The Bucket List: 38 things to do or see that are quintessentially Kentucky

September 22, 2011 

What are the things every Kentuckian should do, see or experience while living in our beautiful, often misunderstood state? What are the cultural touchstones that make Kentucky what it is and that would be a shame not to experience? What things go deep into the Kentucky experience?

That's the question the Herald-Leader asked in June, when we came up with The Kentucky Bucket List, which featured 50 great experiences to have.

The list was so popular that we've created an entire section based on it. Here, we have refined the list to be specific to Central Kentucky.

Our list of 38 experiences, in no particular order, was compiled from suggestions offered by readers and staff members.

The list is far from exhaustive, and you can probably easily think of several more to add to your personal list. But it's a start.

Our hope is that you take this list, put it up on your fridge, get out into our gorgeous Kentucky and start checking items off.

Kentucky's BUCKET LIST

1. Take a sip at all the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail. Bourbon is the essence of sophistication and America's only native spirit, and 95 percent of it is produced here.

2. Own a piece of work by a Kentucky craftsman. We are known as an epicenter for folk art. Berea is a good place to start your search for the perfect piece.

3. Walk over Natural Bridge, near Slade. If it's hot, you'll sweat like a pig getting up there, but once you do, the view is so spectacular, you'll be cool as a cucumber.

4. Ogle the natural beauty at Red River Gorge. Pick pretty much any spot, and it will be stunning.

5. Take a hike at Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill. The Shakers thought they had found an earthly utopia when they settled near Harrodsburg in the 19th century. After walking the miles and miles of trails through meadows, woods and along creeks, you'll understand why.

6. Grab a country ham sandwich at one of the many filling stations in rural Kentucky.

7. Visit the Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington. It's America's first site restored to honor a first lady. Get to know the real Mary, not the crazy woman that history has portrayed her to be.

8. Measure your stride against that of the great (giant) horse Man o' War at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

9. Bring roses to Funny Cide and Go for Gin, the only Kentucky Derby winners that are readily accessible, at the Kentucky Horse Park. They won the roses in 2003 and 1994, respectively.

10. Attend one of the multitude of bluegrass festivals across the state. We invented this kind of music, so we ought to listen to it once in a while. The most notable one in Central Kentucky is the Festival of the Bluegrass in Lexington; it's scheduled for June 7 to 10, 2012.

11. Visit the state Capitol building in Frankfort. We might not always be proud of what goes on inside there, but we can at least appreciate the Frank Mills Andrews-designed architecture. Rub the statue of Abraham Lincoln's toe while you're there.

12. Sit quietly inside Cane Ridge Meeting House outside Paris. It was built in 1791 and is thought to be the largest one-room log building in the country. It also was the site of a major revival in 1801 that is considered the climax of the Western Great Revival.

13. Tour the Toyota plant in Georgetown. It's the home of the world's No. 1-selling car for 13 of the past 14 years, the Camry. The plant's arrival in the mid-1980s was a boon for Kentucky's economy.

14. Eat a tomato still warm from the sun while standing in the garden where it was grown. Consider any slight grittiness a condiment.

15. Attend the Garrard County Tobacco Cutting Contest. The event, held in late summer, might be the best way to see a dying cultural tradition: the harvesting of the tobacco crop.

16. Find a fence row and pick some blackberries. There are few summertime treats more satisfying than a blackberry cobbler made with fruit you picked yourself. Just keep an eye out for snakes.

17. Have a taste of the state's regional sodas. May we recommend Ale-8-One, created in Winchester?

18. Drink moonshine.

19. Ride a horse.

20. Meditate on life (and death) at Lexington Cemetery, one of the most beautiful places in Central Kentucky. It's on the National Register of Historic Places.

21. Walk on the land once owned by Henry Clay, one of America's greatest statesmen, at his Lexington estate, Ashland.

22. Go to a University of Kentucky men's basketball game at Rupp Arena. Even if you don't bleed blue, the sheer spectacle of a game in Rupp's hallowed halls will make you at least appreciate the undying devotion that fans have for the Wildcats. The team's first game in Rupp this season is an exhibition against Transylvania University on Nov. 2.

23. Hear Loretta Lynn in person. The country music legend, "coal miner's daughter" and national treasure is in her mid-70s, but she puts on a show as if she just hit the big time. The native of Van Lear in Johnson County regularly plays Renfro Valley Entertainment Center in Rockcastle County, but her next Kentucky date is scheduled for Oct. 22 in Ashland.

24. Visit Perryville Battlefield, the site of the most famous Kentucky Civil War battle. The next re-enactment is Oct. 1 and 2, and the 150th anniversary of the Perryville battle will be in 2012.

25. Watch the horse races from the clubhouse at Keeneland. The Southern, sophisticated gentility for which Kentucky is known worldwide is on full display here on a pretty spring or fall afternoon. The fall meet is Oct. 7 to 29. Make sure you eat some of the scrumptious bread pudding, too.

26. Attend any of Kentucky's great food festivals. Fall is prime time for the events.

27. Take a scenic drive along U.S. 68 from Maysville to Paducah as it weaves its way through dozens of Kentucky's most interesting towns. It passes through Lexington as Harrodsburg Road and Paris Pike.

28. Visit Fort Boonesborough State Park, then eat at Hall's on the River in Clark County and enjoy the original beer cheese.

29. Drive along Old Frankfort Pike, one of the prettiest roads in the state. You'll pass through six historic districts and by four properties on the National Register of Historic Places on the drive between Frankfort and Lexington.

30. Go see Daniel Boone's grave site at the Frankfort Cemetery. From the grave, you get a scenic view of the Kentucky River.

31. Learn some history at White Hall State Historic Site near Richmond. The estate dates back to 1798 and was Cassius M. Clay's country home. This 44-room Victorian mansion is described by AAA as a crown jewel and a well-kept secret among local residents.

32. Visit the grave of famed 19th-century Lexington madam Belle Brezing. Thought to be the inspiration for the character Belle Watling in Gone With the Wind, she is buried at Lexington's Calvary Cemetery.

33. Attend the Sweet Sixteen high school boys' state basketball tournament at Rupp Arena in Lexington. If you want to see school pride at its fiercest and most endearing, watch fans root on their hometown teams. In 2012, it's March 14 to 17.

34. Attend a performance at Studio Players, one of the oldest community theaters in the nation. Situated in the tiny Carriage House Theatre in Lexington's Bell Court, the theater is currently producing The 39 Steps, which runs through Oct. 9.

35. Stand in awe of nature along the Kentucky River Palisades. The endangered area's high cliffs and gorges are spectacular as they meander through Central Kentucky. There are several places to see them up close; for a list, visit the Nature Conservancy at

36. Ride the Valley View Ferry. How retro is this? Take free passage across the Kentucky River on Ky. 169, between Fayette, Jessamine and Madison counties, aboard the ferry, which has been in operation since 1785.

37. Gaze at the stars at the Hummel Planetarium in Richmond. Located at Eastern Kentucky University, it is one of the largest planetariums in the country. A sky can be created as seen from any point on Earth, anytime during the day or night, up to 100,000 years in the past or future. And it's not just for school groups.

38. Climb a tree. Kentucky was once covered in trees from end to end. Go to the woods and see what our fair state might have looked like in ancient times.

More Central Kentucky bucket lists:

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