11 Reasons to Visit Bowling Green, Kentucky

The Bluegrass State Offers More than Just Fried Chicken and Horseracing

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Visit Bowling Green, Kentucky

It’s been said that life is not meant to be spent traveling backwards. That any and all memories from the past should remain there in order to keep moving forward. But throughout life, I have discovered that sometimes it is necessary to look into the past to appreciate how far you’ve come. This was the reason I decided to visit Bowling Green, Kentucky — my old college stomping grounds.

Growing up in Northwest Kentucky, leaving my small hometown to go to college — let alone travel the world — was never something that crossed my mind.

After high school, I envisioned myself going to college across the river from my parents house at a small, private Catholic university with less than 2,000 students.

Here, I could be close to my family and all that had become familiar to me. I was content with this choice, until I made a weekend visit to the city of Bowling Green, Kentucky in May 2003.

About Bowling Green, Kentucky

Located in southern Kentucky, Bowling Green is home to nearly 70,000 permanent residents. This fact makes it the third most populated city in the Bluegrass State.

Providing an average of 265 days of sunshine a year, it’s easy to see why thousands of others decide to make “The Park City” their home. 

I know because I was one of them.

Fifteen years ago, I first stepped foot on the campus of Western Kentucky University (WKU) as a 17-year-old freshman. This time, I returned as a 32-year-old travel writer who had been living in one of the nation’s top cities while exploring the cultures of 15 countries.

I had changed a great deal, but I realized that much about Bowling Green had changed, too.

With the help of the Bowling Green Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, I checked into my king suite at Townplace Suites by Marriott. 

After unpacking and enjoying a quick cup of tea, I made my way to my favorite part of town: Fountain Square Park.

Once filled with dingy dive bars (many of which I shamelessly frequented on “Thirsty Thursdays”) and vacant store fronts, the town’s infamous square had transformed into a bustling city center.

Each corner boasted locally owned and operated boutiques. Some of the state’s most innovative restaurants and cafes had found their homes on the streets I once walked to class. 

I walked past the City Hall where I used to have weekly meetings with the mayor and city council for the college newspaper. Not far from here. I would rediscover the best of what this quintessential southern town had to offer — home cooked grub.

Where to Eat

1.White Squirrel Brewery 

At the centre of Bowling Green’s microbrew and pub grub scene sits the White Squirrel Brewery. For those wondering, it’s named after the infamous white squirrels that roam the campus of WKU nearby.

Serving up an impressive list of brewed-in-house beer and southern grub, it’s quickly become one of the town’s most popular hot spots. Here, beer is made in very small batches each day and switched out regularly, which allows patrons to taste different brews. The below menu items were personal favorites:

2. Steamer Southern Seafood Kitchen

At the heart of the downtown scene is a community gathering spot  known as Steamer Southern Seafood Kitchen.

What was almost lost to an electrical fire in February 2018 has made a legendary come back of epic proportions. To this day, Steamer serves Bowling Green the freshest seafood and most decadent handmade pies and desserts.

With an emphasis on giving back to the community, a portion of Steamer’s proceeds go to local charities to help schools, shelters, firefighters, and military veterans.

Not only does the food make for a one-of-a-kind dining experience, (the restaurant was featured on HGTV!) the staff make the visit unforgettable. The below menu items were personal favourites:

3. Hickory & Oak

One of Bowling Green’s newest hot spots for southern comfort food, this sophisticated bar and restaurant boasts swoon-worthy interiors. (The bar also features 125 different kinds of bourbon).

Part of a $5 million restoration project of downtown, it’s the brainchild of Chef-owner Josh Poling. The restaurant seats up to 200 people with both in and outdoor seating. 

Here, unique dishes such as Pickled Deviled Eggs and Green Chile Mac & Cheese can be found on the menu. Local ingredients are sourced whenever possible, but don’t expect every dish on the menu to be there during a visit. Items are rotated out often to ensure an enjoyable experience for all diners.

Reservations are recommended for lunch and dinner due to high demand. Guests can also book the Chef’s Table Experience for up to 8 people, with a direct view of the kitchen. For more info, visit www.hickoryandoakbg.com

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

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A short 45-minute drive down I-65 will lead one to the Music City of Nashville, Tennessee.

To the north is Kentucky’s largest city, Louisville.



While the close proximity of Bowling Green to some of the most sought after destinations in the nation is a bonus, one doesn’t have to travel far to experience adventure and luxury.

Below are just a few of the many activities offered to locals and tourists alike who visit Bowling Green, Kentucky:

4. Lost River Cave Boat Cruise

Locals know and visitors discover that they don’t have to travel far from Bowling Green to catch a glimpse of what life is like “down under”.

All it takes is a trip down Scottsville Road to Lost River Cave — home to the only underground boat tour in the entire state.

