On hilly land next to the Ohio River, this affluent suburb in Greater Cincinnati takes its name from an army base that opened in 1890.
Ft. Thomas Army Post closed in 1964, but there are tantalizing remnants in the old brick buildings of Tower Park, also home to a local history museum.
Modern day Fort Thomas is a quiet suburban community made up of sprawling parks and natural spaces, but with some big-city attractions nearby.
On the opposite bank of the Ohio River is the much-loved Coney Island Park, a staple of the Cincinnati summer for more than 130 years.
1. Tower Park
Guarding the entrance to this 187-acre park, which is partially on U.S. Army land, is the city’s most prominent landmark.
This 102-foot water tower was built in 1890, and at its foot are cannons that were captured in Havana Harbor during the Spanish-American War (1898). With a closer look you’ll see that these weapons were cast in Barcelona in 1768 and 1769.
There are some grand Victorian residences and impressive old army structures in Tower Park, many going back to the post’s earliest years. One of these houses a local history museum, which we’ll talk about next.
Among the slew of other amenities at Tower Park are a gymnasium and recreation center in the old armory, events venue in the old mess hall, an amphitheater, baseball field, three picnic shelters, mountain biking trails, tennis courts, basketball courts and playground equipment.
2. The Fort Thomas Military and Community Museum
If your interest has been piqued by the solemn old buildings nestled in Tower Park there’s an informative little museum in a handsome turn-of-the-century residence at 69 Veterans Way.
Centered on the military history of Fort Thomas, the museum has a collection spanning 150 years and enriched with lots of absorbing curios.
There’s a ton of material from the army days, from letters, photos and scrapbooks to an antique dog tag machine, a WWII Norden bomb sight, WWI trench art and scrap metal salvaged from USS Maine, which sank in Havana Harbor in 1898, sparking the Spanish American War.
3. Coney Island
Across the Ohio River from Fort Thomas, this water park has been a summer escape for Greater Cincinnati families since 1886.
The star attraction at Coney Island is the Sunlite Pool, officially the largest recirculating pool in the world. Measuring 200 feet wide by 401 feet long, the Sunlite Pool first opened in 1925 and covers two acres, which is more than a football field.
Also awaiting you are waterslides like the quarter-mile Twister, a complete set of diving boards and the spectacular Typhoon Tower, with its 73 interactive play stations and 1,300-gallon “hydro storm”.
To make your outing as convenient as possible you can rent single and double cabanas, while there’s also a shop for inflatables and essentials, and a choice of dining options.
4. Truist Arena
Neighboring Highland Heights is home to the main campus for North Kentucky University, the third-largest university in Greater Cincinnati, established in 1968 and enrolling more than 14,500 students.
NKU has a high reputation for its law school, but also for the Northern Kentucky Norse men’s basketball team.
Just over a decade ago this made the transition from NCAA Division II to Division I, and has made two NCAA tournament appearances in the last few years. Home Court is the 9,200-seat Truist Arena, which opened in 2008.
As well as hosting competitive men’s and women’s basketball, the arena stages tons of other events, including reality TV shows, Cirque du Soleil performances and concerts/comedy sets by the likes of Bob Dylan, Alan Jackson, Blake Shelton, Barry Manilow and Dane Cook.
5. Highland Hills Park
On steep terrain, this attractive park is ideal for family outings and recreation. In just under 80 acres, Highland Hills Park has a nine-hole disc golf course, a dog park, basketball courts, play equipment for kids, sand volleyball courts and a multi-use field for baseball and soccer.
If you’re just here to unwind you can enjoy the rambling wooded scenery along the trails, endowed with some interesting carved sculptures. The park also has two reservable shelters for parties and family reunions.
6. The Village Players of Fort Thomas
One of the city’s great secrets is that it has a formidable community theatre based at the Fort Thomas Woman’s Club. This is a grand Georgian Revival building by the Post Office along Ft Thomas Ave.
The Village Players of Fort Thomas have been around for more than 60 years, offering a platform for new talent, ideas and writing, and combining timely and innovative productions with crowd-pleasing classics.
These take place in a cozy theatre with tiered seating for 102, as well as a reception hall, lobby, green room and kitchen.
7. Blue Marble Books
Another local star in Fort Thomas is this independent children’s bookstore, on the scene for more than four decades now.
Blue Marble Books was founded in 1979 by proud Filipina, Tina Moore, who contributed a great deal to children’s literacy in the area.
Moore helped forge connections with renowned children’s authors and illustrators, welcoming them for events at the store, and even helping local schools invite them for presentations for students.
Moore’s legacy is upheld by a passionate team, offering workshops, author/illustrator appearances, and maintaining the award-winning Great Green Room, which recreates the main bedroom in Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon.
