A big welcome to Melissa from Glisten & Grace Design! She’s got an amazing, in-depth Louisville travel guide for us and shows us her favorite Louisville hidden gems.
Having grown up in Louisville for 20 years, exploring my hometown is still a favorite pastime.
Whether it is the lush green parks, running trails, nights of live music, or grabbing a drink at a local brewery, this city always has something to do. It caters to an incredible cross-section of people.
Since moving to California, I am always amazed at the responses I get from others when they find out I’m from this great city. Usually comments consist of baseball bats, bourbon, basketball and horse racing come through in conversation.
While that is part of what this city and what Southern hospitality has to offer, it is just the beginning.
I’m always excited to return and eat at my favorite spots. With local restaurants, breweries and revitalized neighborhoods.
Louisville has been named “The Next Portland” and voted “The Best Culinary Scene” in the South by Bon Appetit magazine. This city features load of culture, live music and a European vibe you wouldn’t expect.
Get ready, because Louisville is full of surprises.
Click below to see Melissa’s full Louisville travel guide!
EAT in Louisville
Hillbilly Tea Shack — Originated in Old Louisville near the Whiskey Row revitalization project, they have recently consolidated locations to the Hillbilly Tea Shack on Bardstown Road. Far from the tea rooms that the South is known for, this restaurant feels cozy and rocks a hipster vibe. Featuring seasonal fare, a full loose leaf tea menu and a fresh take on Southern food, this is a must eat while in Louisville. Some of my menu favorites are Pork and Pone, Hillbilly Scramble and the Smoked Catfish. While on a recent visit, I opted for red bush pot of hot tea and ordered the duck biscuit burger and roasted cornish hen for a sampling of entrees. The service, atmosphere and food have no comparison in Louisville.
Ghyslain is a perfect lunch or breakfast stop. With two locations in the city, this spot is the closest thing you’ll find to a Parisian cafe in Louisville. Specializing in gourmet crafted chocolate and pastry; all the menu items are given special attention and feature their homemade bread. I suggest ordering the Italian baguette and surveying the dessert case for a delicious treat to top off your meal.
The Village Anchor is one of my favorite places to go for a special occasion. Located in the heart of historic Anchorage, this restaurant has stunning decor in a historic home. With double-faced stone hearth fireplaces, two enclosed patios, beautiful molding and a touch of Southern charm, you won’t forget this meal. Some of the menu items include apricot-bourbon glazed pork chop, cast-iron scallops, shrimp and grits, buttermilk fried chicken and roasted cornish hen. No matter what you order, you will be satisfied and looking forward to your next dining experience here.
El Taco Luchador is a new favorite. Featuring a variety of tacos with toppings, this small storefront on Baxter Avenue is charming. With a quirky decor of Mexican wrestling masks and bright colors, a friendly staff and affordable fare, this place is the perfect lunch spot. While there I ordered the chicken tinga and baja fish tacos with a side of sweet potato fries. Tacos range from $2-3 each with delicious homemade toppings.
Harvest is a restaurant unlike any other in the city. Based on the belief that you really should know where your food comes from, this restaurant is 80% sourced by farms within 100 miles. In the restaurant you will find an art installation featuring an area map, the stories of all the farmers and what they source to the restaurant. Every time I eat here, you know the employees love their jobs, are passionate about food and desire to give you the ultimate “farm-to-table” dining experience. Three individuals share the ownership of the restaurant. One a restaurateur, one a farmer and one an executive chef, making sure they work together to stay true to the restaurant’s core values and passions. During the winter season, my favorite menu picks are the homemade pretzels with Kentucky Ale beer cheese as an appetizer and the gnocchi with roasted root vegetables and kale.
Anchorage Café is my favorite café in the city. This café has a firm belief that good food should be kept simple, allowing each ingredient to shine. This is the perfect spot for breakfast or lunch and has been doing farm-to-table fare before it was in vogue. If you’re there for breakfast, I recommend ordering my favorite, the egg sandwich on a house buttermilk chive biscuit topped Kenny’s Farmhouse cheddar cheese. The best part with a side of balsamic dressed strawberries your breakfast will cost around $4.50. Have a lunch meeting? The farm burger has been rated the best burger in the city for years. Served on a homemade pretzel roll with a side of homemade pickles, it doesn’t disappoint. Make sure to dine out front on the brick patio under the shade of trees as the sunlight shimmers in, providing the perfect ease into the morning or break in the middle of your work day.
