- EAT — Virgil’s Café (710 Fairfield Ave., virgilscafe.com) is the main food attraction in Bellevue. Chef Matt Buschle rotates the seasonal menu based on what’s local and fresh. Favorites include the house-made Andouille sausage and fried-to-perfection frog legs.
- DRINK — While there are a couple of locals-only type dive bars on the Fairfield Avenue strip — and a little bit off, like the Riverside Marina (145 Mary Ingles Highway, riversidemarinaky.com) — the booze-based highlight of Bellevue is The Party Source (95 Riviera Drive, thepartysource.com). There’s no other alcohol store like it in the country. Its huge selection of spirits at discount prices alone is mind blowing, but add to that the in-store craft brewery Ei8ht Ball Brewing (ei8htballbrewing.com), where you can grab a pint or growler of house-brewed or other locally brewed beer and wander the aisles; the attached microdistillery New Riff Distilling (newriffdistilling.com), which offers tours six days a week; and their assorted specialty beer, bourbon and wine tastings, it’s like Disneyland for adults who like to drink. On the opposite end of the drunk spectrum, enjoy a traditional English-inspired service at Mrs. Teapot’s Tea Room (339 Fairfield Ave., mrsteapots.com).
- SHOP — With too many gift shops and secondhand stores to name, just stroll down Fairfield Avenue and you’ll inevitably walk into one; all have a bit of that kitschy country vibe — some more than others. Housed in between the gift shops are artisans Cleves and Lonnemann Jewelers (319 Fairfield Ave., clevesandlonnemann.com), ripe with certified master watchmakers, and Bellevue Violins (705 Fairfield Ave., bellevueviolins.com), where luthier Patrick Higgins repairs and builds violins, violas and cellos. For furry friends there’s Doggynauts (708 Fairfield Ave., doggynauts.com).
- EXPLORE — Walk down to Bellevue Beach Park (665 Frank Benke Way, bellevueky.org), directly across the river from Cincinnati’s Friendship Park, for city and river views. Or take a short drive to the campus of Thomas More College (333 Thomas More Parkway, thomasmore.edu) to see “the smallest church in the world.” The 6-foot by 9-foot fieldstone Monte Casino Chapel was built in the late 19th century by Benedictine monks and moved to the college grounds in 1965.
- MUST — Grab some candy at the iconic Schneider’s Sweet Shop (420 Fairfield Ave., schneiderscandies.com), which has been satisfying sweet tooths with their famous homemade Opera Creams since 1939.
- EAT — Get crab hash for Sunday brunch at Otto’s (521 Main St., ottosonmain.com) — lump crab and hashbrowns topped with a poached egg. For brunch in motion, make a reservation at Threesixty (668 W. Fifth St., threesixtydining.com), the largest rotating restaurant east of Las Vegas. (The lights surrounding the restaurant’s exterior also function as weather forecast alerts from WLWT news.) For excellent Asian, sit at a traditional floor table at Riverside Korean (512 Madison Ave., riversidekoreanrestaurant.com) or order some super-spicy Dragon’s Breath egg rolls in the comfortably small Amerasia (521 Madison Ave., facebook.com/kungfoodchu), which serves up super fresh and classic Americanized Asian with a Kung-Fu lean. Dee Felice Café (529 Main St., deefelice.com) specializes in Cajun — try the jambalaya with sauce so good they sell it online.
Winner of Wine Spectator’s award of excellence, Bouquet Restaurant & Wine Bar (519 Main St., bouquetrestaurant.com) has a seven-page wine menu and a farm-to-table menu with options for vegans, vegetarians and those with gluten sensitivities.
- EAT — Newport on the Levee houses several spacious restaurants and bars serving food, while nearby areas offer intriguing traditional and international options. Hit up Dixie Chili (733 Monmouth St., dixiechili.com), which opened in Newport in 1929, for a three-way. Or some handmade ravioli and bocce ball at Pompilios (600 Washington Ave., pompiliosrestaurant.com), the restaurant where the toothpick scene in Rain Man was filmed. La Mexicana (642 Monmouth St., 859-261-6112) dishes out excellent Mexican, including sesos (beef brains) tacos. And Katharina’s Café Konditorei (529 Overton St., katharinascafe.com) is an authentic German breakfast and lunch café run by transplants from Mainz. Other favorite eats are the quaint York Street Café (738 York St., yorkstonline.com), Cajun Knotty Pine on the Bayou (6302 Licking Pike, 859-781-2200, letseat.at/knottypine) and The Pepper Pod (703 Monmouth St., 859-431-7455), a 24/7 diner.
