What to Do in Nashville

December 15, 2021

Filed in: Field Guide

As Thanksgiving 2021 rolled around, I found myself in facing the same conundrum as all the other years: Do I go home? Truthfully, it’s no conundrum at all. My answer is always no if it will take me longer than half a day to get back to California. Boston, then Paris, and now Birmingham all fit that category, and I prepared myself for a solo Thanksgiving holiday—until a friend called. That had me then scrambling to research what to do in Nashville, because that was our destination, it seemed.

I should have known the trip would happen. Divya isn’t a stranger to visiting me in far-fetched places. If she decided an ocean wasn’t too much trouble, then surely going from Pennsylvania to Alabama was a walk through the park.

AT&T tower in Nashville framed between two trees in Cumberland Park on a sunny day

She messaged me one day, and we found ourselves in the same boat. Too far away to go home and planning to holiday alone. Though the plan was for her to fly to Birmingham, I threw out the possibility of an adventure: Savannah, Mobile, Nashville, or somewhere else?

Somehow, we decided on Music City—even though neither of us has a penchant for country music (unless you count Taylor Swift’s older albums). Therefore, our “what to do in Nashville” itinerary was missing the very thing that most come for, unless you count our incredibly brief walk through Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. And when I say brief walk, brief walk was exactly that. As soon as we approached the entrance, I knew I was a goner. The music, which was more akin to country-rock in my opinion, shook the pavement outside and you couldn’t get a word inside. I admit I was the lame one who covered my ears as we walked through. Clearly, I am not made to appreciate live music. (Rather, I just abhor loud noises and close quarters.)

up-close photo of an orange, yellow, and green painted brick wall in Nashville's 12 South neighborhood. White hand-written text reads "Looking pretty, Music City."

After precisely two minutes in my very first (and probably last) American bar (this was also the first time I ever had to show an ID anywhere), we decided we had sufficiently experienced the Honky Tonk Highway and left for the nearby Assembly Food Hall where we proceeded to tuck into hot chicken (me) and a vegan burger (her).

But, beyond our rather short-lived country dreams (or rather, trying to kindle something up), there were plenty of other things to do in the city—including getting stuck in stop-and-go traffic on a giant hill behind a huge mail truck and sandwiched too tightly for comfort with the car behind us in my manual transmission. The South is way hillier than it lets on, folks. This is everything we did in Nashville.

red and orange fall leaves in Cumberland Park in Nashville

1. Frothy Monkey

This one was more for Divya because I’m not a coffee drinker, recreational or otherwise. Frothy Monkey is something of a local institution and they have a killer food menu, too. There are five locations around Nashville (including in Franklin), but the original is in a neighborhood called 12 South. Any are worth your while. (There’s one coming to Birmingham I hear, too!) We stopped off at the Downtown location before a brisk, icy morning walk on the Cumberland River.

Frothy Monkey Downtown

235 5th Avenue North 37219

Monday-Sunday 7am-3pm

Nashville skyline from Cumberland Park featuring the AT&T tower rising above the rest on a sunny day.

2. Cumberland Park

It’s a peaceful stretch on the Cumberland River and was bursting with fall color when we visited. You can take stairs or an elevator up to a pedestrian-only bridge (I believe) for a pretty view, but the skyline is superb from the banks as well. It would be pleasant to pique-unique here in the summer and springtime.

3. 12 South

This artsy neighborhood isn’t far from Cumberland Park and is filled with murals, fun boutiques, and many eats. We lunched at Edley’s Bar-B-Q (I was unadventurous but Divya tried the hot chicken, which was hot indeed), walked in (and promptly out of) Draper James upon learning they did not sell earmuffs, and found the most eclectic cabinet de curiosités, Savant, complete with what I am quite sure were real animal mounts and lotssssss of cowboy boots.

a vertical, rectangular mural painted on a white brick wall in Nashville's 12 South neighborhood. The mural is red, white, and blue with stripes and stars. It says "I believe in Nashville."

4. Centennial Park and the Parthenon

Luckily, Divya and I both share a love for the music of Taylor Swift. Given that she makes a reference to sitting in Centennial Park in “Invisible String” we decided to spend part of our afternoon doing just that. I brought Georgie, my typewriter, and pecked for a while while Divya played her TS playlist and we watched an aggressive three-year-old run after squirrels, attempting to terrorize them.

Before our grass nap in the park, we walked through the (fake) Parthenon, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for years. It’s a full-scale replica of the Acropolis in Athens, and there’s an Athena Parthenos inside that is positively massive and worth your time, even if it is just a replica. There’s also a whole (small) museum beyond the sculpture which was engaging and informative.

Nashville Parthenon

2500 West End Avenue 37203

Monday: closed; Tuesday-Saturday 9am-4:30pm; Sunday 12:30pm-4:30pm

Adults: $10

5. Assembly Food Hall

I’m pretty sure we spent a good half hour wandering around before actually deciding what to eat—there is no want of options. Seating is plentiful, but parking was a little stressful. Still uncertain if that was due to the fact that the Nashville Predators were playing that night. Either way, make sure you have a parking plan.

Assembly Food Hall

5055 Broadway Plaza, 37203

Monday-Wednesday 9am-10pm; Thursday/Sunday 9am-11pm; Friday-Saturday 9am-1am

Nashville skyline at sunset from Love Circle, a small hilltop by Centennial Park

6. Love Circle

This was a quickie, but if you like city skylines, then you might enjoy Love Circle. Though I was led to believe that it’s a park, it’s barely a mound on a hill with some questionable machinery. You can, however, see the whole city and at sunset or sunrise, it’s pretty nice.

