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10 fun things to do in Bowling Green, Kentucky

Beech Bend Raceway is one of several automotive attractions in Bowling Green, Kentucky, which is where Corvettes are assembled. | Photo by Broc Porter

Where can you take a boat ride on an underground river, learn the life story of a cake-mix legend, and watch an American Graffiti–style drag race all in one day? You’ll find these diversions and more 120 miles south of Louisville in the lively burg of Bowling Green.

The past decade has been a boon for the burgeoning little city. A massive downtown redevelopment effort has breathed new life into shabby businesses and blighted buildings, ushering in an ever-expanding slate of shops, restaurants, entertainment venues, and green spaces. Bowling Green’s renaissance is still under way, and these days this welcoming college town, home to Western Kentucky University, attracts visitors from far and wide looking to explore its vibrant history, rich culture, and pastoral scenery. Here are 10 attractions in Bowling Green that you won’t want to miss.

1. National Corvette Museum

national corvette museum

More than 80 gleaming Corvettes and plenty of vintage memorabilia tell the story of "America's sports car" at the National Corvette Museum. | Photo courtesy Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Chevrolet Corvette captured America’s heart at its 1953 debut at the General Motors Motorama expo in New York City. Though Chevy produced the vehicle’s first few generations elsewhere, every Corvette since 1981 has been made in the General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant. Plant tours are on indefinite hiatus due to COVID-19, but you can still take a deep dive into the history of “America’s sports car” just down the road at the National Corvette Museum, where more than 80 gleaming ’Vettes are on display, including the world’s only 1983 model.

Throughout the sleekly designed space, rotating and permanent exhibits feature pristinely preserved production models and rarely seen concept vehicles, as well as driving simulators, automobile-centric art, and colorful vintage memorabilia. But the museum’s most popular exhibit is the Corvette Cave-in, which recalls how a 2014 sinkhole sucked eight showcase cars—estimated to be worth more than $1 million—30 feet into the earth.

Info: 350 Corvette Drive; (270) 781-7973.

2. National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park

national corvette museum drag race

Satisfy your inner race-car driver with a few laps in a shiny Corvette at the National Corvette Musuem's Motorsports Park. | Photo courtesy Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Wandering among all those fabulous vehicles is sure to spark a need for speed. Get your fix at NCM’s Motorsports Park, where for $299, you can take four laps around the 3.2-mile technical track in a C8 Corvette Stingray Z51 with a 6.2-liter V8 engine and an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission (a more elaborate experience with classroom time goes for $799). If 130 mph accelerates your anxiety, the park also allows visitors to take their own cars on the track for $75, driving above highway speeds in a lead-follow format.

Info: 505 Kimberlee A. Fast Drive; (270) 777-4509.

3. Beech Bend Raceway

beech bend raceway

Beech Bend Raceway presents pro drag racing, but amateurs can put their own cars to the test on Tuesday nights. | Photo by Steve Fuhrman

A 1967 Chevy Impala thunders to life with a guttural roar and the air fills with the acrid smell of burning rubber as the classic hot rod peels down the strip. Tucked into a curve along the Barren River, surrounded by leafy beech trees and rolling hills, Beech Bend Park has hosted drag races since 1956, anchoring Bowling Green’s storied motorsports heritage. These days, a new generation of drivers and gearheads flocks to the track for high-speed events that showcase everything from custom dragsters to souped-up muscle cars and gleaming street rods. Events are held most weekends and Tuesday nights from March to November. On Father's Day weekend, the annual Holley National Hot Rod Reunion features several days of drag racing, car shows, and swap meets.

Info: 798 Beech Bend Park Road; (270) 781-7634.

You may also like: Explore arts and culture in Paducah, Kentucky

4. Fountain Square Park

fountain square park

While away an hour surrounded by Bowling Green's historic architecture in picturesque Fountain Square Park. | Photo courtesy Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

The recently renovated Fountain Square, located in the heart of the downtown business district, has deep roots to the city’s past. Once serving as Bowling Green’s town square, the park’s grounds were the site for Prohibition-era marches, livestock sales, scrap drives, and parades honoring war veterans.

Today, a collection of historic buildings, many of which hark back to the mid-19th century, house independently owned shops, galleries, and restaurants. Browse hand-poured candles and local artisan-made crafts at Candle Makers on the Square. Next door at Little Fox Bakery, indulge in gourmet cupcakes created by a mother-daughter team with flavors such as coffee and Bailey’s, habanero mango, and sweet potato with maple buttercream. For lunch, tuck into fresh pasta and brick-oven pizza at Mariah’s, a Bowling Green institution for 40 years. At dinner, try Hickory and Oak, a fine-dining favorite that stocks a menu of more than 100 bourbons.

Info: 445 E. Main Street.

