Owensboro, Kentucky surprised me in the best kind of way. The city of Owensboro is the fourth largest in the state, providing plenty of things to do and discover.
You’ll find that Owensboro offers a great mix of outdoor adventure, art, local flavors, bourbon, and more. All served up with friendly Southern hospitality!
The Southern hospitality that we experienced during our visit wasn’t limited to staff in customer service, we also encountered it while walking downtown or in the park.
Each person that we spent time with, ranging from our tour guides to our bartender or a local in the park, was really proud of the area.
I’m sharing more about the places around Owensboro, KY that you’ll want to add to your list.
This article is written in partnership with Visit Owensboro. All opinions are my own. This article may contain affiliate links.
Explore the Western Kentucky Botanical Garden
2731 W 2nd St, Owensboro, KY
Western Kentucky Botanical Garden is definitely a hidden gem in Owensboro. The beautiful botanical garden is a wonderful place to pause and literally stop and smell the roses, which include heirloom roses.
There are 13 acres of planted gardens to admire on the property. Guests can enjoy the natural beauty along with art sculptures located throughout the gardens.
One of the newer additions to the botanical garden is the 1840s Weatherberry historic home. Guests can go on a self-guided tour of the historic home or check the website for upcoming guided tours.
The historic home is now part of the visitor experience as a welcome center and also has a ramp to make it accessible for guests in wheelchairs.
You can enhance your visit to the botanical garden with an audio tour by scanning the QR codes throughout the park with your mobile device.
A Few of the Highlights at the Western Kentucky Botanical Garden include:
- Butterfly Sculpture
- Koi Pond
- Rashmi Vora Gazebo
- AHS National Daylily Display Garden
- Doctor’s Office dating back to 1890
- Herb Garden
- Kentucky Symbol Garden
- The Children’s Playhouse – Kids will love discovering the play area in each room inside the make-believe playhouse.
- Quilt Garden
- Rose Garden
- Butterfly Garden
- Day-lily Garden
- Path of Hope & Healing – This area features glass ribbon sculptures in colors representing the top 12 cancers diagnosed in Kentucky. This art installation was especially touching for me because my mom was from Kentucky and died of breast cancer.
On the first Saturday of each month from March through October, you can take advantage of free admission thanks to a local business sponsor.
Western Kentucky Botanical Garden Membership Perks
The Botanical Garden is part of the Reciprocal Admissions Program that provides members with discounts and special admission privileges at 345+ gardens throughout North America.
You can purchase a membership and stretch your membership value even further by exploring the gardens in your home state and beyond. Check the website for the specific terms and discounts of each botanical garden listed by state.
Learn More About Bluegrass Music at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum
311 West 2nd St, Owensboro, KY
The International Bluegrass Music Museum is another gem in Owensboro. It was a spontaneous stop during our trip and I’m so glad that we decided to visit.
The Bluegrass Museum invites you to learn more about the musical genre of bluegrass, which uses acoustic stringed instruments and has influences of jazz, gospel, and blues.
There are two floors of the museum to explore that include both permanent exhibits, special exhibits, and the Bluegrass Hall of Fame.
The venue also hosts concerts from popular artists throughout the year.
We were given an overview of the museum along with audio guides that were included with our admission to enhance our visit.
Play an Instrument in the Picking Parlor
We were immediately distracted by the “Picking Parlor” on the first floor because they actually let you touch the instruments.
In fact, you’re encouraged to play, or in my case, attempt to play as many instruments as you want.
We were both a little shocked at the opportunity to have direct access to all of the stringed instruments displayed on the wall.
I immediately thought of my grandfather from Eastern Kentucky who used to play the fiddle. I had a great time as I attempted to play several of the instruments.
My friend on the other hand could actually play the guitar and discovered that she was pretty good at fingerpicking too.
Learn About the Local Ties to Bluegrass Music and More
During your time in the museum, you’ll learn about some of the local history of Bluegrass in the Owensboro area along with the origin stories of popular artists across the country throughout the years.
Be on the lookout for more information on Bill Monroe, known as the “Father of Bluegrass” whose band was called the Blue Grass Boys, which was the inspiration for the name of the genre of music.
