posted on May 5th, 2016

If you’re lucky enough to be in Louisville during and leading up to the world-famous Kentucky Derby, you’ll find no lack of options to stay entertained, whether or not you’ve got a seat at Churchill Downs. The city takes the tradition seriously, and there are a multitude of parties and events leading up to and during the Race for Roses. Break out your best headwear to cheer on the prize horse of your choice or keep it casual with a down-home vibe. Either way, we’ve scouted options to satisfy all tastes.   

Hillbilly Outfield

Get the fun started early with this family friendly event chock-full of classic Southern games (think corn hole tournament, Val-Holler mini golf, and a “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner” wheel of chance), equally authentic Southern cooking, and a crowd of people looking to make the most of Derby weekend. Camp overnight to keep the good times rolling and enjoy the bonfire. On Saturday, take advantage of the full coverage of the race itself. Best yet, this event supports the Make-a-Wish Foundation, so not only do you get your money’s worth, you’ll help support a worthwhile cause.

Ferdinand’s Ball

Step the glamour up with this annual fundraiser named in honor of the 1986 race winner. The gala benefits Old Friends, a charity devoted to rehabilitating retired thoroughbreds, and includes staples like an open bar, gourmet goodies, and live entertainment. Held on Thursday, May 5th, take the opportunity to dance, bid on the silent auction, and model your finest cocktail wear in anticipation of the big day itself.

Manhattan on Broadway

Is there any party better than a day party? Only if it includes a best hat and bowtie competition, like this one. Enjoy the taste of the South with a Mint Julep Bar and Cigar Bar, and, of course, full coverage of the race on multiple big-screen TV’s. Now’s the time to debut your most elaborate hat and gloriously pastel bowtie.

Bluegrass Brewing Company

Ring in Derby Eve with 100+ craft beers and live music at the Second Annual Derby City Brewfest, held at Center Plaza. Vote for your favorite brew during the Four Roses Bourbon Barrel beer competition, featuring exclusive beers aged in Four Roses bourbon barrels. There will also be multiple interpretations of the classic Kentucky Common beer brewed by local brewers for your tasting pleasure, a style that was invented in Louisville in the mid-1800s and was the beer of choice in the area through Prohibition. Head over to the Bluegrass Brewing Company itself for race day to take in the coverage!

Keeneland Racetrack

Not shelling out for Churchill Downs but still want the racetrack environment? Keeneland has atmosphere galore and a perfect mix of high and low brow offerings for Derby Day. for a casual vibe, watch live coverage and kick back on the green with your own picnic or food from the grills in the grandstand area. Or, ramp up the style a little bit with the more elegant Derby Bash, which includes a Kentucky-themed buffet and live music in Keene Barn.

Virginia is equally enamored with words and globetrotting. Whenever possible, she likes to combine the two through travel writing to help other wanderers discover and fall in love with the world.