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Churchill Downs Food, Seating, And Parking Guide

Melissa Rodriguez | February 16, 2023
Insider's Guide to Churchill Downs

Churchill Downs racetrack is the home of the famous Kentucky Derby & Kentucky Oaks, located in Louisville. It officially opened its doors in 1875 and held its first horse racing championship that same year. The Oaks race, which features 3-year-old Thoroughbred fillies, occurs right before the Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the American Triple Crown and “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.” If you plan on visiting this historic venue, check out our detailed guide for what to expect on race day and be fully prepared for an experience of a lifetime.

Historic Churchill Downs

churchill downs track graphic

Facts About Churchill Downs

Owner: Churchill Downs Incorporated
Operated By: Churchill Downs Incorporated
Architect: Joseph Dominic Baldez
Size: 147 acres
Capacity: 170,000
Opened: 1875
Mission Statement: “To provide the highest-quality horse racing and entertainment experience by delivering first-class customer service.”
Address: 700 Central Ave, Louisville, KY 40208

Churchill Downs Ratings:

Yelp: 4.5
Trip Advisor: 4.5
Google: 4.6

Churchill Downs Amenities:

  • Private luxury sites and integrated simulcast areas

  • Permanent, bright light fixtures for nighttime races

  • The Big Board, the world’s largest 4k resolution video screen (171 feet wide by 90 feet tall)

  • The Twin Spires, located above the grandstands, are the venue’s most recognizable architectural feature and the racetrack’s symbol

  • The Derby Café, a lunch-only restaurant located in the venue’s Kentucky Derby Museum, offers traditional foods like sandwiches and salads

  • Entry to the museum and a walking tour included with admission

Directions To Churchill Downs

Driving from Indianapolis:

On I-65 South, take Exit 132 (Crittenden Drive/Fair Expo Center) and turn right at the stop light onto Central Avenue.

Drive straight on Central Avenue and Churchill Downs will be located on the left.

To enter Gate 17, turn left on 9th Street.

To enter Gate 10, turn left on Taylor Blvd and left onto Longfield Avenue.

Driving from Lexington:

On I-264 West, take Exit 10 (Third Street/Southern Parkway) and turn right to head north on Third Street or Southern Parkway to Central Avenue.

Turn left on Central Avenue to arrive.

For Gate 17, continue on Central Avenue.

For Gate 10, turn left on Fourth Street and bear right passing the barns.

Driving from Nashville:

On I-65 North from the airport, take I-264 West (Watterson Expressway) to Exit 10 (Third Street/Southern Parkway).

Heading north, turn right on Third Street or Southern Parkway to Central Avenue.

Make a left on Central Avenue to arrive.

To access Gate 17, continue on Central Avenue.

To access Gate 10, turn left at Fourth Street and bear right passing the barns.

Churchill Downs Site Map

churchill downs site map

Churchill Downs Tips:

Churchill Downs Parking

Currently, there is construction taking place to enhance the transportation and parking at the Churchill Downs, which has led to visitors reporting difficulty in finding spots to park. If you’re attending one of the bigger races held at the track, we recommend you arrive early to snag a spot before they fill up. General parking is free on a first-come, first-serve basis in the track’s largest parking lot near Gate 10.

There is also valet parking on Longfield Avenue near Gate 10 which costs $10 and can be purchased online in advance.

It’s important to note that parking will cost $10 during the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks.

Churchill Downs Security

It has been reported that security at the Churchill Downs is efficient and plentiful, providing safety and assistance to guests.

For those carrying a bag, it must be no larger than 12” in any dimension. Security will search it upon entry.

Churchill Downs Prohibited Items

If you bring any of the following prohibited items, security will ask you to discard it or take it back to your car:

  • Sticks, balls, frisbees

  • Selfie sticks, drones

  • Balloons, confetti, noise makers, banners

  • Folding chairs, coolers, tents

  • Skateboards, scooters

  • Hard bottles, alcoholic beverages

  • Commercially prepared food (food from home is OK)

  • Animals (except service animals)

  • Weapons, illegal substances

Passing security has been reported as a quick and smooth process, even on busy days.

Churchill Downs Drink Prices & Concessions

If you plan on visiting the Churchill Downs during a big event like the Kentucky Derby, be prepared to brave long lines for food. Several eventgoers have commented on the high prices and low quality of the food offered (soft drinks or beer cost $5). However, the delicious Kentucky Derby pie is a must for those with a sweet tooth – it is the most popular food item at the venue.

There is also a gift shop where visitors have complained about overpriced, but very nice merchandise.

You can avoid spending money on food at the venue and bring your own lunch. The Churchill Downs allows visitors to bring food items in clear plastic bags (limited to two bags per person, maximum size 18” by 18”). You can also bring water and soft drinks in clear, unopened plastic bottles.

Churchill Downs Seating

Currently, there is construction going on to add more seating, but visitors have said that this has not affected the view of the track in any way. Visitors can see no matter where they are seated. However, general grandstand seating is hard to find as most trackside seats are reserved boxes.

According to eventgoers, the speakers behind the seats are not the best quality and are too loud to understand, so try not to sit too close to them. The Big Screen offers a great, high-quality projection of the massive track from any seat.

Worried about those hard, outdoor seats? Add a level of comfort to your experience with seat cushions. You can bring seat cushions smaller than 15” by 15” if they don’t contain metal arms, zippers, pockets, or flaps.

The Churchill Downs Experience

Since this is an outdoor venue, we suggest you dress comfortably with tennis shoes, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. During regular racing, you can purchase luxury seating for a higher price and wear a dressier outfit to experience air-conditioned accommodations and a buffet.

Visitors state that the best time to visit the racetrack is in the spring before the weather heats up.

There are not many bathrooms, but the wait time in lines is not long.

We suggest you hit the gift shop first if you want to purchase a souvenir as they tend to run out of things, especially on big race days.

10 Closest Hotels Near Churchill Downs

  • Four Points by Sheraton Louisville Airport
    2850 Crittenden Dr, Louisville, KY 40209-1116
    1.1 miles

  • Holiday Inn Airport & Fair/Expo Center
    447 Farmington Ave, Louisville, KY 40209-1133
    1.1 miles

  • Hilton Garden Inn Louisville Airport
    2735 Crittenden Dr, Louisville, KY 40209-1113
    1.2 miles

  • Super 8 Louisville/Expo Center
    101 Central Ave, I-65 South Exit 132, Louisville, KY 40209-1815
    1.1 miles

  • Home2 Suites by Hilton Louisville Airport Expo Center
    3000 Crittenden Dr, Louisville, KY 40209
    1.1 miles

  • Hilton Garden Inn Louisville Airport
    2735 Crittenden Dr, Louisville, KY 40209-1113
    1.2 miles

  • Ramada Louisville Expo Center
    2912 Crittenden Dr, I-264 Exit 11, Louisville, KY 40209-1118
    1.2 miles

  • Days Inn Louisville Central University & Expo Center
    1620 Arthur St, Louisville, KY 40208-2727
    1.6 miles

  • Comfort Inn & Suites Airport & Expo
    653 Phillips Ln, Louisville, KY 40209-1325
    1.7 miles

  • Quality Inn & Suites University/Airport
    311 E Gaulbert Ave, Louisville, KY 40208-2706
    1.7 miles

Check out the Churchill Downs schedule below and buy ticket to an event at The Downs today!

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