The 2011 Kentucky Derby: How to Find Tickets, Lodging, Restaurants (and Bourbon!)

By Dana McMahan


Coming to Louisville for the heart-pounding, two-minute Run for the Roses on May 7th? Now in its 137th year, the Kentucky Derby shines a light on all that Bluegrass Country has to offer, from its history of thoroughbreds to the future of bourbon.

How to Get Derby Tickets

Don’t despair if you didn’t win last year’s lottery for ticket rights. For $555 (buy now!), you can still get reserved grandstand seats for Oaks Friday and Derby Saturday. Not a high roller? Plunge into the melee of infield for $40. Tip: To set your eyes on a horse, make your way to the paddock before each race.

Where to Stay

Rooms at local hotels typically get booked up months in advance of the Derby. Closer to the race, your best bet is to round up some friends and rent a private house instead. Check craigslist for bargains and VIP Rental Home for vetted residences.

Where to Eat

In-the-know foodies rave about Louisville’s vibrant restaurant scene. While dinner reservations are long gone for fine-dining fare, delicious options remain. Eiderdown, a favorite among locals, serves up top-notch local, seasonal fare. Drop into a former church for a craft beer and artisanal chocolate pairing at the Holy Grale, or a restorative post-Derby day beer brunch. The $3 New York-style pizza slices at Papalino’s could be the best you’ll ever have. And try sophisticated Appalachian cuisine with fine tea at Hillbilly Tea.

Bourbon Basics

Bourbon tasting is a must here and options abound. Try a classic mint julep in the opulent Brown Hotel. For a different spin, ask at Jack’s Lounge for a not-on-the-menu bourbon milkshake or start the day right with mint-julep pancakes at North End Cafe. And iPhone users can download the Urban Bourbon Trail app to see how many "stamps" they can collect.

How to Get to There

Fly into Louisville International Airport (SDF). Taxis are plentiful, but buses are sparse. Parking at Churchill Downs for the race is booked ahead but neighboring homes rent space in their yards. You can also get a shuttle bus from various sites; a round-trip ride from downtown Louisville costs $20.


Photo Credit: Churchill Downs and horse farm courtesy Kentucky Department of Travel