It’s easy to fall victim to the societal norms of what’s deemed “romantic” by today’s standards — and sure, long walks on the beach, candlelit dinners, and bouquets of roses still certainly get the job done in terms of wooing your significant other. But what if, instead of participating in the typical romantic charades, we flipped the script a bit? Instead of fine dining and extravagant gifts, why not opt for a trip to a town where you can enjoy a flight of local brews, meditate in a salt cave, and then go zip lining through the trees with the one you love?
Believe it or not, a place like that exists — and it’s not where you might think. Just an hour north of Nashville, Tennessee, resides quaint and charming Bowling Green, Kentucky, where southern hospitality isn’t just a motto but a way of life. Coming to Bowling Green might seem like an unlikely romantic getaway, but if you’re tired of spending anniversary weekends or date nights visiting the same old restaurants and strolling down familiar streets, it might be worth your while to look into.
Visiting Bowling Green simultaneously feels like a getaway and a homecoming. New experiences will elevate your mood, but there is a strong sense of community woven in through each of the town’s 35 square miles that will leave you considering extending your stay just a bit longer, if only to feel a part of their warm, inviting city.
Where to Stay
While there are a number of budget-friendly chain hotels around Bowling Green, it’s worth the small splurge to book yourselves a room at the Kentucky Grand Hotel and Spa. Located right in the heart of downtown Bowling Green, the location is as unbeatable as the rooms are charming, and starting at $259 a night, it’s well worth the investment to be a stone’s throw away from the town’s version of Main Street.
Upon walking through the doors, you’ll find yourself in a small, funky lobby, adorned with checkered flooring and retro-glam furniture. It’s somewhat surprising to see a small southern town boutique pack such a unique and fun aesthetic — and your mood is almost guaranteed to be immediately lifted while waiting for your suite.
And speaking of your suite, the Kentucky Grand Hotel spared no expense in creating a cozy, comfortable space for couples to unwind. Everything from your bedroom (adorned with chocolates on your pillow) to the spa-like bathroom practically screams romance. Zach Strachan, general manager of Kentucky Grand Hotel and Spa, explains that it’s all about the small details to ensure couples feel the southern hospitality that Kentucky is so famously known for. “Simple but necessary aspects, like greeting a guest by their first and last name, or just asking how their day is going. Consistent and meaningful interaction with our guests, and making them feel at home is what hospitality is all about,” he said.
Where to Eat
For breakfast, head to Wild Eggs for a traditional (and filling) southern breakfast. Order their coffee of the day or some fresh-squeezed orange juice, and be sure to ask for an Everything Muffin alongside your meal — don’t leave town without trying one. While their namesake screams savory, make sure you indulge in a little something sweet, too: order the Sweet Home Apple Bourbon Crepes to split with your partner. Whatever you order, though, know that nearly everything on the menu gives you that homestyle cooking you so desperately crave while visiting the south.
For lunch, grab a beer and a bite to eat at Bowling Green’s very own microbrewery, White Squirrel Brewery. Eclectic, fun portraits of the white squirrel — an animal common to the area — adorn the walls, and an outdoor biergarten-style patio that is perfect for warm, sunny days. It’s an atmosphere that is buzzing with energy, and if you close your eyes, you might believe you’re in a hip, trendy restaurant in Brooklyn. Their White Squirrel Nut Brown ale was one of the first beers the brewery created, and there’s a good reason why it’s still on the menu: it’s delicious, and worthy of a second round.
For dinner, head to Steamer Seafood, which offers a southern twist on traditional seafood that will transport you to South Carolina. Before walking inside, you’ll see the cement surrounding the restaurant is mixed with crushed oysters — a sidewalk staple for Hilton Head Island, owner Dale Augenstein's coastal home of 30 years before he returned to the community that hosts his alma mater, Western Kentucky University.
The subtle nautical decor inside Steamer’s follows suit, showcasing signage from the previous restaurant Augenstein owned and operated for 25 years on Hilton Head Island. “I wanted to blend the coast with Kentucky,” he said. “Oysters were the number one accent to bring the coast inward, as they’re found in many streets and sidewalks throughout the coastal islands.”
