We happened to be in Louisville the first weekend of May, which is always the weekend of the Kentucky Derby. Tickets to the famed Saturday race range from $80 general admission (standing room only, and for people my height, with views only of other people’s armpits) to $15,000, which I assume provide some pretty awesome views of the horse races.
An Insider’s Tip: Do Thurby, Not Derby
We weren’t going to go. But then we discovered the option of Thurby. This locals’ favorite event takes place on Thursday, just ahead of the onslaught of revelers who descend upon Churchill Downs for Derby. Tickets for Thurby are a mere $20 at the gate and include all of the trappings of the real thing, including thoroughbred horse races, mint juleps, live music, and most important, big fancy hats. The hats alone are worth the price of admission. Oh, and free shuttle transportation is included, so there’s no parking hassle.
On the recommendation of locals, we didn’t bother buying advance tickets or reserved seats for Thurby. There’s plenty of space to wander around and plenty of places to sit, and the general admission tickets (which also happen to be the cheapest option) were perfect for our needs.
A Day At Thurby
Thurby was the ideal way for us to experience the excitement and color of the Kentucky Derby without the crowds. We indulged in mint juleps, watched the races, made pretend bets, lost every race, and had a blast people watching.
In the paddock, we had close up views of the horses and enjoyed seeing the jockeys marching in to mount their horses before being led to the track. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement when you’re right there in the midst of it all.
Bourbon and Brandy in Louisville
Kentucky, of course, is known for bourbon. Many of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail are miles away from Louisville, farther than we wanted to drive. We visited a couple of distilleries in town and are saving others for another trip where we’ll base ourselves in Lexington.
We chose Angel’s Envy for our bourbon distillery experience, and Copper & Kings, a brandy distillery, for something entirely different.
We thoroughly enjoyed both tours and learned a lot in the process. I now understand the difference between bourbon and whiskey—all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Bourbon has a set of special regulations, including that it must be at least 51 percent corn; it must be aged in new white oak charred barrels; it must be free of colorings, flavorings, and additives; and it must be made in the U.S.
We loved the smooth taste of Angel’s Envy bourbon and were inspired to buy a bottle. We also bought a bottle of Copper & Kings special reserve brandy, which we broke out to share with friends a couple of months later. The first sip just about set our hair on fire. I don’t know what happened—seriously, it didn’t seem that strong when we did the tasting.
Our visit to Copper & Kings was fun and interesting. They’re committed to sustainable practices, including solar power and recycling, and they age their brandy to the tunes of rock and classical music that agitates the spirits (of the alcohol).
Where We Stayed
We camped at Charlestown State Park in Indiana, just across the Ohio River from Louisville. It’s about 20 miles from Louisville and offered a beautiful, peaceful home base for our horse racing and bourbon-tasting adventures.
The sites are spacious, with electric only or full-hookups, good Verizon, clean bathhouses, and miles of hiking and biking trails.
Wow, those hats are something else. I can tell that a few are handmade. I think if I lived there, I would make them. Shoot, make them and sell them on the street corner like they do here for All Souls Day. People make beautiful crosses for the cemetery.
Looks like it was a fun time.
Thanks for your great post.
Next month I’ll post photos of my trip to San Diego. I’m turning the big 50 and I am going to get my toes in the sand if it kills me!!!
I’m glad you enjoyed the hats, Christine—they were fabulous! I think you could have quite a good business selling hats during Derby. :-)
Happy Birthday, and have a wonderful time in San Diego!
The lady with the “3 person hat” must have had to walk through doorways sideways. Good lord! I absolutely love the yellow and red fascinator. So pretty!
I am jealous that you got to go to Thurby. That was our plan as well, but it was pouring rain that day. What a great alternative to the insanity of the actual Derby. All the good stuff – especially getting up close to the magnificent horses – with none of the crazy costs or crowds.
It is amazing how some things can taste SO good the day of a tour and somehow seem like a completely different product later on. We’ve had that experience with several items… all of which were booze. Hmmmmm……. :)
Anyway, glad you guys had such a great time!