International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame
Your admission to the Bluegrass Museum also includes a visit to the Hall of Fame inside.
It’s Bluegrass’s highest honor to be for an artist to be inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame.
Inside the Hall of Fame room, I immediately recognized several familiar artists including Alison Krauss and Ricky Skaggs.
You can find the criteria for an inductee along with a list of all of the Bluegrass HOF inductees here.
The Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday and it’s definitely worth checking out!
Try the Local Barbecue at Ole South Bar-B-Q
3523 KY-54, Owensboro, KY
Western Kentucky has a very distinct style when it comes to barbecue.
In fact, Owensboro is home to the BBQ & Barrels Festival, which evolved from the former International Bar-B-Q Festival which takes place during the second weekend of May each year.
The event features BBQ competitions, bourbon, live music, craft vendors, food trucks, and carnival rides for kids.
How is Western Kentucky-style- barbecue different?
Western Kentucky-style BBQ is vinegar based and is a wet barbecue versus a dry rub. You add your sauce of choice on top of your meat afterward.
One of the popular barbecue meats on the buffet is mutton, meat from fully grown sheep, that’s served similarly to the other barbecued meats. Ole South has beef brisket and pork on the menu too.
Ole South also has fried chicken available on the buffet every day if you want to mix things up on your plate.
Another menu item to try that you may not be familiar with is “burgoo.”
Kentucky’s most famous stew “burgoo” is a popular menu item at Keeneland Race Track but probably more well known in Western Kentucky.
What is burgoo?
Burgoo is a stew with lima beans, pork, chicken, beef chuck, onions, corn, carrots, and celery.
Save room for dessert if you can to try the warm cobblers that can be topped with vanilla ice cream.
Visit a Local Craft Distillery on the Bourbon Trail
10 Distillery Rd, Owensboro, KY
Green River Distilling Co. is another Owensboro gem tucked in a residential area that really had a WOW factor. I should preface this with the fact that I’ve previously been on a lot of bourbon tours.
Fun fact: Green River Distilling Co. is the “farthest west” distillery on the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Green River Distilling Co. operates on the site of the original distillery property that dates back to 1885 founded by J.W. McCulloch.
The slogan “Green River – The Whiskey Without A Headache” later had to be changed to “Whiskey Without Regrets” which was a more accurate advertising claim.
On the guided tour, we learned that in 1918 Green River Distillery was known as the most advertised bourbon in the world and the most expensive. Safe to say that the marketing probably helped with the pricing.
The distillery had a devastating fire in 1918, two years before prohibition. After prohibition, the property was under new ownership for 70 years by the Medley family managing a handful of companies.
From 1992 to 2014 no one was distilling bourbon on the property.
Thankfully, new ownership emerged again that included a 20 million dollar renovation, and we now get to reap and drink the rewards of those visionaries today.
I learned about the importance of a low Kentucky DSP number during a tour of Old Pogue in Maysville.
It made it even more impressive that Green River Distillery was able to renew the original number of 10, represented as being the 10th Kentucky Distillery in the state.
Take a Guided Tour of Green River Distilling Co.
You really need to take the guided tour to truly appreciate the history of the property, the creative repurposing of the buildings, and what goes into the bourbon-making process from start to finish.
Our guide, Taylor, did a fantastic job of providing information and also engaging us with questions along the way as we toured several buildings on the property.
How to book a reservation at Green River Distilling Co.
You can make a reservation online in advance or call the gift shop. Fridays and Saturdays tend to book up quickly so try to book in advance.
*They also take walk-ins for tours if there is space available.
There are a variety of tours and tastings to choose from:
- Distillery Tour and Tasting
- Barrel Thieving Distillery Tour
- Sit and Sip – (non-walking distillery experience)
- Cocktail Class
I always enjoy going inside a rickhouse on a bourbon tour and I love that Green River Distilling Co. still has 5 of the original rickhouses from 1936 in use.
You’ll learn more about a feature that makes them unique on the tour too.
Their bourbon barrels are made at Kentucky Cooperage the ISC subsidiary which tied in another one of my previous tours.
