The Best Things to Do and Places to Go in Nashville
By Heather Byrd
Nashville has been getting a whole lotta love lately. From breaking into the top 15 out of 52 spots around the globe on the New York Times' recent list of "Top Places to Go in 2014," to ranking as the 14th best performing metro area in the country last year in the Milken Institute's economic report – a jump of 13 spots from 2012 – all eyes seem to be on Music City.
But what is it that makes our city so darn special? Sure, there's the fact that some of the best music on the planet is created, recorded, and performed here and the food scene is certainly tempting the finest culinary talent in the world to open new eateries in our town, but specifically, where should one go and do in order to really get to know our city?
As a longtime resident with more than two decades of experience in the area, I know a thing or two about where the locals hang. Here are the must-do things and must-go places in Nashville that will get you feeling like a Nashvillite in no time.
1. Catch a show at the "Mother Church of Country Music," a.k.a. The Ryman Auditorium, The Bluebird Cafe, or The Station Inn. This one may be a no-brainer, but that's exactly why it's at the top of this list. These legendary stages have showcased some of the best pickers and players on the planet for decades and you never know who might show up for a surprise performance or collaboration. Be sure to check their event calendars for tickets far in advance as these venues regularly sell out their offerings.
2. Test your luck and your gastro-intestinal fortitude with a Nashville specialty – hot chicken. More than a dozen joints around town offer the dish but my favorite spots are Prince's, Hattie B's or Bolton's. Around these parts, we love it so much that we even have our own Music CityHot Chicken Festival in the summer.
3. Acclimate to the weather. It changes drastically every. single. day. Temperatures can go as high as 112 degrees down into the single digits in this state and you can keep your shorts and your snow pants in the same, easy-to-reach drawer. Be sure to stock up on bread and milk by the cartload if the threat of snow is within two states. Bonus points if you post pictures of your patio furniture covered in frost on social media. You can also learn the geography of Tennessee by watching the tornado warnings flash across your screen minute by minute. Ever heard of Van Buren, Sequatchee, or Cocke counties? Me neither – but when local weathercaster, WKRN's Lisa Patton lists them out one by one, we all learn something new.
4. Visit the men's restroom at the Hermitage Hotel. It's been voted the most famous restroom in America several years in a row and is rumored to have a secret tunnel that goes all the way to the state capital hidden behind its walls so that legislators can grab a quick drink between sessions. It's certainly worth a visit – just be sure to knock twice before entering if you're female.
5. Support our athletes. Whether it's the Predators, Titans, or the Nashville Sounds, there's nothing like cheering on the home team from inside the stadium or arena that these teams call home.
6. See a Hank Williams, Jr. concert and pass out before he does. This fella is country music royalty. Just try and keep up. I dare ya.
7. Sunday Funday at Brewhouse Midtown with Bushwackers: During football season, every patron in this sports bar is enjoying a tall, frosty Bushwacker. This creamy rum and kahlua concoction may taste like a milkshake but it packs a serious punch. Order it like a local in a pilsner glass insulated by a styrofoam to-go cup for optimal sipping pleasure.
8. Take a drive down the Natchez Trace Parkway, a gorgeous, forest-lined road that commemorates the Old Natchez Trace trail and head on over to The Loveless Cafe for some Southern cooking complete with country ham and red-eye biscuits.
9. Get your photo added to the wall at The Villager Tavern, a classic Nashville bar dedicated to the art of darts. If it's your birthday, you can have your beer served in their dog bowl, but I would suggest bringing your own sanitizer as that same bowl has been around for ages.
10. Get your brunch on! In a town with more than 700 churches (it's a fact, look it up) we take our Sunday brunch seriously. Check out Marche, The Standard, or Josephine for some of the best brunching around.
11. Have your band reviewed, or more likely "dissed," by the Nashville Cream. They may love you, they may hate you but most of all, they love to hate you. This snarky, music blog from our local alt-weekly publication, The Nashville Scene never misses an opportunity to take a dig at local bands on the rise. They hate the Kings of Leon and if you're lucky, they'll hate your band too.
12. Have lunch at Brown's Diner: Stop into this infamous hangout for the hamburgers and while you're there, take in the vibe of the legendary songwriters who have been frequenting the joint since 1927.
