Murray, Kentucky, located about 3 ½ hours from Louisville, has been called the “Friendliest Small Town in America” by USA Today for good reason. Everywhere you look in this tiny town located in the southwestern corner of Kentucky, you’ll be greeted with a smile and a “hey y’all!”
This charming southern town is the seat of Calloway County, which was formed in 1822 as the 72nd county in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. What began as a post office and trading center has grown over the last two centuries into a micropolitan city of 17,000+ residents.
Murray is located about seven miles north of the Tennessee border, with Benton and Mayfield approximately 20 miles to the north and northwest. The city of Murray is big in charm yet small in size, comprising only about 11 square miles. Step one foot in this tiny town and you’ll see just what makes it so enchanting to locals and visitors alike.
Check out a few of these other posts:
- 20 Kentucky Lake Cabins Perfect For Summer
- 15 Romantic Getaways In Kentucky: Where To Eat, Drink, Play & Stay
- Kentucky Bourbon Trail: The Perfect 3 Day Itinerary
Things to Do in Murray, Kentucky
Despite its humble ways, Murray is anything but your average small town. Home to Murray State University (shoe’s up!), this college town offers a plethora of options for sight-seeing, good-eating, and fun-having. Here are some of our favorite things to do and places to see in Murray, KY!
Explore Downtown Murray
With over 200 years of history neatly packed into four square blocks, Downtown Murray boasts the kind of small town charm that can only be found in Kentucky. Back in the day, downtown Murray used to be the happening spot to trade livestock and goods, buy groceries, see the doctor, board a train, or catch a movie.
Even though times have changed just a little, downtown Murray is still a popular place to congregate, eat, and shop. Embark on a self-guided walking tour of historic downtown to catch a glimpse of the most notable buildings and homes surrounding the court square!
The downtown square is home to a variety of specialty shops, from bookstores to boutiques. Browse the wide selection of used, vintage, and rare books at Bolin Books, the first independent bookstore in downtown Murray! Venture slightly outside the downtown square to fuel up with a fresh cup of coffee or a delicious, fruity tea at Shaffer Coffee Co. before you take to exploring the downtown square.
Downtown is home to a variety of community events throughout the year, including the Downtown Farmer’s Market, which is certified “Kentucky Proud” and has a selection of fresh produce, homemade bread and sweets, local honey, and hand-crafted items that can’t be beat!
Come prepared to shop til you drop because downtown Murray and beyond is home to SOOO many locally owned boutiques and home decor stores! Stop by Ribbon Chix or Carey’s Boutique to snag the perfect modern, high fashion piece at a fair price. Pop into Muddy Watters Designs to pour your very own candle or pick up the perfect piece for your home! Browse the locally made art sprawling the walls of the Murray Art Guild, or partake in a workshop!
Get Some Food
If there is one thing Murray natives and implants know how to do, it’s throw it down in the kitchen! When searching for grub in Murray, you can find everything from casual digs to more fanciful fare, whether you are looking for a tasty breakfast spot, a tasty, filling pizza, a hole-in-the-wall burrito shack (their words, not ours), or a killer plate of sushi. Here are some of our favorite places to eat in Murray:
- Rudy’s on the Square: Murray’s oldest downtown diner and probably the most commonly recommended eatery in town, Rudy’s specializes in good, old-fashioned southern comfort food. Rudy’s serves a mean, country breakfast complete with all the fixin’s all day long, as well as savory sandwiches and classic, home cooked dinner favorites like steak and country fried chicken.
- The Willow Bistro: Once home to the namesake of the Fine Arts building on Murray State’s campus, this beautifully renovated 1929-built home now houses some of the best eats in town! From flavorful gyros, to street tacos, to spicy curry, you truly cannot go wrong with anything on the menu!
- The Burrito Shack: A college kid staple located right across the street from campus, the Burrito Shack uses fresh, high-quality ingredients to bring you all kinds of tortilla-wrapped goodness! The portions are large, the salsa is spicy (or sweet, if you prefer their specialty pineapple salsa, like I do), and the atmosphere is unlike anywhere else in town.
- Jasmine Thai and Sushi: In the mood for traditional Asian cuisine with a modern flair? With dozens of sushi rolls to choose from and classic dishes like pad thai and stir fry, Jasmine’s has you covered.