Bourbon Tasting at Green River Distilling Co.
Of course, the bourbon tasting is the best part of the Green River Distillery Co. tour.
You’ll learn how to have the full sensory experience before your first sip, and get to try a few of their bourbons.
We also got to try unreleased single bourbon samples that got us even more excited about future products to come.
Be on the lookout for the sample of the clay tile that you learn about in the rickhouse.
It was also really “neat,” pun intended, that Green River actually tied into a recent bourbon tour at Pensive Distillery with my in-laws in Northern Kentucky.
One of our bourbon tastings at Pensive Distillery happened to be a collaboration blend with Green River Distillery!
After your tour, you’ll be able to purchase bourbon in the gift shop along with an assortment of Green River Distillery Co. merchandise.
The glass bottle is beautifully designed with a horseshoe and “GR” embossed on the bottom which makes it a nice gift or bottle to keep.
Dine and Drink Inside a Historic Home Built in 1905 at The Miller House
301 East 5th St, Owensboro, KY
This family-owned restaurant is located inside a historic home dating back to 1905 and offers casual dining upstairs. You can also you dine in the basement for a cozier vibe with a few TVs around the room.
They are known for their seasonal menus with traditional food served with a Southern flair.
During our visit, we shared the “Southern Sampler” made with a Southern cheese torte, crackers, fried grit sticks, sweet potato chips, cheese straws, and fried green tomatoes.
For our entrees, we enjoyed the filet of beef tenderloin with mushroom pea risotto and the pork chop with lemon basil cream.
The bourbon bar in the basement of the historic home is one of the best places to try a new-to-you or rare bourbon.
Spirits at The Miller House is the largest bourbon bar in Western Kentucky with more than 400 bourbons to choose from.
Do you need a reservation for The Miller House?
Reservations aren’t required but I would highly recommend making a reservation in advance because this is a very popular restaurant. (I took a picture of one of the dining areas upstairs after all of the guests had left later that evening)
You may luck out and catch a seat at the bar at Spirits at The Miller House, like we did, but with a little more planning you can reserve a table upstairs or downstairs.
I would personally select the basement again if I were choosing between the two.
Enjoy the Riverfront at Smothers Park
199 West Veterans Blvd, Owensboro, KY
I can’t say enough great things about Smothers Park located along the southern banks of the Ohio River in the heart of Owensboro. It is truly impressive day and night!
One of the best things about the park is that it truly appeals to all ages.
The flat terrain of the park also allows easy accessibility for guests in wheelchairs.
Smothers Park is a great place to relax and enjoy scenic views of southern Indiana and Kentucky along the Ohio River.
You can stop and sit on the porch-style swings or benches, enjoy a meal at the tables, or just enjoy walking along the path.
Amenities at Smothers Park include:
- Signature Fountains
- Picnic Areas
- Picnic Shelter
- Concession Stand
- Shelton Memorial
- Lazy Dayz Playground
- Spray Ground
- Riverfront Porch Style Swings
Kids Can Burn Off Energy at the Giant Playground at Smothers Park
The Lazy Dayz playground at Smother Park was named “Top Playground in the World” by Landscape Architects in 2015 and it’s also one of the largest playgrounds in the United States.
It’s easy to see why kids could spend hours and have so much fun on the playground equipment.
It’s also a great way for parents to enjoy a little break while watching their kids from one of the sets of swings facing the playground.
The playground also has an accessible swing for guests with special needs.
Cool Off at the Spray Park
Kids will love cooling off at the Ronald Lee Logsdon Spray Park in Smothers Park that’s open (weather permitting) from 9:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m., Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
Parents, you might as well pack an extra set of clothes and a towel because realistically, your kid is going to get wet and have a blast on the splash pad if they see it.
Additional Parks to Explore in Owensboro, KY for More Outdoor Adventure
- Yellow Creek Park – 5710 Highway 144, Owensboro, KY. (152.5-acre park) This park has a disc golf course, tennis court, pickleball courts, and basketball courts.
- Adkisson Greenbelt Park is a linear park that connects more than 15 miles of neighborhoods, parks, and business districts on the Greenbelt Trail.
