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What Is Kentucky Known For and Famous For

Kentucky might get lumped in with the rest of the south in the USA, but this little state has plenty that puts it on the map. In fact, daily life is full of things that come straight from the so-called Bluegrass State. 

Kentucky is primarily known for its famous horse races. However, the state is also known for multiple types of food and beverages that are consumed nationwide and even around the world. It’s also famous for its sports, history, and music contributions and is home to a national park.

In this list, I’ll be listing just a few of the things that this great southern state is known for. If you’ve ever wondered what Kentucky is famous for, keep reading.

Horse Racing

Horse racing is likely one of the first things you think about when you think about Kentucky. 

Horses are a bigger commodity in this state than just about anything else, and it’s a driving force behind the state’s economy.

Though there are horse races all over the country, no other state puts quite as much pride and effort into the sport as Kentucky does, and it shows. The most famous race is the Kentucky Derby, but hundreds of races at varying levels of prestige go on every year in this southern state. 

Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is arguably the most famous event that’s ever been held in the state. While the final race to crown the champion comes down to just one race that’s 1 ¼ mile-long (just over 2 km), it’s not as simple as just signing up to join the race. 

In order to compete, horses need to pass the Road to the Kentucky Derby. This 35-race event takes place around the world to narrow down the competition to the best racehorses in the competitive circuit. 

It’s not a surprise that up to 200,000 people flock to the state for a chance of being part of the festivities on race day. 

Big Hats

You might not think about big hats when you think about Kentucky by itself, but when you think of prestigious Kentucky horse racing, you’ll picture men in nice suits and women in pretty dresses and oversized sun hats. It’s practically part of the uniform. 

In fact, big hats have become so synonymous with the state’s horse racing culture, you even find entire articles dedicated to the best hats worn at each major race. 

Louisville Slugger

You can’t think about baseball without thinking about the Louisville Slugger

Since the 1880s, this bat has been a staple in baseball, and it’s known as one of the best bats on the market. While you can purchase these bats all over the world, you can only visit the museum and its hall of fame in Louisville, Kentucky, where the bat was first built and sold.

Fun fact: The company’s founder was originally from Germany and moved to Baltimore before finally settling down in Louisville. If he made the bat before moving to Louisville, it could’ve been called the “Baltimore Slugger.”

Coal Mines

Coal has been a part of Kentucky’s state history since it was first found in the mid-1700s. Though it wasn’t officially mined until much later, it soon became a leading employer for those who called Kentucky home and attracted workers from across America. 

Now there are under 4,000 coal miners working in Kentucky’s nearly 450 active mines, a sharp decrease in productivity due to environmental concerns. 

However, that doesn’t stop it from continuing to be an important part of the state’s legacy. 

Muhammad Ali

Though Muhammed Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., became a sort of national icon, he was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, making this southern state his first home. In fact, this is where he started his boxing career and even earned his first Golden Gloves in Kentucky boxing tournaments.

He moved around throughout his adult life, calling Chicago and Scottsdale home at different times. However, as a true southern boy at heart, he returned home in his later years. 

You can visit his grave at the Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, the city he was born in. 

Mammoth Caves National Park

The Mammoth Caves is the longest continuous cave system in the United States, a fact that has earned this impressive part of Kentucky’s natural history the treasured title of “national park.” Not only that but it’s been recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site and as a Biosphere Reserve.

Rich and diverse flora and fauna call this cave system and national park home that you can’t replicate anywhere else. 

Due to its long and twisting tunnels, the system has seen its fair share of travelers during Kentucky’s history, so it’s also considered an excellent tourist spot for people interested in ghost tours. 

Bluegrass Music

Kentucky is also known as the Bluegrass State, so it’s no surprise that this music genre is incredibly important to the state’s history and culture. Bluegrass is a particular type of music that usually uses acoustic instruments for a simple and raw sound that can be as haunting as it is addicting. 

If you’re a music fan, then a trip to the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in Owensboro, Kentucky, should be on your list of places to visit when you travel to Kentucky. 

College Basketball

While every state can boast its college basketball teams, Kentucky takes particular pride in theirs. 

The University of Kentucky’s college men’s basketball team, “The Wildcats,” stands out as one of the up-and-coming teams that’s sure to dominate the division in upcoming seasons. In the meantime, you’ll be sure to find the team’s signature colors, blue and white, all over the state as Kentucky residents show their support for their college team. 

You can check them out for yourself during college basketball season by tuning into their games on ESPN. 

Kentucky Food & Alcohol

Kentucky isn’t just known for its horse races and bluegrass. It’s also become famous for its comfort food. Potentially even more so, the state is the birthplace and the leading supplier of multiple types of alcohol for those over the legal drinking age who want to partake. 

Kentucky Fried Chicken

You can’t go anywhere in the continental United States without bumping into a Kentucky Fried Chicken, often abbreviated to KFC. However, as obvious as it might seem, it’s easy to forget that this American staple was first founded in North Corbin, Kentucky. 

The first restaurant in this worldwide chain was opened in the 1950s, and it’s still in business today. 