Mojito Tapas — If I’m celebrating someone’s birthday you will find me here. This is my favorite spot in the city for small plates and tapas. As you begin the evening I can’t recommend ordering the mojito enough. This restaurant makes one of the best mojitos I have ever had, complete with sprigs of fresh mint and a stalk of raw sugarcane. I’ll spend the whole night here ordering rounds upon rounds of tapas with friends, enjoying the evening and great conversations around the table. Their tapas are authentic to Spanish flavors and depth. If you’re not sure where to begin when it comes to ordering, start with the duck confit flatbread, albondigas, queso fundido and solomillo al cabrales.
DRINK in Louisville
Homemade syrups + the best brunch: Gralehaus — Want a strawberry basil iced latte? How about a maple walnut? At the Gralehaus, this brunch spot takes their coffee seriously with artisanal homemade syrups featuring fresh flavors from their outdoor garden. The only café in the city to feature Intelligentsia beans and an under mounted with taps espresso machine, Gralehaus is pioneering new flavors in specialty coffee and changing the barista and client experience.
The Best Chai: Sunergos Coffee — This chai tea latte is one of the best that I’ve ever had. All of their batches are made from scratch. I’ve had many chai lattes but this one has the perfect combination of peppery bite, sweetness of cinnamon and star anise and the smoothness of the cardamom. Head to the original location on Preston Street and experience this quirky shop for yourself.
Best local chain: Heine Brothers Coffee — My meeting spot was always Heine Brothers. With great specialty drinks and beautiful interiors, their stores have multiple locations throughout Louisville and Southern Indiana. Not feeling Starbucks but don’t want to deal with the traffic on Bardstown Rd or Baxter? Head to a Heine Brothers.
Best latte that tastes like a signature libation: Vint Coffee — When it comes to Kentucky we’re known for our bourbon and the signature drink of The Kentucky Derby, the Mint Julep. Head to Vint on Frankfort Avenue for The Vint Julep to discover what this flavor tastes like in a latte. I think you might be pleasantly surprised. Using Kentucky Bourbon Barrel raw sugar and peppermint syrup, it has subtle nuances making a lovely ode to its classic counterpart.
Great Flood Brewery: Louisville is full of breweries and bars. There is one that I have come to love and is set apart. What happens when someone learns how to play the stock market during the economic downturn and has a passion for making homebrewed beer? Great Flood Brewery is born. Inspired by history and discovering what brought about the local spirit of the city, Great Flood Brewery is a tribute to the Louisville’s Great Flood of 1937. In the interior of the bar you will find that it was a labor of love for the owners, building everything in the brewery themselves, from the cherry bars to the handcrafted taps, to the recently opened beer garden. All the beers are handcrafted and range from $4-5 dollars a pint. I’m always inspired to create, innovate and exchange ideas with friends over a pint. Maybe you will begin to abide by the Mayor’s Manifesto from 1937 as well, which states, “I will not complain. I will not spread bad news. I will be encouraging, helpful and friendly. I will work unselfishly. I will give all that I can. I will do my part toward building a better and a greater Louisville. & I dare you to catch me not smiling.” Not bad words of advice, whether you’re in a flood or finding your day full of sunshine.
EXPLORE — Things to do in louisville
After all that food it’s time to go work some of it off right! Throughout the city you will find loads of green spaces perfect for whatever outdoor adventure your heart desires.
For great running paths (distance, trail running, kayaking), The Parklands of Floyds Fork. It isn’t uncommon for me to want to go and do some serious miles. The Parklands of Floyds Fork offers just that. Whether you’re looking to run trails or looking for paved paths of serious consequence, Floyds Fork provides a beautiful landscape of rolling hills, shade trees and creek to explore. Recently they also offer kayaking along the fork and various rentals to enjoy some time on the water. Perfect for those who are just beginning their kayaking skills, they offer a variety of hourly rental rates and tours.