- Matt B’s Main Street Pizza: When considering ordering a pizza in Murray, the obvious choice is Matt B’s! This neighborhood standby is locally famous not only for its decadent specialty pizzas, but its pizza by the GIANT slice! Get your veggies in with a fresh salad, or overload on carbs with a huge helping of pasta.
- Murray Donuts: A Saturday morning (or any morning, for that matter) staple, you truly cannot beat a Murray Donut. Your eyes are sure to light up when you take in the huge case filled to the brim with sweet confections. The coffee is strong, the breakfast sandwiches are savory, and you cannot beat the price.
- Mugsy’s Hideout: A cheery downtown hangout with Chicago-inspired bar fare and some seriously killer deep-dish pizza, Mugsy’s is the perfect place to get your Italian food fix whether you’re a Chicago transplant craving a taste of home or a foodie looking to try something new!
- Tap 216: For over 20 years, this spot just steps away from campus has been a fan favorite for strong drinks, good food, and entertainment (think live music and trivia Tuesdays!). As its name implies, Tap 216 is known for its large selection of craft beers. Check out their extensive drink list, place an order of beer-battered onion rings or pub pretzels for the table, and unwind with friends in this cozy joint!
Check out the Arboretum
A scenic walking path lined with gorgeous, blooming flowers overlooking a pristine lake? Sign me up! The Arboretum at Murray State is somewhat of a hidden gem amongst visitors due to its location within a residential neighborhood a mile or so from campus, but since its opening in 2013, it has quickly become a favorite destination for natives of all ages!
The Arboretum is maintained by students and faculty of Murray State University, and its mission is to provide and display a collection of local and introduced plants for visitors to enjoy. Native trees, shrubs, and flowers of historic significance to the western Kentucky region can be spotted along the paved walking path. Enjoy a peaceful stroll with your loved ones or doggos. Watch as your littles explore the open fields or climb the play equipment available on site.
It’s always a cheery afternoon when you grab your picnic basket and take a picnic. Check out their event calendar for a list of upcoming activities!
Get Artsy at the Clara M. Eagle Art Gallery
Get inspired by local artists at the Clara M. Eagle Art Gallery located within the Department of Art and Design at Murray State University. This modern, multi-level exhibition space serves as a wonderful resource for students, visitors, and locals alike to learn about the history of art while experiencing the powerful implications of contemporary media.
Peruse over 1,200 awe-inspiring works of art housed in the permanent collection of over 8,200 square feet of exhibition space. Eagle Gallery hosts two national, juried exhibitions: The Magic Silver (a biennial photography competition) and The Kentucky National, which is an annual call for traditional and new media.
Check out the exhibit calendar for a list of innovative programming and educational research opportunities available to the community, all of which are open and free to the public when they’re on display!
Explore Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
Spanning over 170,000 acres of forest, wetland, and open land on a peninsula between Kentucky and Barkley lakes in Western Kentucky and Tennessee, this slice of the great American outdoors is the perfect place to spend the day scouting. Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is family-friendly and offers 200 miles of paved roads, 500 miles of trails, and access to over 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline to traverse on two wheels, four wheels, or two legs!
Visitors come from near and far to experience the fresh air, greener than green trees (if that’s even possible), and escape into nature at Land Between the Lakes. Locally known as “LBL”, this area provides the idyllic setting for camping, picnicking, hiking, fishing, boating, wildlife viewing, and water sport-ing.
You can choose to partake in all these exciting, outdoor activities and more at LBL! See what you can discover (from the safety of your enclosed vehicle) in the Elk & Bison Prairie, a 700-acre native grassland habitat in which numerous wildlife species roam free. Enjoy a variety of entertaining and educational programs as you search for planets, stars, and constellations in the night sky at the Golden Pond Planetarium and Observatory. Get up close and personal with the natural world at Woodlands Nature Station.
Bask in the natural peace and beauty of LBL by exploring a few of the 500 miles of available hiking trails! Venture around Hematite Lake Trail, an easy 2.2 mile loop trail encircling Hematite Lake and known for its high diversity of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and woodland wildflowers! If you are in the mood for a land and water type of situation, check out Honker Lake Trail. A relatively easy 4.6 mile hiking loop trail circles Honker Lake, whose calm waters provide the perfect place to kayak and/or canoe and view wildlife from a different perspective!
Get Out on Kentucky Lake
Kentucky Lake, located only 30 minutes outside of Murray, is the largest lake east of the Mississippi River, with over 160,000 acres of clear, blue water to explore. All this water provides ample opportunities for fishing, boating, and just about every aquatic adventure under the sun!
