Virtually everyone we asked “What Makes Lexington Great” gave us the same answer: the people.
Lexington is incredibly diverse and boasts a population over 310,000, yet everyone says that it still holds onto that small town feel. Lexingtonians love their city and they love to show their Southern hospitality whenever possible. Without the friendly faces of this city’s people, Lexington wouldn’t be nearly as great.
Lexington is the birthplace and home of some pretty famous folks. George Clooney (actor), Brian Litrell (musician), Josh Hopkins (actor), Tyson Gay (Olympic athlete), Laura Bell Bundy (actress), Jim Varney (actor), Mary Todd Lincoln (First Lady) and Farah Fath (actress) were all born here... just to name a famous few.
Countless musicians, writers, politicans and artists have called Lexington home at some point or another. Among them are William Shatner, Ashley Judd, a chess grandmaster, a Civil War General, a Nobel Prize winner and NFL athletes.
Love Lexington? You’re in good company.
Corporations ♥ Lexington
In 2011, Forbes Magazine named Lexington the 4th best city for “Businesses and Careers”. And it’s no wonder!
We’re host to the corporate headquarters for A&W Restaurants, Fazoli’s, Tempur Sealy International and Forcht Group of Kentucky. On top of that, much of the city’s employment comes from four Fortune 500 companies: Xerox, Lexmark International, Lockheed-Martin and IBM.
Cool fact? The Jif plant produces more peanut butter here in Lexington than any other factory in the world.
People don’t crowd in elbow-to-elbow just for the ponies. There’s a magic to Keeneland that firmly anchors it as a cornerstone of Lexington’s social scene. For nearly 80 years, Keeneland has been Central Kentucky’s home for horse racing, but it’s the mixing and mingling that makes it a can’t-miss destination. Tailgating on The Hill is a relatively casual affair while watching from the suites can be positively posh; it’s truly horse racing everyone can enjoy. From brunch with Mimosas to delicious burgoo followed by Keeneland Bread Pudding, Keeneland offers plenty to sip and savor onsite. When the spring and fall meets are over, Keeneland plays host to countless galas, weddings, walks and auctions, ensuring it’s a key part of Lexington society all year long. www.Keeneland.com
Tip: If you’re planning on visiting Keeneland during the fall or spring meet, call a couple days in advance and ask what’s available. You might be able to reserve a great seat or exclusive dining opportunity!
The 2015 Breeders Cup
Keeneland was chosen as the host site for the 2015 Breeders’ Cup World Championships. The prestigious event will consist of 13 Grade One races held over two days, with purses and awards totalling $26 million. It consistently attracts the top Thoroughbred horses from around the world. The Breeders’ Cup Festival will make the experience an unforgettable one for guests and locals alike. Art exhibits, bourbon tastings, delicious dining, live music, equestrian events and more will make it a week (October 24th-31st) to remember! www.breederscup.com
Tip: Can’t get tickets to the Breeders’ Cup? Visit The Red Mile for food, drink, music and wagering!
Kentucky Horse Park
The International Museum of the Horse, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, explores the role of horses throughout history. Also on site are museums dedicated to Arabian horses, Saddlebred horses and equestrian memorabilia. Horseback and pony rides are available, as well as horse drawn tours and more. Add to that mix a slew of horse shows and polo matches throughout the year and it’s clear that the Horse Park is the perfect place to discover just how incredible horses truly are. www.KYHorsePark.com
Tip: The free Kentucky Horse Park Run/Walk Club meets Mondays 5-8pm (through September 28th) and offers a great stroll through this beautiful setting!
Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event
Lexington is honored to host this prestigious equestrian event, held every April at the Kentucky Horse Park since 1978. It’s been compared by many to the Olympics of horse eventing. Each year, $250,000 in prizes is awarded to the top equestrian competitors in the world.
We are the “Horse Capital of the World”, after all! Horse farms are a huge part of what makes Lexington so beloved by locals and visitors alike. Curious about seeing one up close? Find out how to tour a local horse farm: www.VisitLex.com
The Red Mile
Since 1875, Red Mile has been an important part of the cultural and physical fabric of Lexington, central Kentucky, and the world of horse racing. It is one of the oldest harness racing tracks still operating in the world today.
Red Mile’s renovations and expansions will accommodate an Entertainment Center, which will offer three exciting wagering experiences: Simulcasting, Live racing, and Historical racing. The exterior is totally updated and will continue to be an important part of Lexington’s equine identity for years to come! www.TheRedMile.com
Lexington is a haven for local music acts looking to share their talents. There are plenty of opportunities to catch local music, whether at a dive bar, a winery or Thursday Night Live. Lexington’s live music spans a range of genres, from country and rock to experimental triphop fusion. The Singletary Center for the Arts regularly hosts performances of more classical selections, as well.
