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    The Louisville we love doesn’t fit into boxes. It can’t be ranked first, second, third. It’s the moment the stage lights come up on your favorite local band. Or the way the bridges mirror themselves in the Ohio. Or the mail carrier who has watched your kids grow up. That’s what makes this city great. And that’s what’s in this year’s Best of Louisville issue, with staff, contributors and folks we’ve written about all weighing in.

    No categories.

    No limits.

    Simply the best.






    Barges go sloooooooow — even with the current.
    Read more



    “If you’ve only been to the Big Four during the day, walk across at night when the lights are dancing. And if you’ve only been at night, walk across during the day and look to the east at the Water Tower and the far bend of the river into the cotton-candy clouds.”

    Erin Hill, rock harpist


    “One of my favorite things to do when I have a half-day free is to take a long bike ride that traverses our beautiful mix of urban, historic and natural settings. Within a two-hour span you can ride through our rapidly growing urban core, see a fascinating mix of residential architectural styles and experience a blend of inspiring Olmsted parks, Kentucky rolling hills and classic farmland. Bike through Louisville’s West End, including the rapidly developing Portland neighborhood. Take gorgeous Northwestern Parkway to Shawnee Park. And make a pilgrimage to Muhammad Ali’s childhood home. Stand outside the modest house and consider that one of the most influential and recognizable people of the previous century came from that very spot in the middle of our city.”

    — Teddy Abrams, director of the Louisville Orchestra



    A trio of Forest Giants made of recycled wood debuted at Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest three months ago. Since then, Bernheim has seen more than 200,000 visitors — more than double the number from the same time frame last year — from 45 states.

    Photo by Mickie Winters



    I live in the Schnitzelburg neighborhood, at some remove from Louisville’s larger parks. But there is a neighborhood park here that I walk to when I need to get out of the house and see an expanse of sky. Emerson Park is located a block off Burnett Avenue, past the blinking red light near Check’s Cafe and Monnik Beer Co. From a swinging bench, I look out over the spire of St. Elizabeth Church and the stretch of well-kept houses along Sylvia Street. Families come and go, bringing their children to the small playground. They learn to ride their bikes on the looping path that circles the gazebo — named for the late Metro Councilman Jim King — where I once saw Julius Caesar performed.

    Emerson Park is also home to some impressive community gardens, and my daughter and I often walk among the rows of kale, sunflowers and fig trees. While I sit on my swinging bench, I often hear the gardeners working and talking, shoveling mulch and watering their patches.

    Because the bench faces roughly west, it is a perfect spot to watch the sun set among the cloud formations, while big water birds — a lone heron, or a pair of egrets — row into the distance toward the river.

    Sean Patrick Hill


    “U of L’s main campus when students are gone for summer. I went to daycare in the basement of the law school, and some of my earliest memories are going to classes with my mom. It’s so nice when it’s quiet and you can walk around admiring all the architecture, all the creativity that has passed through that plot of land. When I graduated from U of L in 2007, I even wrote a love letter to the campus titled ‘Belle.’”

    Sara von Roenn, artist


    “Driving to the office via beautiful River Road. I love that I live in a small ‘big’ city and can still work on Broadway.”

    Leslie Klarer Broecker, Midwest region president for Broadway Across America



    What better way to chart the seasons than by walking in the woods?

    Come spring, in Jefferson Memorial Forest along the county’s southern border, mayapples and jack-in-the-pulpits bloom along intermittent creeks, and the dogwoods and Kentucky redbuds spark among the brown woods. By summer, orb-weaver spiders string their webs through whatever patches of sunlight fall through the heavily foliated trees: American sycamores, sugar maples, shagbark hickories. In the fall, bright yellow acorns fall from the chestnut oaks and litter the ground. Winter brings animal tracks in the snow.

    Though one can get a sense of the turn of the seasons in, say, Cherokee Park, there is much to be said for the silence found at the edge of the Jefferson Memorial Forest. Scott’s Gap, a 3.3-mile loop that circles Miller Hill through stretches of the wildlands, offers solitude and an opportunity to commune with nature. The trail has some elevation gains to negotiate, but once on the ridges you may spot box turtles foraging among outcrops of chert, or fallen persimmons, which the deer browse. In the ravines, one can spot frogs and foxes, even signs of coyotes. Geodes and other weathered rocks are scattered among creek beds and along hillsides. There are places to sit beside running water, just to listen.

