The Best Things to Do in Owensboro, Kentucky

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.

butterfly sculpture at Western Kentucky Botanical Garden Owensboro KY

This article is written in partnership with Visit Owensboro. All opinions are my own. This article may contain affiliate links.

Western Kentucky Botanical Garden Owensboro KY

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.

Western Kentucky Botanical Garden

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.

historic home at Western Kentucky Botanical Garden

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.

Western Kentucky Botanical Garden

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.

sculpture at Western Kentucky Botanical Garden Owensboro KY

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 Western Kentucky Botanical 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.
rainbow at Western Kentucky Botanical Garden

On the first Saturday of each month from March through October, you can take advantage of free admission thanks to a local business sponsor.

greenhouse at Western Kentucky Botanical Garden

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.

Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum Owensboro Kentucky

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.

Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum

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.  

exhibit at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum

There are two floors of the museum to explore that include both permanent exhibits, special exhibits, and the Bluegrass Hall of Fame.

exhibit at Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum

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.

picking parlor at Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum

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.

picking parlor at Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum

In fact, you’re encouraged to play, or in my case, attempt to play as many instruments as you want.

picking parlor exhibit at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum

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.

picking parlor exhibit at Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum

My friend on the other hand could actually play the guitar and discovered that she was pretty good at fingerpicking too.

Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum

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

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.

Alison Krauss 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!

Ole South Bar-B-Q

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.

Ole South Bar-B-Q

You may have previously heard of Moonlite or Old Hickory but Ole South also has bragging rights with more than 25 years in operation.

Ole South Bar-B-Q

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.

buffet at Ole South Bar-b-q

Ole South also has fried chicken available on the buffet every day if you want to mix things up on your plate.

Burgoo at Ole South Bar-b-q

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.

sign for Green River Distilling Co.

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.

old bourbon bottles for Green River Distilling Co.

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.

sign for Green River Distilling Co.

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.

list of distillery numbers at Green River Distilling Co. in Owensboro

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.

Green River Distilling Co. in Owensboro

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.

fermentation room Green River Distilling Co. in Owensboro

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
friends at Green River Distilling Co.

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.

rickhouse at Green River Distilling Co. in Owensboro

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.

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.

clay tile at Green River Distilling Co. in Owensboro

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!

horseshoe shape on the bottom of bottle at Green River Distilling Co.

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.

The Miller House Restaurant

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.

filet of beef tenderloin at The Miller House Restaurant

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.

pork chop with lemon basil cream at Spirits at The Miller House

For our entrees, we enjoyed the filet of beef tenderloin with mushroom pea risotto and the pork chop with lemon basil cream.

bourbon display at Spirits at The Miller House Restaurant

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.

bourbon at Spirits at The Miller House Restaurant

Spirits at The Miller House is the largest bourbon bar in Western Kentucky with more than 400 bourbons to choose from.

dining room at The Miller House

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)

Spirits at the Miller House in Owensboro KY

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.

sunrise over The Owensboro Bridge

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!

fountain at Smothers Park in Owensboro KY

One of the best things about the park is that it truly appeals to all ages.

Smothers Park in Owensboro KY

The flat terrain of the park also allows easy accessibility for guests in wheelchairs.

Smothers Park in Owensboro KY

Smothers Park is a great place to relax and enjoy scenic views of southern Indiana and Kentucky along the Ohio River.

tables at Smothers Park in Owensboro KY

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.

fountain at Smothers Park in Owensboro KY

Amenities at Smothers Park include:

  • Signature Fountains
  • Picnic Areas
  • Picnic Shelter
  • Concession Stand
  • Shelton Memorial
  • Lazy Dayz Playground
  • Spray Ground
  • Riverfront Porch Style Swings
  • Restrooms
Lazy Dayz Playground at Smothers Park in Owensboro KY

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.

Lazy Dayz Playground at Smothers Park in Owensboro KY

It’s easy to see why kids could spend hours and have so much fun on the playground equipment.

Lazy Dayz Playground at Smothers Park in Owensboro KY

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.

Lazy Dayz Playground at Smothers Park in Owensboro KY

The playground also has an accessible swing for guests with special needs.

Spray Park at Smothers Park in Owensboro KY

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.
The Owensboro Bridge at night

Admire the Lights on The Owensboro Bridge at Night

I was truly blown away by how beautiful the Owensboro Bridge was at night.

colorful lights on The Owensboro Bridge at night

You can see the lights on the Owensboro Bridge from sunset to sunrise daily.

colorful lights on The Owensboro Bridge at night

We didn’t know about the bridge lights prior to our visit and I’m so glad that we discovered them in time.

green lights on The Owensboro Bridge at night

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.

mural in downtown Owensboro

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.

butterfly wings mural Owensboro Kentucky

The winged butterfly mural can be found outside the wall of Simply Chic Home Accents located at 101 A West 3rd St, Owensboro, KY.

Coca Cola mural Owensboro Kentucky

The vintage Coca-Cola mural is also within eyesight at 210 Allen Street.

You can find the full list of murals in Owensboro here.

Downtown Owensboro KY

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.

Byron and Barclay Downtown Owensboro KY

Here are a few local downtown shops to check out.

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 )

Owensboro Convention Center

Additional Things to Do in the Owensboro Area

Looking for even more cultural activities and things to do during your time in Owensboro, KY?

Owensboro Museum of Science and History

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
Hampton Inn in Owensboro KY

Need to Book a Hotel in Owensboro, KY?

There are several hotels in downtown Owensboro.

During my visit, I stayed at The Hampton Inn which was an easy walk to Smother Park, next door to the Owensboro Convention Center, and a short walk to downtown shops and restaurants.

The Creme Coffee Shop Owensboro KY

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.

donut at Gramps Coffee and Donuts

Gramps Coffee and Donuts – 333 Frederica St, Owensboro, KY (Try the “back in my day” cronut with their original glaze)

The Creme Coffee Shop Owensboro KY

The Creme Coffee House – 109 E 2nd St, Owensboro, KY ( Try the “Smoky vanilla latte” or the “Rattlesnake” specialty coffee drink)

Bubble waffle at The Red Swing

Red Swing Coffee – 112 Allen St, Owensboro, KY  ( Try a seasonal “bubble waffle” with a “Chuck and Cindy” or “Moon River” specialty coffee)

mural in Owensboro KY

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.

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