Directly south of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, this suburban city in the Cincinnati metro area is crossed by I-75 and I-71.
Since the mid-1970s millions of people traveling along the highway have been greeted by a water tower proudly painted with the friendly message, “Florence Y’All”. The story behind this landmark is a bit like how the “Hollywoodland” sign became “Hollywood”.
There’s much to recommend Florence. The city has its own professional baseball team, a regional mall in good shape and a newly renovated thoroughbred racetrack, while there’s a catalog of family attractions in the area.
Head a little further out and you’ll come to Big Bone Lick State Historic Site, where the fossils of Ice Age megafauna have intrigued scientists since the days of Lewis and Clark.
1. Florence Y’All Water Tower
The story behind the city’s most famous landmark, next to the interstate, involves some cheeky ingenuity.
The water tower was built in 1974 and was painted with the words Florence Mall to drum up publicity for the mall that was being built next door.
The unofficial advertisement became the subject of legal concerns, and so a simple change was made, replacing the “M” a “Y”, for a disarming greeting.
The water tower is still in use and can hold a million gallons, while “Y’All” has recently been adopted as a name for Florence’s professional baseball team.
2. Florence Y’Alls
Florence has been home to a professional baseball team since 1994, playing at a handsome ballpark that opened in 2004.
In 2020 the team changed its name, and the obvious choice was the Florence Y’Alls, after that iconic water tower.
The Y’Alls compete in the Frontier League, and over the past 25+ years have taken five Division Championships and three League Championships.
Y’Alls Ballpark, seating 4,500, is a real family destination during the season, with themed nights, fireworks on Fridays and tons of entertainment and activities between innings to keep younger kids on board.
3. Boone County Distilling Co.
In Florence you can get in touch with Kentucky’s fabled bourbon heritage. This can be done at the Boone County Distilling Co., which can trace its roots back to 1833 and was founded in nearby Petersburg.
By the 1880s that original operation had become the largest distillery in the state, before fading in the early 20th century.
A new generation took on the mantle in 2015, and produces a line of award-winning spirits, including Small Batch Bourbon, Kentucky Pot Still Bourbon, Single Barrel Bourbon, Small Batch Rye and Single Barrel Rye.
To find out more about the old ways, you can take a tour of the distillery, which has a 500-gallon pot still, four fermenters and a bottling line, producing hundreds of barrels of small-batch bourbon a year.
4. Boone County Fair
Dating back to the 1930s, the Boone County Fairgrounds are minutes away in Burlington, and the big event of the year is of course the county fair, across six days in early August.
There’s no better way to get acquainted with rural culture in Northern Kentucky, and this event is renowned for its horse shows in the Lower and Main Show Rings.
There’s a profusion of 4-H exhibits and skills shows, for anything from livestock to fruits & vegetables. Also on the agenda are pageants, carnival rides, games, endless family activities and crowd-pleasing fair food.
In winter the fairgrounds become a winter wonderland with a charming Christmas light display, visitiable by car, with music that plays over your radio.
5. Big Bone Lick State Historic Site
An outing not to be missed near Florence is this fascinating natural site dubbed “the birthplace of American paleontology”.
Merriwether Lewis visited this field of megafauna bones in 1803, and sent specimens to Thomas Jefferson, who later commissioned William Clark to conduct the first vertebrate paleontological dig in the United States at this very place.
The reason for the profusion of pleistocene megafauna fossils at Big Bone Luck is related to a probable salt lick by the sulfur springs, which continue to flow.
Some of these animals were likely trapped in the marshy ground and perished, leaving behind a rare concentration of bones.
You can check out newly updated museum exhibits at the visitor center, and tour the salt springs along the Big Bone Trail. There’s also a small bison herd on this parkland, as well as a 62-site campground and picnicking facilities.
6. Turfway Park
When we made this list, the thoroughbred horse racing track, Turfway Park, had just come out the other end of a $145 million renovation project.
Managed by Churchill Downs, Inc, Turfway Park has been around since 1959, but had suffered a few difficult years because of threats to its funding and losing race days.
As part of the project the old grandstand was torn down and replaced, and casino-style gaming was introduced, with 1,500 instant racing machines.
There’s also a new, modern clubhouse and a one-mile synthetic track around an inner dirt track. In recent years live racing has taken place here in two periods: September-October and December-Apri.
The big annual event is the Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks in March, with a purse of $250,000.
7. Florence Family Aquatic Center
On the south side of the city’s Government Center complex, Florence has a public water park that would put some theme parks to shame.
This attraction is open Memorial Day weekend through the school summer break and has a host of great features.
