Travel

Get Your Motor Running in Bowling Green, Kentucky

Fast cars and caves are the main attractions in this Kentucky town.

Photo courtesy of Bowling Green Area CVB
Photo courtesy of Bowling Green Area CVB
Photo courtesy of Bowling Green Area CVB

Since it first arrived on the scene in 1953, the sleek yet beefy Corvette-the first true American sports car- has proliferated pop culture, an avatar for our open road dreams. It had prominent movie roles , including in Apollo 13 because-true story-GM made a deal with NASA to supply the newly-minted astronaut celebrities with Corvettes for cheap. It’s been name-checked in songs from The Beach Boys to Sir Mix-a-Lot (“Got it going like a turbo ‘Vette”) to, of course, Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” (which… is probably not actually about a Corvette). The Eagles’ have said their hit “Life in the Fast Lane” was inspired by a wild night in the slick muscle car alongside a drug dealer and his hefty mound of cocaine.

Whether or not you’ve had a similar experience in a Corvette, you can get up close and personal with one in Bowling Green, Kentucky, home of the Corvette since 1981 and the car’s sole production facility. Enthusiasts can make the pilgrimage 60 miles north of Nashville to tour the plant which has produced over 1 million Corvettes in its tenure (though tours aren’t right now, presumably because of Covid). They can also nerd out at the National Corvette Museum and drool over a complete collection of every generation of Corvette ever manufactured (maybe don’t drool-they’re worth quite a bit). And maybe the coolest offering: Test drive a car or book a Corvette driving school experience, both available at the museum’s Motorsports Park, and which lets you loose on an actual 3.2-mile racetrack.

But though the adrenaline is intoxicating, cars aren’t all this college town has to offer. Here’s what else there is to do on a visit to Bowling Green.

Photo courtesy of Bowling Green Area CBV
Photo courtesy of Bowling Green Area CBV
Photo courtesy of Bowling Green Area CBV

Go underground into Bowling Green’s incredible caves

A less-obvious attraction to check out at the National Corvette Museum: the site of the massive sinkhole that, in February of 2014, swallowed up eight cars in the wee hours of the morning. With an underground made of limestone and other easily-eroded rocks, sinkholes, caves, and karsts are just a fact of South Central Kentucky life.

You can tour some of these underground wonders, like Diamond Caverns in nearby Park City, discovered in 1859 and lit up with thousands of stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone deposits. Mammoth Cave National Park offers ranger-guided cave tours of the world’s longest cave, with over 400 miles of mapped passageway.

But Bowling Green is best known for its Lost River Cave-claimed by Ripley’s Believe It or Not to be the shortest and deepest cave in the world-which you can tour via underground boat. Rumor has it this was a hideout of Jesse James, and the site of an illegal alcohol operation during Prohibition. It also served as a shelter during the Civil War-bullets have been found, and soldiers wrote their names, ranks, and companies on the walls. In the 1930s it was turned into Cavern Nite Club, a literal underground club that attracted big-name performers like Dinah Shore and sold an ice bowl for $2.00 with whiskey hidden inside. The club was gone by the 1960s, but a dance floor still exists for special events.

Flickr/LuAnn Snawder Photography
Flickr/LuAnn Snawder Photography
Flickr/LuAnn Snawder Photography

Not just Corvettes: See some planes and trains, too

Besides all the Corvettes, gearheads should check out the totally free Aviation Heritage Park. They have six restored military aircraft on display, like a F-4D Phantom II 550 used in the Vietnam War, and a Cub honoring an African American woman who trained the Tuskegee Airmen. And yes, you’re allowed to touch them.

Trains are also big here: The Historic Railpark and L&N (Louisville and Nashville) Depot has a train museum displaying historic rail cars like a Railroad Post Office Car, a 1953 Pullman Sleeper, and the 353 Presidential Office Car, built in 1911 as the personal car of the president of the L&N. And there’s the Duncan Hines dining car, named for the cake mix magnate-a native of Bowling Green and, fun fact, a former food and travel writer.

Plan a horror-ful trip for Halloween

Cake-master Duncan Hines isn’t the only well-known resident to come out of Bowling Green; it was also the home of horror film master John Carpenter. He peppered his movies, like Halloween and The Fog, with BG references, and the town pays tribute with a “Reel Sites, Real Scary” self-guided driving tour that retraces his steps to 17 locations, including the log cabin where he lived as a boy on Western Kentucky University’s campus.

You can also take a haunted walking tour in October, UnSeen Bowling Green, which includes stops at the Fairvew Cemetery (where Duncan Hines is buried) and a locally-infamous Murder Mansion-a gorgeous Greek Revival mansion on Cemetery Road that served as the site of a heinous 1948 double homicide. Tickets go on sale September 1st, for tours beginning mid-October.

Photo courtesy of Bowling Green Area CBV
Photo courtesy of Bowling Green Area CBV
Photo courtesy of Bowling Green Area CBV

From fast cars to horses and buggies

If the name Bowling Green sounds familiar, it’s because it is, in fact, named after Bowling Green, New York. But that’s where the similarities with city life end. Here, you indulge the simpler things. Sure it’s a college town, and around the charming Fountain Square Park downtown-where you’ll find free weekly concerts in June-there are coffee shops, restaurants, and places to drink including the popular Dublin’s Irish Pub, and dance club Brewing Co. Underground. (Outside of downtown you’ll find a high concentration of delicious eats on Scottsville Road, or Highway 231, including Fayrouz Market, an international grocery store and restaurant specializing in Middle Eastern fare. )

But Bowling Green celebrates its makers. You’ll also see stores like the mother-daughter owned Little Fox Bakery, and Mary Jane’s Chocolates, a vintage candy shop using only sustainably-grown cocoa beans (try the Kentucky Bourbon truffles). Candle Makers on the Square sells only locally-made gifts including, yes, candles, and The Pots Place Co-op Studio and Gallery is home to eight potters and other local artisans.

Make sure you stop at Chaney’s Dairy Barn to say hi to the cows on a farm tour, sample some housemade ice-cream, and navigate the corn maze in the fall. And there’s antiquing galore, especially at amazingly-named Flea Land, Kentucky’s largest indoor flea market.

And definitely try some Amish fare. Just outside Bowling Green, on Highways Y and M, you’ll find a reserved Amish community, with woodworking, quilts, jams, candies, and plenty of homemade pastries for sale. You’ll know you’re there when cars give way to horses and buggies.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat!

Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist’s Senior Travel Writer. Find her at Chaney’s Dairy Barn, having a donut sundae for breakfast. 

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.