While it may be the three-year-old Thoroughbred stars that draw the biggest crowds to Louisville each year in early May, there's much more than the Kentucky Derby to experience in the spring in Kentucky. From the Bourbon Trail to mega caverns and museums, there are treasures throughout the Commonwealth.

Sports Party

Clearly the Derby is America's original and extravagant springtime sports party, complete with ladies in frilly dresses and bold Derby hats and mint juleps. The May 5 race at Churchill Downs is just one and a quarter miles. While it only lasts about two minutes, the excitement lasts over several days of events.

A basic $40 general admission ticket will get you into the infield, which is full of fun and celebration, but does not offer a view of the track. If it's a spot by the track you're vying for, the three levels of the Clubhouse guarantee a view of the race. These seats are available in boxes of six and range from $599 to $3,600 depending on how close you are to the field and finish line. The Grandstand seats are bleacher style and range from $599 to $1,400. There are also large dining rooms available for bigger parties, which include a wet bar and food. For more information, visit
www.kentuckyderby.com.

Start the Party Early

"The Kentucky Derby is a two-week community wide event," says Susan Dallas, a Louisville tourism executive.

And it's true. Starting two weeks beforehand, you can enjoy events leading up to the Derby at the Kentucky Derby Festival. On April 21, Thunder Over Louisville, the biggest fireworks show in North America, takes place on the Louisville Waterfront. On May 1-2, there's WineFest in East Belvedere and who can forget about the Great Steamboat Race on May 2. This year, watch the Belle of Louisville and the Belle of Cincinnati go head-to-head for the win.

The day before the race, May 3, the third annual Taste of Derby provides a celebration of food, racing and style. Expect a roster of award-winning chefs and horse racing celebrities from some of the country's top culinary and Thoroughbred racing destinations.

And don't forget about the Republic Bank Pegasus Parade on Broadway "” it's a free event for all to enjoy. For more information, visit www.kdf.org.

Urban Bourbon Trail


What better way to spend time outside the Derby than at the Urban Bourbon Trail? Savor and celebrate Louisville's bourbon heritage with this cultural, cocktail and culinary experience. Raise a glass at some of the best-stocked bourbon bars in the world, savor bourbon-inspired cuisines from some of the most creative chefs in the region and soak in more than 200 years of bourbon history. According to Dallas, if you collect stamps at each location using your Urban Trail Passport, you'll become an "Urban Bourbon Country Representative" and receive a free t-shirt. For more information, visit www.bourboncountry.com.

Museum Row on Main

Discover the history of the city's beginnings and its future along historic Main Street in downtown Louisville. Museum Row was recently named one of "America's Top Ten Great Streets" by the American Planning Association because of its vibrant district of museums, cultural attractions and restaurants. Once called Whiskey Row in the early days of bourbon distilling, the street is recognized for its nine museums within four blocks, all within walking distance. If you show your ticket from one location to the next, there is a discount. For more information, visit www.MuseumRowOnMain.com.

History buffs will enjoy the Frazier History Museum, an internationally acclaimed museum showcasing the history, artistry and technological significance of weaponry and armor in the context of events that have helped shape our country.

"It's really a beautifully done museum," says Dallas. Visitors can also relive 1,000 years of historical events and meet ancestral heroes through live, costumed performers and interactive media presentations. For more information, visit www.FrazierMuseum.org.

There's also the Muhammad Ali Center, both a cultural attraction and an international education center, which showcases the sporting legend's poetic and athletic talents while also offering a timeline of world events at the time of his career. For more information, visit www.AliCenter.org.

The 21c Museum Hotel is North America's first museum dedicated solely to collecting and exhibiting contemporary art of the 21st century. Rated the No. 1 hotel in the U.S. in 2010 and 2011, the museum gives guests a chance to pose with the famous red penguins and discover why the work here is truly the city's epicenter of culture, activity and artistic expression. For more information, visit www.21museumhotel.com.

The Kentucky Derby Museum gives visitors the opportunity to experience the history and pageantry of the Kentucky Derby year-round. While it is closed to the general public on the Friday and Saturday of Derby Weekend (May 4-5), expect it to reopen early Sunday morning, May 6.

NuLu's East Market District

If it's shopping and dining you're looking for, Dallas says, try "NuLu" in the East Market District (which means "New Louisville" for its green commercial buildings, many historic restoration projects and several restaurants offering organic and locally sourced ingredients).

The restaurant Rye serves local food because "it simply tastes better." Fresh, clean and more flavorful, this eatery offers items including heirloom bean soup, Scottish salmon en papillote and braised oxtail. For something sweet, head to Cake Flour, a natural baking company whose goods boast all natural, organic and mostly local ingredients. Whether its breakfast pastries, cookies and bars or cakes and cupcakes, get ready to enjoy beautiful and rich full-flavored treats.

Strolling the NuLu streets, visitors can also enjoy a number of art galleries (both traditional and contemporary) such as the Zephyr Gallery or the Swanson Reed Contemporary Gallery. Furniture stores and boutiques also line the streets, so make sure to stop in stores like Scout (which sells eclectic furniture, home accessories, artwork and jewelry) or Bays Boutique (which offers top-of-the-line skin care products). -