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2023 Best in Kentucky winners

Experience, enjoy, return, repeat

That’s what the best of anything inspires us to do. We can’t get enough of our favorite burger, bourbon, campsite, getaway, fishing hole or even meteorologist. We come back again and again because . . . well, because it’s the best. And you can never get enough of a best thing. 

Here are readers’ choices for the 2023 Best in Kentucky. Thank you to our sponsor, Hart County Tourism.



1st place Kellie McKay (NASH 103.7), Glasgow

The host of the Kellie McKay Morning Show says she couldn’t do what she does every day without “God’s grace, my family and friends and this wonderful community. I’m very grateful that I get to represent southern Kentucky.” 

2nd place Cale Tharp (WLCB 93.7), Hodgenville

3rd place Lucas Ross (WOKH 102.7), Bardstown


1st place Dawne Gee (WAVE), Louisville

“To be selected as one of the best three in the commonwealth validates for me that my hard work is being noticed, and that those I work hard to serve realize how much what I do and who I serve means to me,” says the anchor of WAVE 3 News at 4, 7 and 7:30 p.m., and host of WAVE Country with Dawne Gee.

2nd place Candyce Clifft (WDRB), Louisville

3rd place Morgan Hoover (WNKY), Bowling Green


1st place Marc Weinberg (WDRB), Louisville

WDRB’s chief meteorologist enjoys sharing his passion and excitement for weather each day with viewers in Kentucky and Indiana. 

“The reality is that your support allows me to do what I love,” says Weinberg. “And I am forever grateful for your support.” 

2nd place Kevin Harned (WAVE), Louisville

3rd place Bill Meck (LEX18), Lexington


1st place Chris Stapleton, Nashville, Tennessee (from Staffordsville)

Fifteen-time Academy of Country Music Award-winning singer, songwriter and musician Chris Stapleton won Entertainer of the Year at the 2023 ACM Awards. His All-American Road Show is currently underway.

2nd place Tyler Childers, Nashville, Tennessee (from Lawrence County)

3rd place JD Shelburne, Nashville, Tennessee (from Taylorsville)


1st place Oscar Tshiebwe, Lexington (from Democratic Republic of the Congo)

From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, former Kentucky Wildcat Men’s Basketball forward Oscar Tshiebwe was a unanimous second-team All-America selection by the Associated Press, USBWA, NABC and The Sporting News. He was drafted by the Indiana Pacers in June.

2nd place Justin Thomas, Louisville

3rd place Reed Sheppard, London



1st place Mammoth Cave National Park, Mammoth Cave

“Mammoth Cave has many stories to tell,” says Molly Schroer, public information officer. “The cave and surrounding area are amazing geologic examples of a karst environment, and the human history of the park dates back over 4,000 years when the first prehistoric Native Americans began exploring the dark passageways.” 

Not only that, but Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest known cave system. The park itself offers over 85 miles of surface hiking, biking and horseback riding trails and is the home of the Green and Nolin Rivers Blueway National Water Trail. 

2nd place Red River Gorge Geological Area, Stanton

3rd place Cumberland Falls at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Corbin


1st place Maker’s Mark Distillery, Loretto

Learn the history of Maker’s Mark and how this legendary distillery makes its bourbon on one of more than a half dozen tours—from the popular Maker’s Mark Tour to more specialized and immersive tours—each taking visitors through the campus and behind the scenes, finishing with a guided tasting.

2nd place Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort

3rd place Wilderness Trail Distillery, Danville


1st place Lincoln Days Celebration, Hodgenville

Rail-splitting events, pioneer games, an art show, top-notch talent, parade—it all converges in Hodgenville for this two-day festival. Lincoln lookalikes, too. 

“This celebration unites people from around Kentucky and around the world and offers unique experiences that are only available in the Birthplace of Abraham Lincoln,” says Rob Thurman, assistant director at the Lincoln Museum.

