Had about enough of gray days and chilly temperatures? Spring comes early in the southern U.S., and a number of its beaches are a shorter drive from Kentucky than you may think.
Just 8-1/2 hours from Bowling Green, the Alabama Gulf Coast spreads 32 miles of pearly sand along a 30,000-acre island on the northernmost coast of the Gulf of Mexico, where families—not raucous teens—have been vacationing for years at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Sea oats cover sand dunes, and Spanish moss-draped live oaks and pines abound. Accommodations range from beachfront hotels and condos to cottages and campgrounds.
“Everything is family oriented,” says Kim Shumack, public relations manager for the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, “from our zoo as Animal Planet’s ‘The Little Zoo that Could,’ to nature tours at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.”
Add to that two large water parks, dolphin cruises, charter fishing, and Fort Morgan, a historic stop on the Mobile Bay Civil War Trail.
Right on Mobile Bay in the quaint village of Fairhope, you can park your car at the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa until you’re ready to head home. In addition to gorgeous bay views and a beach, two golf courses, indoor and outdoor pools, historic and horticultural tours, a luxurious spa, and nearby horseback riding, the property features well-organized kids’ activities to give parents some well-earned alone time.
Only about 10-1/2 hours from Kentucky by car, the Florida Panhandle rolls out the family welcome mat on its Gulf Coast in Destin, Fort Walton Beach, and Panama City; in Rosemary Beach, a newly developed destination with cottages, condos, and lofts, Pensione B&B also has laundry and kitchen facilities. Think beaches, bikes, and pools. Cowgirl Kitchen, “where beach meets West,” will even pack picnics.
Voted best beach in the South and a top family destination four years in a row, Destin is a mecca for golf, boating, and shopping at the nation’s largest designer outlet mall.
On Florida’s east coast, Amelia Island Plantation, an 11-hour drive, boasts 23 pools, several miles of uncrowded beaches, golf, tennis, and an award-winning program for kids 3 to 10 that features pool parties, hayrides, bonfires, and nature clinics. Teens age 11 to 19 can play mini golf and take a trip to the Jacksonville Zoo.
Just a little farther south, Daytona Beach, with 36 miles of creamy sand and luxurious spas, offers special online family packages from March 10 to May 22.
And from southeastern Kentucky, it’s only an 8-hour drive to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where a number of new resorts offer affordable accommodations, says Kimberly Miles, public relations manager of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Times have changed,” she explains. “While many people recognize our spectacular beaches and 100-plus golf courses, what some don’t realize is our capacity as a destination for multi-generational family travel. Children, parents, and grandparents can all vacation in Myrtle Beach affordably, and there’s plenty for everyone to do separately or together.”
Possibilities include live entertainment theaters, narrated boat tours and deep-sea fishing, Ripley’s Aquarium, Myrtle Wave Water Park, NASCAR SpeedPark, Brookgreen Gardens, and upscale shopping galore. And hanging out at the beach.
And of course, at every southern hangout, you can stuff to the gills with sumptuous seafood. That in itself is worth a journey beach-ward.
Alabama’s Gulf Coast
Amelia Island Plantation, Florida
Daytona Beach, Florida
Florida’s Emerald Coast (Destin, Fort Walton Beach, and Panama City)
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Rosemary Beach, Florida
Closer to Home Wet Spots
If coastal beaches are too far to drive, consider these closer, watery spring break alternatives.
At the Wildwood Inn in Florence, you can stay in the themed suite of your choice while warming your winter-chilled bones in a heated pool and waterfall spa in its heated indoor Tropical Dome.
Right on Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake in western Kentucky’s Grand Rivers, Green Turtle Bay Resort has a new 7,500-square-foot Health Spa with a heated indoor pool, exercise equipment, and tanning beds.
Just across the river above Cincinnati, Great Wolf Lodge, the official resort of Kings Island, has a rockin’ water park and dawn-to-dark activities for landlubbers, including educational programming about wolves, scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, and two spas—one for kids, the other for adults. Families can stay in suites or condos.
Caribbean Cove Water Park at the Holiday Inn North in Indianapolis features two spas, plus a 388-foot flume slide, two 267-foot aqua tube slides, a 700-gallon soaker bucket, and a lazy river.
Caribbean Cove Indoor Water Park
Indianapolis, Indiana • (317) 872-9790
Great Wolf Lodge at Kings Island
Mason, Ohio • (513) 459-8885
Green Turtle Bay
Grand Rivers, Kentucky • (800) 498-0428
Florence, Kentucky • (800) 758-2335
Katherine Tandy Brown is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
Mention drugstore soda fountains in nearly any baby boomer-plus crowd, and the memories begin to flow like hot fudge sauce over frosty ice cream. Poodle skirts, bobby sox, burgers and fries, chicken baskets, and thick milkshakes. Remember?
“I’d slop down cherry Cokes at a drugstore in Cincinnati,” laughs Robert Yowler, owner of Morgan Drug Store in Bedford, where an old-fashioned fountain still features nickel Cokes.
A surprising number of drugstore soda fountains still operate in Kentucky. Some sport small-town, Main Street addresses; others reside in stores now run by megacorporations. Some crank out three meals a day; others serve ice cream specialties only. Some remain in historic pharmacies; others have morphed into restaurants.