Sounds like a fun place to visit. But, I must admit that I’m a little disappointed there were no pics of you & your hat!!! You did mention, “When in Rome”!!
Haha, I did have a hat, Debbie! But I don’t have any photos to prove it. It was black with a black and white flower…but nowhere near as interesting as the hats I posted! There were some gorgeous hats at Thurby.
Thanks, Laura—Thurby was perfect for us. No crowds and inexpensive, but with all the beautiful hats and other trappings of Derby. If you ever return, try for Thurby again.
I still can’t figure out that brandy—it was delicious when we tried it at the distillery…
Fun! And it takes me back to Derby Week 1982 (!), the year I went all the way around the track at Churchill Downs. Walking. I was in Louisville for a business trip, and a friend provided the opportunity, so I figured I’d do it just so I could tell people. This is perhaps the 4th time in all those years – it doesn’t come up that often! Insert smiley face here…
How cool is that? I’m glad this post provided the opportunity for you to tell your Churchill Downs story, Dick. :-)
We don’t do horse racing….absolutely. If people only knew what goes on behind the scenes, no one would. The big grey beauty probably looks “half wild” for a good reason.
The pageantry, traditions and colors are fabulous though. Mind Julips are so very civilized and yummy. I especially liked the “red dress” at the paddock picture! We never drank (drunk, drinked?) bourbon but after spending a little time in Kentucky have developed a sincere “like” of it!
Can’t wait for your Ohio bird pictures next!
Sue, I had no idea. It makes me sad to think of those beautiful horses being mistreated—somehow I assumed that they were treated really well. Obviously, we’re not into horse racing at all.
Anyway, it was an interesting experience, and very colorful. One of my favorite photos is of the woman in the sexy red dress at the paddock, too!
Never heard of Thurby, but I would go in a heartbeat. With a big hat!! I love horses, and I love good whiskey. Jack Daniel’s or our very own Crater Lake Rye Whiskey, evidently not Bourbon. Such fun. Ok Laurel. Where was your hat??
Sue, if you and Mo are heading up the coast in the spring try to plan for Thurby! I would love to see the hat you come up with. I did make a hat (after a quick trip to the craft store for some silk flowers and a big brimmed black hat) but it wasn’t nearly as fancy as the gorgeous creations we saw. I kind of regret that I didn’t have an enormous hat—I mean really, when else will I have that chance?
My people are from Kentucky and I love visiting folks in Louisville. Looks like you had a terrific time and the Thurby looks like just the ticket.
Brenda, I’m thinking you would love Thurby! Louisville has a lot to offer, as you know. We also enjoyed long walks along the riverfront and exploring the interesting neighborhoods—we would like to return.
Marvelous hats – I’m so glad you included lots of them!! I can’t imagine navigating even a small crowd with some of those. I love Mint Juleps but have not enjoyed one in Kentucky so I should remedy that :-)
Jodee, we had to have a mint julep at the Derby—it’s been the official drink of the Derby since 1938. It was the perfect accompaniment to our afternoon of hat watching. :-) The hats were really remarkable and so creative!
Thurby sounds and looks like great fun. We aren’t horse racing fans either, but I know we would have enjoyed just the people watching. Gotta love those hats! Glad Eric had his hat so he would fit in:) Whether you are a whiskey/bourbon/brandy fan, you have to at least do the tour(s). It’s always fun to see how it is made. Glad you got to share your tour reward with friends on Lopez.
Pam, you guys would have loved people-watching at the Derby. That was the best part! I loved all of the hats, the bright colored suits, the shoes—it’s really something. And we really enjoyed the bourbon and brandy tours. We’d like to do more when we return to Kentucky—the distilleries are beautiful and put on wonderful tours.
You forgot to put your hat on when you pose at Angels Envy…then you are really in Rome :) We are neither horse people nor whiskey nor bourbon people. But we did a bourbon trail while in Lexington, KY and it confirmed that those are not our type of drinks.
Hats and Hats, glad you had fun people watching at the Thurby! I too would love to critic those colorful and artistic hats.
