It would be both easy and accurate to say “food and bourbon” when asked why you should visit Bowling Green, but that would be selling this southern Kentucky city of some 67,000 folks more than short. As I recently discovered during about the busiest 48 hours of my life, two days is barely enough to scratch the surface of Bowling Green, situated two hours south of Louisville and one hour north of Nashville. I recommend you spend at least a long weekend, visit when the weather is mild, and plan for plenty of downtime as you digest and sweat out some of the liquor.
I came (proverbially) crashing into Bowling Green by way of the Nashville airport in late spring, and after a 20-minute turnaround in my hotel room (in a surprisingly pleasant Courtyard by Marriott with a decent beer selection at the bar), it was off for more food, fast cars, outdoor adventure, and cultural whirlwind than I usually experience in a month, if not a season.
While I’ll inevitably leave out so much of what makes Bowling Green a surprisingly enjoyable place to visit, here are a few activities, eateries, drinkeries (not a word but just go with it), and spots you’ve just gotta see if you’re in Bowling Green. Not heading to Bowling Green any time soon? Here are four reasons why you should.
You Can Satisfy Your Need for Speed
Since the early 1980s, Bowling Green has been home to the plant that produces the Chevrolet Corvette, America’s sports car. Tours of the GM plant have long been on hiatus, but you can get more than enough of your Corvette fix just down the way from the plant at the National Corvette Museum, an institution since 1994. It is home to dozens of Corvettes and is nearing its goal of having at least one model from every production year starting all the way back in 1953.
Once you have your Corvette thirst whetted, leave the museum and head two miles to the NCM Motorsports Park where you can get on the track behind the wheel of your very own Corvette. I hit speeds topping out around 130 mph during my loops on this winding three-mile circuit while staying well within the rules, which are these: no passing and no crashing.
If that’s a bit too much speed for you, or if you want yet another automotive experience after your racetrack adventure, walk to the decidedly smaller track you’ll find adjacent to the course for some go-kart action. Here, passing is A-OK and crashes are likely, albeit with much less expense and injury (and shame) involved.
And if you’d rather watch people drive crazy fast than go fast yourself, there’s the Dragstrip Raceway at Beech Bend Park, also the location of a moderate-sized amusement park.
There are a Ton of Drinking Destinations
There are a plethora of fine watering holes in Bowling Green, including the White Squirrel Brewery (try the Nut Brown Ale — squirrel pun aside, it’s a superlative brew) and the Kentucky Grand Hotel, a boutique spot with less than dozen rooms (one of which, the penthouse, is bigger than most family residences) and a large piano bar where I had one of the finest Old Fashioned I’d sipped in years.
And if you want to sip wine in Bowling Green, try the Preservation Tasting Room and Bottle Shop, an elegantly simple, modern spot with 20 beers on tap and a massive catalog of wines. And if you get in good with owner Blake Layne, he may well lead you behind the bar and pop open some of the rare bourbon bottles he keeps tucked up on a shelf.
Sadly, there is no distillery in Bowling Green right now, but if you want to sip fancy liquor drinks (aka cocktails) aplenty, try Gerard’s 1907 Tavern.
And Dining, Too
I wasn’t hungry for a good 24 hours after my 48 hours in Bowling Green — I’ll leave it to you whether to take that as a warning or as encouragement. Just know that if you eat at the places I’m about to share, you will eat a lot of food. But great food, so dive right in!
440 Main is a restaurant (well, really two side-by-side spots, 440 Main and Micki’s, the former being more formal, the latter casual and noisier) offering everything from bourbon flights to crab cakes to jalapeño cheese grits to filet mignon to fried alligator bites. For surprisingly fresh seafood given Kentucky’s landlocked orientation, go to Steamer Seafood, a restaurant opened by a Kentucky native who for many years operated a restaurant in Hilton Head. The seafood is fresh thanks to the proximity to a major air cargo port; fish, shrimp, and other saltwater foodstuffs land in Bowling Green destined for shipping all around the nation and beyond, with plenty of it making its way into town and onto your plate. Try the gumbo, the shrimp and grits, and the fried flounder sandwich. Try all of it.
If you want to eat much more meat than you should eat, go to Hickory & Oak, a newer spot right near downtown where you can order six kinds of steak, a massive plate of prosciutto, and brilliant sides like coffee-rubbed carrots and tempura onion rings. For breakfast, check out Wild Eggs, a capacious diner set into a strip mall. Don’t let the rather amusing but slightly off egg-themed artwork on the walls fool you — the food here is excellent, and the portions sublimely too large.
If you like pies and coffee, make the trek a bit out of town to the Boyce General Store, a charmingly ramshackle shop run by a wife-and-husband team where you can grab a meal for brunch, play some lawn games in the evening, and, of course, get award-winning pies.
You Can Easily Find Adventure
A trip to Bowling Green simply won’t be complete without visiting Mammoth Cave National Park, where there’s plenty of hiking and biking. Mammoth Cave is the longest-known cave on the planet, and you can enjoy long hikes deep beneath the ground through this warren of natural wonder. Some of the chambers are large enough to accommodate a house, some narrow enough that you’ll need to turn sideways to pass. It’s not to be missed.
If you like some high-flying adventure with your outdoor experiences, try the Lost River Cave Flying Squirrel Zipline. This multi-route zipline sees you, well, zipping above the Lost River and among lush, towering trees. And as you note the beauty of the forest around you, get this: The whole area was a landfill until a few years back when a group of volunteers packed out the waste by hand and restored the gorge to its natural state. Today, your dollars spent zipping or touring the river and cave below the lines help preserve the area.
If the weather turns on you but you still want some exercise and adventure, try the indoor climbing gym Vertical Excape. There are multiple auto belay walls, a huge bouldering station, rings, peg walls, and other ways to get in a total body workout and let off some steam.
But frankly, by now, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be all steamed out. So why not chill out for a bit at Be Happy Yoga and Salt Cave? I felt a bit bad about falling asleep a few minutes into a yogi-led deep breathing exercise, but it was a needed respite to recharge for a few more rounds of bourbon and BBQ.
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