Tip: Never miss a beat by following all the local live music on the
TOPSinLex.com Community Calendar.
Located on the Main Street block between Upper and Mill, Cheapside Park is one of our city’s most exciting open-air venues. Extensive renovations of the 5/3 Pavilion have created a space that highlights our vibrant Downtown while providing a wonderful locale for events. Lined with local businesses and just a quick trot to countless more, Cheapside Park is a perfect meeting spot, whether for Central Bank Thursday Night Live, the Lexington Farmer’s Market, Kentucky Cork & Tap or any given weeknight for drinks, dining and fun.
MoonDance at Midnight Pass
Live music, films and community events can be found in the heart of Beaumont Center. The MoonDance Amphitheatre is host to the Summer Nights in Suburbia concert series (Friday nights through September 4th) as well as the Swingin’ at MoonDance event (September 12th). Opened as a gift to the community by Haymaker Development Company and the CM Gatton Trust, this new venue is bringing culture and fun to one of Lexington’s most exciting neighborhoods.www.MoondanceLex.com
Lexington’s many festivals celebrate the cultures, holidays and excitement that make Central Kentucky incredible. From the Festival Latino de Lexington (September 18th - 19th) to the Thriller Parade (October 25th) and Breeders’ Cup Festival events (October 24th - 31st), there’s always a celebration to look forward to in town.
Whether you attend for the SWAG or to soak up the scene, don’t miss any of Lexington’s fabulous festivals! Sample the local food, browse the vendor booths and take in all the wonderful culture that makes Lexington so uniquely wonderful. And make sure you take the opportunity to stroll through the parts of Downtown that you don’t normally trek.
Tip: a complete schedule of Lexington’s festivals, visit LexingtonKY.gov!
Festival of the Bluegrass
Each June, traditional bluegrass musicians and fans storm the Kentucky Horse Park. This family festival celebrates the style of mountain music that has a firm root in the Bluegrass state.
Big Blue Nation
#BBN is a force to be reckoned with. At any event that a University of Kentucky team participates in, the stands become a sea of blue. Big Blue Nation is a powerful mix of incredibly talented athletes, legendary coaches and the most ravenous fans on earth. The result is a worldwide network of folks who bleed blue, throw their goggles up and chant “C-A-T-S!”
Tailgating, Big Blue Madness, March Madness… they’re all just opportunities for UK fans to show why they’re the best. They’re also some of the most important events on the Lexington social calendar. Diehards wouldn’t dare miss a single game, whether they’re watching from the grill beside their RV, right next to the action or in a bar with all their friends.
Good news, football fans. UK’s home for football is getting even better, just in time for the start of the 2015 season.
Commonwealth Stadium has recently undergone $120 million in renovations to create a more engaging and fan-centric environment. A new modern exterior will be even more welcoming for tailgaters and fans. Concourses have been revamped and widened with improved concessions, restrooms and security. Seating will change slightly, but all to help everyone feel a little closer to the action! www.TheNewCWS.com
The Lexington Legends
The Lexington Legends, our very own Minor League baseball team, offers family-friendly fun at Whitaker Bank Ballpark throughout the summer (this year, through September 7th). With promotions like Thirsty Thursday, Fireworks Nights and Kids Eat Free Mondays, there is plenty to make heading out to the ballpark a summer tradition. www.LexingtonLegends.com
Tip: The VIP and Luxury Suite experiences can’t be beat, and the Kentucky Ale Taproom is available for rent, even in the off-season.
If you can forget–for just a moment– that this is the court where the Cats break in their sneakers, Rupp Arena is also a major hub of entertainment in Lexington. The stage has welcomed Kiss, Elton John, Bon Jovi, Whitney Houston, Taylor Swift and many other high-caliber acts over the years. And, yes, it has hosted its fair share of baskeball games, including some major tournaments. The Lexington Center and Shops make it a destination for shopping and fun, whether or not basketball is in season. www.RuppArena.com
KHSAA Sweet Sixteen Tournament
Don’t forget about the OTHER Sweet Sixteen! Rupp Arena is host to Kentucky high school basketball teams for a week each March. It’s a treat to watch teams show their spirit while being cheered on by their friends and family. It’s always a fierce competition for the title of top team in the state–and it’s always great to see tomorrow’s stars in action before anyone else! www.KHSAA.org
Lexington Public Library
With six locations (and one on the way!) the Lexington Public Library is a wonderful resource for books, videos, music, classes and programs for adults and children alike. In fact, the branches are host to nearly 2 million guests a year!
