Whenever I visit Paducah, I always experience the same feeling when it’s time to leave ... I’m not ready to go.

There’s never a bad time to visit this far western Kentucky river town. To a degree, this town of 27,000 people is spread out, but it’s the historic downtown area that is without question the city’s heartbeat. And when you add the LowerTown Arts District to the shops, theaters, museums, galleries and restaurants, visits become even more entertaining.

“My husband and I had never heard of Paducah,” one obvious tourist said as she looked in the window of a downtown antique shop. “We actually left Florida to follow the changing of the leaves through Tennessee and into Kentucky. And we just ended up here. It is beautiful and there’s plenty to do so we’re staying for a few days.”

Paducah, of course, is home to the National Quilt Museum and its ever-changing quilt exhibits. Then there is the collection of more than 50 Robert Dafford floodwall murals. However, it is the ongoing restoration of the town’s many historic old buildings that have infused new life into something worth saving as well as something that has become a quality of life that many towns strive for.

Paducah has an abundance of quality hotel rooms, and if you’re lucky enough to get one at Harbor Plaza (270-442-2698) right smack in the middle of it all downtown, go for it. The restoration on these condo rentals is awesome. And some even have balcony Ohio River views. The local visitors bureau (270-443-8783) can give you a heads-up on several downtown overnights.

Within easy walking distance are several restaurants, one of which is my new favorite Paducah eatery. Doe’s Eat Place is far from fancy. By that I mean no tablecloths or fluffy napkins. The food was so good I ate there twice on my visit. Catfish, chili and tamales are a specialty, but it’s their variety of inch-thick steaks that they have become known for. There are, of course, other eateries that are also good ... diFratelli’s, Kirchhoff’s, Max’s Brick Oven, Shandies and Whaler’s Catch.

To really get the maximum out of a visit to any Kentucky town, you should first stop off at the visitors bureau. It will be time well spent. And then in Paducah you can mosey across the street to the gazebo and hook up for a slow-paced ride in a white carriage pulled by General Patton, a huge Gypsy Drum that is half Gypsy Vanner and half Clydesdale. By far, this is the best way to get the feel of the town’s history, and then when the ride is over, you can go back to interesting places you saw, such as Relic’s, Cassity’s, Glisson’s Wine Shop, tasting room and all. 

The Chocolate Factory and bbQ’s, which can be described as a boutique showcasing western Kentucky’s barbecue tradition, are a couple more. Don’t think that Paducah is just a couple of downtown blocks. A bit removed from the riverfront, but within easy walking distance, is Creatures of Habit, a costume shop like never seen before. And a block or so from the old historic Irvin Cobb Hotel is a huge restoration project involving the old Columbia Theater. The 1920s era, 1,200-seat facility is a work in progress, but it further shows that Paducah “gets it” when it comes to preserving the past for future generations to enjoy.

For those who want to venture a little further out, you might want to travel up Broadway to Midtown Market to dine. This little grocery has a kitchen that creates meals-to-go or for eat-in on a covered patio. It is a recent Reader’s Choice stop in Paducah.

About an hour away is Murray, a charming town with a major university and lots of interesting shops and eateries. Of course Kentucky Lake is a staple of the area, so there is plenty to see and do there.

If you live in the far reaches of eastern Kentucky, Paducah is still an easy trek. Good parkways make sure of that, and even for those who live near Paducah, a visit there is like a vacation.

Get up, get out, and get going!