Our tour guide, Chad, met us in the Lost River gift shop with ponchos and flashlights in-hand. Too after,  we climbed into a golf cart out back that would take us down to the cave entrance.

On any regular day, visitors to the cave take leisurely strolls down a lush valley lined with oak trees past the famous “blue hole”. But not this day.

Touring the Cave

The rain was so heavy that it prevented us from the stroll, but not from learning about Lost River’s rich and storied history.

Through the massive cave entrance we made our way down a short 15-step staircase and a brief ramp that led to a steel-grated vessel. We ducked head-to-knee for the first 30 seconds of the tour as the cave’s famous Wishing Rock glided inches away from us overhead.

Opening up into a cathedral-like cavern, flowing waterfalls and spectacular views of rock formations, were before our eyes. (We slid our fingers across the cave’s cool, smooth limestone, but don’t worry — its allowed!)

We learned the very rock above us could once be found at the bottom of the ocean millions of years ago near what is now Jamaica.

A total tour time of 20 minutes, we made our way back out and to the gift shop to warm up and browse the local handmade jewellery and food items.

Our tour guide, Chad, explains the importance of the rock formations in Lost River Cave.

To book a tour in advance (recommended), tickets start at $5.95 for children and up to $20 for adults. Zip-lines for children and adults are also available for a separate fee. Book at https://lostrivercave.org/cave-tours/

5. Be Happy Yoga & Salt Cave

For hundreds of years, the powerful health benefits of Himalayan salt caves and salt-therapy had only been enjoyed by those in Europe. This was only until a few years ago when cities across the U.S. began to adopt the same natural, drug-free healing remedies. also known as “halo-therapy”.

Bowling Green became one of these cities in 2016 with the establishment of the holistic wellness centre, Be Happy Yoga & Salt Cave.

Located on Nashville Road, Be Happy is the brainchild of certified yoga-instructor Susan Polk and her husband Doug.

About the Salt Caves

The cave features six tons of Himalayan pharmaceutical-grade salt. The salt is infused with dry aerosol using a specialised halogenerator to help alleviate symptoms of asthma, allergies, depression, and other common health issues.

Be Happy incorporates colour therapy into each session through fibre optic lighting to bring a truly calming and relaxing effect on the body and mind.

Visitors can also enjoy guided deep relaxation, meditation, therapeutic massages or yoga sessions in or outside of the cave. Affordable group packages that include cave time and yoga classes in their cushioned yoga room are also available. 

To book an individual ($25) or group ($175 for up to 10 people) cave session at Be Happy Yoga & Salt Cave, view their full services offered page at behappybg.com.


Editors Note:  Be Happy offers an on-site store where guests can purchase an array of pure Himalayan-salt gifts. These include salt-therapy air inhalers that are recommended for those suffering from chronic asthma and other respiratory diseases.

6. Chaney’s Dairy Barn

At the very heart of Kentucky’s rich farming heritage, one will find Chaney’s Dairy Barn.

A Bowling Green staple since 1940, it’s history dates back to 1888. During this time, the Chaney family saw a vision for a legacy that would last generations. 

Most known for it’s big red barn and world-famous Jersey cows, Chaney’s has consistently surpassed the market challenges. In fact, it’s one of only 500 diary farms left in the U.S. 

Farm-Made Ice Cream

With an eye on the rising price of milk, Carl and Debrah Chaney set off in search of new profits. Their goal was to maintain the farm’s legacy and the humane treatment of its prized cows.

They discovered that a new business model was growing in popularity in the sweetest way possible: farm-made made ice cream.

Without hesitation, the idea to open a dairy barn was born. Since the first scoop was served in 2003, the Chaney’s haven’t looked back — and the entire nation has taken notice.

USA Today  deemed Chaney’s the “#1 Ice Cream in Kentucky” as 13,000 tourists came through its doors in 2017. They likely came to try popular flavours such as “Wow Now Brownie Cow,” “Bourbon Crunch,” and “Big Red Rumble”.

In addition to ice cream, Chaney’s also serves sandwiches, hearty soups, pies, and many other Kentucky-proud food items.

For an extra special treat, order their “Chaco” (giant ice cream taco). Make sure you order three giant scoops of Big Red’s Rumble, Peanut Butter Fudge Swirl, and Cow Tracks.

If you visit Bowling Green, find out more information about Chaney’s Dairy Barn at http://www.chaneysdairybarn.com

Book Your Trip

As I packed up my suitcases to check out of my hotel, I took one last drive through America’s most beautiful campus’s.

I walked past the student publication building where I discovered my love for writing.

I walked past Southwest Hall where I met my best friend.

And lastly, I walked up the hill to say a quick “hello” to the statue of Henry Hardin Cherry.

