Louisville, KY: Heartland City Pulses With Excitement

Attractions are Big Hit With Families

By Karen Rubin

A city best known for the “Run for the Roses”–the Kentucky Derby–is a city on the move, with blossoming art, science, culture and history literally popping up from the pavement. Louisville, Kentucky, in America’s heartland, is pulsing with excitement with an incredible diversity of attractions, some totally unique, that prove a big hit with families.

Take a crack at the bat or take your pulse; watch art glass being blown or stoneware prepared for firing; see gorillas roughhousing in their habitat and history come to life. Louisville has what you would expect-thoroughbred horses, Bourbon whiskey, and baseball bats – but also offers scores of surprises that are engaging for young and old alike.

Louisville abounds in premier attractions that will delight families, a surprising number within walking distance from one another, or reachable by a charming “old-time” trolley.

Start off at Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, where you can watch major league players’ bats being manufactured right in front of your eyes. Diagonally across the street is the Louisville Science Center with many interactive exhibits and where you can also experience IMAX movies. You can catch a baseball game at Louisville Slugger Field. Visit the world-class Louisville Zoo and its Gorilla Forest habitat (hosting the first gorillas in Kentucky). Glassworks lets you see art and museum-quality glass being made by world-renowned visiting artists. The Kentucky Derby Museum at the famous Churchill Downs brings new understanding to this sport of kings.

Take your roller blades, because Louisville has completely revitalized its riverfront with parks, paths and $2.5 million Extreme Park, an exclusive area for boarders, bikers and bladers to practice and perfect their skills with distinct areas for beginner, intermediate and advanced extreme athletes (open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and admission is free). Not to mention the paddlewheelers which can t take you for a ride on the Ohio River, where Lewis & Clark set out for the exploration of the West.

Louisville has a major, world-class attraction: the Mohammed Ali Center, paying tribute to a native son who went on to international renown and, through this exhibit, to inspire others to become the greatest they can be. Also Owsley Brown Frazier Historical Arms Museum.

Louisville Slugger Museum

I no longer focus on the stats or the stance as the player comes to the plate during the World Series. As the player winds up to take a mighty swing, I find myself focusing on the bat–ever since my visit to Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, the largest museum devoted to the “heart of the game,” hitting. I never imagined it would be so interesting, or that there were so many nuances to whittling this oddly shaped tool. But for all the Little Leaguers big and small, this is like going to the fountainhead.

The museum makes the ballpark experience very real, with sights and sounds, and emphasizes the personal connection to the players (such as seeing Babe Ruth’s bat, where he carved a notch for every homerun hit with it!). Indeed, the remarkable story is really about the collaboration between the players and the company, Hillerich & Bradsby, going back to 1884 (Ted Williams used to come each season to pick out the timber for his bats). As you walk into the museum, going passed the world’s largest bat, at 120-feet high, you see a wall of 6,000 signatures of famous baseball players going back to the first signee (and the first professional athlete to endorse a retail product), Honus Wagner in 1905. The wall also includes signatures of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Ken Griffey, Jr. burned into the white ash wood.

Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is where you can see the biggest bat ever built (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

The first stop is a well-done, inspirational and informative short film which tells this impressive history of the company that is, amazingly, still in the Hillerich family, headed by the grandson of the founder; John A. “Bud” Hillerich was 14 years old and learning his father’s trade as a cooper when he turned a wooden baseball bat for Pete Browning. The museum tells the story of the development of the bat and about the interesting baseball personalities. Then, you walk through what appears to be an underground locker room into a full-size dugout and step onto the museum’s playing field.

There, you can face down a 90-mile-an-hour fast ball (you have only one-third of a second to make a decision about whether and where to hit). Kids can climb through a giant ball and glove made of limestone. In this museum, the batboys have the honor of a display, and there is an American baseball coaches Hall of Fame.

You also can tour the manufacturing facility (every day but Sundays and holidays) and watch how bats are turned out in just 30 seconds time using a metal template (only a few bats these days are hand-turned any more), turning out 1,400 bats a day. You learn the nuances of the different grains, weights, sizes, grips, colors. You can see the batches of bats being readied for delivery to today’s baseball heroes (they don’t just get one at a time, they get dozens since they go through 60 to 120 bats a season), since H&B is still the only company under contract to produce bats for Major League Baseball.