ML, I had fun looking at all those beautiful hats! It was hard to choose my favorites. If you were there, we could have compared notes! We enjoyed our distillery tours, and I ended up with an appreciation for good bourbon.
Great pictures. I’ve never heard of Thurby but it sounds perfect. Being an avoider of cities, I’ve never even been to Louisville but I LOVE hats and those you pictured are very tempting. Though like Sue, I know the back story of racing and have never and would never patronize any racing establishment for dogs, horses or anything else other than humans who can make their own choices. Love learning about the bourbon and whiskey info. I don’t drink so I know Zilch though I would have tried both that you described. Campground sounds wonderful. No one ever spends time in Indiana other than Elkhart or in Ohio but they both have wonderful state parks. As you know Maumee is on my bucket list so I can’t wait!
Thanks, Sherry. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos of Thurby and I know if you went you’d have a fancy hat. :-) I agree about the state parks in Indiana and Ohio—they were a wonderful surprise!
We really enjoyed our time in Louisville, KY and enjoyed the horse races. Terry has a high school friend who works at Churchill Downs so we were able to get a private tour and a photo with the winning jockey…very fun. I only truly learned to enjoy bourbon last summer while in Yellowstone so I didn’t really appreciate the nuances while doing our tastings in Louisville. I now enjoy a Bourbon Smash from time to time (much like a mint julep) or just sip on some bourbon over ice. I will check out Angel’s Envy bourbon. It sounds like one I would enjoy. Where was your Derby hat? I’m sure you would have been stunning. :D
LuAnn, that must have been really interesting to get a private tour of Churchill Downs. You’ll need to make a Bourbon Smash for me next time we’re together. We’ll supply the bourbon. :-) I wish I had a decent photo of my hat—I assure you the other hats were much more beautiful, though.
New experiences is a good reason to travel. It is so fun trying new things even if it fries your vocal cords? You bet. Love your story.
Haha, yeah, we’re always into new experiences! I still can’t figure out why the brandy tasted so much stronger once we got it home. Glad you enjoyed the story, Debbie. :-)
So awesome unless you’re sitting behind the person with the big hat and paid a fortune to see a race that you can’t see. LOL! I love horse races, not much of a whiskey fan.
No kidding!!! There is always someone bigger than me or with big hair sitting in front of me, no matter where we go. At Derby, for sure it would have been someone with an enormous hat! I didn’t think I liked whiskey either, but I’ve gained an appreciation for good bourbon. I’ll make you a drink, Brenda. ;-)
Cigars too? Lol.
No cigars, hehe!!
Thurby sounds like a fantastic way to spend a day. I just love all the photos of the ladies and their hats. The lady, whose hat was big enough to get two men under it, cracks me up. Now, wait a minute, I see Eric in his stylish hat, but where is Laurel and her gorgeous hat? Why are you hiding it from us? Mint Juleps…yummy!
We did the bourbon trail back in 2011. I got turned on to Wild Turkey Honey Bourbon. Your visits look great. Glad you found something to drink that you can’t live without…hehe
Cute photo of you Laurel.
Thanks, Marsha—we had a great time in Louisville! I wish I had a picture of my hat, actually, I wish I had made a much fancier hat that would have been worthy of a photo! That Wild Turkey Honey Bourbon sounds like something I would enjoy. I didn’t even know I liked bourbon until we went to Angel’s Envy. Now I want to go back and do more bourbon tasting. :-)
It is always fun to get into the spirit of trying things you think you may not initially like, and you sure did that! The hats are fabulous, and while the brandy wouldn’t be my thing, I could definitely participate in the chocolate part!
Joodie, we’re up for all kinds of adventures—makes the journey that much more interesting! And as far as I’m concerned, chocolate is good with just about everything. :-)
Thank you again for sharing your inspiring journey
My wife and I retired a few months ago and will be
Departing on our own journey in a few weeks.
We have learned so much from you two.
Keep on, Keepin on……
Chad & Stacy
Chad & Stacy, congratulations on your retirement! I’m so happy that our blog is helpful for you. Wishing you wonderful travels! :-)