5. Bowling Green Ballpark

hot rods stadium

Get an old-fashioned dose of our national pastime at the Bowling Green Ballpark, home of the Hot Rods. | Photo by Cal Sport Media/Alamy Stock Photo

For an afternoon of old-fashioned Americana, head to the Bowling Green Ballpark, home of the Bowling Green Hot Rods, a High A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. Just a few blocks from Fountain Square and built in 2009 as the cornerstone of the downtown revitalization project, the compact, 4,559-seat stadium hosts Hot Rods games. Lush lawn seating, an airy concourse with excellent field views, and a kids’ play area with a miniature carousel and 27-fountain splash pad add to the welcoming family-friendly vibe. Wednesday games feature $1 hot dogs, and fireworks follow Friday games. Purchase official Hot Rods swag at The Body Shop all year long, even if there’s not a game.

Info: 300 E. Eighth Avenue; (270) 901-2121.

6. Shake Rag Historic District

state street church

Bowling Green's historic Shake Rag district was a haven for the city's African American community. | Photo courtesy Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Take a self-guided stroll through Bowling Green’s historic Shake Rag district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Shake Rag was a haven for the city’s African American community from the post–Civil War era through the 1960s. Named for the way families would shake their “rags” before hanging them to dry on laundry day, the neighborhood was home to a thriving population of middle-class residents as well as the county’s only Black schools. Shake Rag’s barbershops, doctors, grocery stores, clubs, and restaurants catered to the Black community, while the businesses of State Street—which sat along the Dixie Highway, a patchwork of two-lane roads running between Mackinaw City, Michigan, and Miami, served Black travelers who would not have been welcomed elsewhere in other segregated cities south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Info: Downtown on State Street between Fifth Avenue and the Barren River.

7. Baker Arboretum and Downing Museum

downing museum

Explore a dynamic collection of works by local and international artists at the Downing Museum. | Photo courtesy Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Established in 1992 on the estate of local philanthropist Jerry Baker, the Baker Arboretum bursts with a botanical trove of conifers, shrubs, ornamental trees, and herbaceous plants set among fountains, a pond, and whimsical statuary. The 115-acre property also houses the Downing Museum, which features abstract, multimedia paintings and sculptures by the late artist Joe Downing, a longtime friend of Baker and a Kentucky native who spent most of his career in France. Baker and Downing worked together to design the museum, which opened in 2009 and also houses Baker’s personal art collection. Exhibits by visiting artists take place throughout the year as well.

Info: 4801 Morgantown Road; (270) 842-7415.

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8. The Kentucky Museum

kentucky museum

The Kentucky Museum displays some of its textile holdings in its Richardson Quilt Gallery. | Photo by Clinton Lewis

On the campus of Western Kentucky University, the Kentucky Museum opened in 1939 with the goal of becoming a place for “Kentuckians to know Kentucky.” Since then, the museum has accumulated a robust collection of artwork and artifacts showcasing the traditions and culture of the Bluegrass State with a special emphasis on the south-central region.

The Richardson Quilt Gallery features an ever-changing selection of pieces drawn from the museum’s extensive 18th- and 21st-century textile holdings, which include more than 250 quilts. The kitschy “Made by Duncan Hines” exhibit is packed with artifacts and memorabilia from the life and career of Bowling Green’s famed purveyor of boxed cake mixes. Rotating exhibitions include the brand-new “Gazing Deeply: The Art and Science of Mammoth Cave,” a cross-disciplinary examination of the cave system and its unique landscape that will run through May 2023.

Info: 1444 Kentucky Street; (270) 745-2592.

9. Lost River Cave

lost river cave

Cruise an underground river and explore the trails at Lost River Cave, downtown Bowling Green’s natural wonder. | Photo courtesy Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

The city and surrounding area sit upon a vast landscape of caves, sinkholes, springs, and sunken streams, making for a bounty of subterranean adventures. One of them, the Lost River Cave, is just a short stroll from downtown. Guests on guided tours get a short history lesson before entering the cave for a boat ride on the underground river. Over millennia, the cave has served as a winter shelter for prehistoric indigenous tribes, a camp for both Union and Confederate Civil War soldiers, a hideout for outlaw Jesse James after he robbed a bank in 1869, and a swing-era nightclub that was a popular stop on the big-band circuit.

In addition to hosting tours of the 7-mile cave system, the 72-acre urban park, managed by the nonprofit organization Friends of the Lost River in partnership with Western Kentucky University, has aboveground attractions such as mellow hiking trails, a zip line, a seasonal butterfly garden, and a whimsical natural playground for kids. Visitors with more time might also want to explore Mammoth Cave National Park, the world’s most extensive underground cave system, located about 40 miles away.

Info: 2818 Nashville Road; (270) 393-0077.

10. Boyce General Store

nest pie from boyce general store

Dig into a slice of Nest Pie at the charming Boyce General Store, home of Brie Golliher, the Pie Queen of Bowling Green. | Photo by Brie Golliher

Brie Golliher, the Pie Queen of Bowling Green, reigns at the Boyce General Store in Alvaton, located 12 miles from Bowling Green. She and her husband, Brad, purchased the charming 1869 mercantile in 2012. Be sure to try a slice of Golliher’s signature Nest Pie, made with a tender coconut-macaroon crust and a fudgy brownie filling.

Info: 10551 Woodburn Allen Springs Road, Alvaton, Kentucky; (270) 842-1900.

Gina DeCaprio Vercesi is a New York-based writer with a passion for history, conservation, and 1973 Buick Skylark convertibles.

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