Whether you’re a fan of the chain or not, you almost have to plan a trip to this historic flagship location that’s practically become a symbol for the state if you find yourself in Kentucky. There is a complete museum attached to the restaurant, dedicated to the first store and Colonel Sanders.

If you ever have a chance to visit, go for it, as it is a very unique experience.

Colonel Sanders

Born in 1890, Colonel Sanders, born Harland Sanders, stayed a Kentucky boy his whole life. An illustration of his face has become the symbol of his legacy, the KFC restaurant chain.

However, you might be surprised to know that the first KFC wasn’t opened until 1952 when the Colonel was in his 60s. He didn’t even have the idea to open his own eatery until he was 40. Not only is Colonel Sanders the face of his restaurant, but he’s also a testament to what hard work and determination can do and that it’s never too late to follow your dreams. 

Hot brown

The hot brown sandwich may not be served in many restaurants, but it’s still a symbol of Kentucky. This warm, open-faced sandwich was first served in 1926 at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, where it got its name. 

Made of turkey, bacon, Mornay sauce, and bread, you can make your own hot brown at home by following the official recipe released by the Brown Hotel. However, if you ever find yourself in the Louisville area, don’t miss the chance to get one for yourself from the place where it was invented.

Burgoo

Burgoo is a meat stew that you can find all over the south and Midwest of the USA. 

However, just because this dish is fairly widespread doesn’t mean Kentucky’s version isn’t worth getting. In fact, it’s often referred to as Kentucky Burgoo because this state’s recipe can be considered to stand out above the rest. 

You can get this stew all year round, but it’s particularly popular during the colder months. If you can’t make it to Kentucky to try an original batch of it yourself, you can make it at home. Just make sure you have cornbread muffins ready to eat with it. 

Moonshine

Moonshine may not be the contraband it once was, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting to drink. Like many states in the south, Kentucky was and continues to be famous for this high-proof alcohol that isn’t for the faint of heart. 

You can find Kentucky moonshine in stores that sell hard liquor across the USA, but to get the best experience, plan a stop at one of the state’s distilleries. You’ll get to try moonshine straight from the source and probably learn a little history about it in the process. 

Bourbon

Bourbon is the alcohol of choice for many people who call Kentucky home. As one of the main producers of bourbon, it’s almost obligatory to try some if you’re in the area and above the legal drinking age.

You can even do the Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour, which takes five days to complete and will send you on a journey through the state via its best bourbon distilleries. You can go on the trail yourself or book a tour with accommodations included. 

Jim Beam

Jim Beam is yet another company that was founded and continues to operate out of Kentucky. 

Founded in 1799, it’s one of the state’s oldest continuously-running businesses, and it’s still considered a family business, even all these years later.

Even before the company officially began, the Beam family was heavily involved in whiskey production, making them some of the leading experts in the field. You can visit their museum and flagship store in Clermont, Kentucky, which is definitely worth it if you’re a fan of this whiskey brand. 

Ale 8

Though it might have “ale” in its name, Ale 8 is a local soft drink produced and sold in Kentucky. You might be able to find bottles of it in neighboring states, but most likely, if you want to try this low-calorie ginger drink, you’ll have to head to its home state. It’s been on the market for almost 100 years and has been a staple in stores ever since. 

The best part is, even though there’s still sugar, there’s no caffeine to keep you or the kids in your life up all night if you drink it. 

Mint Juleps

Mint Juleps is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby due to the light and refreshing taste that pairs well with hours in the sun. Made with the state’s signature bourbon, sugar, water, and, of course, mint, it might seem like a simple drink, but therein lies its complexity.

However, you don’t have to wait for the Derby to try this drink. 

Mint Juleps is a staple on bar menus across the state, and you can even take a Mint Julep Tour in Louisville if you’re craving something cool, sweet, and just the right amount of minty. 

Tobacco

Love it or hate, Kentucky has a long-standing history of tobacco use and cultivation that dates back to before it was even a state. 

In fact, tobacco plays a bigger part in Kentucky’s history than the history of any other southern state where it was grown. That’s because until the early 1900s, if you saw or purchased tobacco, chances are it was produced in Kentucky, which was the largest cultivator of the product for centuries.

Though other states might’ve beaten them out for overall tobacco growth, it’s still a large part of the state’s economy, and they’re still the largest producer of burley, air, and fire-cured tobacco. 

Fruit of the Loom

Rounding out this list is something you might not have been aware came from Kentucky. 

Fruit of the Loom is one of the most popular international brands of undergarments, from underwear to socks, and even plain cotton t-shirts and shorts. You can find these products all over the world in most large stores.

While the company was officially started in Rhode Island in 1851, it’s had its headquarters in Kentucky for decades, long enough for the city to claim the company as its own. You can find multiple official stores and outlets in the state that only sell Fruit of the Loom products, something you don’t see in too many other places.

Conclusion

While Kentucky borders most of the Bible Belt states, it is still rich in unique history and legends. Many of the things we take for granted today came from Kentucky, including one of the most popular fast-food chains in the nation. If you ever get a chance to visit Kentucky, make sure to visit the places on this list.

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