8. Fort Thomas Landmark Tree Trail
The trailhead for this unfrequented path can be found by the army post on Carmel Mano Rd. The Fort Thomas Landmark Tree Trail takes in the ruins of the old fort on a one-mile loop through deep woodlands.
As well as interesting vestiges from the fort, there are no fewer than 22 specimen trees to look out for as you go.
You can download a map and tree list from the city website, point out species like a northern red oak, shumard oak, Kentucky coffee tree, shagbark hickory, black walnut, sugar maple, white ash and basswood.
9. Riverbend Music Center
Fort Thomas is the breadth of the Ohio River from an enormous amphitheater, set right on the water. The Riverbend Music Center was built in the mid-1980s for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, helping to reinvigorate the city’s ailing music scene.
The last renovation took place just over a decade ago, and this venue now has a capacity of 20,500.
We could use a whole article to name all of the famous acts that have played the Riverbend Music Center, but some recent performers include Miranda Lambert, Kenny Chesney, Dave Matthews Band, Rod Stewart, Maroon 5 and Santana, while Jimmy Buffett has been an annual regular for more than three decades.
One of the recent alterations here is the 4,100-capacity PNC Pavilion, for more intimate concerts.
10. Twin Oaks Golf
To the west, across the Licking River, there’s a public 18-hole golf course right on the riverbank.
Twin Oaks Golf dates to 1927 and is regarded as one of the top public courses in the Cincinnati metro area. Water is almost ever-present at this course, which has bent grass greens, Bermuda grass fairways and an abundance of mature trees.
The low-lying setting makes this a good place for less experienced players, but you’ll need to contend with some narrow fairways and a lot of bunkers and water hazards.
Overlooking the course is an elegant clubhouse with a bar and grill, outdoor veranda seating and a full-service pro shop.
11. Belterra Park Cincinnati
This sizable Racino can be found next to Coney Island Park and the Riverbend Music Center, right across the river from Fort Thomas.
The roots of Belterra Park Cincinnati go back to the Coney Island Race Track, opened in 1925. Seabiscuit raced here twice in 1936, and it was this track in 1976 that the renowned jockey Steve Cauthen launched his career.
Belterra Park has live racing, April through mid-October, with events normally taking place Friday to Sunday, most Thursdays and on national holidays like Independence Day.
Also here is the River Downs Club racebook, offering year-round simulcast wagering, along with a gaming floor with some 1,500 machines and six restaurants for dining experiences from swanky to casual.
12. Withrow Nature Preserve
There’s an unspoiled patch of nature just up the Ohio River on the opposite bank. This hilltop preserve is 270 acres of mature hardwood forest home to deer, foxes, raccoons, opossums and a marvelous variety of birdlife.
Withrow Nature Preserve is slightly withdrawn from the riverbank and surrounded by quiet residential neighborhoods, making it a blissful place for a walk in an urban area.
In the first half of the 20th century this property was a country home for the couple Andrew and Adelaide Withrow, who eventually deeded the land to the Hamilton County Park District in 1980.
What is remarkable is that they nurtured the wildflowers that are now one of the preserve’s finest features in springtime.
13. Sherlock’s Escape Rooms
Cold Spring is one of two locations in the Cincinnati metro area for the acclaimed Sherlock’s Escape Rooms. At this branch you have a choice of four rooms to take on.
Each one varies in difficulty and group size (2-8 or 2-9), but the basic principle remains: You have one hour to solve an intricate sequence of interconnecting puzzles and escape the room.
The rooms have themes ranging from adventure (The Lost Kingdom) to mystery (Sherlock’s Unsolved Mystery) and horror (The Shed, Motel Room 13), and all sprinkled with plenty of humor.
You’ll be accompanied by an in-character game master who will fill you in on the storyline and help you out with the occasional hint.
14. California Golf Course
One of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission’s golf courses, this 18-hole track is over the Combs-Hehl Bridge in a glorious setting.
On these sloping fairways, framed by stands of old-growth hardwood trees, you’ll be treated to occasional views of the Ohio River.
The course opened in 1935, with a design by the prolific course architect William Diddle (1882-1985). California Golf Course has bent-grass greens and fairways, and three sets of tees, catering to different skill levels.
The fairways tend to be long and narrow, punishing wayward shots, and there’s a big difference between the forgiving front nine and very tricky back nine.
As a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, the course strives to conserve natural resources and maintain wildlife habitats.
15. Newport Racing & Gaming
This recently expanded historical racing machine (HRM) entertainment venue in Newport belongs to Churchill Downs Incorporated.
Opened in 2020, you’ll find Newport Racing & Gaming at the Newport Shopping Center off Interstate 471.
The new expansion adds 14,000 extra square feet to the property, enabling live music performances and creating distinct smoking and smoke-free gaming areas.
As well as scores of HRMs this facility also has several hundred Vegas-style slot machines and Smiley’s Bar & Grille for a bite or drink.