2nd place Glendale Crossing Festival, Glendale

3rd place Marion County Country Ham Days, Lebanon


1st place Hinton’s Orchard & Farm Market, Hodgenville

Families flock to Hinton’s for three seasons of fun, from the FarmLand play area with jumping pillow, corn box and more, to hayrides through the orchard and the pumpkin patch to pick your own pumpkin. There’s a 3-acre corn maze to conquer and barrel train rides to hop aboard. Find fruits and vegetables, a variety of food products and gift items throughout the growing season from April to December.

2nd place Gallrein Farms, Shelbyville

3rd place Dennison’s Roadside Market, Horse Cave 


1st place Renfro Valley Entertainment Center, Mt. Vernon

Two theaters, shopping village and RV Park, all on 55 luscious acres of historic land: It’s Kentucky’s country music capital, Renfro Valley Entertainment Center, celebrating its 84th year of music in 2023.

“Guests love the Southern hospitality and the top-notch variety of music in an intimate setting that can’t be matched,” says Manager Sarah Smith.

2nd place Joel Ray’s Lincoln Jamboree, Hodgenville

3rd place The AMP at Log Still, New Haven


1st place Lincoln Museum, Hodgenville

As one of the most recognized and fascinating leaders in history, the 16th president and his story continue to inspire young and old from around the world.

Take a walk through Abraham Lincoln’s life at this downtown Hodgenville museum featuring room-size dioramas, life-size wax figures and authentic period pieces tracing his Kentucky cabin years to Washington’s Ford’s Theatre. Each brings history to life within the architectural beauty of the National Register buildings that house these and many other exhibits and collections.

2nd place Frazier History Museum, Louisville

3rd place Creation Museum, Petersburg


1st place Louisville Zoo, Louisville

Stand on the edge of the Arctic wilderness. Meet the world’s tallest mammal and adorable little penguins. Feed nectar to colorful lorikeets and seek out elusive maned wolves. Explore the world of cold-blooded critters as you come face-to-face with a Gila monster and black piranhas. So many adventures await at the Louisville Zoo, Kentucky’s top nonprofit paid attraction and state zoo.

2nd place Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo, Horse Cave

3rd place Ark Encounter, Williamstown


1st place Purple Toad Winery, Paducah

Fun fact about one of the largest and most award-winning wineries in the state: Purple Toad’s name came from the color that stained toes back when grapes were pressed, or stomped, the old-fashioned way—with the feet. 

Today, Purple Toad Winery combines modern winemaking techniques with Old World knowledge to produce its many award-winning wines, including South Regional Wine Competition gold medalists Black Currant, Peachberry and Black Strawberry.

2nd place Talon Winery, Shelbyville

3rd place Farmer & Frenchman Winery, Henderson


1st place Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park, Hodgenville

At the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park, walk in the childhood footsteps of the kid from Kentucky who grew up to become the 16th president of the United States. See the rural landscape, visit the place where Lincoln was born and the location of his earliest recollections. Learn about the experiences that shaped the leader he would become and helped him shepherd a divided nation through the Civil War. 

2nd place My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Bardstown 

3rd place Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg


1st place Lincoln Lodge, Hodgenville

It’s a family affair at the Lincoln Lodge, a fully refurbished log motel that was originally opened in the 1950s by Gary McDowell’s aunt. McDowell now handles motel maintenance and wife, Regina, takes care of the bookkeeping and helps out elsewhere when needed, including housekeeping. 

“I am very proud that I got a 100% on my health inspection,” says Regina McDowell. 

The couple’s son, Cody, a local history expert who loves to share the story of Lincoln’s childhood, runs the front office and gift shop and handles reservations; their son, Brady, helps run the front counter, among other jobs.

