Day tripper A twice-monthly feature to plan your weekend getaway

Day Tripper: A corner of Kentucky that's rich in kitsch

There's a mother lode of hokey, humorous attractions between Louisville, Bowling Green

Contributing Travel WriterAugust 26, 2011 

Americans have always been known for their sense of humor. Leave it to the Europeans to insist that their tourist attractions be all about history and dignity. In the United States, we like our amusements to be just that: amusing.

That includes the pair of three-story-high cowboy boots in a Texas shopping center, South Dakota's glittering Corn Palace and the museum in Minnesota that celebrates Spam (the edible kind, not junk email).

Kentucky is certainly not without kitsch, and you can carve out a great day or weekend checking out the kitschiest places in the commonwealth. The drive from Louisville to Bowling Green alone is enough to satisfy those who crave the oddities our state has to offer.

If you want eccentric for breakfast — along with gargantuan omelets that even an NFL linebacker couldn't finish — start at Lynn's Paradise Café in Louisville ( You'll know you're there when you see the 8-foot-tall, fire engine-red coffee pot outside. Inside, patrons, some sporting fake clown noses or glittering tiaras, line up to have their pictures taken inside a giant fork and spoon.

After you've fueled yourself, head to Shepherdsville, where they've fueled the go-karts at Kart Kountry. At 1 1/2 miles, this is the longest go-kart track in the world.

After a few laps around the track, it's on to Bardstown, and a museum that shows off our nation's presidents in a, shall we say, less than presidential manner. At the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, a whimsical display titled What's Your Pleasure, Mr. President? has caricatures of 43 chief executives, from Washington to Bush Sr., enjoying their favorite libations.

It's worth noting that only two chose bourbon: John Tyler (a bourbon mint julep) and Harry Truman (bourbon and branch), although Jimmy Carter did indicate that he liked a little bourbon in his iced tea.

Iron bars on the windows, 30-inch-thick stone walls and a heavy steel door slamming shut behind you might not seem typical of a tourist accommodation, but at Bardstown's Jailer's Inn, guests can "do time" in style. The six rooms are in the 1819 stone building that was Nelson County's jail for 200 years, and morning coffee and croissants are served in the courtyard that once held the gallows for the less fortunate.

After you've been "sprung" from the inn, it's an easy drive to the Cave Country in the west central part of the state. This could legitimately be called Kentucky's "capital of kitsch."

Sure, there are the area's natural wonders — Mammoth Cave and a number of smaller caves — but this also is the home of man-made wonders including Dinosaur World; Big Mike's Rock Shop and Mystery House; and Gun Town Mountain.

At Dinosaur World, a fiberglass T. rex, whose facial expression is something between a grin and a grimace, welcomes visitors to the Land Before Time, where a bevy of prehistoric creatures, some as long as 80 feet, lurk around every corner.

If the kids squeal over the Tyrannosaurus, they'll go nuts when they lay eyes on "Big Mo," the star attraction at Big Mike's. Mike claims that it's the world's largest fossilized skull of a mosasaur, a giant aquatic lizard.

You'll find the $1 admission fee to the Mystery House (don't try too hard to figure out how the water runs backwards) a bargain, especially after spending $20 to $30 on the vast collection of rocks available.

At Gun Town Mountain, you can catch a saloon show and witness a gun fight on the main street in an area that real-life outlaw Jesse James was known to frequent.

Finally, if you're looking for Kentucky's most unusual accommodations, look no further than the red-and-white-striped concrete teepees at Wigwam Village in Cave City ($40 to $65 a night). The brainchild of an entrepreneur who erected a number of them across the country in the 1930s, the Kentucky Wigwam Village is one of only three left (the others are in Holbrook, Ariz., and San Bernardino, Calif.)

The 15 wigwams spread out in a semicircle might seem the ultimate in kitsch, but according to state Tourism Commissioner Mike Cooper, "just try getting in if you haven't booked well in advance."

Who doesn't love a little kitsch from time to time?

Patti Nickell is a Lexington-based travel writer. Reach her at

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