See a Major League Player's bat being created right before your eyes at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

The kids coming through look like they are in heaven, especially in anticipation of seeing their own bat being turned in the factory. They can order the specifications, and then have their name imprinted ($42 for youth baseball; $45 for adult, $62 if you want your actual signature).

The Museum, which opened in 1996, is also a fascinating story about this entrepreneurial enterprise that is still led by a Hillerich, the grandson of the founder. The museum, which gave the company’s head office, the plant and gift shop a storefront, also became an anchor of redevelopment for the downtown. (Open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. year-round,, and Sundays, noon to 5, April-November; no bat production on Sundays or holidays; 800 W Main St., 502-588-7228, www.sluggermuseum.org .

Louisville Science Center

We have visited many science museums around the country and found Louisville Science Center to be among the best. Kids have a blast trying out inter-active exhibits and devices that demonstrate scientific principles, but adults and particularly teenagers, will be equally engaged by the tone and the presentations of the exhibits. I was particularly impressed with the displays of real brain, real lungs, real heart, and in a separate exhibit (with appropriate warnings), actual embryos in various stages of development with sounds of the womb and descriptions of what the embryo is capable of at that stage.

The exhibits look inviting, and draw a lot upon interactive technologies, which have become a staple of science museums, but the Louisville Science Center goes beyond that, in that they directly apply science to everyday life and use language that would be engaging to a teenager. “The World We Create,” offers 50 action areas that celebrate man-made innovation in manufacturing, transportation, architecture, physics, engineering and communication. The second major permanent exhibit, “The World Within Us,” is especially well done, with more than 70 interactive displays that let you take an inside look at seven body systems in action, get immersed in a “mystery environment” one sense at a time. One particularly moving section introduces you to real people with disabilities who describe their experience as if they are sitting with you in your living room (the tone was pitched to teenagers). In another section, where visitors are exhorted, “This is your life, your world,” you are invited to picture yourself 20, 30 and 40 years into the future.

The Louisville Science Center proves engaging for children and adults alike (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

KidZone is a hands-on exhibit area for children 7 and younger and their caregivers, and Starstation One, presented in conjunction with the International Space Station, offers daily activities to explain its function and importance. There is also an IMAX theater, where I was able to watch the most amazing presentation about “The Human Body” I have ever seen-actually portraying the changes that take place during puberty.

The Science Center opened a third permanent exhibit, “The World Around Us,” focusing on natural and earth sciences and environmental issues. (Louisville Science Center, 727 West Main Street, 502-651-6100, 800-591-2203,www.LouisvilleScience.org .

The Louisville Zoo

The Gorilla Forest at The Louisville Zoo is like a walk through modern-day Africa-by design. The $15 million, four-acre exhibit, part of the 133-acre Zoo, is designed to immerse the visitor into the world of the Western lowland gorilla, and provide animals with a naturalistic habitat that meets their biological and social needs. At the same time (reminiscent of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, in fact), it calls attention to present-day Africa with its sometimes clashing contrasts of vast forest wilderness an human cultures and the dangers to habitats.

It is interesting, for example, that the zoo restaurant, the African Outpost, was created by a team brought over from South Africa who constructed the thatch roof, and is decorated with art from Cameroon.

You follow a Discovery Path, winding through lush tropical growth of over 8,000 botanical specimens, passed where it seems a logging truck has gone off the road, with sound effects and trails, and a “research station” until you finally come into the Gorilla sanctuary. The gorillas (the first in the state of Kentucky, they are actually from other zoos while their own habitats are being remodeled) have both outdoor and indoor environments. Indoors, visitors can see them at very close proximity.

On the way, you can get an underwater view of rare Pygmy hippos swimming.

The Gorilla Forest at The Louisville Zoo lets visitors get nose-to-nose with residents (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

The zoo hosts 1,300 animals of considerable variety, including the endangered black-footed ferrets, polar bears, lions, rhinos, zebras, Masai giraffes, orangutans, tapir, bats, tigers and rare birds in naturalistic surroundings. An indoor HerpAquarium offers fish, amphibians, reptiles, Komodo dragons. The Australian Outback section offers seals, sea lions, polar bears and Wallabies.

