keep, plan for two days in Kentucky’s biggest city. Spend day one downtown. Head first to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory to witness bats being made and get your free souvenir mini-bat. Grab lunch at Dish on Market, and then proceed to the Louisville Science Center, where your kids will have no idea they’re learning new things because they’re so busy having hands-on fun. If your kids are into the performing arts, see what’s playing at Stage One, Louisville’s children’s theater, grabbing an early dinner of gourmet pizza that will please the whole family at Garage Bar before the show. Old Louisville’s Aleksander House Bed and Breakfast welcomes children, and the suites are ideal for four to six people.

Day 2

On day two, head to the Louisville Zoo first thing in the morning when the animals are more likely to be active. Giggle at the penguins, observe the gorillas, and watch the polar bears play. You might want to pack the kids’ bathing suits, because the zoo has a water play area perfect for hot days. At lunchtime, drive a few miles to Bardstown Road and grab a gyro at Zaytun or a Vietnamese sandwich at Banh Mi Hero, with a treat from Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen for dessert. In the afternoon, head to Waterfront Park to take a walk across the Big 4 Bridge or rent a surrey and pedal around. For dinner, head east to Captain’s Quarters to eat on the deck and watch the boats pass by on the river.

Day 3

Head south toward Bowling Green on day three, but don’t plan to arrive until the evening because you have a few detours to make along the way. Your first stop is Bernheim Arboretum in Clermont, where kids and adults alike can burn off some energy in beautiful surroundings. See how many frogs you can spot at the kingfisher pond, venture out onto the canopy tree walk for a view of the forest from above, and say hello to the deer. Bring a picnic for a peaceful lunch. After lunch, drive to New Haven in time for an afternoon train ride, departing from the Kentucky Railway Museum. Once in Bowling Green, try Montana Grille for dinner, and then choose your favorite of the city’s chain hotels.

Day 4

Bowling Green has a lot to offer the whole family. First on the agenda is a visit to Lost River Cave and Valley for a boat ride through a cave. Have lunch and an ice cream at Chaney’s Dairy Barn, and then head to the campus of Western Kentucky University to the Kentucky Museum. The kids will have fun playing with period costumes, climbing inside a Civil War tent, and seeing the Duncan Hines test kitchen. If you enjoyed the train ride in New Haven, then visit Bowling Green’s Historic Railpark and Train Museum, where you can step aboard a mail car, a dining car, and a car used for presidential travel. End the night at a Hot Rods baseball game, Class A fun for everyone.

Day 5

Lexington is your next overnight stop, but you’ll first want to detour to Richmond for a living history lesson at Fort Boonesborough State Park. Say hi to Daniel Boone and interact with interpreters performing the same tasks that Kentucky’s earliest pioneers would have done. The home-cooking at Jackson’s will make for a filling lunch. Once in Lexington, let the kids run off any extra energy at the UK Arboretum before having dinner at Ramsey’s Diner and then settling into a family-size room at SpringHill Suites.

Day 6

After doughnuts from Spalding’s Bakery, start your day at the Kentucky Horse Park, where kids will have fun riding the horse-drawn trolley and viewing the horses. Chow down on some authentic Cuban food at Old San Juan before continuing the day’s adventure at the Explorium, Kentucky’s only dedicated children’s museum. It’s tailored more to the younger set with water play tables, giant bubble stations, and other hands-on fun. For dinner, continue the ethnic food trend with a meal at Asian Wind.

Day 7

From Lexington, drive north to Newport to spend the day at the Newport Aquarium, where you can pet sharks and be amazed by all sorts of sea life. With Dewey’s Pizza located in the Levee right by the aquarium, it’s the obvious lunch choice. If the aquarium doesn’t take your entire day, kids seem to love Ride the Ducks Newport, although parents might want to bring earplugs. End the day with dinner at Hofbräuhaus Newport, where parents can down a well-deserved beer while kids enjoy the pretzels and unique German atmosphere. Save room for ice cream at Graeter’s before passing out on the pillows at the Comfort Suites.

Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Kentucky.