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Best Kentucky Derby Party Ideas — Coastal Cowgirl Style

It’s almost time for the Kentucky Derby, which takes place on the first Saturday in May each year. If you’re not lucky enough to see this iconic horse race in Louisville, you can still have a blast by hosting a Kentucky Derby party at home! Bring this southern-style celebration to your coastal home, complete with equestrian decor, plenty of bourbon drinks, and over-the-top fashion.

We’ve compiled our favorite tips and ideas for hosting an oceanside Kentucky Derby party, so grab a mint julep, wear your fanciest hat, and read on!

Kentucky Derby Party Decorations That’ll Make a Splash

The Kentucky Derby is a curious mix of high-class traditions and southern comfort, and your decor can reflect this as well. Bring a dash of Churchill Downs into your decor by sprinkling in vintage plates, antique silverware, and flowers everywhere. We love paying homage to the Run for the Roses with red rose bouquet centerpieces and floral decor.

As you embellish your space, remember: coastal cowgirls and Derby fans alike will love anything equestrian themed! Use a silver trophy as a vase for flowers; mix horseshoes into your place settings or serving table; and add horse figurines, paintings, pictures, or linens to your decor. Any and all-things-horse will feel very on-brand for a Kentucky Derby party.

This is an especially fun party to host outdoors, not only because it coordinates well with the derby vibe, but also if you live on the coast, you’re probably used to entertaining outdoors anyway! Take the party to the patio by carrying your decor outdoors with colorful streamers or greenery around your porch or deck railing.

Fashion Fun for Your Derby Day

Everyone knows that Derby fashion is almost as exciting as the race itself! And coastal couture has something in common with Kentucky Derby party style: bold and fun outfits are the name of the game. Set the tone with your themed invitations (Etsy has a ton of cute options, like this one!), where you can remind your guests to wear their most fabulous outfits and their biggest hats.

Tradition would encourage pretty spring dresses in bold colors and patterns for the ladies and summer suits in playful light colors and bow ties for the guys. (Even your furry friends can get in on the formality of the affair with a bowtie or floral bandana!) But, of course, no matter what the guests wear, hats are a must for this event!

Whether you have a front-row view of the Paddock or you’re a casual bystander in your own home, the bigger and more elaborate the headwear the better. While Derby ladies have been flaunting fabulous high-fashion hats and fascinators since 1875, you can find inexpensive supplies at places like Hobby Lobby, Etsy, and Amazon for customizing your own. Making your own means it can be adorned with anything you like — tulle, ribbons, feathers, and even seashells! We love this easy DIY derby hat decorating tutorial that shows you exactly how to do it. And since you’re wearing hats anyway, why not put a coastal cowgirl twist on it and embellish a cowboy (or cowgirl) hat?!

Juleps and More: Cocktails and Other Must-Serve Drinks for a Derby Party

Looking for some signature drinks for your Kentucky Derby party? We’ve got you covered with some classics, some new finds, and even something for the non-alcohol drinkers.

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first: No Kentucky derby party would be complete without Mint Juleps. This bourbon-based cocktail is a Southern classic and the traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby. The great thing about this drink is that you don’t need a ton of fancy ingredients — it’s just bourbon, sugar, mint, and crushed ice. And if you need some guidance putting it all together, we love this classic Mint Julep Recipe.

But, we’re at the beach, so of course you may want something more fitting to your setting! If you’re looking for a coastal citrus twist on the classic mint Julep, you might enjoy this Lemonade Mint Julep. The tart lemon flavor is an extra refreshing addition to this cocktail. You could also turn your Mint Julep into a Seabreeze Julep by adding a splash of cranberry — a perfect tie-in with the coastal theme. For more festive ideas, My Bartender has compiled a list of 17 Must-Try Kentucky Derby Cocktails that are perfect for the occasion.

For those who aren’t into cocktails, champagne and other sparkling wines are always a great idea. 14 Hands Winery has cute horse-themed bottles that are idea for a Derby to-do, and their products can be found at most grocery and wine stores.

For the non-drinkers, we think there’s no better options than the Mint Julep Mocktail that’s served at Churchill Downs. It uses black mint tea in place of the bourbon for a refreshing drink that’s full of complexity and totally free of alcohol.

And finally, you can’t go wrong adding some sweet tea to your drink list! It’s a Southern staple, incredibly easy to make, and always a crowd pleaser.

Fruit and flower tarts

Derby Delicacies: Festive Food and Recipe Ideas

Southern staples and fancy desserts are always a great choice for a Kentucky Derby party. For appetizers, try a classic pimento cheese dip, deviled eggs, or the famous Kentucky Hot Brown Dip. If you want to incorporate some seafood for your coastal theme, go with a classic shrimp cocktail, or shrimp and grits for a main dish. And feel free to let loose and have fun with dessert, adjusting classics to fit your theme: horseshoe-shaped cookies, bourbon balls, fruit-and-flower decorated tarts, and mini pecan pies all make fabulous derby fare.

If you’re looking for some great recipes, check out this Derby Day Recipe Guide from Taste of Home that’s one of the most comprehensive we’ve seen. You’re sure to find something delicious for your celebration!

Ribbon, scissors, and white roses

5 Great Derby Day Activities

With the derby itself lasting just around two minutes, you’ll find yourself with plenty of time for food, drink, and entertainment. Here are some of our favorite Kentucky Derby party activities:

  1. Hat Making – If you’re looking for a fun and unexpected party activity that your guests will love, consider setting up a hat- or fascinator-making station. All you’ll need are a mix of inexpensive hats and/or fascinator parts, and a bunch of embellishments. With a mix of ribbon, dried sea stars, beads, real or silk flowers, and a glue gun, your guests can come up with unlimited coastal derby creations!
  2. Horseshoes – What better place to enjoy this game than at a Kentucky Derby party? Look for inexpensive horseshoe game sets on Amazon.
  3. Betting Board – Let everyone get in on the horse betting fun by setting up a betting board. Use a whiteboard to list each horse’s name and allow guests to pick their predicted winner by placing their initials by their choice. Guests will pay a set dollar amount per pick and everyone who selects the winner will split the pot.
  4. Pin the Rose on the Pony – Have little ones in attendance? Simply turn the traditional “pin the tail on the donkey” game into a derby attraction! Create your own, or find something like this adorable set from Etsy.
  5. Hat Contest – Designate some judges for selecting the most creative, funniest, or biggest hat in attendance. Make sure the winner gets their very own first place rosette ribbon!

Whether it’s your first time throwing a Kentucky Derby party or it’s an annual tradition, we hope these ideas have given you some great new inspiration for your coastal celebration of this timeless event!

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