It was here that I realised that there is a crossroad between “big city” living and small-town charm. In the middle of it all, one will find Kentucky (and the very best of it in Bowling Green).

A town once described as “not too small and just big enough” I realised isn’t perfection, but it’s pretty darn close.

For more information on how to visit Bowling Green, Kentucky, visit www.visitbgky.com. This article was created in sponsored partnership with The Bowling Green Tourism Board.

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Editor’s Note: In addition to the establishments mentioned above, there are other activities and dining options appropriate for visitors of all ages.

Other recommended favorites if you visit Bowling Green:

7. Jackson’s Orchard;
8. The National Corvette Museum;
9. The Bistro;
10. El Mazatlan Mexican Restaurant; and
11. The Historic Rail Park and Train Museum.

 

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55 Comments
  1. Katie Diederichs says

    Your food pictures alone are enough to convince me to visit! That salt cave looks pretty cool too! Saving this for later 🙂

  2. Jen says

    Wow I’ve been here so many times before (I used to live in Ohio) but I would love to go back and check some of these places out great post, love your photos!

  3. Shannon says

    I love your background on Bowling Green, I need to revisit my university too! The food looks amazing, I would love some good southern cooking right now!

  4. Chelsea says

    Omg! You hooked me with the food! The tacos and ice cream look amazing! It’s so nice that you decided to go back to a place that you spent so much time in 🙂 it’s nice to see how places change (and stay the same!) over time

  5. Vanessa Shields says

    I had not really thought of visiting Kentucky but I can’t wait to visit Bowling Green! The food alone looks so incredible along with the salt mine and caves! Thank you for introducing me to Bowling Green!

  6. madhu sharma says

    Wow this looks like a fantastic place..specially the options to eat are so mouthwatering

  7. Veerle says

    So nice to go back in time sometimes and create new memories. Looks like a beautiful place with amazing food!

  8. Emma says

    The salt canes look like a really interesting experience. I’d love to do that. That cow picture though just made my day itself. So cute. And all your food looks fantastic. If I make it to Kentucky I know where I’m headed

  9. Tania Muthusamy says

    Ooh the Salt caves look amazing. What a fabulous place to have a therapeutic massage.

  10. Curls en Route says

    Love your pictures! what’s the preset or editing software?

  11. Jen says

    I’ve done a salt cave once and knocked out like a baby lol, so relaxing! Also you had me at homemade ice cream, yum 🙂

  12. Amy Aed says

    I’ve never been to Kentucky but there’s a large part of me that has always wanted to go. It looks like such an interesting place and I love these photos! I will definitely head over once this quarantine has finished.

  13. Paula Martinelli says

    WOW! Such a cool and fun itinerary! And the food…OMG…I need to go!

  14. Taylor says

    Bowling Green looks awesome! I have been wanting to go to Kentucky for some time. It would be a great long weekend getaway. 🙂 Definitely keeping this article handy.

  15. Josy A says

    What a nice trip down memory lane for you (and a fab way for us to see this perfect mix between city and countryside.)

    The food all looks amaaazing!

  16. A Capone Connection says

    Okay I’ll admit that I never had a desire to visit Kentucky… until now! You are adorable, and your pictures are stunning! Who knew there was SO much to do?! (I mean aside from you.) You have successfully converted me and now Kentucky has officially made it to my bucket list. Thank you so much for the inspiration!

  17. Sophie says

    I had no idea this place existed and it looks so interesting. I need to go for the food alone, this post made me hungry!!! Oh and the salt cave looks awesome.

  18. Ruth says

    I am not sure how I have not heard about this beautiful town before. The food looks amazing. This are the places I love to discover. I know you said 70,000 residents but that is small (and perfect for me) when compared to massive Los Angeles.

  19. Annick Lenoir-Peek says

    Isn’t it fun going back to our college towns as adults? And super impressive how Bowling Green has really stepped up its game even though I’ve always thought of it as a college town. Now it’s becoming a foodie destination! How fun!

  20. Hailey Alexus Harris says

    Girl, just based on the food I’m there! It looks so freaking good. Looks like I’m going to eat my way through Bowling Green. haha

  21. Jenny Ventura says

    Great post! I’m in Ohio so Bowling Green is very close!

  22. Nathalie says

    The icecream, the vibe, the sun – I’m sold. This feels like a place I’d love to call home so I can definitely see the appeal!

  23. Bettina says

    I have never heard of this place but I have no idea why! You make it look amazing and now I can’t wait to go – once we’re able to travel again!

  24. Sydney says

    Amazing post! First off, the quote at the beginning got to me. I always think about going somewhere new and exciting, but you’re right, sometimes we need to revisit the past to make new memories. Also, thank you for the recommendations for food and activities. The burger and southern seafood look delicious, and the salt cave looks like so much fun!

