Kentucky : Safety by City
- Bowling Green
- Cave City
- Cumberland Falls
- Harlan Tri-Cities
- La Grange
- St. Matthews
If you want to have your hands covered in barbecue sauce while sipping bourbon as bluegrass music plays in the background, come to Owensboro, Kentucky.
We’ll just get the ugly part out of the way because there’s a dark spot in this otherwise fun Southern town.
Owensboro is the city where the last public hanging in the United States happened in 1936.
After that, executions in the country were done in private.
You won’t find any signs of the gallows or even the grave site of the criminal.
What you will find is a city trying to put that repetition behind it and get into the lively spirit it is known for today.
While you never want to get into a barbecue battle in the South or Midwest, Owensboro is referred to (by people from Kentucky and those who prefer Kentucky barbecue) as the “BBQ Capital of the World.”
The specialty here is thin-sliced mutton meat.
You can also get traditional pork and chicken with all the sides you handle.
Kentucky is known for its BBQ Trail and Bourbon Trail, and you can take part in both with a visit to Owensboro.
As a bonus, the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum are here as well.
The city has a wide range of parks, from alongside the Ohio River to some of the best snow sledding hills in the commonwealth.
Another park offers carriage rides along brick-paved streets.
Owensboro is versatile, vibrant, and laid back, making it a great Kentucky getaway.
Owensboro is in Daviess (yes, two s’s) County, which is pronounced “Dave-EES” not “Day-vhis.”
Warnings & Dangers in Owensboro
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low overall risk, but it's really an average risk. The crime rates are right around the state and national averages, but there are some higher areas of property crimes.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
There's an extensive public bus system in Owensboro with day passes available to save money. Taxis and rideshares are easy to hail. You can get by here without a car, but if you have one there's plenty of parking and easy highway access. There's low risk with any option.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : MEDIUM
With a one in 32 risks of being a theft victim here, that's a rate twice the national average. There's a medium risk for tourists. While pickpockets or purse snatching were reported in 2020, there's a great potential for theft as the city averages nearly 2,000 thefts each year.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
A challenge of writing these stories in the summer of 2022 is watching the catastrophic flooding sweep across part of Kentucky. This is a "once in a 1,000-year flood" but it shows just how raw mother nature can be here. Severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, winter storms, and extreme temperatures are all possible. Not to mention it's incredibly humid here. There's a medium risk throughout the year and you must stay weather aware.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
The robbery rate is at the national average, which isn't as common in Kentucky cities. 23% of those robberies were in public places. There's a low risk, but it's still something to be aware of, as it's not as unheard of as in some other cities.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
There's a low risk here since it's not a large population area (60,000 residents) and there are no military targets nearby. Fort Knox or Louisville would be bigger potential targets.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Phone and utility scams dominate the fraud landscape here, so there's a low risk a tourist would be a target.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
The sexual assault rate is about 20% higher than the national average and about half of the violent crimes were against women. You should be able to enjoy Owensboro with low risk by using common sense and avoiding drinking past a point where you can make smart decisions.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2021 Annual Water Quality Report shows no violations and all water meets or exceeds the required standards. There's low risk when using tap water for drinking or bathing.
Safest Places to Visit in Owensboro
Downtown Owensboro is right on the Ohio River and the star attraction is the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where you can “drift down the river of sound.”
In addition to the walk of fame and exhibits, an indoor and outdoor theatre brings in musical legends and popular artists throughout the year.
Smothers Park is right along the river and is one of the highest-rated playgrounds in the world!
Before I knew that fun fact, I was thinking to myself:
“Dang! Owensboro goes big with its playgrounds!”
The playground is extensive, handicap-accessible, and includes water features to cool off on a hot summer day.
Parents can chill on a riverfront bench or pick up snacks at the concession stand, or they can play as well.
The Green River Distilling Company is on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
In addition to sampling some of the finest bourbons worldwide, you can explore the 26-acre distillery to see every step of the bourbon-making process.
There are three tour tiers, depending on how much time you have and how much you want to spend.
The Owensboro Museum of Science and History is an interactive experience that is more like a playground of learning than a stuffy museum.
There are exhibits for every age group, even the little ones, and a coal mine gallery is a great way to learn about mining in Kentucky with your own custom-fitted hard hat.
20 minutes outside of Owensboro is Preservation Station, a unique shopping and dining experience built into a former schoolhouse.
You won’t find any nationally branded stores here.
All purchases will be unique, if not one-of-a-kind, items made in Kentucky.
A home-style restaurant on site has a brunch buffet on Sundays.
The Western Kentucky Botanical Garden is a great chance to stop and smell the roses.
You’ll enter through a historic home and then walk through the gardens with QR codes along so your mobile device becomes an audio tour guide.
The cuisine here runs the international gamut.
Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn is one of the most popular stops for Kentucky-style barbecue.
There’s an old-school ice cream shop called the Big Dipper and plenty of buffet-style restaurants.
For plenty more activities to explore in and around Owensboro, go to visitowensboro.com.