De-stress on the beach and take a dip in the lake on one of the Kentucky Lake beaches. Listen to the peaceful waves gently lap against the sandy shore. Challenge your people to a rousing game of beach volleyball or simply lay out and get your tan on.
Teeming with catfish and several varieties of bass, Kentucky Lake is known as one of the best lakes for crappie fishing in the country. Whether a pontoon or a jet ski, a kayak or a fishing boat, countless marinas dot the lake’s 2,300 miles of shoreline and have everything you need to spend a delightful day out on the water.
Grab Some Ice Cream
Everyone who has ever spent time in Murray knows that March 1st is practically a city-wide holiday. Why is this seemingly inconspicuous day so special, you might ask? It’s the opening day of the Murray Dairy Queen!
A symbol of spring for Murray residents, this Dairy Queen is much more special than your average, run-of-the-mill DQ. The Murray Dairy Queen stands out from the rest because it is a walk-up-only establishment, has a limited food menu, and is only open March-October each year. In other words, if you go to Murray hoping for a chicken strip basket from the drive-through in January, you will be sorely disappointed.
BUTTTT if you go to the Murray Dairy Queen expecting a scrumptious ice cream cone or blizzard, you could not possibly be let down. Since its opening in 1949, the Murray Dairy Queen has used “the old DQ mix”, meaning that the ice cream served there is richer and creamier than you’d find at other Dairy Queen locations. Y’all, I’m here to say that you just have to try it.
Visit a Microbrewery
Up until 2012, Murray (and Calloway County) was what’s known as “moist”, as opposed to “dry”, meaning that while you could not purchase alcohol in a store, you could buy it by the drink in a restaurant. Under previous law, there were no “bars” in Murray, and any establishment wishing to sell alcohol had to seat at least 100 people and derive 70% of its income from food.
As of 2012, Murray is now completely “wet” and alcohol is able to flow freely in restaurants, bars, and liquor stores alike. While Murray is relatively new to the (legal) beer scene, you have to try Murray’s first ever microbrewery, Hop Hound Brew Pub.
While their specialty is craft beer, their bar is fully stocked with domestic beer, distilled spirits, and wine. The lunch and dinner menu is a take on “upscale bar food”, like hearty, shareable appetizers, fabulous flatbreads, street tacos, one-of-a-kind smashburgers, and absolutely mouth-watering truffle fries. The beer list is small but mighty, the atmosphere is quaint yet rustic, and you’ll be shocked to know that your delicious beverage was made in a town that has only been “wet” for a decade.
Spend an Afternoon in Paducah
Situated in the heart of Jackson Purchase and a little under an hour away from Murray, Paducah, KY serves as a sort of cultural hub of western Kentucky. This sophisticated river town is an awe-inspiring confluence of cultural heritage and creativity that celebrates art as a way of life. An ideal destination for an afternoon enjoying fine arts, good food, and beautiful scenery, Paducah is the perfect place to see more and do more close to Murray.
Explore the grounds of Purple Toad Winery and sample a few (or a dozen) gloriously sweet wines. Take a moonlit walk along Water Street and watch as Paducah’s rich and vibrant history comes alive in a display of colorful Floodwall Murals.
Saunter through Paducah’s oldest neighborhood, The Lower Town Arts District, which is populated with working artists, students, and artists-in-residence who continually add to the city’s animated artistic landscape. Catch an evening show at The Carson Center, which offers ballets, concerts, theatre productions, and much more!
Pick up a delightful bubble tea or a fueling cup of coffee at Etcetera Coffeehouse (which has a labyrinth next door). Savor a delicious craft meal in an eclectic eatery with a reputation for high-quality and creative foods and desserts at Artisan Kitchen. Have a beer with a meal you can feel good about ordering at Paducah Beer Werks, who partner with local food sources to bring you the best Paducah has to offer.
For something unique, take the 30-minute trek to Grand Rivers, KY for a dining experience you won’t soon forget at Patti’s 1880’s Settlement. Enjoy a dinner of pork chops (and bread baked in a flower pot) with all the fixins’ and a piece of pie that would put grandma’s recipes to shame. Visit around the holidays for a moonlit walk through a glowing display of festive lights and decorative displays.
