By Marty Rosen
Many travelers know Bowling Green as a land of caves and Corvettes. But Bowling Green is also a cosmopolitan college town with a flourishing cultural scene, plenty of dining, one of the state’s most innovative distilleries and diverse attractions to keep the whole family happy on vacation.
Better still, all those Bowling Green attractions and amenities are found nestled in the confines of a pleasantly scaled city in Warren County where getting from place to place is a piece of cake – and the year-round beauty of South-Central Kentucky is never more than a few minutes away.
But first, about those caves and Corvettes!
Caves & Corvettes
Bowling Green is the perfect base for a visit to nearby Mammoth Cave National Park, home to the world’s longest, most accessible and best curated cave system in the world – all just a half-hour away! Designated a National Park in 1941, visitors have been touring Mammoth Cave for 200 years. And for amateur cavers who want to bundle underground wonders in a convenient package, the area around Bowling Green is flat-out amazing.
Within a short drive, visitors can enjoy eight different cave experiences. There’s Lost River Cave, where year-round visitors can join a guide on an underground boat tour filled with mystery, including the legendary “man-eating” blue holes that are said to have swallowed up more than few Civil War soldiers when Confederate leader John Hunt Morgan used the area as a training ground. Or there are the glittering crystal walls of Diamond Caverns or Outlaw Cave, with its dramatic flowstones and reputation as a nineteenth century hideout for outlaws like Jesse James.
And if you love Corvettes – and 21st century manufacturing technology – now is the time to visit the GM Corvette Assembly Plant, which reopened in October 2013 after a $131 million upgrade. Among the changes: a new body shop where, for the first time, the aluminum frame for the all-new 2014 ‘Vette Stingray is being built in-house. Plan ahead for plant tours and register online in advance. (Tours run Monday-Friday, except holidays and when company business sometimes calls for cancellation of a tour).
If you’re traveling on a weekend or can’t make a factory tour, you can still get a detailed, close-up look at the history of America’s most famous sports car by visiting the National Corvette Museum–one of the most popular Bowling Green attractions–where more than 70 examples (including prototoypes) can be viewed – and where you’ll also find the Corvette Cave-In exhibit recounting the infamous sinkhole that swallowed eight Corvettes in 2014. See the recovered cars, some restored and some beyond repair, and then sneak a glimpse of the cave below through a viewing window in the floor.
If automotive history and Americana are on your list of interests, you’ll want to tool by Circus Square in Bowling Green, where a lovingly restored 1920s-era Standard Oil gas station hearkens back to the old days and offers a great photo-op! (Though, alas, you won’t be able to buy gas for 17 cents a gallon.)
Raceways & Byways
Seeing sports cars rolling off the line or in a museum setting is cool, but it’s even more exciting to see them roaring down the dragstrip at Beech Bend Raceway, where races run from March through November, including several national car shows like the Danchuk Tri-Five Nationals and Holley National Hot Rod Reunion. Cruise to the adjacent Beech Bend Amusement Park and ride the twisted Kentucky Rumbler wooden roller coaster or zoom down the 140-foot Zero-G to satisfy your need for speed! Splash Lagoon water park offers cool, splashy solace on hot summer days and added the first ever North American installation of the FlyingSAUCER ride in 2016 featuring a 55-foot elevation change.
But no matter what mode of transportation excites your imagination, Bowling Green has a way to explore it. The Historic Railpark & Train Museum celebrates the great age of rail in a fascinating L&N Railroad depot with exhibits that include gorgeously restored cars and engines that bear witness to the history of American engineering and design. For legendary planes, Aviation Heritage Park exhibits five stellar examples of American aircraft, including a McDonnell Douglass F-4D Phantom II that saw significant combat action in Vietnam and a Grumman F9F5 Panther that entered service in 1952.
There’s something quintessentially American about this region of ancient caves and cutting-edge cars. Everywhere you look you see a graceful blend of old and new.
To get a feel for the countryside, take a drive along the Duncan Hines Scenic Byway. Back in the days before there was an interstate highway system, Hines (a Bowling Green native) and his wife, Florence, drove all over the states and published their take on the country’s restaurant scene in a 1935 book called Adventures in Good Eating. The road that bears his name winds through small towns and past old schoolhouses, train depots and the site of a Civil War skirmish.
If you want a different sort of driving tour, you might consider the “Reel Sights, Real Scary – A John Carpenter Driving Tour.” Though Carpenter never filmed here in his hometown, the maker of chillers like Halloween named many locations in his films after places he’d known growing up.
And if you’d prefer a slower mode of transportation, think about canoeing with a view of the Green River, or bicycling through town and country on quiet bike trails.