2nd place Reed-Dossey Bed & Breakfast, Brownsville 

3rd place St. Clair Motor Lodge, Falls of Rough



1st place Green River Lake State Park, Campbellsville 

2nd place Jellystone Park at Mammoth Cave, Mammoth Cave

3rd place Horse Cave KOA Holiday, Horse Cave


1st place Mammoth Cave National Park, Mammoth Cave 

2nd place Red River Gorge Geological Area, Stanton

3rd place Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area, Golden Pond


1st place Red River Gorge Geological Area, Stanton 

With over 30 trails, including portions of the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail, leading to sandstone arches, cascading waterfalls and stunning ridgeline vistas, is it any wonder the Red River Gorge is a hiker’s paradise? The gorge has trails that suit all experience levels—from a first-timer to a seasoned trekker—and it offers amazing scenery every single step of the way.

2nd place Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Clermont

3rd place Mammoth Cave National Park, Mammoth Cave


1st place Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area, Golden Pond 

Fall, winter, spring or summer, the watery wonderland surrounding Land Between the Lakes on three sides, as well as fishable small lakes and interior ponds found throughout the peninsula, make this one of the country’s most coveted fishing hot spots. Fish for largemouth bass, sunfish, catfish, white bass, rockfish, crappie and more. Depending on the time of year, something is always biting.

With more than 250 days a year of in-season hunting, opportunities for hunting also abound. LBL’s thousands of acres teem with game: white-tailed deer, wild turkey, squirrels and other forest game species. 

2nd place Green River Lake State Park, Campbellsville

3rd place Nolin River Lake, Bee Spring


1st place Lake Cumberland

The destination: Lake Cumberland, with calming, lapping 1,200 miles of shoreline that curves off into the horizon, wowing visitors with photoworthy sunrises and sunsets and treating them to splashy waterfalls, hidden coves and forested views.

The accommodations: A sleek and roomy houseboat with full kitchen and cozy bedrooms inside; a hot tub, outdoor grill and twisty waterslide topside.

The fun- and sunseekers: A family on vacation, lazing summer days away and making a scrapbook full of memories. 

2nd place Green River Lake State Park, Campbellsville

3rd place Rough River Dam State Resort Park, Falls of Rough



1st place Mammy’s Kitchen & Bar, Bardstown

Mammy’s owner, Christy Clark, knows the secret recipe that brings folks to her restaurant. 

“It’s about my grandmothers, Mammy Clyde and Mammy Lucille, and your grandmothers, then and now—all those who went before us or continue to pave the way and create the foundation,” says Clark. “Food is more than just eating; it’s an experience with an extra serving of kindness, gratitude and, most of all, giving back. 

“We do our best to give you the best of what we are good at.” 

2nd place Carriss’s Grocery, Shelbyville

3rd place Cedarwood Restaurant, Lebanon


1st place Maker’s Mark, Loretto

“From day one, our founders, Bill Sr. and Margie Samuels, had a vision to not only craft a one-of-a-kind, full-flavored bourbon, but also create a welcoming homeplace where visitors would enjoy spending time,” says Frank Krockenberger, Maker’s Mark’s senior manager for visitor experience and retail development.

“Receiving recognition like this lets us know that their spirit of warmth and hospitality lives on here on Star Hill Farm.”

2nd place Woodford Reserve, Versailles

3rd place Wilderness Trail, Danville 


1st place Arrowhead BBQ, Hodgenville

The goal at Arrowhead BBQ is to offer customers a true Southern barbecue experience. All sides are made from scratch. The barbecue sauce is made and bottled in-house and meats are smoked and served fresh daily. Desserts are made from scratch and with lots of love.

“At Arrowhead, we make things like your grandma used to,” says co-owner Ashley McLain. “We want you to leave full, happy, and with a smile on your face.” 

2nd place B&N Food Market, Bagdad

3rd place Red State BBQ, Lexington


1st place Country Boy Brewing, Georgetown and Lexington

Country Boy Brewing is committed to making the best possible beer with all-natural and real ingredients and is always experimenting with new beer recipes. Come for the 24 rotating taps, weekly food specials and laid-back, community atmosphere—and stay for the same. 