Anchorage Trail (in the city, but feels like nature): Located near Anchorage Café and The Village Anchor, this trail is one of my favorites for short distances and a quick run (2.25 mi loop). With beautiful stone bridges and wildflower meadows, this trail puts your heart at peace, as you take in nature and feeling hidden from the suburban sprawl of it’s surroundings.
21 C Hotel and Gallery: Located downtown, Louisville was the first city with the 21 C hotel concept. Since then it has expanded to several other Southern Cities. Featuring a beautiful collection of contemporary art, it is available for public viewing without any entrance fee. Make sure you head to the rotating galleries on the left, as you discover some new artisans that will push your ideas of creativity.
Big Four Pedestrian Bridge: Located along the Ohio River, this bridge was recently opened and spans between the Kentucky and Indiana sides of the river. With restaurants and bike rentals on both sides, it is perfect for summer days. This is also the spot of Waterfront Wednesdays as described below.
Waterfront Wednesdays: If you happen to visit on the first Wednesday of the month between March and November, make sure to head to the Big Four Lawn for Waterfront Wednesday. This event is hosted by 91.9 WFPK, the well-known independent radio station in the city. Sponsored by Grey Goose Brewing and local vendors, live music starts at 6 PM and continues until 10 PM. Arrive early for parking and finding the perfect picnic spot. Enjoy live music, some delicious food and sunset over the river.
Murals by Bryan Todd: Bryan Todd, a well known typographer, creates beautiful typography murals around the city. Make sure to check out his murals in the Highlands, NuLu district and Shelby Park.
Urban Bourbon Trail: Kentucky is known for one thing, Bourbon. With its recent rise in popularity, Louisville has developed quite the Urban Bourbon Trail. With a series of bars and restaurants, this offers a wide selection of bourbon tasting. Make sure to visit Maker’s Mark Bourbon house on 4th Street.
Forecastle Music Festival: Hosted every July, this is the largest music festival you will find outside of the Chicago area for the summer music festival season. In past years headliners have included Outkast, Beck, The Avett Brothers and The Black Keys. Pack plenty of water and wear breezy clothes to stay cool in the humid summer heat.
SHOP in louisville
Head to Bardstown Road, the NuLu District, Frankfort Avenue and Baxter Avenue for most of the places on this list. There are loads of local shops, boutiques, restaurants and bars to choose from in these areas.
Just Creations: Featuring artisans from around the world and fair-trade products, this store on Frankfort Avenue showcases gifts, woven baskets and home goods. Make sure to stop in here for one-of-a-kind items.
Carmichael’s Books: Featuring local books, authors and an incredible children’s selection, Carmichael’s is a place you could spend hours. Grab a Heine Brothers coffee, right next door and enjoy looking at all the unique finds. My favorite pick is the A-Zs of Louisville illustrated children’s books, perfect for my niece.
Peace of the Earth: Located on Market street in the NuLu district, this local bath and body store makes amazing products. My favorite product is their homemade soap in rosemary and mint scent. They feature purchasing their salts and soaps by weight to save on cost and excess packaging.
Why Louisville: If you’ve fallen in love with Louisville by the end of your visit, make sure to stop at Why Louisville for a non-cliche souvenir. Featuring graphic tees and posters, this store on Bardstown Rd and smaller location in NuLu, have beautiful designs inspired by this great city and completed by local designers.
CakeFlour Bakery: Featuring vegan and gluten-free items, this bakery is delicious and affordable. They frequently feature Groupon deals, so make sure to check the app on your phone before arriving. If you stop by order the brownie. Made with dark chocolate nibs it is fudgy and delicious.
Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft: Located downtown, this museum provides a window into the artisanal culture of our state. Taking you through Kentucky history of makers and doers, you will be inspired by the rich culture this museum features.
Louisville ROAD TRIPS
3 hours: Red River Gorge, Ky.: This is the perfect spot for all of your weekend camping trips, backpacking and world-renowned climbing. Make sure to purchase a $9 backwoods permit from the Shell gas station when you arrive if you are planning on backpacking.
Shaker Village, Versailles, Ky.: Developed by the Shakers in the 1800s, this space is preserved as the historic village that it once was. Come and get your fill of history, delicious food and nature. Expect a 2 hour drive with Lexington traffic.
Thanks so much for sharing your Louisville Hidden Gems, Melissa!