- DRINK — The Beer Sellar (301 Riverboat Row, 859-431-6969, facebook.com/thebeersellar), a sports bar on a docked riverboat, offers a boat taxi to Reds games. Grab a stein of German brew and a schnitzel in the biergarten at the first authentic Hofbräuhaus (200 E. Third St., hofbrauhausnewport.com) in America — “Where it’s Oktoberfest every day!” Law prohibits the selling of alcohol in all-nude strip clubs, but Newport keeps the ladies in pasties — so drink up. If you’re looking for a “good time,” The Brass Ass Show Lounge (613 Monmouth St., facebook.com/thebrassassshowlounge) is one of the last remaining bastions of Newport’s naked past. Mansion Hill Tavern (502 Washington Ave., 859-581-0100) has an open Blues jam every Sunday. Nearby coffee shop Newberry Bros. Coffee (530 Washington Ave., newberrybroscoffee.com) has more than 35 wines by the glass (for $4 on Sundays), while the philanthropic Carabello Coffee (107 E. Ninth St., carabellocoffee.com) has cold-brew coffee on draft.
- EXPLORE — The Newport Gangster Tour and the seasonal Newport is Haunted tour (americanlegacytours.com) both look at the city’s mob past with tales of murder, prostitution, gamblers and ghosts. For a more family-friendly adventure, check out Ride the Ducks (1 Aquarium Way, newport.ridetheducks.com), the amphibious sightseeing tour. BB Riverboats’ (101 Riverboat Row, bbriverboats.com) historic steamboats offer a variety of tours and dinner cruises on the Ohio.
- MUST — Walk or bike across The Purple People Bridge (purplepeoplebridge.com) from The Banks to Northern Kentucky entertainment destination Newport on the Levee (newportonthelevee.com) — or vice versa. Newport on the Levee is a one-stop-shop for restaurants and entertainment. Visit the Newport Aquarium (1 Aquarium Way, newportaquarium.com) at Newport on the Levee to pet a shark or watch a penguin parade at 9:15 a.m. daily. Also on the Levee is The Funny Bone (funnybonecentral.com), a comedy club with national acts; an AMC Theater (amctheatres.com); and Axis Alley (axisalleylevee.com), a boutique bowling alley.
- EAT — The Greyhound Tavern (2500 Dixie Highway, greyhoundtavern.com) has been serving classic fried chicken in Fort Mitchell since the 1920s.
- DRINK — Kentucky’s largest winery, Elk Creek Vineyards (150 Highway 330, elkcreekvineyards.com), is housed in the rolling hills of Owenton and offers award-winning wines produced and bottled on-site.
- SHOP — Florence Antique Mall (8145 Mall Road, florenceantiquemall.com) is filled with vintage treasures and cool stuff; and for non-antique, there’s the Florence Mall (2028 Florence Mall Road, florencemall.com), with various stores and a carousel.
- EXPLORE — Itty bitty rivertown and weekend destination for area bikers Rabbit Hash (10021 Lower River Road, rabbithash.com) is grounded by its historic general store and dog mayors, many of whom run wild. The current canine in charge is Lucy Lou, a border collie — grab a beer at the general store and see if she wants to play fetch. Live Bluegrass music generally starts up without warning. Florence is a hub for fast-paced sports. Turfway Park (7500 Turfway Road, turfway.com) is a horse track conducting live thoroughbred races in fall and winter/spring, with off-season year-round simulcast wagering. Frontier League independent professional baseball team the Florence Freedom (7950 Freedom Way, florencefreedom.com) offers up the food, amenities and giant, fuzzy mascots of the major leagues. Northern Kentucky University (1 Nunn Drive, nku.edu), home of the NKU Norse, has athletic teams in soccer, basketball, baseball, golf, tennis and more, with games open to the public. In Sparta, Ky., the Kentucky Speedway (1 Kentucky Speedway Blvd., kentuckyspeedway.com) hosts racing events, including ARCA, NASCAR and the Indy Racing League. Also worth a drive is the CVG Airplane Viewing Area (off Donaldson Highway), open 8 a.m.-10 p.m. daily, to watch planes take off and land on their way in and out of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Opened in 1932, the Wildwood Inn (7809 U.S. 42, wildwood-inn.com) is a now a Howard Johnson but still houses themed suites, including an “authentic” African safari village with African bush huts; surprisingly, smoking is allowed.
- MUST — There aren’t really words to describe The Creation Museum (2800 Bullittsburg Church Road, Petersburg, creationmuseum.org). One part museum, one part fantasy and all parts the Book of Genesis, this private oasis brings the Bible to life with dynamic animal and human displays featuring the likes of Adam and Eve and dinosaurs — together. There’s also a planetarium describing how God built the universe, a zip line, botanical gardens and a petting zoo with camel rides. For a more realistic look at biological history, Big Bone Lick State Park (3380 Beaver Road, parks.ky.gov) is named after the Pleistocene megafauna — giant sloths, mammoths, etc. — fossils found there. The indoor museum houses a 1,000-pound mastodon skull while the outdoor museum is home to a herd of real bison. Visit the world’s only museum dedicated to the art of ventriloquism, Vent Haven Museum (33 W. Maple Ave., venthavenmuseum.com), full of classic “figures;” don’t call them dummies.
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