“You will see all walks of life enjoying Country Boy on a regular basis, including the owners of the brewery, who are happy to share a pint and talk about anything from sports to the weather and, of course, all things beer,” says Pete Weiss, marketing director. 

2nd place Scout & Scholar Brewing Company, Bardstown

3rd place Henderson Brewing Co., Henderson


1st place 5 Broke Girls, Horse Cave

Like to try new things? So does the 5 Broke Girls staff. 

Owner Jackie Kulaga says they are always adding new items, like the Flaming Hart Burger with fried jalapeños that add zip to this bacon and Swiss cheeseburger doused with southwestern ranch. 

The restaurant is known for its big and hearty portions and close proximity to Mammoth Cave National Park, as well as live music on most Saturday nights. 

2nd place B&N Food Market, Bagdad

3rd place Laha’s Red Castle, Hodgenville


1st place A Sweet Retreat, Elizabethtown

For Bess Outland, her Sweet Retreat bakery is like her baby. It is a business she has grown from the ground up; one that she and her family have worked tirelessly to make a success. 

“We bake everything right here in the bakery fresh for our customers every day,” says Outland. “My goal is for my customers to feel welcome the moment they walk in and for my employees to love where they work.” 

Outland’s recipe appears to be working: The bakery marked its ninth anniversary earlier this year.

2nd place Hadorn’s Bakery, Bardstown

3rd place Burke’s Bakery & Delicatessen, Danville


1st place The Lighthouse Restaurant, Sulphur Well

Come eat like you did during Sunday dinner at Grandma’s table. Lighthouse Restaurant brings both the atmosphere and the memories back with its family-style, all-you-can-eat deliciousness. The restaurant is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with first seating at 11 a.m. and last at 7 p.m. And yes, reservations are recommended—lots of folks want to revisit mealtime with their granny. 

2nd place B&N Food Market, Bagdad

3rd place Country Store, Bradfordsville 


1st place Vibe Coffee, Elizabethtown & Hodgenville

A small town coffee shop with a big city feel, Vibe has been an integral part of the revitalization of the downtown squares in both Elizabethtown and Hodgenville. Both shops are located in restored historic buildings dating back to the 1800s and both offer locally roasted coffee plus house-made syrups, sauces and pastries. 

“And our acai bowls?” says owner Serena Erizer. “A smashing town favorite.” 

2nd place The Storehouse Coffee & Gifts, Leitchfield

3rd place Antler Specialty Goods, Henderson


1st place The Sweet Shoppe and Dessert Cafe, Hodgenville

Open more than 20 years, the Sweet Shoppe and Dessert Café is famous for its more than 30 flavors of fudge, like Tiger Butter. A top seller, this vanilla fudge is swirled with melted Jif peanut butter and drizzled with chocolate. Mmm. All fudge is handmade fresh with real cream, butter and sugar in the Hodgenville dessert shop.

Tiger Butter, Kentucky Bourbon, Orange Creamsicle and other flavors may be found at three dozen retail stores in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana, and ordered online through the shop’s Etsy site.

2nd place Serendipity Kandy Kitchen, Shelbyville

3rd place Ruth Hunt Candies, Mt. Sterling & Lexington


1st place Juanito’s Street Tacos & More, Radcliff & Bardstown

For six years, Juanito’s has been bringing an authentic taste of Mexico to Kentucky through its street tacos served on a double corn tortilla with a choice of meat and topped with cilantro, onion and lime. Also available at this food truck: burritos, Acapulco chicken, Chory Pollo (grilled chicken, chorizo, rice and beans and topped with queso), Mexican and keto bowls, tortas, quesadillas and more.

2nd place Maillard Wood Fired Kitchen, Campbellsville

3rd place Taste Budz, Glasgow

Congratulations everyone!

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