The Central Library features the world’s largest ceiling clock and Foucault pendulum, as well as an art gallery, theatre and resource room on Kentucky history.
Curious what the library has to offer? From Minecraft classes to classic films, from family storytimes to adult computer learning courses, there’s plenty to explore! www.LexPubLib.org.
Every city has its icons. The fountains at Triangle Park are one of our most unmistakable landmarks. But thanks to some enterprising minds, Triangle Park has become more than just a fantastic photo op; it’s becoming a destination all its own! Fountain Films on Fridays (through August 14th), the Luminate Lexington Holiday Events and the Unified Trust Company Ice Rink bring some festive fun to the park. Its convenient location and outdoor cafe have made it a wonderful gathering spot. With its proximity to Rupp Arena, the Lexington Center, The Square and all of Downtown’s best dining, Triangle Park is something for everyone to enjoy.
Located on two acres between North Mill and Market Streets before West Third Street, Gratz Park is a local gem with 200 years of history. The Gratz Park Historic District is comprised of 16 buildings, including the Hunt-Morgan House, the Bodley-Bullock House and the Carnegie Library, all incredible pieces of Lexington’s unique story. It’s also within walking distance of the Historic St. Paul AME Church, Transylvania University, Gratz Park Inn and some truly wonderful dining experiences.
It’s a fact that there is always something good to eat in Central Kentucky. Lexingtonians love dining out, whether it’s fast, casual barbecue or upscale Southern/French fusion. Virtually any cuisine you can imagine is represented in this city, with something to suit any palate.
During the summer months, dining in Lexington is all about patio life. In autumn and spring, it’s focused on where to eat before and after the races... or which place has TVs to catch the Cats in action. But no matter the season, it’s truly a treat to dine in Central Kentucky!
Tip: Wondering what’s good to eat in our fair city? We’ve always got you covered. Visit TOPSinLex.com’s Dining Guide for some quick inspiration!
While Lexington’s brick-and-mortar eateries are unbeatable, the food truck craze has swept our city! Our great, unique, local food trucks bring some inspired cuisine to our dining scene. Wondering where to find them? Be sure to follow them through social media!
Donuts are the new cupcake. Lexington is taking this craze and running with it. Donut shops are cropping up everywhere with unique creations that would make Homer Simpson proud. This breakfast revolution is making it easier than ever to grab a nibble and stroll through Downtown, a la Breakfast at Tiffany’s!
The Distillery District
Live music, cool architecture and art exhibits make the Distillery District one of Lexington’s coolest emerging areas. Bars, breweries and Barrel House Distilling Co. (located in the old James E. Pepper Bourbon Distillery) make Manchester Street a fun destination, whether you’re a bourbon lover or a fan of the arts. Just around the corner is the Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co., which offers a great tour.
The Brewgrass Trail
The craft beer movement has sprung up in Lexington and firmly taken hold. The Brewgrass Trail is dedicated to showcasing all the amazing craft breweries and brewers established in town. Collect stamps on your Brewgrass Trail passport as you sip your way across the city. www.VisitLex.com
Lexington’s climate, soil and limestone has proved perfect for wine production. Great local wineries offer up unique takes on this storied tradition, infusing every bottle with a taste of Lexington. Many wineries offer tours, sampling and even dining... perfect for after the races, or a celebration evening!
Lexington’s farmers markets are making farm to table cooking a snap! The freshest produce and incredible Kentucky Proud products are available from the Lexington Farmer’s Market and Bluegrass Farmer’s Market six days a week during the spring, summer and fall months.
Lexington is the state’s unofficial shopping destination. With Fayette Mall, Hamburg Pavilion, The Shops at Lexington Green and too many local boutiques, antique stores and artisan studios to name, there’s something for everyone to cherish. Whether for gifts, home goods, books, vintage treasures or perfect pieces to update your wardrobe, Lexington has what you’re looking for. Coming soon: The Summit at Fritz Farm, located at the corner of Nicholasville Road and Man O’War Boulevard, which will bring a Pottery Barn location to Lexington.
NoLi, Warehouse Block and beyond
While it’s certainly true that Lexington is still growing, much of our growth is in revitalized neighborhoods that are being rehabbed into amazing places to live, work and eat. Nowhere is that more evident than North Limestone, National Avenue, Jefferson Street and Manchester Street. Great restaurants, businesses and homes are helping to reshape the Lexington lifestyle.
The Art Scene
Lexington’s arts scene has been growing exponentially over the past decade, with galleries popping up all across town. While Lexington’s art has historically been horse-focused, it has come to include a diverse range of styles and media. www.LexArts.org or www.LexingtonArtLeague.org.
While Lexington’s architecture is certainly something to see, mural artists and local visionaries have much bigger plans to make Lexington look special. While some of this wall art may seem controversial, there’s no doubt that it is changing the face of our city.
