College basketball season has begun. It’s time to pull out the old T-shirts, rearrange your schedule to watch top 25 matchups, and try to score tickets to rivalry games. But this year, you shouldn’t just sit on your couch and go to one or two home games. This is your excuse to follow your team—and check out another great American city in the process.
As the home of the first-ranked—and, currently, still undefeated—Kentucky Wildcats, Lexington sounds like a good place to start. Rupp Arena, the Wildcats’ home in downtown Lexington, is the largest indoor arena in the country. But with games against UCLA and Louisville coming up, don’t expect a half-empty arena. The sea of blue fans is cheering as if they’re already in the NCAA tournament.
It’s a slow drive to Lexington. But not because of bumper-to-bumper traffic. You take the back roads through Bluegrass Country. The two-lane road is surrounded by rolling hills and horse farms with Greek Revival-style mansions in the distance. This is also bourbon country, so you stop at a few distilleries outside of the city. Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey, and Woodford Reserve all offer tours and tastings. Then you visit the Kentucky Horse Park to see the museum and the Horses of the World Show. The beautiful animals are strong and graceful.
It’s late afternoon by the time you check in at the Campbell House. The historic hotel oozes Southern glamour with white columns and a grand, two-story lobby. But don’t worry, the old-world charm stays in the common areas; the rooms were recently renovated. You swim a few laps in the indoor pool, sip a bourbon cocktail by the gas fireplace in Bogart’s Lounge, and head downtown for dinner at Table Three Ten.
After breakfast tacos—with eggs and smoked brisket—at a restaurant called Country Club the next morning, start exploring the downtown area. Visit the historic sites: the Mary Todd Lincoln House, the Hunt-Morgan House, and the Headley-Whitney Museum. See the Kurt Vonnegut exhibit at the University of Kentucky Art Museum. Go ice skating in Triangle Park. Then taste more bourbon, as well as rye, at the Town Branch Distillery, the first new distillery built in the city in 100 years. Just leave yourself plenty of time to get to the game tonight.