- Joe Ford Nature Park (3870 W 2nd St, Owensboro, KY) is a 15-acre woodland that has .97 miles of nature trails, a Nature Center, and picnic tables. You can also connect to Adkisson Greenbelt Park (West Owensboro Trail from the park trailhead.
- Legion Park – 1530 McJohnson Avenue, Owensboro, KY -2nd oldest park in Owensboro with a spray park, walking trail, playground, basketball court, and a street soccer court.
- Ben Hawes Golf Course– The golf course consists of an eighteen-hole regulation course and a nine-hole par 3 course. You can find out more about the local golf courses in Owensboro here.
Admire the Lights on The Owensboro Bridge at Night
I was truly blown away by how beautiful the Owensboro Bridge was at night.
You can see the lights on the Owensboro Bridge from sunset to sunrise daily.
We didn’t know about the bridge lights prior to our visit and I’m so glad that we discovered them in time.
We caught a glimpse of them from our hotel window right before going to bed and we were instantly compelled to go back to the park for another vantage point and I’m so glad that we did!
It was yet another reason to love the location of Smothers Park, providing a wonderful vantage point.
Search for Street Art
You’ll find several murals on the sides of historic buildings in downtown Owensboro.
The mural pictured above is located on the side of the building across the street from the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum.
The winged butterfly mural can be found outside the wall of Simply Chic Home Accents located at 101 A West 3rd St, Owensboro, KY.
The vintage Coca-Cola mural is also within eyesight at 210 Allen Street.
You can find the full list of murals in Owensboro here.
Check Out the Local Businesses in Owensboro
You’ll find plenty of local shops and restaurants in downtown Owensboro. We didn’t make it to the downtown stores until almost closing time or I would have more on my list.
Here are a few local downtown shops to check out.
- Byron & Barclay – 121 E 2nd St #100, Owensboro, KY
- Willow and Pine Market – 126 W 2nd St, Owensboro, KY
If you like vintage, decor and antiques, you might also want to check out the Preservation Station Market inside a converted elementary building open Thursday- Sunday.
The retail marketplace has more than 60 shops, an event center, and a restaurant. (9661 Highway 56 Owensboro, KY )
Additional Things to Do in the Owensboro Area
Looking for even more cultural activities and things to do during your time in Owensboro, KY?
Here are more local attractions to add to your list.
- Owensboro Museum of Science and History – 122 E 2nd St, Owensboro, KY- Kids will love the interactive exhibits and the indoor playground.
- Owensboro Museum of Fine Art – 901 Frederica St, Owensboro, KY (Make sure that you check out the Permanent Collection featuring over 4,000 pieces of art from the present and dating back to the 15th century.)
- Attend an Event at RiverPark Center – 101 Daviess Street, Owensboro, KY (Check their schedule for live entertainment, movies, and more every Friday night during the summer.
- Owensboro Convention Center – a 102,000 square foot multi-purpose civic center
Need to Book a Hotel in Owensboro, KY?
There are several hotels in downtown Owensboro.
Coffee Shops in Owensboro
If you need to stay caffeinated during your visit you’ll want to check out these coffee shops.
We created our own progressive caffeinated breakfast in Owensboro with the following stops that I would recommend.
Gramps Coffee and Donuts – 333 Frederica St, Owensboro, KY (Try the “back in my day” cronut with their original glaze)
The Creme Coffee House – 109 E 2nd St, Owensboro, KY ( Try the “Smoky vanilla latte” or the “Rattlesnake” specialty coffee drink)
Red Swing Coffee – 112 Allen St, Owensboro, KY ( Try a seasonal “bubble waffle” with a “Chuck and Cindy” or “Moon River” specialty coffee)
Find Upcoming Events in the Owensboro Community
Make sure that you check out the Visit Owensboro website for upcoming community events including Fridays After Five every Friday evening in the summer, family events, BBQ & Barrels in May, and the Apple Festival in October.
The Owensboro Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau Visitor Center is located at 215 E 2nd St, Owensboro, KY if you have additional questions while you’re in town.