If Knoxville is the southern scruffy mountain man, Lexington is his refined older sister.
And I love her.
She’s just a smidge under three hours away from Knoxville (this time estimate is including a stop for coffee, because, obviously.) She’s southern and sophisticated. See, I’ve lived in a handful of southern cities. They have been charming, artsy, hip, scruffy, weird, industrial, etc. But I’ve never lived in one that emotes “sophistication.”
Lexington does. The people are not necessarily walking the streets with large fancy hats on their way to a horse race, but you have the sense that they could be, you know?
And I like that.
So, though I’m sure there are millions of charming things I’ll miss, let’s walk through a day in Lexington, KY. Let’s “Lexplore” if you will. (I’ll go ahead and pat myself on the back for that one.)
I present to you: A Day in Lexington, Kentucky:
9am: We start the day with coffee. Of the coffee shops I’ve tried on my visits to Lexington, Daily Offerings Roastery has found its way to the top. Their space is an aesthetic delight. Their coffee is delicious. But what sets them apart is the people – I met the owners (it’s family owned) during one of my stops, and they shared their story, their passion for coffee, and their greater passion to serve. Taken directly from their website:
We consider ourselves very fortunate and desire to give back, not only through our commitment to ethical business practices in the coffee industry, but also directly where help is needed. Before we started the business, we decided to commit 10% of our profit to communities where there is much need. Many of the worlds coffee regions are in deep poverty. We hope to inspire people to get into the habit of making the world a better place daily, just like your daily cup of coffee.
It is very important to us that money given is used effectively. We make it our duty to research and give to responsible causes. We will share our current entities we give to, for you to look at and if you desire encourage you to give to them directly.
10:30am: Next up is a late breakfast (because can you really call it brunch without mimosas?) at the cutest little place called Doodles. As in “cockadoodle.” How adorable is that. Points for adorability. They also have an outdoor patio, local, organic food, they let dogs inside, and they offer bottomless coffee. Need I say more?! Oh, and the food is delicious. Now I need not say more.
12pm: Now, with full bellies and ample caffeination, we head off to the races. Maybe you’re lucky enough to be in town on the day of an actual race. I have never. But that does not stop us from driving through Keeneland and enjoying the scenery. There is nothing more quintessentially Kentucky than driving down roads lined with white fences as horses gallop beside you.
By the way, down the street from Keeneland sits a massive castle on a hill. Odd location for a massive castle? Yes. Completely awesome nonetheless? Also yes.
This castle began construction after a couple came back from Europe and said, “You know what America needs more of? Midivil castles.” I’d take some wine from Italy, but to each his own. But the couple got divorced before the castle was completed and it sat unfinished and empty for over thirty years.
Is that not the most gloriously tragic thing you’ve ever heard??
Apparently, now it’s a bed and breakfast which is pleasant, sure, but considerably less dramatic.
Signs say “no trespassing” and “no loitering” and “no pictures” but we assumed that was all more of a suggestion? I say, take your chances.
2pm: It’s time to take a stroll around town. We park a few blocks off the main drag of downtown and just walk for awhile. Downtown Lexington is riddled with neighborhoods full of the most beautiful grand old houses. They are somehow simultaneously charming and majestic. Definitely partake in a photo shoot.
3pm: I hope during this time strolling around, we find ourselves at Heritage Antiques. It is a large Civil War era church STUFFED (and I mean stuffed) with the most interesting antiques. Like expensive, beautiful, eclectic antiques. This ain’t your grandma’s attic. There’s also a little room in the back straight from Wonderland. It is full of unique and impressive hats (the yellow one I’m wearing above was OVER $1000. I’m hyperventilating just thinking about it.) I could have spent hours trying on hats, fear of lice or not. Heritage Antiques is a wonderful, magical space. There’s even a little cafe attached. Argh, I honestly can’t handle it.
4pm: Time to partake in a pre-dinner beverage, because this is vacation, right? Treat yourself. You’ve earned it after all that walking. Check out Enoteca. Take a picture by their wine wall before partaking in the wine itself. Then stroll across the street to Wine&Market to check out more wine (and beer and cheese and coffee) for later enjoyment.
6pm: It’s time for dinner. Unfortunately, this is where my expertise drains. (Calm down, calm down, I never claimed to be a travel blog.) See, Lexington is generally a day trip for me, meaning 6pm is the ideal time for me to hit the road back to my scruffy city.
But good news! We’ve spent hardly any time in the heart of downtown at this point, so if you’re there for the evening, you’ve got oodles of choices left. There is a pavilion down there that sometimes has events and live music (a Farmers Market if you’re there at the right time), surrounded by restaurants with outdoor seating. Again, I’m a sucker for outdoor seating. If I were you, I would start there. Food is best paired with live music and a light breeze, in my humble opinion.
8pm: Cap off the night with your drink of choice, of course. I’ve had good experiences at Shakespeare Co., and Arcadium Bar, and there seems to be no end to cute/trendy places to grab a pint. HOWEVER, the history nerd in me has been itching to try Henry Clay’s Public House because it is in Henry Clay’s old house. Please go and tell me how it is.
One of my favorite parts about living in East Tennessee is its proximity to other lovely places. Nashville, Asheville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Charlotte, etc. As an avid lover of weekend road trips, this is invaluable to me. And so, if you find yourself on I75, make the time to stop in Lexington. Enjoy the rich history (Mary Todd Lincoln’s childhood home, Henry Clay’s house, just to name a few), the beautiful countryside, the charming city. You won’t regret it.
If you have a favorite Lexington dinner spot or have ever tried the Henry Clay Public House, leave a comment and let me know about it!