In the southwest of the Cincinnati Metro area, “The Friendship City” is an ever-growing suburb, home to 20,000 at the last count.
The northern tip of Erlanger touches the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) and is crossed by I-275, the Cincinnati Beltway. This is where much of the city’s commerce is located while the south is mostly residential neighborhoods embroidered with parkland.
In 1880, what is now Erlanger was the exact center of the population of the United States, a fact confirmed by an historical marker near the airport.
The city’s early development came at the turn of the century after a passenger depot was built by the Cincinnati Southern Railroad here. This very building, now a museum, sits in a charming railroad-themed park.
1. CVG Airplane Viewing Area
As well as having more than 50 non-stop connections across North America and Europe, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is the 7th busiest airport in the United States for cargo traffic, and a global hub for brands like DHL Aviation and Amazon Air.
Watching the jets taking off and landing is a surprisingly exhilarating experience, and has been made more comfortable with an excellent fenced viewing area, with a playground and picnic benches.
What’s more, the viewing area is fitted with great interpretive boards, helping you tell a Boeing 747 from an Airbus A320, and giving you links to tune into air traffic control for a complete experience.
2. Kenton County Public Library
Kentucky’s highest-circulating public library can be found in Erlanger, close to the intersection of I-75 and I-275.
If you’re an avid bookworm, this may be your idea of a dream library, with tranquil reading spaces throughout, and even an outdoor reading garden.
There’s also an extensive children’s area and a 15-station computer lab that you’ll be able to access with a valid out-of-state license.
For Kenton County residents the library is a community pillar, hosting tons of programs from bingo to treasure hunts, movie nights and skills workshops.
3. Vent Haven Museum
When we compiled this list, it was an exciting time for this inimitable museum close to Erlanger.
The Vent Haven Museum, the only ventriloquial museum in the world, was just about to open a new facility, putting its immense collections on public show.
These holdings were first gathered by Cincinnati businessman and ventriloquist William S. Berger (1878-1972) as far back as 1910.
There are now 1,000+ dummies, many used by masters of the artform like Jimmy Nelson, Jeff Dunham and Darci Lynne, all joined by memorabilia, from posters, to photos and playbills.
The organization behind the museum is also responsible for the Vent Haven International Ventriloquist Convention in June, featuring workshops and nightly shows by the most talented ventriloquists in the business.
4. Erlanger Depot Museum
Arguably Erlanger’s most engaging piece of heritage is a railroad that opened in 1877 on the Cincinnati Southern Railroad.
This is especially important, as the last surviving wooden depot between Cincinnati and Chattanooga. Cutting commuting times to Cincinnati down to mere minutes, the depot had a transformative effect on Erlanger, sparking its growth through the early 20th century.
When the obsolete depot was threatened with demolition in 1990, the Erlanger Historical Society stepped in and turned it into a museum.
This is usually open on Saturdays in the summer and fall, presenting a trove of artifacts and ephemera donated by Elrlanger residents, touching on all aspects of local life from education to entertainment, commerce, dining, hobbies, travel and much more.
5. Putt-Putt Fun Center
Hiding behind a shopping center along the Dixie Hwy is a location for the famous Putt-Putt miniature golf brand.
True to its brand, the Putt-Putt Fun Center has 36 simple but well-designed par 2 holes that will appeal to competitive players as much as families and couples out for a fun time.
Don’t forget that if you shoot a hole-in-one on either of the 18th holes you’ll win a free round. There are also specials for every day of the week, like $10 for unlimited golf from 10am until 5pm on Mondays and Tuesdays.
6. Railroad Depot Park
The space surrounding the Erlanger Depot is now an adorable public park, all with a railroad theme. For one thing the Norfolk Southern Railway runs right past the park, and there’s a good chance kids will be treated to a freight train zooming by.
There’s a preserved Southern Railway caboose (X433) in the park, dating to 1943, as well as a large picnic shelter and a sweet playground with a wooden train for little ones to play on.
If your wee one is going through that train phase, then there may not be a better place for a summer birthday party.
7. Erlanger Summer Sendoff
Erlanger closes out the summer in style with this free, day-long event in September at Silverlake Park.
The Erlanger Summer Sendoff packs seven hours of live music, together with food and beverage trucks, art and craft vendors and tons more.
Some of the many side events include Cincinnati Circus displays and a whole program of quirky contests, as well as bounce houses to keep smaller partygoers entertained. The event goes out with a bang with a fireworks display after dark.