    — Sean Patrick Hill


    Photo: Jefferson Memorial Forest, by Joon Kim


    “My family and I still marvel about our parks some 20 years after moving here. ‘Nobody loves a sunny day like Louisville,’ we say to each other. I could wax poetic about Brown Park with the ducks and the woodsy walking trail and the kitschy and wonderful Christmas lights. I could talk about Seneca, or Cherokee and Big Rock and Dog Hill. Exercise boot camps, kickball, picnics in the meadows. We take our students to Iroquois Park every year to celebrate the beginning of summer, and the amphitheater has hosted some of my favorite shows. I’ve been to almost all of the parks for family photos at one point or another. I also really love Tyler Park — like a setting from a Neil Gaiman story. It always struck me as a secret spot, a tucked-away, shady little gem that’s now getting a makeover. For big events — to feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself — nothing beats Waterfront Park. Since we moved out to Simpsonville, I love Beckley Creek and the Parklands. We ride our bikes through the meadows, walk along the creek. And, of course, the play and spray grounds are a must for our girls.” 

    Paco Garcia, executive chef at Con Huevos


    “Beckley Creek at the Parklands makes me feel alive. I go every time I want to recharge and have some time alone. It has amazing views of the city, and the lake is right beside the walking trail.”

    Jennifer Wade-Hesse, teacher at Olmsted Academy South


    “Cycling the Louisville Loop through Broad Run Park. Today I rode from mile marker 55 to 58 and saw vistas, poppy fields, woodland gardens, a limestone gorge tumbling hundreds of feet below a bridge. Enough hills to challenge the average cycler, with the reward of coasting down smooth paved paths. Breezy shade and bright sun alternate as you glide. Heaven on two wheels.” 

    — reader Michelle Lori


    Cave Hill Cemetery is one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the country. The incredible display of statuary amazed me as an art student years ago, and I spent hundreds of hours there sketching statues, photographing and painting birds and flowers and simply basking in the serenity and quiet. The lakes are home to waterfowl that flock to visitors with bags of stale bread or cracked corn. My children, now grown, take their kids to ‘feed the ducks’ like they did when they were young.”

    — reader Rick Murphy

    The author's kids (left) and grandkids (right).


    “Sundays at Cox Park with lawn chairs and a picnic basket and just an amazing view of the Ohio River. The park on River Road has always been a staple in my family. It was like going out of town when we were younger because we were from Newburg.”

    — Tia Coatley, ARTxFM radio personality (as Tia Marie)


    “Best place to run six miles early in the morning with a risk of being mowed over by a group of deer: the Parklands at Beckley Station.”

    Bland Matthews, founder of BerserkerBrew coffee



    “On the way to the best secret spot in Louisville, you’ll pass the Portland neighborhood’s mighty antebellum U.S. Marine Hospital, scenic Lannan Park and the McAlpine Locks and Dam. Take the bridge over the Louisville and Portland Canal — yes, the same canal that Abe Lincoln helped dig as a teenager — and look for the angler path near the parking lot. After a quick descent down some rather sketchy railroad-tie stairs, you’ll find yourself in a secluded Southern paradise called Shippingport Island. The sandy, tree-canopied waterfront is a perfect spot for adventure, exploration and meditation. Heck, you can even jog there by entering the second annual Portland (Almost) 5K Fun Run during the Portland Art & Heritage Fair on September 28.”

    Danny Seim, artist


    “Best place to go for nature where it meets the urban landscape: Shippingport Island. Reminds me of an Andrei Tarkovsky movie. Surreal and filled with mysticism.”

    — Katy Delahanty, Portland Museum board member and Louisville Visual Art outreach program director


    Photo: Jefferson Memorial Forest, by Joon Kim


    In February, my husband and I decided we wouldn’t exchange gifts for Valentine’s Day. Instead, we took a candlelit night hike through part of Jefferson Memorial Forest. The Louisville Astronomical Society-led walk included telescoped views of the moon, chocolate-dipped pretzels and cranberry-based mocktails, and a screening of The Princess Bride inside the Horine Conference Center, a ’40s-era manor house now used for gatherings. But what gave us pause was the bird’s-eye view of the city from the back patio. Through the tree canopy, the city sparkled.

    — Jenny Kiefer


    Robsion Park in Lyndon and Thurman Hutchins Park on River Road. Long, flat, paved walkways — especially helpful if you have a youngster learning to ride a bike.”

    Skylar Smith, artist


    “Reflections of the bridges on the Ohio River on my morning drive in from New Albany.”

    — Sabine Beate, co-owner of the Inner Warrior yoga studio




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    This originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine as part of our annual Best of Louisville issue. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Cover typography by Brian Patrick Todd

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