Decor aside, the meals at Steamer’s are also reminiscent of a coastal port city. If you’re curious as to how a seafood restaurant thrives in an area where the nearest ocean is hundreds of miles away, it’s thanks to a weekly delivery of fresh, highest quality seafood. While you can fill yourself to the brim with fresh fish, leave room for dessert — heaping portions of cakes and pies are expected here, so you can share a treat with your significant other, but certainly no one would judge you if you didn’t.
What to Do
Couples who are seeking adventure will find it 300 feet below the ground on one of Mammoth Cave National Park’s tours, located right in — well, under — Bowling Green. The longest known cave system in the world, Mammoth Cave has over half a dozen tours that visitors can choose from, depending on how strenuous they’d like their excursion to be. As you plunge down underground, you’ll be greeted by tiny passageways that give way to astonishing caverns, all with dim lighting that gives the cave an eerily beautiful glow. A jacket or sweater is strongly encouraged, as the average temperature in the cave hovers around 54 degrees Fahrenheit. While all of that sounds far from romantic, viewing these strangely majestic chambers does instill an extreme sense of wonder that is guaranteed to be a memory to reflect back on in the years to come. Tickets for these tours can range anywhere from $6 to $60, but you can enjoy the park’s complimentary Porch Talk with a Park Ranger if you’re looking to keep this adventure budget-friendly. Of course, be sure to check the park’s schedule before embarking on your trip.
If you prefer getting your thrills above ground, a visit to the Lost River Cave is just as exciting, where you can find yourself on the popular Cave Boat Tour — a two-part journey that takes you into a different set of caverns. While the first leg of the journey is on foot — learning the history of the caves and walking to the cave’s entrance — you’ll soon hop on a boat that will bring you to the second leg of the trip. Your guide will ask you to duck your head while passing under the famous wishing rock, and, while you should by no means lift your head up too high, you’re encouraged to lift your hands to gently graze the limestone surface. Just as quickly as you duck through the entrance, though, your boat will emerge inside the caverns that resemble earthy cathedral spires.
To keep your adrenaline pumping, check out Lost River Cave’s Flying Squirrel Zip Line, where you and your partner can fly above the forest canopy on three separate zip lines. Stepping off an 80-foot bluff and speeding through the treetops is exhilarating, and the momentary stops between each jump garner the most excellent bird's-eye views of the valley.
To balance all that adventure out, be sure to give yourself a day of blissful relaxation at Be Happy Yoga & Salt Cave, where a 45-minute Himalayan salt cave session will revitalize and recharge your senses. Built with over six tons of Himalayan salt, a session inside this cozy, dreamy man-made cave, where you’re given fuzzy slippers and a soft blanket while you lay in a zero-gravity chair, makes it easy to slip in and out of consciousness — even for an insomniac like myself. And for only $25, this treatment is worth every penny.
“The salt cave is a necessary treat to de-stress the body and improve breathing and skin conditions,” says Susan Polk, owner and professional yoga therapist. “Spending time in the salt cave is great for stress reduction and helps reduce anxiety and depression. It’s also known to help alleviate headaches and migraines, improve lung function and lung capacity, reduce and clear inflammation of the skin, improve psoriasis, eczema, acne, dermatitis, and other skin conditions.”
Polk also can provide private, guided deep relaxation during your time in the salt cave that helps to enhance each session.
The environment is so soothing and tranquil that you and your partner will want to stay at Be Happy for more than just 45 minutes — and luckily, there are an array of treatments to keep you there longer. A highlight on the spa menu: a restorative Thai Yoga Therapy session, in which a practitioner works with the client to combine acupressure, stretching, and energy work. Considered the “lazy man’s yoga,” this therapy session was one of the most transformative and energizing treatments I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing, and you’re guaranteed to leave the room feeling ready to tackle your day.
After teaching yoga in various locations, Polk decided to open Be Happy Yoga & Salt Cave in Bowling Green because of her love for the neighborhood and its community. “I wanted to create a space for people in Bowling Green to come relax and renew their energy,” she said. “Bowling Green is the perfect size town. It’s big enough to have a vibrant university scene, beautiful natural parks, a wide array of restaurants, a performing arts center, and sporting events for the whole family, but small enough that people in town truly can get to know each other by name.”
The obvious running theme is that Bowling Green quickly feels like a home away from home. And you can bet when you do plan your next trip, you’ll be welcomed back as if you never left.