8. Crestview Hills Town Center
Where U.S. Route 25 meets Interstate 275 there’s an upscale outdoor mall, set around a big central plaza.
The first thing to say about Crestview Hills Town Center is how easy it is to get around on foot, with long and wide sidewalks that have vintage-style gaslights and benches, and converge at a central clock tower.
For a brief summary of the stores at this mall, there’s a Dillard’s, Trader Joe’s, PetPeople, Bath & Body Works, Kay Jewelers, J. Crew Factory, Sephora and Kirkland’s.
These are complemented by more than a dozen food and drink options from Starbucks to Omaha Steaks.
9. Colonial Cottage
A local institution, this family-owned restaurant at 3140 Dixie Hwy has been a mainstay since 1933, when resident Clara Rich set up an eatery to serve local tobacco farmers.
Some 90 years later, Colonial Cottage has won a raft of recognition, serving celebrities from Elvis Presley to George Clooney, and appearing on the Food Network and Travel Channel.
The restaurant is well-known for its breakfasts, serving the Cincinnati area classic, goetta, which is a kind of meat-and-grain sausage.
But the dish that has earned the most acclaim is the fried chicken, voted the best in the region by Northern Kentucky Magazine. At the time of writing, Colonial Cottage was in the process of reopening following a fire in 2021.
10. Turfway Park
Horse racing is a well-known part of Kentucky’s identity, and there’s a track within shouting distance of Erlanger.
When we wrote this list, Turfway Park was in the middle of a $145m upgrade, after having been taken over by Churchill Downs, Inc. in 2019.
The new ultramodern facility will be Kentucky’s largest simulcast racing facility, to go with a wealth of historical racing machines.
Live racing takes place on the one-mile Tapeta oval, between September and October, and December and April. The big annual event is the Jeff Ruby Steaks, a Grade III race in late March, with a purse of $600,000 at the time of writing.
11. Doe Run Lake
The south end of Erlanger is low-density residential areas interlaced with parks and natural spaces like this lake, ensconced in some 200 acres of woods.
The trail system around Doe Run Lake adds up to almost nine miles, while the perimeter trail along the shoreline is exactly 2.8 miles long.
If you need to get away from it all for a while, the paths will deliver you to unfrequented picnic areas in the woods.
Only trolling motors are allowed on the water, and the fish regularly caught here are largemouth bass, flathead catfish and channel catfish.
12. Flagship Park
This top-notch neighborhood park is set on a hilltop and surrounded by residential streets near Doe Run.
Flagship Park is only a few years old, but has recently unveiled a slew of improvements, most noticeably to the surfacing at the playground, which now has a colorful design and is perfectly soft to cushion falls.
Flagship Park is mostly a place for parents to bring children, but among the other amenities there’s a climbing wall, grassy play areas, fishing pond (venue for a kids’ fishing derby in April), a walking trail, volleyball court and picnic shelters with grills.
13. Super Bowl
This family fun center in Erlanger is part of the regional Strikes and Spares chain and was coming through a long-term renovation when we compiled this list.
If you’re up for an evening of bowling this is a huge alley, with 64 lanes, open until midnight on Friday and Saturday night.
All lanes have automatic scoring, and if you’re here with kids then there are bumpers free of charge. Also at Super Bowl is a fully-stocked pro shop, game room and sports bar with food and beverage service at your lane.
14. Kenton County Golf Course
This complex, with 36 holes of golf, is to the south of Erlanger in Independence. There are usually three distinct courses at Kenton County Golf Course, but only two were open at the time of writing this article.
First up is The Pioneer Golf Course, which opened in 1968 and is praised for its walkability, with a gentle front nine and a hill back nine.
The Willows meanwhile is more challenging, with a slope rating of 137, although there are four sets of tees to suit players of different abilities.
To warm up, the facility also has a driving range, with buckets of balls at reasonable prices and every club provided free of charge.
15. Florence Y’Alls
While Cincinnati is known for its big sports franchises and riverfront stadiums, there’s a professional sports team much closer in Florence.
Playing in the West Division of the Frontier League, the Florence Y’Alls go back to 1994. The current name is much more recent, adopted in 2019 as a nod to the famous sign between Interstates 75 and 71.
Since they were founded, the Y’Alls have taken three league championships and five division championships, the most recent in 2017.
Home field is Thomas More Stadium, and there’s plenty going on during the season, with child-friendly entertainment between innings, fireworks on Fridays and live music after the game on some Satrudays.