Louisville Kentucky with kids

Sometimes planning a big trip is just more than a family can handle in a year. This year our family decided to take a road trip to Louisville, Kentucky, and see what the city had to offer kids. It turns out the answer is: quite a lot!

Mega Caverns:

Housed in an abandoned limestone mine, this attraction is the reason we picked Louisville. Half of the immense cavern is devoted to underground storage (including Warner Brothers’ Batman movies), but the other half is developed for underground play. The more timid among the family can take a tram ride while thrill-seekers explore a bike course, a ropes course, and the world’s only underground ziplines. Zipping underground really is a totally different experience. It’s dark, of course, though not as dark as you might expect; the company has set up mood lighting throughout, including the “zipline to hell,” which is set up to look like a magma field. From that, you can probably intuit that the experience is mixed in with humor. There were a couple of places where the takeoff or landing platforms were a little too narrow and on the edge of the chasm for my comfort, but the guides were very competent. It was a great experience.

Kentucky Kingdom: 

Louisville’s amusement park is heavy on rollercoasters and other high thrill rides. There is a small area for little ones, but if your kids are not roller coaster riders, the primary draw will be the water park. The park rides and water attractions are mixed together. One notable water attraction is the “water coaster,” in which the initial drop on a raft provides the momentum for a series of hills and valleys. If you’re coming from out of state, look online for a ticket special. We got a discounted admission rate, with a second consecutive day for free, and unlimited drinks via wristband. 

Mark Payton’s Glass Center: 

This is probably not a place that would come up on a list of “must-do,” but it was one of our favorite stops. Adults (and possibly older kids) can work directly with Mark to make a glass creation using the blowtorch and melting techniques. I made an “imploded glass” flower. Younger kids can make their own “fused glass” creations, which means gluing down crushed glass or cutting out shapes and making mosaics. Note: these require at least overnight and in some cases, several days for firing in the kiln, so be aware that you may have to have projects shipped home. But what a great, not-kitschy souvenir!


Rauch Planetarium: 

This is probably not a place that would come up on a list of “must-do,” but it was one of our favorite stops. Adults (and possibly older kids) can work directly with Mark to make a glass creation using the blowtorch and melting techniques. I made an “imploded glass” flower. Younger kids can make their own “fused glass” creations, which means gluing down crushed glass or cutting out shapes and making mosaics. Note: these require at least overnight and in some cases, several days for firing in the kiln, so be aware that you may have to have projects shipped home. But what a great, not-kitschy souvenir!

Rauch Planetarium: 

Housed at the University of Louisville campus, the planetarium hosts movies and laser shows. Check the schedule as the days and shows vary. There’s also a small science hall displaying meteor rocks and a sliding timeline of space exploration. If the director’s around, you’ll get an in-depth personal tour. The courtyard’s sidewalk is imprinted with the planets, proportionally sized, including the rounded outer wall, which represents the size of the sun. It’s a great way to give kids a visual sense of the size of the solar system. On a sunny day, you can use a telescope in the courtyard to project the image of the sun onto the ground. 

Big Four Bridge and Waterfront Park:

This bike-and-pedestrian bridge offers lovely views of the river and a two-mile walk if you start at the end of one approach ramp and go to the end of the opposite side. Bike rentals are available at the foot of the bridge, and you can connect to a trail that will take you to a state park. Be sure to leave time to let the kids play at the extensive playground at the foot of the bridge—multiple play structure and a big spray park, including a dumping bucket. Bonus: there are picnic tables beneath shelters so parents can sit, and there are trees everywhere for shade.

Churchill Downs & Kentucky Derby Museum:

The museum is pricey, so be sure to plan enough time to do it justice. You’ll see hats, dresses, starting chutes, and get lots of background. Honestly, the museum was not the kids’ favorite stop of the week. However, check the schedule for night racing at Churchill Downs. The kids really enjoyed watching the races and placing small bets.


Eating Local in Louisville:

For us, finding good food is half the fun. We ate big lunches at local restaurants that came highly recommended, and we didn’t strike out once all week. If your kids are willing to try something besides the golden arches, try these: 

Yummy Pollo: Peruvian chicken, seasoned and charcoal-rotisserie-roasted, sold in quarters, halves or wholes, with sides. We can’t say enough about how good everything was—from the two kinds of fried rice (cilantro-lime and chicken), green beans, steamed mixed vegetables, pasta salad, and more. They also sell coconut cookies that were crumbly and delicious. And not expensive!


The Café: this was recommended to us as “the kind of place you’d go for a girls’ day out.” You’ll pay more for this meal, but it’s well worth it. They serve breakfast all day, plus a wide variety of sandwiches, soups and salads. The atmosphere is a fun mix of upscale classy and eclectic, with old, non-matching chandeliers and furniture and huge musical theater posters on the walls. 

Jason’s Deli: a family-owned business with an option for all-you-can-eat salad bar as well as a wide variety of sandwiches and pastas.
The Macaron Bar: If you’ve never tried a macaron, this is the place to start, but at $2.25 each, it’s definitely a splurge. Our favorites were the chocolate and vanilla, but they had a wide variety of flavors (pistachio, chocolate raspberry, etc.)

We enjoyed our time in Louisville so much, we’re contemplating a return trip next year, so we have time to explore the nature areas and historical sites outside the city proper. If you’re within driving distance, we highly recommend it!

About the author

Kathleen Basi Freelance writer Kathleen Basi has lived her entire life in "flyover country," but she's an old pro at road trips, having taken the first of many extended driving vacations at the tender age of five. She's a huge proponent of letting kids see and experience the space between "here" and "there." Find her at http://kathleenbasi.com/blog/.

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