One of Kentucky’s big shopping areas can be found in this suburban city, where Shelbyville Road intersects with I-264 on the east side of Louisville.
Mall St. Matthews and Oxmoor Center are the two malls here, but St. Matthews has a lot more going for it.
Beargrass Creek flows westwards through the city and is lined with a series of parks. Combined with a safe sidewalk system you can walk for some distance between Brown Park and Arthur K. Draut Park.
In the 18th and 19th century, the landscape was made up of large plantations and estates, evidence of which can be found at Locust Grove, Farmington Historic Home, Whitehall House and Gardens, as well as old family cemeteries hiding in unexpected places.
1. Locust Grove
Something you have to see near St. Matthews is this 18th-century house and farm built on what was then the frontier.
A U.S. National Historic Landmark, the house at Locust Grove is a frontier interpretation of Georgian architecture, and played host to some of the most important figures in United States history.
Among them are George Rogers Clark, who lived here towards the end of his life, as well as Lewis and Clark and future 12th president Zachary Taylor, who grew up next door.
Another defining figure associated with Locust Grove is the enslaved African-American Stephen Bishop (1821-1857), who nevertheless became an accomplished speleologist at Mammoth Cave.
There’s volumes of history to dive into at Locust Grove, both at the historic house and the modern Visitor Center, shining a light on pioneer Kentucky, Louisville’s earliest days and the American Revolutionary Wars.
2. Brown Park
An understandable source of local pride, the award-winning Brown Park is on the banks of Beargrass Creek, attracting plentiful waterfowl in the warmer months.
With picnic areas throughout, this is a space for gentle walks and picnics as opposed to sports action.
If you follow one path you’ll even stumble upon the historic cemetery for the James Graham Brown family that owned this land.
Another real point of interest is a set of interpretive stone columns, artistically demonstrating the geologic periods of limestone formation in Kentucky and Indiana.
The prettiness goes up a notch in the holiday season, when you can walk among the festive Christmas light displays.
3. Farmington Historic Home
There’s a window on antebellum Kentucky at this former hemp plantation founded by one John Speed around 1815.
Commanding this 18-acre property (once 550 acres) is a 14-room Federal-style mansion, thought to have been based on a design by Thomas Jefferson.
This building has barely changed since the 19th century, the only alterations being made for the sake of fire safety.
That splendor came at a human price, and on a visit you’ll find out about the enslaved African-Americans who worked on the plantation and lived here in some 60 cabins.
There are other moving historical details to discover, such as a three-week visit by Abraham Lincoln in the summer of 1841, forging a friendship with the Speeds that lasted through the Civil War.
4. Whitehall House & Gardens
For another cultural outing, this Greek Revival mansion is nestled in stately gardens and welcomes visitors for tours.
Whitehall started out as a modest Italianate house in 1855, and was eventually purchased by the renowned horseman and entrepreneur John Middleton, with his wife Betty Summers Middleton in 1909.
They oversaw a thorough reconstruction, resulting in the surviving Greek Revival appearance, with fluted columns and composite capitals on the facade.
On a guided tour you’ll learn about the many interesting owners and the lasting changes each made to the house.
Many of the furnishings were bequeathed by the manufacturing heir, who resided here until 1992. On the grounds there’s an arboretum, with many rare plant species selected to provide a splash of color at all times of the year.
5. Seneca Park
Like Brown Park, this 560-acre public space is on Beargrass Creek and has the distinction of being designed by Frederick Law Olmsted’s firm, as their final project in Louisville.
Seneca Park is next to Bowman Field and was landscaped in the mid-1920s. More than 500,000 people visit the park each year, putting it in the top 100 municipal parks in the country.
Awaiting you are rambling trails for walks, mountain biking and horseback riding, as well as amenities for golf (18 holes), tennis, baseball, basketball, soccer, field hockey and volleyball.
From here you can also walk to Cherokee Park, less formal in style, and famous for the impressive Big Rock outcrop on the creek.
6. St. Matthews Farmers Market
On Saturday mornings at Beargrass Christian Church mid-May through September, St. Matthews has a burgeoning farmers’ market. With over 40 vendors, the market attracts upwards of 1,000 shoppers each week.
For a taste of what you’ll find, there’s seasonal fresh produce, honey, flowers, cheese, eggs, grass-fed meat, oils & vineyards, sauces, rubs, jams, jellies, baked goods and a variety of craft products.
A team of dedicated volunteers help keep the market running, and there’s occasionally live music while you shop.
7. Crescent Hill Reservoir
Still functioning today, this hilltop reservoir was built in the 1870s, drawing its water from the Ohio River via a pipeline.
The Crescent Hill Reservoir has a 110-million-gallon capacity, which is less than a day’s water supply for Louisville in the 21st century. From the moment it was completed, the Crescent Hill Reservoir has attracted visitors.