The Zoo’s daily seal training and elephant aerobics demonstrations are showstoppers that let you witness the animals doing what comes naturally. The Outpost Playground and Boma African Petting Zoo provide hands-on activities for children. The Zoo even offers children opportunities to camp out over night.

You can take a ride on an antique conservation carousel, a tram or the miniature train.

(Open year-round. 1100 Trevilian Way, 502-459-2181,www.louisvillezoo.org )

Muhammad Ali Center

Muhammad Ali is arguably Louisville’s most famous native son. Far more than a sports legend, he is internationally recognized as a symbol of human achievement, conflict resolution and tolerance.

The Muhammad Ali Center, which opened in 2005, is an international cultural and educational institution guided and inspired by the ideals of Muhammad Ali with a unique way of interweaving his own life experience with the lives of the individuals who visit the center. The exhibit is intended to inspire people to tap the qualities within to become “the greatest they can be.” The Center is also dedicated to international peace and conflict resolution.

The Center not only explores Ali’s life and what makes him such an enduring hero, but aims to touch visitors’ lives in such a way as to inspire them to emulate his discipline, perseverance, and willingness to stand up for personal beliefs. Visitors leave with the sense of their power to have a positive impact on their communities and the world, and the inspiration to be the greatest they can be. The visitor experience is oriented around six major themes: confidence, conviction, respect, giving, spirituality and dedication.

The Center is a partnership with the United Nations Agency on Children and Armed Conflict; the University of Louisville’s Muhammad Ali Institute for Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution; SHiNE, Muhammad Ali Center, One Riverfront Plaza, 502-584-9254, www.alicenter.org .

Scheduled to open in 2007, Kentucky Center for African American Heritage, will focus on the significant contribution of Black Americans to the State, tracing 260 years of heritage in nine thematic galleries. The exhibition is housed in a historic Trolley Barn Complex in West Louisville, where streetcars and later, buses, were repaired and stored by black men and white men working side by side. The building, at Muhammad Ali Boulevard and 18th St., is in the Russell neighborhood, named for Harvey Clarence Russell, a distinguished black educator of the 1920s, and the first neighborhood in Louisville where large numbers of African Americans were buying their own homes. The trolley barn is an appropriate setting, because in 1871, Blacks in Louisville won a US District Court decision allowing them to sit on trolley cars (www.kcaah.com )

The Greater Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau produces a Multicultural Visitors Guide that highlights Louisville’s African-American history and key points of interest for exploring the city’s diverse African-American legacy. To obtain a free copy, call 800-626-5646.

The Frazier Historical Arms Museum, which opened in 2004, houses a multi-million dollar collection of American firearms and historical artifacts from the 16th century through 1911, and, in collaboration with the Royal Armories of Britain, a collection going back to Henry VIII in the 11th century. Based in a former tobacco warehouse a stone’s throw away from the Muhammad Ali Center, it features interpretations by actors in period dress and state-of-the-art interactive audio-visual technologies to enhance their experience and understanding. The museum is founded by Owsley Brown Frazier, a Louisville native and retired chairman of the Brown-Forman Corporation (distilled spirits, luggage products, Lenox China); his collection of historical artifacts includes Teddy Roosevelt’s Big Stick. The second floor of the museum houses some 600 objects from his collection, made between the 16th and 20th centuries. The aim is to portray the history, artistry and technological significance of weaponry and armor in the context of events that have shaped our country and the world (9th & Main, 502-412-0221, www.frazierarmsmuseum.org ).

Glassworks Factory.

At the Glassworks Factory, you can really gain an appreciation for the art and physicality of creating fine glass. One of the most fascinating areas is the glass-blowing room where visiting master artisans literally “perform” in front of an audience. You sit in a gallery, so close you can feel the heat of the kiln, and watch as they have just critical moments to dab and prod, color and shape the molten material and the risk of breaking the fragile material. What you also appreciate from seeing this done right before your eyes is how much of a team endeavor this is, with glass artists assisting one another in order to get the precise timing and stroke and pattern. It is a phenomenal experience to watch the transformation, from a lump to something of exquisite lightness and delicacy.

The building houses various studios for glass-blowing, stained-glass/architectural glass, and flame-working, bead-making, as well as galleries, workshops, lectures and demonstrations by dozens of resident and visiting artists. Visitors can participate in studio tours, offered every 30 minutes.