Take a Walk Across Campus
No visit to Murray is complete without a stroll across the Murray State University campus. Home of the Racers, Murray State is a beautiful, well-maintained campus complete with historic buildings, budding flowers, and friendly faces. For many students (and Racer alumni like myself…SHOES UP!), Murray State’s campus can be summed up with one single word… “home”.
The backbone of the community, natives take great pride in Murray State and it is clear to see why upon setting foot on campus. Stroll through the grassy quad lined in all directions by quaint, brick buildings. Pack a picnic to enjoy while you watch the extremely (almost unnervingly) friendly squirrels scramble up the trees. Make a pit stop at The Shoe Tree– a tree decorated with the shoes of pairs of Racers who met on campus and fell in love (melts in hopeless romantic).
Stop by Wrather West Kentucky Museum. Built in 1924 as the first permanent building on campus, Wrather was used to hold classes and housed the bookstore, post office, dining room, administrative offices, and science laboratories. Now with much lighter foot traffic and one singular mission, Wrather seeks to highlight and promote an understanding of the social, cultural, and economic development of West Kentucky and the Jackson Purchase.
See what’s happening at the Curris Center, snap a pic in front of the newly constructed and seriously stunning biology and engineering buildings, and catch a Murray State football or basketball game while you’re at it! Don’t miss a performance of the dynamic and regionally-acclaimed Racer Band!
Catch a Show at Playhouse in The Park
Founded in 1977, Playhouse in The Park is one of the oldest continuously producing community theaters in the county and a true cultural staple for the Murray community. Located in Murray-Calloway County Park, Playhouse in the Park puts on numerous productions each year and holds classes and camps for the community.
The event calendar at Playhouse is constantly jam-packed with shows suited for a plethora of stylistic preferences. Whether you are in the mood for a Broadway-style musical, a serious play, or a charming children’s production, Playhouse has you covered year-round. This talented group of community actors is always ready to break a leg and put on one heck of a show!
Go Antiquing in Hazel
Located about ten minutes south of Murray, Hazel is known as Kentucky’s antique capital and is among the top 10 best antiquing towns in the states! This quaint and charming community is the perfect place to snag a one-of-a-kind find to complete your space. Whether you are searching for antique furniture, funky glassware, or vintage collectibles, Hazel is the place for you.
Run over to The Cabin to pick up a sweet treat (hello ice cream!), gourmet coffee, or a unique gift for someone special! The Felix Antique Shoppe is the perfect place to peruse a vast array of glassware and pottery.
Coined as one of the greatest antique stores in America, Mantiques Antiques, otherwise known as The Hazel Antique Mall, has so many goods you could get lost in the building. The Hazel Antique Mall has over 30 vendors that are always on the search for new, exciting, and rare antiques for your browsing and shopping pleasure!
Looking to stay within Murray city limits? No problem! Check out Trends and Treasures to explore over 30,000 square feet (yes, this place is HUGE) of antiques, collectibles, and modern and vintage thrifty finds! Check out the Peddler’s Mall to browse dozens of booths of handmade items and antique goods!
Where to Stay in Murray, Kentucky
With so much to check out in and around Murray, we wouldn’t blame you if you needed an extra day or two to check it all out! Here are some of the best place to stay in or around Murray:
- For a local inn close to the main strip, Murray Inn and Art Gallery is a great option. As its name implies, each wall of the Murray Inn is laced with beautiful paintings to ponder as you snuggle in for the night.
- It is time to enjoy and relax in this adorable newly renovated cabin right on Kentucky Lake. This location is only a 3 minute walk to Kentucky Lake and has neighborhood lake access that is only steps away. The hosts for this cabin have perfectly stocked the location with everything you need to make this an easy, no-hassle stay. Enjoy your days around the lake and come back to your cabin and have an evening around the fire pit complete with comfy cozy chairs on the private deck.
- This modern rental is perfect for the half golf obsessed/half lake life couple. This cute little 2-bedroom rental is located right by the Miller Memorial Golf Course and is walking distance from access to Kentucky Lake. Enjoy spending time on the covered deck that includes a charcoal grill and cornhole (tournament of champions, anyone?). You can also bring your furry friends – for an additional fee.
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Before you go, be sure to check out these other posts:
- 20 Kentucky Lake Cabins Perfect For Summer
- 15 Romantic Getaways In Kentucky: Where To Eat, Drink, Play & Stay
- Kentucky Bourbon Trail: The Perfect 3 Day Itinerary
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