Lexington’s love of the fine arts is thriving. From local and college theatre groups to massive, professional stage productions, we’ve got some great shows for you to take in. The Lexington Opera House, Rupp Arena, Lyric Theatre and Lexington Children’s Theatre are some of the most well-known theatre venues, but there are countless smaller performances that offer just as much drama and enjoyment.
Tip: Each month, TOPS Magazine profiles the best in Central Kentucky’s upcoming fine arts in the Lesley’s List feature. Don’t miss it!
Ashland: The Henry Clay Estate
This National Historic Landmark home of this Kentucky statesman certainly offers much in the way of history, but it’s the beautiful grounds that make it a great part of Lexington’s landscape. From their beautiful garden maintained by the Lexington Garden Club to the signature peonies raised on the grounds, Ashland: The Henry Clay Estate offers a serene getaway that’s just a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Downtown. www.HenryClay.org
Some shun some of Lexington’s more risqué history, but the 19th century madam of “The most orderly of Dis-orderly Homes” was noteworthy enough to inspire a character in Gone With the Wind, truly infamous in her time. She is buried in Lexington’s Calvary Cemetery.
While the mention of any cemetery may seem macabre, this beautiful sanctuary is anything but. Lexington Cemetery is an impotant part of the city’s history and sits on the National Registry of Historic Places.
As the final resting place of statesman Henry Clay, basketball coaching legend Adolph Rupp and many of the city’s luminaries, touring the beautifully landscaped grounds can be a walk through Lexington’s past. A map is available at the office or online so you can plan your trek.
Sit by the lake and see the wildlife at play. In the spring, the blossoming trees are absolutely breathtaking. There are even events to commemorate Easter and Memorial Day. www.LexCem.org
Unless you’ve got a degree in horticulture, you probably know Poa pratensis by its common name: Kentucky bluegrass.
Our state’s signature turf is a big part of what makes our horse farms and wild fields so iconic. Lexington is settled in the heart of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region.
Bluegrass thrives in our rich soil and is bolstered by the limestone beneath. This wild grass takes its name from the blue flowers that bloom when it’s allowed to grow to its full height in open fields. Bluegrass is food for some of the state’s most iconic wildlife, as well. Wild turkey, ducks, bobwhites and doves love the seeds. Deer and rabbits enjoy munching on the leaves and stems.
This ground cover was the name of bluegrass music pioneer Bill Monroe’s band, which lent its name to the whole genre.
While tailgating is probably the city’s unofficial sport of leisure, golf comes in at a close second. With plenty of beautiful greens in the area, golf enthusiasts can enjoy easy putting or difficult slopes, all without ever leaving town.
Getting Back to Nature is Easy
Looking to get closer to Mother Nature? Lexington offers plenty of natural beauty. The Arboretum began in 1991 and boasts over 100 acres of local plants and trees, as well as year-round educational activities for adults and children. Raven Run Nature Sanctuary features 734 acres of natural Kentucky River Palisades splendor with over 10 miles of hiking trails. McConnell Springs Nature Park is a 26-acre wooded area situated within an industrial area, located where Lexington began.
In addition to Lexington’s three major natural areas, Lexington’s city parks offer great spots to get outside. From disc golf to walking trails, there’s so much room to stretch and play. Best of all, it’s a free way to spend the day with family or friends. The Legacy Trail offers a great space to get moving, as well. So go on, get out there and enjoy all the beauty of Central Kentucky! www.LexingtonKY.gov
Planes, Trains + Automobiles
From our convenient public transport to our very own Blue Grass Airport, Lexington gets around. Whether you hop on the LexTran Trolley or tour the Aviation Museum of Kentucky, there’s a lot to learn and see while you’re on the go. Curious what’s out there? The R.J. Corman Lexington Dinner Train is a unique dining experience that offers stunning views of Central Kentucky’s horse farms. If you prefer to be your own conductor, visit the Lexington Visitors Center for a driving tour itinerary!
Valley View Ferry
Follow Tates Creek Road to the Fayette, Jessamine and Madison County line. The views along the way are incredible, and the (free!) ride on the ferry across the Kentucky River is a fun treat.
Dare we say that a big part of what makes Lexington great isn’t in Lexington at all?
Lexington’s proximity to other great cities in Central Kentucky means that a wealth of culture is within a 30 minute drive. Make that drive just a bit longer and you’ll make it to some of America’s great big cities.
Lexington is a truly special city, but we have to tip our hat to the other great towns in Central Kentucky that make our region great!
Continuing our "What Makes Lexington Great" series, let's take a look at what else there is to love in our fair city!