Part of the appeal comes from the handsome Gothic Revival gatehouse (1879), which used to contain the valves to control the inflow and outflow, along with the grand stairway and ornate wrought-iron guardrails around the water.
There are interpretive boards throughout the complex, and the walkways are a pretty place to be at sunset.
8. Mall St. Matthews
Most agree that this mall, founded in 1962, is the best in the Louisville area. Despite entering its seventh decade, Mall St. Matthews feels fresh, having recently upgraded its food court.
There are upwards of 130 tenants here, including dozens of familiar names like JCPenney, Dillard’s, Foot Locker, Gamestop, Loft, Kay Jewelers, Vans, Forever 21, Yankee Candle and Victoria’s Secret.
The food court is a real plus point, whether you’re up for pizza, gyros, Chinese, cheesesteaks, kebabs, Mexican or a bite from Chick-fil-A.
There’s also a Cheesecake Factory at the mall, as well as a Dave & Buster’s and a Cinemark multiplex.
9. Arthur K. Draut Park
Right by Mall St. Matthews, this park is also on Beargrass Creek and was designed in the mid-1990s for the purpose of water retention along the watercourse during heavy rains.
You can use the city’s sidewalk system to get to Arthur K. Draut Park from Brown Park, and when you arrive you’ll be met by a natural environment laid out for passive activities like walking and nature watching.
The path winds through riparian woodland and past bird-rich wetlands, crossing the creek several times.
Greeting you at the entrance to the park is “Champion”, which was St. Matthews’ fiberglass horse for the metro area’s 2009 Gallopalooza Sidewalk Derby.
This event raised money for The Brightside Foundation, which works to improve Louisville’s natural environment.
10. Malibu Jack’s Louisville
This regional chain of family entertainment centers/indoor amusement parks, has a branch a stone’s throw away by the Hurstbourne Parkway.
The deal at Malibu Jack’s is that admission is free, and you have a card that you can add funds to for activities and attractions.
In this enormous complex there’s an 18-hole miniature golf course, a go kart track, laser tag arena, bumper cars, arcade, a 4-D motion theater and an assortment of indoor coasters.
For some comfort foods there’s Jack’s, a family-friendly sports bar serving wings, pizza, burgers and the like.
11. Burks Family Cemetery
A strange contrast to the big box stores in St. Mathews Springs Shopping Center is a fascinating point of historical interest that you might otherwise miss.
On a square plot in the middle of the parking lot is the cemetery for the Burks family, enclosed by evergreen hedges and a low stone wall.
The Burks founded their family farm in this area in the early 19th century, and there are grave markers for five members of the family, including Matilda Burks (1797-1853).
12. Oxmoor Center
On the other side of I-264 from Mall St. Matthews is another enclosed mall, this one mixing midmarket and high-end stores.
Oxmoor Center first opened in 1971 on what is the Oxmoor Estate, which has history going back to 1787.
The mall has been renovated in the last decade, and when we wrote this article had near total occupancy.
A few brands of note include anchors H&M, Von Maur, Macy’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods, along with the likes of Apple, Clarks, Old Navy, Sephora and Lush.
13. Village 8 Theaters
At Dupont Village in the south of St. Matthews there’s a discount movie theater, open seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Typically, Village 8 Theaters shows movies after they have dropped out of first-run theaters, and is the only cinema of its kind in the Louisville area.
This is convenient if you’re unsure about spending big bucks to see a film you’re not sure you’ll love, or if there was a blockbuster you missed a few weeks earlier and still want to see on the big screen.
Also being shown here, on a first-run basis, are independent and foreign movies, and this is often the only place where you can watch these releases.
14. St. Matthews Community Park
A little more low-key, St. Matthews Community Park is near Mall St. Matthews and next to I-264.
As opposed to the other parks on this list, this space is designed for sports, with facilities for a host of activities including basketball, tennis and baseball, with T-ball facilities, batting cages and a stadium for high school baseball completed in the last few years.
Elsewhere you’ve got a children’s area, as well as picnic tables, grills, a pavilion and finally a peaceful wooded area in the northeast corner of the park, with asphalt walking trails.
15. St. Matthews Street Festival
On the first Saturday in August there’s a vibrant, day-long festival along Frankfort Avenue. Taking place between the Lexington Road intersection and Bauer Ave, the St. Matthews Street Festival is a day-long event celebrating the city’s culture, history, cuisine and businesses.
There’s a schedule of live entertainment until 10 pm, as well as a 5k run/walk, vendors from a slew of local businesses, children’s activities at the Kids Zone and a wellness fair.
For live music you’ve got two stages to choose from, with a diversity of performers, from traditional Bluegrass to classic rock tribute acts.