Image: The Kentucky Castle is a perfect representation of Lexington's wealth
Lexington, Kentucky actually wasn't meant to be the first place I headed once I quit my job and sold my house. I was supposed to be vacationing in Turkey for part of December, but when Delta moved my flights several times, then cut into the tour I was supposed to do, and eventually canceled one of the legs of my return flight, I asked them to just give me my money back. The vacation had become more stress than it was worth. So I needed a place to stay for a month. I'd visited Lex once before for just a few days over Thanksgiving, using the artistic AirBnB I chose then as a sort of writer's retreat. I'd been really productive and enjoyed the historic part of the city, so I figured this was as good a place as any. Besides, what has bigger Hallmark Christmas vibes than a bunch of merrily decorated horse farms?
Image: A merrily decorated Horse Park.
I've been here for just over three weeks now, and with one week left in my stay, I figure it's a great time to review Lexington as a destination for other digital nomads. So here it is, the good, the bad, and the horses.
Important information to know about Lexington is that it's a small city: around 350,000 people. It's also horse country - this is where the most prominent race and show horses in the country are bred and often retire. The city is 75% White, 15% Black, and also has small populations identifying as Asian or of multiple races. It also reeks of money. Yes, it's the richest town in Kentucky and one of the 100 richest in the country.
Honestly, that's been the most unsettling thing to me about living in Lexington. The amount of money that can be found around here is staggering. We're talking horse farms valued at 10s of millions (and in the case of, say, Claiborne, 100s of millions.) The amount of money some folks have to throw around is especially obvious right now, around the holidays. The streets are perpetually congested with people going in and out of the dozens, if not hundreds, of high-end shopping centers. Seriously, if you love to shop and love to buy, Lex is for you. Of course, there's no point in me doing much buying because of my moving schedule. For me, the traffic is just stress-inducing and the rampant consumerism and showy displays of money are off-putting, especially when you note that there is also a substantial homeless population.
Image: War Front the horse at Claiborne Farms. He is insured for a cool 80 million.
The flip side is that the many massive horse farms and race tracks offer picturesque drives and ideal places to walk (if they'll allow it. Most are private and some that have a portion that's open to the public don't allow dogs (*cough Claiborne*.) Lexington is undeniably pretty. The downtown area is cute, there are lots of really great parks, and it's just a nice place to look at. There's also a wide variety of restaurant options and some unique tourist sites, like The Kentucky Castle and Kentucky Horse Park. If you're into horse racing, it's some sort of Mecca, and Claiborne Farms is an undeniably interesting place to tour.
Image: The grounds of Keeneland racing complex
There are also other cultural/historical highlights in the area. Berea is a little slice of history all in itself, and it's easy to learn about Kentucky's history with segregation and Civil Rights when you're there. (It was also home of the renowned bell hooks, who sadly passed the day after my visit there.) There's Old Fort Harrod and Fort Boonesborough, where Daniel Boone and 'settlers' of the state set up shop, as well as the Shaker Village. There's the ancestral lands of several Native American Tribes, which you'll be visiting if you visit The Pinnacles. There are self-guided tours of important sites in the fight for African-American rights in Lexington (see https://www.visitlex.com/guides/post/the-african-american-heritage-guide/) and walking around town, you'll see lots of statues and monuments to suffragists that will provide a surprising amount of history just in their plaques. For a great example of early American architecture and politics, visit Frankfurt, just 40 minutes away, where Daniel Boone's grave is located.
Image: Monument to suffragists
Then there's the hiking. The Lexington area (and I count about half an hour out in any direction as 'the Lex area') has loads of opportunities for hiking. There's Raven Run Nature Sanctuary, The Pinnacles in Berea, and The Shaker Village, which has dozens of miles of beautiful, well-marked trails. If you're willing to venture further, there's the entire Daniel Boone National Forest, featuring Natural Bridge State Park and endless outdoor opportunities. The Kentucky River offers kayaking opportunities and there's ziplining in the area. There's loads of rolling hills here and even some steep cliffs, so you can find hikes that range from the flat, paved, and easy, to straight up the side of a cliff (Pinnacles!) Beware though - if you use a wheelchair or assistive walking tools, a lot of the hiking in this area is going to be ultra-limited. Some parks like Raven Run have a paved and barrier-free trail for wheelchair users, which is something of course, but it's only a mile and may leave you wanting more. (The Shaker Village makes for an interesting place to wheel around, and the views from some of the many paved paths envy those from the rugged trails. Kentucky Horse Park is also mostly accessible.)
Image: One of many waterfalls at Raven Run Nature Sanctuary
I haven't had the same experience in terms of people that I normally would because Covid, though I can say that even though Kentucky does have mask laws, no one seems to acknowledge them. In any given grocery store, maybe 25% of people are masking. Kentucky is second to last in the country in terms of vaccination and Covid handling, so if this things keeps rolling, this might be a destination for later. The folks I have encountered (my AirBnB host and her sweet mother-in-law upstairs, the woman who gave me my booster shot, people in shops) have been very friendly. Except for when they're driving, apparently. Traffic is aggressive, so if you hate congested driving, avoid living near downtown - especially near Christmas.
Overall, I'd say Lex gets a "very good" for outdoor experiences, a "great" for scenery, a "very good" for restaurants/distilleries/breweries, a "very good" for shopping (for those into that), a "very good" for history/culture, a "fair" for people (losing points for Covid handling and the massive wealth divide), and a "very poor" for traffic and ability to get around the city - especially when college students are around and near holidays (so help you when those things converge in early December.)
Image: Harley at the beautiful and dog-friendly Buffalo Trace Distillery