13. Get festive: Nashville's year-round festival offerings truly have something for everyone. From music series like Live on the Green, the Americana Music Festival, Tin Pan South Songwriter's Festival, Southern Ground, and my favorite, The Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival to the Nashville Film Festival, Music City Eats, and even The Tomato Arts Festival, Nashville is literally a town with something to celebrate every single month out of the year. Check out the full festival list here.
14. Go shopping for some new or old vinyl. United Record Pressing is the largest and one of the few remaining vinyl record presses left in the U.S. And stores like Grimey's New & Pre-loved Music, Third Man Records (Jack White's home base), The Groove, The Great Escape, and Ernest Tubb's Record Store are great places to stumble upon some of those hard to find classics. Save your pennies to shop on Record Store Day (April 19, 2014) when each of these spots will be hosting sweet parties, free concerts, and tons of discounts on the best offerings in their stash.
15. Take a ride out to Arrington Vineyards. Spend an afternoon sipping vino in the sunshine on a grassy hill overlooking the vineyards owned by country music artist Kix Brooks, winemaker Kip Summers, and entrepreneur John Russell. There's free music in the warmer months and free samples year round. It's no wonder Arrington Vineyards has truly become "Nashville's Wine Country."
16. Showcase your show with a Hatch Show Print. This legendary print shop is one of the oldest working letterpress print shops in America and since 1879 their posters have featured performers from all types of music and the arts. Hatch Show Prints are known the world over and even though your band may never not, you can still have a piece of history to advertise your show.
17. Run into Keith Urban, Nicole Kidman, or Mayor Karl Dean…everywhere. You might see them on a red carpet, you might spot them at the unveiling of something new and fabulous in Music City, or you might just run into them at your local Target or Starbucks…regardless, you'll always be excited. It's like hitting the winning square on your bingo card.
18. Try to get past Big Al, head bouncer at Paradise Park Trailer Resort on Broadway in downtown Nashville. This guy is so tough he could work border patrol.
19. Wait in line at least an hour for pancakes at The Pancake Pantry. I've had these pancakes and they are pretty darn delicious. And everyone who is anyone in Nashville has waited in line for those cakes for at least an hour at least one time in their life, too.
20. Take a hike. Nashville's parks including Percy Warner, Edwin Warner, Radnor Lake, and Shelby Bottoms host some of the most beautiful trails in the state. And if you're more of a disc golf lover, there are eight free courses to choose from.
21. Have a beer…or several. Nashville is currently in the midst of a beer boom with all the breweries that keep popping up. Sure, there are the stalwarts that have been churning out kegs by the hundred for over a decade like Big River Grille & Brewing Works and Blackstone Brewpub but there are also the newer kids on the hops like Yazoo Brewing Company, which can barely keep up with the demand, the all-female run Jackalope Brewery, and most recently, Fat Bottom Brewing. Each of these operations boasts their own tasting rooms where you can sample the freshest brews straight from the vat into your glass. And it's not just beer distilleries that are popping up in town; we've got moonshine makers too. Popcorn Sutton's Tennessee White Whiskey is made right here in Nashville, as is Corsair's Wry Moon Whiskey as well as their other offerings which include the Corsair Gin, Vanilla Bean Vodka, Red Absinthe, Spiced Rum and a Triple Smoke Whiskey. It's no wonder Nashville is known as a drinking town with a music problem.
22. Learn some history: The Country Music Hall of Fame showcases the complete history of country music and features a variety of revolving, seasonal exhibits as well as performances and original programming from stalwarts and leading songwriters in the genre. The recent expansion offers more space to explore the extensive, permanent artifact collection, including more than 800 stage costumes, 600 instruments and hundreds of other objects-from microphones to automobiles-documenting the history of country music.
23. Cut a rug at Robert's Western World or Layla's Bluegrass Inn. These two honky tonks have just enough room for you and your partner to take a spin on the dance floor. Don't have a partner? No problem. Just keep a friendly smile on your face and an open mind and you're sure to get a request for a dance in no time.
24. Get on the water: Summertime temperatures in Tennessee can soar above 100 degrees and friends with boats become the most popular people in town. Percy Priest and Center Hill Lakes both have gathering spots like "Two Foot" where hundreds of boats gather in a two-foot deep bay on hot summer days.
Heather Byrd is a writer, photographer, publicist, and red carpet correspondent who stars in Crazy Hearts: Nashville. Visit her website, Byrd's Eye View.