Local's Guide to Louisville – and the Kentucky Derby

Contributed By Erin Trager-Kusman

On the first Saturday in May, tradition finds the world turning its attention to Churchill Downs for the pageantry of the Kentucky Derby.

But, Louisville is so much more than the Derby and there’s never been a better time to highlight the wide-ranging gems throughout this southern city. We checked in with Louisville-based travel advisor Erin Trager Kusman – momma of twins, avid runner, and equally dedicated foodie – and her right hand, Taylor Cremo, to round up their tried and true local favorites.



Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby Festival is heralded as a “two-week party for the fastest two minutes in sports” including Oaks, Thurby, a parade, and even a day off of school for the kids! The true local experience comes from attending one of the house parties hosted all over the city. But no matter where you celebrate, months of preparation go into custom Derby Hats and showy outfits. Don’t be afraid of color when picking out your Derby look – men are breaking out the patterns too!

Insider Tips:

  1. While Derby is Louisville’s big holiday, horse-racing doesn’t stop there! With Oaks the day before, and “Thurby before that, there are ample opportunities to don a hat and place your bets!
  2. For Derby Day, there are many seating options at the track and where you sit will greatly impact not just your view of the race but the vibe of your day. The infield is notorious for turning into a mudbath – rain or shine – so enter at your own risk. The 300 level boxes are thought to be some of the best seats in the house if you want cover (rain is notorious on Derby day!) but to still be in the mix for the wonderful people and hat watching. And of course, you’ll have stellar views of the track if you remember to watch the racing! Boxes seat six people and are truly just marked off blocks of concrete above the grandstand with six folding chairs – all part of the experience.
  3. Pick your horses the night before. This will help expedite placing your bets upon arrival. Make sure you file your tickets safely away in your wallet for later reference!
  4. Don’t forget, it’s “Lou-a-vul”, not “Lou-is-ville”. If you want to fit in, proudly use your best country accent and pronounce it like the locals do.

Classic Mint Julep

Of course, the traditional drink of the Derby is the mint julep, and over 120,000 are said to be consumed at the race each year. Here’s the classic recipe.

2oz bourbon
.5oz simple syrup

8 mint leaves plus a sprig

Add mint and simple to glass and gently muddle. Add the bourbon and enough crushed ice to fill the glass 3/4 of the way up, then swizzle your ingredients! Fill glass the rest of the way up with crushed ice and insert straw and mint sprig.


Bourbon distilleries have come back to downtown’s historic Whiskey Row, gentrification is preserving its oldest neighborhood and reviving another industrial pocket. A recent trend finds distilleries with their main locations out in the gorgeous rolling hills on the “Bourbon Trail” and bringing smaller interactive spaces into the city center.


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