Left: the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge stretches across and above the state route 96 at sunset. Right: bright red fall leaves next to a white, old-fashioned brick building in Franklin, Tennessee at sunset.

7. Franklin, Tennessee

I’ve heard to much about Franklin that I decided I had to see it for myself. We spent a whole day of our trip walking and driving around and it was an excellent decision.

Franklin Farmer’s Market

We originally thought we would procure some picnic fixings here, but instead contented ourselves to just wander around. It’s really hopping—local honey, specialty mushrooms, and even things like empanadas and guacamole (hand-smashed right there in front of you) were on offer. It open Saturdays from 8am-1pm but was already lively by the time we got there around nine.

It’s located behind The Factory at Franklin, a giant food and vintage/art mall. We stumbled upon this on accident, as the GPS led us to their parking lot. The Factory also merits a stop. Five Daughter’s Bakery, which specializes in decadent doughnuts, was inside, so that was our beeline.

Noble Springs Dairy goat farm in Tennessee

Noble Springs Dairy

This was potentially the most surprising but enjoyable part of the day. We took a spontaneous tour of this family goat farm and got to learn about local agriculture. Being so out of touch with food production, it made me appreciate farmers extra, seeing all the work that goes into even a “small” farm. The cheese is a do-not-miss.

Typically, you need to reserve tours in advance, but we were able to walk on. The scariest part was the gravelly, uneven, pothole-filled, narrow, winding country road Fitz (car) had to climb to get to the property. I’m pretty sure I said “never again” more times than Divya would ever like to hear again.

Reserve tickets here. Admission is $10.

the sign for the original Puckett's Grocery in Leipers Fork, Tennessee

Leipers Fork

All I can say is 1. wow and 2. I still don’t know how to pronounce the town name. But if you’re looking for the definition of “country,” I’d say Leipers Fork fits the bill. The population is about 650 and we found a sign I though only existed in the movies.

As soon as we parked Fitz at *the* original Puckett’s Grocery, we say a man strutting across the lot in cowboy boots and a Stenson. There was live country pouring out the front door. And we walked the entire length of the town. But, there were also some fantastic art galleries and antique shops which were delightful to peruse. They also stocked many handmade and local goods. My non-negotiable is Puckett’s. Don’t skip the chess pie.

Left: late afternoon sunlight hits wooden rocking chairs on a front porch in Leipers Fork, Tennessee. Right: illuminated red and blue sign for Gary's in Franklin, Tennessee at sunset.

Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge

This is a fun one—the Natchez Trace runs from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville and it’s a wonderful stretch of endless road. I’d be content to just drive on it, but we also got out and walked on the bridge. There’s a little parking area on the north side, and even though there’s no sidewalk, cars cross relatively slowly—I think they’re anticipating pedestrians. Just go for the views. It really is something at sunset.

Franklin Antique Mall

Undoubtedly another highlight, the Franklin Antique Mall is a gem. If you don’t know it’s there, you might miss it since it’s tucked away from the main thoroughfare, but it’s a treasure trove. I came away with one crystal champagne coup ($5) and an antique silver platter ($30) that has come in handy a lot more than I was anticipating. (Read: It helps when you want to eat in bed—I’ve been sick and my roommate and I have been watching Christmas movies and need snacks.)

vintage orange Ford truck in Leipers Fork, Tennessee

The Loveless Cafe

This is my favorite place in the whole South. If you subscribe to my newsletter, joyride, then you know that I had a beautiful, redemptive encounter with our kindly, grandfatherly server. This is my second time to the Cafe, and I will hold it in my heart. (Also, order yourself the banana pudding. You will not regret it.)

What to Do in Nashville if You Like Country Music

A few things, but I can’t wax about them.

  • The Grand Ole Opry
  • Country Music Hall of Fame
  • Honky Tonk Highway (Broadway Street)
  • Johnny Cash Museum
  • The Ryman Auditorium
  • Music Row

large green, orange, and yellow mural on a brick wall in Nashville's 12 South neighborhood. It features a pair of dancing legs wearing striped blue pants and polk-a-dot orange and red shoes. The white hand-written text says "Looking pretty Music City"

Savant Vintage in Nashville's 12 South neighborhood. It is a vintage store with many plants on sitting against the black exterior.

the franklin theatre in franklin, tennessee glows at sunset. there are two christmas wreaths hanging from the roof.

a stretch of state route 96 on the Natchez Trace in Nashville, Tennessee. It is late fall and most of the trees are bare.

a sign in Leipers Fork, Tennessee reads "Puckett's Bi-Rite. Bear, BBQ, and Jesus."

a mural in 12 South featuring sunny yellow and light blue diagonal stripes.

a lone, bare tree in a field at Noble Springs Dairy in Franklin, Tennessee

a mural at Five Daughters Bakery in 12 South Nashville. Doughnuts pelt a pink umbrella painted on a white fence.

the bright blue and white striped mural on the brick wall of the Draper James store in 12 South Nashville

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Paris & California strolls; plenty of flowers; stories; and looking for the beauty in the everyday. I hope you'll come along as I take the year to document the entirety of my home state!