Lots of travelers theme their adventures, developing itineraries that will take them to movie film locations, wine trails and quirky attractions (Texas’ Cadillac Ranch, anyone?). Add this to your list: traveling the world capitals of the United States, where you’ll find yourself amidst or awash in bourbon, motorcycles, race cars – even Christmas trees.
Bardstown, KY – Bourbon Capital of the World
Six bourbon distilleries (and another one on tap), four of them on the famed Kentucky Bourbon Trail. A museum dedicated to the history of America’s only Native Spirit. A shop devoted exclusively to all things bourbon. The world’s first bourbon-themed bed and breakfast inn. Home to the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival, a six-day extravaganza held in September. There is no more bourbon-centric place than Bardstown, which also won the title, “Most Beautiful Small Town in America,” for its movie set good looks.
Get four stamps for your bourbon passport at these distilleries: Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Four Roses and Heaven Hill – where you can also explore the Bourbon Heritage Center. An official trailhead of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Bardstown is the place to pick up your official souvenir t-shirt. Whether you begin or end here, don’t miss the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History to see authentic moonshine stills and a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s 1833 tavern. Pick up leather-wrapped bourbon “rocks” glasses, among other upscale souvenirs, at Kentucky Bourbon Marketplace.
Bardstown takes its bourbon seriously; there are more than 450 bourbons on local menus – and that’s just among some downtown restaurants: Kreso’s, Rickhouse and Old Talbott Tavern. And the Bourbon Manor offers 10 unique, luxury guestrooms, a bourbon-inspired breakfast, and tapas and desserts at its Bunghole Bar & Lounge – which is named for the hole in a bourbon barrel.
Milwaukee, WI – Motorcycle Capital of the World
Two words: Harley-Davidson. The country’s oldest continuous motorcycle manufacturer is headquartered in Milwaukee. Providing a glimpse of American history, art, design and pop culture through the lens of Harley-Davidson Motor Company is the Harley-Davidson Museum.
Hundreds of thousands visit each year, but they’re not all motorcycle riders; in fact, the overwhelming majority are non-riders. One of the big draws? Hands-on tours that dip into areas typically off-limits for a VIP insider look at the world’s largest motorcycle company.
These include the Behind-the-Scenes tour that peeks into the private areas of the Harley-Davidson Archives and the Steel Toe Tour (suspended through August 2016 due to plant enhancements), a two-part exploration that includes the museum and a shuttle trip to the Harley-Davidson Pilgrim Road Powertrain Operations facility.
Other motorcycle-related attractions in Milwaukee include The Iron Horse, a motorcycle-themed hotel with loft-style guestrooms built in a century-old warehouse; the Milwaukee Rally, hosted by Harley-Davidson over Labor Day Weekend; and Mama Tried – a custom bike show held in winter.
Indianapolis, IN – Racing Capital of the World
Overcome with the need for speed? Head to Indianapolis, which will mark the 100th Running of the Indy 500 this May with a massive month-long celebration culminating on race day, May 29 of Memorial Day Weekend.
With over 300,000 people flocking to the Indy 500 each year, it is the world’s largest single-day sporting event – but there is much to see and do year-round, including stepping onto this iconic track through track tours and Indy 500’s onsite Hall of Fame Museum. Tour Dallara IndyCar Factory and learn the intricacies of making a real Indy Car. Play golf at Brickyard Crossing, a Pete Dye-designed golf course with four holes located inside the motor speedway oval. (Listen for the hum of an IndyCar on the track as you tee off.)
The big headline, however, belongs to Indy 500’s anniversary. And it’s ready. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has received a $100 million facelift. The town of Speedway, minutes from downtown Indy, has also gotten a nip and a tuck as well as new businesses, including Indy 500 veteran Sarah Fisher’s new Speedway Indoor Karting (SIK), the Foyt Winery and a new brewery.
Expect loads of events, concerts, celebrity sightings and race fan opportunities, so if the Indy 500 is on your bucket list, this is the year to go.
Indiana, PA – Christmas Tree Capital of the World
The first to sell Christmas trees wholesale in the U.S., this western Pennsylvania town harvests 500,000-plus Christmas trees from over 80 farms each year. Oh, Christmas Tree!
But this is not the borough’s only claim to fame: Indiana is the birthplace and hometown of filmdom fave Jimmy Stewart; and a museum named for the “It’s A Wonderful Life” star recalls his extraordinary life and times.
“Visitors to our museum are always surprised and thrilled by our attractive and in-depth look at an American film icon and military hero,” said executive director Tim Harley.
Indiana doesn’t limit its celebration of the Christmas tree to the holidays. There’s Christmas in July, held in Idlewild Park and including visits with Santa, decorated trees and giveaways. In August, a Christmas tree display and decorating contest takes place during the county fair.
Of course, the big event happens much closer to the Big Day: The It’s a Wonderful Life Festival & Parade, held the week before Thanksgiving, includes a parade, live music and entertainment, local artisans, crafts, food, decorated shops and a tree lighting with Santa. You’ll feel like you’ve stumbled into George Bailey’s “Bedford Falls.”
“For many years the parade gala has attracted Hollywood stars and other celebrities like Rich Little (his voice is recorded imitating Jimmy at our crosswalks), Judy and Kelly Stewart (Jimmy’s twin daughters) and Nick Clooney (yes, George’s dad!),” said Maria Jack, group tour/conference associate with the Indiana County Tourist Bureau. “This is a one-of-a-kind event and slice of small-town America.”
Other world capitals located in the U.S.: Santa Fe, NM – Green Chili Pepper Capital of the World; Bandera, TX – Cowboy Capital of the World; Le Mars, Iowa – Ice Cream Capital of the World; Islamorada in the Florida Keys – Sportfishing Capital of the World; Albuquerque – Hot Air Balloon Capital of the World; and Dove Creek, CO – Pinto Bean Capital of the World.
Bardstown’s inaugural Cocktail Week takes place April 27-30 with clever cocktails and distillery/restaurant pairings. This event rolls into Kentucky Bourbon Festival’s Mixed Drink Challenge and Spring Sampler on April 30. Ticket information: 502-348-3623 #5.
In May in Indianapolis, look for “Welcome Race Fans” signs. Thirty-three artists were commissioned to create the signs in honor of the 33 drivers who qualify for the Indy 500.