Glassworks is a very special environment because it is more than a commercial enterprise, more than an attraction; and even more than a magnet to draw international artists and connoiseurs. Glassworks Factory also is an anchor for downtown redevelopment aimed at bringing young professionals, including artists who also have condominium residences in the building, and creating innovative new uses for old buildings.

Glassworks is located downtown, within walking distance of the Louisville Slugger Museum and Louisville Science Center, at 815 W. Market St., 502-584-4510, www.louisvilleglassworks.com ($5/A, $3/C).

Lynn’s Paradise Caf�

For funky and fun dining, do not leave Louisville without stopping in at Lynn’s Paradise Café where I guarantee, parents will feel more like kids than the kids do. This is partially because of the prevailing décor: 1950s dinette sets that will give you déjà vu of your childhood home, plastic tchochkes that would have made Andy Warhol salivate, a funhouse mirror, eye-popping jungle mural, artwork (by the waiters, so you can ask), and an incredible collection of “Ugly Lamps”-the winners of the annual contest Lynn sponsors each year at the Kentucky State Fair. Then, there are the toys and Trivia cards on the tables in case you somehow failed to get in the mood.

As soon as you pull into the parking lot, you begin to grin and do a double-take (did I really see that?); when you walk in, you break out into a smile, and then, when you see the menu and taste the food, all semblance of maturity and commonsense go completely out the window. The portions at Lynn’s Paradise Café (where the motto is “Eat and Be Happy”) will make you think you have joined Pinocchio and the boys on the island of decadence, but the food is absolutely irresistible. Her BLT fries are to die for: homefries smothered with bacon, spinach, tomatoes, onions, jack cheese and horseradish sour cream.

Lynn's Paradise Café, as much a visual feast as a gastronomic one, is where fun food is elevated to haute cuisine (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

Lynn turns fun food into haute cuisine-just another aspect of the unexpected that is part of the humor and whimsy of the place. Her quirky, artful personality percolates throughout the menu.

Breakfast is the big attraction (and fortunately, you can have breakfast any time of the day). A Nova Scotia omelette features smoked salmon cream cheese with fresh dill, lemon, capers, red onions, tomatoes and spinach ($8.95); a Manhattan scramble is three eggs scrambled with corned beef, red onions, new potatoes, Swiss cheese and horseradish sour cream. The Paradise Pancakes are made with cornmeal and whole wheat flour; French toast is made with thick-sliced sourdough bread; there is also buttermilk-spiced pecan pancakes ($8.50). Specials might include Bourbon Ball French Toast and Peach Melba Pancakes.

Lunch selections are amazingly eclectic, such as “Meatless and Three” gritta, a cheddar cheese souffle with Portobello mushrooms, shallots and roasted red peppers, topped with a spicy Creole sauce, and served with a choice of three sides, such as pan-fried apples, drunken pinto beans and sweet potato fries with sorghum butter; sandwiches like curry chicken salad, catfish and grilled Portobello mushroom;. Dinner selections include walnut-crusted chicken; jambalaya pasta; spice-rubbed salmon. There’s a bar, as well, that serves “slightly unusual ale,” wines, Bloody Mary’s and Mimosa.

Lynn’s Paradise Café is actually a local place, in one of Louisville’s wonderful neighborhoods, the Highlands. But it has earned national attention, and a place on everybody’s “Best of” list (serves breakfast, lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday, 7 a.m.-10 p.m., 984 Barret Avenue, 502-583-3447, www.lynnsparadisecafe.com ).

Family Adventure Package

The Louisville Slugger Museum, Louisville Science Center, and Louisville Zoo are all featured in an inclusive two-day/one-night Family Adventure Package to Louisville. In addition to accommodations, the package includes admission tickets for four people to each of the Louisville Slugger Museum (with four mini-bats as souvenirs); Louisville Science Museum (including an IMAX film), and Louisville Zoo, with prices as low as $127 per room.

For further information as well as to book accommodations and packages, contact the Greater Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, 888-LOUISVILLE (568-4784), or visit www.gotolouisville.com .

© 2006 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com .

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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including examiner.com, Huffington Post and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate and blogs at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at FamTravLtr@aol.com. 'Like' us at www.facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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