Places to Avoid in Owensboro
With so much to do in Owensboro, you have a low risk of ending up in a bad neighborhood.
The higher crime rates are located in the central and northwest sections of the city.
That does include downtown, but it’s also the busiest part of the city, so that’s going to bring more crime.
While you definitely want to avoid letting your guard down here, you should also pay attention to the specifics like where you park, how much you plan to drink, and how you’ll get back to your hotel if you do drink a lot.
Park in well-lit areas near surveillance cameras and try to always walk around with a buddy or a group.
If you do plan on drinking a lot, avoid making a scene of getting behind the wheel.
In 2020, on average, there was one alcohol-related arrest per day.
If there is any kind of severe weather in the forecast, avoid planning a day of outdoor activities.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Owensboro
- Owensboro and Daviess County teamed up to create an emergency alert notification system. You can sign up for alerts through the police department’s website (scroll all the way down). This system is mainly for law enforcement to send alerts, and not for weather alerts. You should get a weather app to stay on top of developing storms.
- If you have information about a crime in Owensboro, you can submit the information without giving your name. Call Crime Stoppers at (270)687-8484. If your information leads to an arrest, you could get up to a $1000 reward. There is also a web form you can fill out on the police department’s website.
- Owensboro has “sharrows”, which are road markings for bicyclists. These designated areas allow cyclists to ride by without worrying about a parked car opening a door and hitting the cyclist. While not every street has these markings, you’ll find them in the busier parts of town.
- 20% of the thefts in Owensboro are car break-ins and the police department there tells me this happens in all parts of the city. Most of the break-ins can happen in less than a minute. Be sure to lock your car, remove all personal belongings, and roll up the windows.
- Anglers will need a fishing license from the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife. There are certain permits for specific types of fish, so review all the options before you make your purchase. You cannot use your home license here.
- You should set up fraud alerts on your credit cards before you visit, but the Owensboro Police Department has a form for victims of fraud. You can download it from the “A Safer Community” section of the website.
- Follow the police department on Facebook @OwensboroPolice to get the latest crime and safety information. The page @VisitOwensboro is a great way to find out about local events happening that are approved by the tourism bureau.
- There are snow sledding hills in Owensboro, but you’ll be doing so at your own risk. Chautauqua Park is the premiere sledding site, but it does get really crowded and the hills are pretty steep. For a more family-friendly adventure, visit Ben Hawes State Park. Yellow Creek Park is a great backup plan.
- You can report a pothole through the “Street and Stormwater” section of the city’s website. Winter can really take a toll on the roads of Kentucky with the freeze/thaw cycle. Reporting these potholes can help save your tires and suspension!
- Before visiting one of the many parks in Owensboro, visit Owensboroparks.org. This website will list any park closures or warnings you need to know. There’s also a link there to “Trail Conditions” where riders report the conditions of different trails. As I write this, many of the trails are marked “DO NOT RIDE” because the trails are too wet and muddy.
So... How Safe Is Owensboro Really?
Owensboro is about as “average” as a city can get when it comes to safety.
The violent crimes are at or near the average for the country and the state.
60% of violent crimes happened in homes, so that’s going to lessen the risk for a tourist.
35% of the violent crimes were against strangers, which is high enough to keep you on your toes.
The theft rate really stands out, being more than twice the national average.
That rate is fueled by shoplifting, which makes up almost 30% of all thefts.
Car break-ins, as mentioned above, account for 20% of all thefts.
Kentucky is a gritty, tough state.
People dress casually and don’t have a filter when it comes to speaking their minds.
Kentuckians also have a special kind of Southern accent and some unique sayings, like “God willing and the creek don’t rise.”
It means, “let’s hope not.”
For example, “The storms are staying south of us, God willing and the creek don’t rise.”
Don’t get into arguments about politics, gun laws, or Christian values.
Kentucky is a religious state made mostly of Christians.
It’s not uncommon to see people carrying guns.
There’s just so much to do here that you don’t want to worry about crime.
Practicing all the good safety steps you know by heart will help you enjoy the bluegrass and bourbon that much more.
How Does Owensboro Compare?
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- Visas - A travel visa to the U.S. is going to cost $160 and take several months of processing time. Once you get your visa, you only need to show it at the airport. You can travel throughout the state and cross into Indiana without showing it.
- Currency - The U.S. Dollar is the only currency you can use here, and you should avoid carrying cash with high theft rates here. Credit cards are widely accepted.
- Weather - You can expect a range of temperatures any time of year, so bring different layers of clothing, from t-shirts to sweatshirts. You'll need a coat in the winter, but not a thick, arctic one. Summers will be humid and you'll sweat a lot. Wearing loose-fitting, light-colored clothing helps a little bit. With so much walking to do, bring some comfortable walking shoes.
- Airports - The Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport is just four miles west of the city's center. If you are flying out of Louisville, plan for a two-hour drive.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance is such a great peace of mind to have when traveling, as it covers your health, your stuff, and your flights. The weather here can easily cause delays or cancellations.
Owensboro Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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