By way of intro, you’ve got a zero-depth leisure area, a competition pool, two spray grounds, a lazy river and a tower with two slides, one long and twisting, and the other a high-speed drop.
If you’re a parent here to relax then there are sunbathing areas, giant umbrellas, concessions and an up-to-date bathhouse.
8. Sherlock’s Escape Rooms
Known for its intricately crafted, atmospheric adventures, this local escape room brand has two locations in the Cincinnati metro area.
Right away, something special about the Florence branch is that it has the only kid-friendly, 30-minute escape room in Kentucky.
When we wrote this article, this room was The Jungle Jr., with a difficulty level aimed at children 7 and up.
The other, hour-long rooms were Graveyard Escape, Cabin in the Woods, The Shipwreck and The Attic, which have horror themes, while in The Wild West you have to get out of town before Jesse James finds you.
9. World of Golf
Owned by the city, this golf attraction has been part of the scene in Florence for more than half a century now.
The joy of World of Golf is that it has something for all ages and abilities. The centerpiece is an 18-hole executive golf course, perfect for seasoned players fine-tuning their short game, but also less experienced golfers learning basic techniques.
There’s also a driving range with 24 Fiberbuilt tee mats and a family-friendly 18-hole miniature golf course.
This is loaded with Kentucky signatures, from slugger baseball bats to bourbon barrels and even a miniature version of the Florence Y’All Water Tower. Other highlights include golf simulators, an indoor range and a 9-hole footgolf course.
10. Florence Mall
The mall advertised by that water tower opened in 1976, and remains a shopping go-to for the tri-state area despite its age.
The Florence Mall was last renovated in 1993, but still has a healthy occupancy, at a time when many malls are struggling.
A few of the stores here are Macy’s, JCPenney, Foot Locker, Hot Topic, GameStop, American Eagle, rue21, Victoria’s Secret, Claire’s and Kay Jewelers, while there’s a 14-screen Cinemark multiplex on the south side.
The food court is gigantic for a mall of this size, with the likes of Sbarro, Auntie Anne’s, Osaka Grill and Basil Thai Kitchen.
11. Florence Nature Park
Something that might catch you by surprise in the heart of the city is this restful 15-acre park, designed purely for passive recreation.
A paved trail winds past neat lawns, flowerbeds and tall trees. Younger children will adore the lifelike granite sculptures of animals, including a rhino, hippo, giant tortoise and crocodile.
These were donated to the city by Florence Mall. The park’s linchpin is the stone-built Nature Park Event Center, designed for corporate events, weddings, receptions and all kinds of other social events.
12. Full Throttle Indoor Karting
This chain has five locations in the region, and one can be found close to Turfway Park in the north of Florence.
Like the best karting tracks, Full Throttle caters to drivers on a walk-in basis, so you can just show up and choose the race package that suits you.
There are karts available to suit all ages, and at the top of the line are the Pro Karts, with Honda GX270 engines, capable of up to 40 mph.
As well as a karting track, this facility has a few other attractions under the same roof, with a virtual reality experience, axe-throwing range and even a “rage room” where you’re free to smash things up for an hour.
13. Florence 14
This multiplex opened at Florence Mall in 2008, and was taken over by Cinemark in 2013. In the last few years Cinemark has given the Florence 14 a complete makeover, with signature luxury loungers in all of the auditoriums combined with built-in trays.
If you can, try to catch a movie at the XD auditorium, which has an enormous, wall-to-wall screen able to show 35 trillion colors, complemented by immersive custom surround sound. As ever, there are specials for matinee screenings and Tuesdays all day.
14. Boone Links Golf Course
Florence is home to another well-regarded public golf facility, a stone’s throw from the Florence Y’All Water Tower off the Burlington Pike.
Opened in 1979, Boone Links has a four-star rating from Golf Digest and is an affordable place to play a round. There are 27 holes of golf here, broken down into three 9s: Brookview and Lakeview (forming an 18-hole course), and Ridgeview.
The latter is ideal for people still learning the game, with only one par-5, on the straight-ish 9th hole. In tha last few years a miniature golf course has opened here, with 18 holes laced with fountains, streams and other water features.
15. Stringtown Park
This neighborhood park, towards the east of Florence, was acquired from the estate of a local resident in 2001.
It’s not hard to see why Stringtown Park is so popular with local families, as the playground here is something special.
On a large plot, this was designed with a Camelot theme and has castle-like climbing structures.
For grownups there’s a trail with four different fitness stations, as well as a large shelter by the playground with six picnic tables. Among the sports facilities you’ve got a basketball court and a sand volleyball court.