All are community treasures.
“We’ve been a pharmacy for 200 years,” says Robin Reed, a former 20-year employee of Cornerstone Pharmacy on Main Street in Versailles, who joined several others to purchase the drugstore seven years ago from its sole original owners, the Granducci family.
Every Monday, customers flock to its fountain for steamy homemade broccoli soup.
Tradition and personal touch—homemade, hand-dipped, hand-squeezed—help create a loyal clientele.
“Our fountain opens as the store opens at 9:00,” says Stuart Wheeler, manager of Wheeler Pharmacy in Lexington. His dad, Buddy, began the store in 1958 and, at 73, still fills in as a pharmacist. “We typically have from 10 to 30 people waiting at the front door every day. The men sit at our horseshoe-shaped counter; women sit in the booths.”
Chicken salad is a big draw, as are local gossip and politics. It’s the same statewide.
“A lot of politicians come in every morning and swap lies over breakfast in Liar’s Corner,” laughs D. T. Froge, who bought and renovated the George J. Ellis Drug Store on Glasgow’s Public Square in 2000. “Every governor for the last 75 years has been in here. Louie Nunn even had an office upstairs.”
No longer a drugstore, George J’s serves country fare as a restaurant with a fountain that still boasts an original 1940 Hamilton Beach milkshake machine. Eighty-something Louis Pace, who delivered bananas to the store as a teen, now whips up luscious milkshakes and banana splits.
“It’s not a moneymaking proposition,” Froge admits, echoing a number of other soda fountain owners, “but it’s worthwhile preserving. The community needs it.”
Thoroughbred win photos dot the walls of Wagner’s Pharmacy, just across the street from Churchill Downs in Louisville.
“Our fountain is a hangout for horsemen,” says Brenda Smith, whose grandfather bought the century-old property in 1922. “They come for our omelets, chili, burgers, and hot specials.”
As owners of the Kentucky Fudge Company housed in Harrodsburg’s 1860 Dedman Drug Store building, Jennifer and Tim Kazimer overhauled the property.
“The only thing holding the old Formica-and-chrome soda fountain together was the chewing gum stuck underneath!” says Tim, who kept a lot of original drugstore memorabilia.
Drugstore soda fountains are about memories, old and new.
“A number of times, a couple will come in who met and dated in their childhood, divorced, and have found each other again,” says Pat Adams, soda fountain manager at Hurst Discount Drugs in Bardstown. “They’ll tell me, ‘We had our first soda in here.’”
Wheeler adds, “People tell me all the time, ‘What’s so neat about this place is that you can sit on a stool not knowing anybody around you, yet by the end of your meal, you’re talking to four or five different people.’”
Hop in your ’56 Chevy and hit the nostalgia highway to these Kentucky soda fountains:
Adams Pharmacy, Lebanon
Bell’s Drug Store, Sebree
(270) 521-7187. Fresh-squeezed orangeade and lemonade, 10-cent Cokes, sundaes
Coleman’s Drug Store, Stanford
(606) 365-2164. Breakfast, lunch, fresh-squeezed orangeade, chicken salad sandwiches, daily hot specials
Corner Drugs, Winchester
(859) 744-6844. Breakfast, lunch, hamburgers, Peggy Benton’s banana splits (ice cream, bananas, marshmallow sauce, chocolate syrup)
Cornerstone Pharmacy, Versailles
(859) 873-3007. Breakfast, lunch, homemade broccoli soup, hand-dipped ice cream
G & O Pharmacy, Paducah
(270) 442-3571. Breakfast, lunch, Western omelets, hefty cheeseburgers
Gower Drug Store, Lewisburg
(270) 755-4831. Ice cream treats, milkshakes
George J’s, Glasgow
(270) 651-2161. Country breakfast, buffet lunch (fried chicken), dinner
Hurst Discount Drugs, Bardstown
(502) 348-9261. Chicken salad, hot fudge sundaes, homemade lemonade
The Kentucky Fudge Company at Dedman Drug Store, Harrodsburg
(877) 892-3657. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, “world-renowned” Harrodsburger, fudge
McConnell’s Drug Store, Kuttawa
(270) 388-7371. Ice cream treats
Morgan Drug Store, Bedford
(502) 255-3540. Ice cream treats, nickel Cokes
Nelson Pharmacy, Benton
(270) 527-3616. Lunch, sandwiches, soups, salads, chili, milkshakes
Pure Drug Co., Tompkinsville
(270) 487-5468. Tuna sandwiches, homemade soups, ice cream floats
Smith Pharmacy, Burkesville
(270) 864-2231. Hand-dipped ice cream, milkshakes, banana splits
Tastebuds of Wilmore, Wilmore
(859) 858-0856. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, biscuits and gravy, homemade chicken salad, brick oven pizza
Wagner’s Pharmacy, Louisville
(502) 375-3800. Breakfast, lunch, omelets, home-cooked hot specials (roast beef, mac ’n’ cheese), burgers
Wheeler Pharmacy, Lexington
(859) 266-1131. Breakfast, lunch, homemade chicken salad, olive nut, vegetable soup, hand-dipped ice cream
To add your drugstore soda fountain to the online listing, send us details at: firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line “Soda Fountains.”
Katherine Tandy Brown is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.