  25. Katie | KatieGoes says

    Love love love the personality in this post! Right down to the Eiffel Tower PJ’s – haha!

  26. Michelle says

    This sounds like such a great visit. I would love to visit that farm and have some of the delicious homemade ice cream!

  27. Sarah Barthet says

    I never thought to visit Kentucky before reading this post, but that has definitely changed after reading this article. The salt caves look divine!

  28. Gabrielle Sales says

    Awesome post! This makes me want to visit Kentucky now, Thanks for showing your home state! I would LOVE to go to that cave and try all those delicious food.

  29. Katherine says

    I didn’t realise there was so much to do (and eat) in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I have two friends who were born and raised in Kentucky, I’ll be having a stern word to both of them for not telling me about Bowling Green! This might just be my stomach talking though.

  30. Carla Vianna says

    I’ve never been to Kentucky! Would love to visit one day. Also love love love the golden edit of your photos. 🙂

  31. Francesca says

    What a lovely place! The food looks absolutely delicious 🙂

  32. Helena says

    What a cute town name! And you’ve totally sold me with the White Squirrel Brewery and that yummy ice cream sandwich!

  33. Love your story! That’s a great idea to travel back. In fact, I’d actually like to do that to see how much things have changed. The food from the restaurants you posted look absolutely delicious. I love seafood, so Steamer Southern Food Kitchen is a must.

  34. Bianca Malata says

    I would happily visit for the food alone. Everything just looks delicious. Wouldnt have considered visiting Kentucky but would now be considering it after seeing these images.

  35. Fiona Mai says

    Such lovely photos of Bowling Green! I totally agree that sometimes it’s good to re-visit an old place to see how far we’ve come. Perhaps we can then look at that place with a different perspective and appreciate our time there more <3

  36. Alma says

    That food looks amazing! But you’ve also opened my eyes as to what else to do in Kentucky, so thank you!

  37. Amanda Kerr says

    The food looks insanely good!

  38. Hannah says

    Thanks for this great guide! There looks like there is so much to do in Bowling Green. The salt caves look amazing and the dairy farm looks adorable…I’d love to try the ice cream! The food at White Squirrel Brewery looks fantastic too!

    Hannah | https://getlost.blog/

  39. Marisa says

    Bowling Green looks like such an underrated place to visit! There is tons to do and the food at the White Squirrel Brewery looks delicious! Thanks for sharing!

  40. Averie says

    Great guide, love your pictures too 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  41. Zsuzsanna says

    This place looks so amazing, we would love to visit, you definitely convinced me! I will save it! 🙂

  42. Zsuzsanna says

    You definitely convinced me to visit this place in Kentucky! I will save this post for later! 🙂

    1. Alex Booze says

      yay! that’s what I love to hear! If you visit you won’t be disappointed! 🙂

  43. Zsuzsanna says

    You definitely convinced me to visit this place in Kentucky! 🙂

  44. Linnea says

    This looks so cute! I’ve never even been to Kentucky, but this looks like the cutest town! Your restaurants looked so good too!

    1. Alex Booze says

      There are so many cute places in Kentucky! My hometown has a few gems as well, but one of my favorite mid-sized cities is Bowling Green!

  45. Brittany says

    Aww, I love going back to places and discovering them under a new light! I need to do this for my hometown!

    1. Alex Booze says

      I highly recommend it! It’s so cool to reminisce and see what has changed and what has stayed the same.

  46. Shannon says

    Bowling Green looks so fun! Plus the food looks drool-worthy!! Looks like you had a blast 🙂

    1. Alex Booze says

      I think I had more fun returning to Bowling Green than I did when I actually went to school there haha! I hope you can visit someday!

  47. Daphne Hargrove says

    Oh My God. Those food photos! Stop it!!! After having lived in the South for quite a few years myself, I definitely appreciate me some Southern Cooking. Your spot on images had me reminiscing and drooling. I’ve always just pictured mint juleps when I thought of Kentucky, so it was awesome to see such a well-rounded, fun itinerary of great things to see and do! Gonna head to some of your other posts now too. And then, I’ll need to eat! STAT. 😉

    1. Alex Booze says

      OMG thank you!! The food is the absolute BEST part of Kentucky! (and the Bourbon of course if you like that sort of thing!) I hope you get to visit one day — you certainly won’t be disappointed!

  48. Charu Goyal says

    I have never been here but I am definitely convinced after reading this. Such a great list and variety of things to do in Bowling Green. Your food photos are amazing

    1. Alex Booze says

      It’s a very special city, and not just because I went to school there! The atmosphere and the food…omg the food! It’s just to die for. I hope you get to visit someday 🙂

  49. John Confidus says

    Amazing experience! That is a perfect itinerary that I have in mind for my trip. Will follow your footsteps!

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