Dining & Distilling
As you tour the area, you’ll find plenty to explore in the way of food and beverages, too. For an old-time experience, a visit to Chaney’s Dairy Barn is a must. Famous throughout the state (and region) for old-fashioned homemade ice cream that occasionally shows up on upscale restaurant menus, Chaney’s offers a taste of the past. It’s a place where the cornbread and pimiento cheese are made the old-fashioned way, and where ice creams come in flavors like bourbon crunch and pralines and cream. (Seven months out of the year for groups, or in June and July for families, you can also take the kids on a farm tour and wagon ride to see live milking demonstrations featuring the new robotic milker.)
If Chaney’s represents old-school artisanship, Corsair Distillery represents the newest wave in American spirits. Though Kentucky’s venerable bourbon distilleries have long been world-famous, Corsair has carved out a distinctive niche as a maker of small-batch boutique spirits that have won awards – and fans – all over the world.
Using traditional and experimental recipes, Corsair bottles absinthe, tripled-smoked whiskey, hopped bourbons and a host of experimental bottlings that are here and gone – all sought after by collectors and aficionados of the distiller’s art. If you’re fascinated by spirits, a Corsair tour and tasting will intrigue, inform and delight your senses! If craft beer is more your style, don't miss White Squirrel Brewery (affectionately named after Bowling Green's large population of the animal) for happy hour or dinner.
Festivals & More
If you leave Corsair with a bit of a glow, never fear. You’re perfectly situated to take a walking tour through the historic sections of Bowling Green – especially the colorful, quaint Fountain Square. It’s been a center of community and government since the late 1700s and is still a vibrant model of a city center at its best, a place where you can stroll through shops or relax over a meal of, say, gumbo or jambalaya at 440 Main/Micki’s on Main, where Cajun and Creole cuisine is served and two dining areas let you choose an atmosphere that best suits your mood.
Culture and history buffs will enjoy the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center, a gleaming, modern facility that hosts an outstanding schedule of plays and concerts. The Kentucky Museum – on the campus of Western Kentucky University – holds exhibits that run the gamut. See an Egyptian sarcophagus, Kentucky folk arts and crafts (including textiles, quilts and fine arts), a collection of Civil War artifacts, a tribute to Duncan Hines, and a showcase of ordinary objects made famous by extraordinary Americans.
And no matter what time of year you visit – from December, when holiday spirits pervade the city, to mid-summer, when events like the Duncan Hines Festival and the Southern Kentucky Fair take place, or in between, when a variety of festivals bring seasonal fun ranging from hot air balloons to cider slushies – there’s always something going on in vibrant Bowling Green!
Start planning your trip today at www.visitbgky.com!
IF YOU GO
Attractions and Activities
Mammoth Cave National Park, 270-758-2180, http://www.nps.gov/maca/index.htm
Lost River Cave, 270-393-0077, http://www.lostrivercave.org
Diamond Caverns, 270-749-2233, http://diamondcaverns.com
National Corvette Museum & GM Corvette Assemby Plant, 270-781-7973, http://www.corvettemuseum.org/
Vintage Standard Oil Station, Circus Square Park,
Beech Bend Amusement Park & Raceway, 270-781-7634, http://www.beechbend.com/
Chaney’s Dairy Barn, 270-843-5567, http://chaneysdairybarn.com/
Corsair Distillery, 270-904-2021, http://www.corsairartisan.com/
Duncan Hines attractions, 270-782-0800, http://www.visitbgky.com/duncanhines/
John Carpenter attractions, 270-782-0800, http://www.visitbgky.com/johncarpenter/
Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center, 270-904-1880, www.theskypac.com
Kentucky Museum, 270-745-2592, http://www.wku.edu/kentuckymuseum/
Historic Railpark & Train Museum, 270-745-7317, www.historicrailpark.com
Bowling Green League of Bicylists, http://www.meetup.com/Bowling-Green-League-of-Bicyclists/
Southern Kentucky Fair, 270-842-7980, http://www.sokyfair.org/
Duncan Hines Festival, 270-535-6508, https://www.facebook.com/duncanhinesfestival
Pumpkin Festivals, 270-781-5303, http://www.jacksonsorchard.com
Boyce General Store, 270-842-1900, https://www.facebook.com/BoyceGeneralStore
440 Main/Micki’s on Main, 270-793-0450, http://www.440main.com/about
Brickyard Café, 270-843-6431, http://brickyardcafebg.com/
Cambridge Market & Café, 270-782-9366, http://www.cambridgemarketandcafe.com
The Bistro, 270-781-9646, http://www.thebistrobg.com
White Squirrel Brewery, 270-904-1573, http://www.whitesquirrelbrewery.com/
Quality Inn, 270-843-1163, www.choicehotels.com
Holiday Inn University Plaza, 270-745-0088,
Spongie Acres Bed and Breakfast, 270-535-3368, http://spongieacresbedandbreakfast.com
Beech Bend Campground, http://www.beechbend.com/