Of the places I’ve lived, I’d say Nashville was the most fun (and I grew up minutes from Disneyland). I LOVED living in Music City and go back whenever I can. It seems everyone else in the US has this idea, as tourism and people moving to Nashville is at an all time high. So much so that they are undertaken a huge project to increase the size of BNA to accommodate more flights (including a new nonstop from London–watch out, Nashville, Harry Styles is coming for you).
It’s no wonder why…this is a world class destination. There’s no way you can fit it in 3 days, but I sure as hell try when I visit. I usually return for a concert, Bonnaroo/CMA fest, sporting event, special occasion–whatever the reason for your trip, just know that you will leave Nashville less rested, a few pounds heavier, but your soul will be more fulfilled than when you arrived.
Pack your antacids and settle in kids, this is gonna be a long one, but it should have you..
Chillin like a Nashvillain…
I hit the ground running when I land in BNA. I always rent a car, as I know the roads well, but if you’re staying downtown and are only going to be localized down there, you can get around by taking rideshare services. If you are planning on seeing a show at the Ryman, be sure to choose a Nissan, that will give you free valet there, since Nissan is a sponsor (and ubiquitous around the city because of the large plant located nearby).
I tend to take red eyes to give me the most time in the city, so I head straight to Crema coffee downtown. Best coffee ever. You will hear me say that a lot this weekend. The Cuban is incredibly deep and nuanced, and they also have cronuts!
But, I’d advise you to stave off hunger for a little while, head down to the Gulch, where you should get into the forming line at Biscuit Love. This is the original location (the second less crowded one is in Hillsboro Village), and the one thing you absolutely must try is an order of Bonuts. Biscuit + donut = the best thing you’ve ever let touch your tastebuds. They are buttery, flaky, gooey because they’re smothered in blueberry compote and mascarpone. If you haven’t gotten over the fact that you’re gonna be indulging a lot this weekend, these bonuts will certainly help you see the light.
After your breakfast snack, head a few blocks over to Third Man Records. Music City does encompass all types of music, not just country. Jack White opened his studio/shop here and even if rock’s not your jam, the red, yellow and black aesthetic is worth a gander. There’s a recording studio that you can cut a demo in and a lot of cool memorabilia that has been lovingly collected and restored by the man himself. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of him like I once did.
From the Gulch, I like to drive south down Demonbruen through Music Row. This area is where all the magic happens. You’ll see the original RCA studio B (a part of the Country Music HOF tour), where some up and comers Elvis, Dolly and Willie recorded, and all the banners celebrating today’s top country artists’ achievements. Continue down the stretch of restaurants and bars on Broadway to reach Vanderbilt University and Hillsboro Village.
This is one of my favorite areas to wander and shop around, as I spent a lot of my time working here. There are boutiques, cafes (Fido = best coffee ever, Provence has great fruit tea), the Belmont theatre, and restaurants galore. Vanderbilt is worth spending some time exploring, it is a sprawling campus filled with Tory Burch and Jack Rogers clad kids. Oh, and it’s an excellent institute of higher learning.
You’re probably starting to work up a little appetite, so continue down 21st Avenue past Belmont University (gorgeous campus in its own right) and turn onto 12th Avenue South. 12 South is one of the most sought after neighborhoods in which to live because of its family oriented, laid back vibe. It’s not too stiff or overbearing, which draws in locals and tourists alike. The main drag boasts some of Nashville’s best eateries, ranging from tacos to BBQ to seafood to a brewery to a ski lodge to gourmet ice cream.
Nashville native, Reese Witherspoon’s flagship location of Draper James will show you what Southern hospitality is as soon as you open the door: the salespeople flock to you with trays of sweet tea to sip on while you peruse their adorable offerings. I would live in this store, it’s as cute as Elle Woods x Tracy Flick x Annette Cruel Intentions x Madeline Big Little Lies x June Carter Cash x Felony Melanie x Wild x Rosita the Pig. As an aside, how GOOD was Nashville resident Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies? If she doesn’t get all the Emmys, there should be no more Emmys ever again.
But I digress..my favorite lunch spot is Epice. Now, I know you weren’t expecting to have Lebanese food on your trip to Nashville, but I promise you will not regret this choice. Their kafta (sirloin) and shawarma wraps will make your stomach so happy. Their beirut style hummos, sayadeya (turmeric grilled fish fillet), peasant salad, kibbeh (ground sirloin) appetizer are all delectable. DELECTABLE. It’s a beautifully designed space as well. Forever fav. The location of this bistro is also kitty corner to Las Paletas, where you can enjoy gourmet popsicles in such flavors as chai, creamy lime, tamarind with chili, pineapple mint or Mexican caramel while you walk your lunch off around Sevier park.
Before you leave, make sure you stop at the “I Believe in Nashville” mural 📷. It has to be one of the most instagrammed spots in town, but you need this Americana invoking red, white and blue sign on your feed and in your life.
Should be check in time by now, and I recommend visitors to stay Downtown or Midtown, where all the action is. It’s really better to be closer to your hotel so you can stumble home later, but we’ll get to that.
I usually stay with friends in Sylvan Park/Charlotte Pike/Midtown (next big neighborhood), and if you’re not too tired yet a cool spot to check out near there is Marathon Village. The former car factory now houses small boutiques, Bang Bang Candy shop, artisanal and maker markets and the Nashville location of Antique Archeology, home of the American Pickers. There’s also a great music venue, Marathon Music Works, that hosts big block party concerts in the Summer.
Over the past few years, Nashville has become a real foodie destination with notable chefs all opening dining establishments. One of the neighborhoods responsible for this bounty of inventive cuisine is Germantown. It seems you can’t turn around without hitting a James Beard winner in this area. My favorite restaurant–and I am talking about actual favorite in the world– is Rolf & Daughters (better get your reservation now). I cannot imagine a dining experience that will ever top my first time trying this place. Every dish, every detail was perfect. You must try whatever squid ink pasta they have on the menu. It will change your life. It’s the literal embodiment of savory umami perfection.
A perfect nightcap is a cocktail at Patterson House, the companion to the Catbird Seat, another one of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants (you should really get a reservation now, like stop reading this, if you want to dine here). This is fine mixology at its best.
To start your second day, head to East Nashville for an early pick me up coffee at Ugly Mugs. Their specialty lattes: lavender, hoodie bear with honey, vietnamese iced coffees are the best ever. The pre-food coffee will serve you well as there will likely be a long wait for brunch. I like Marche Artisan Foods, but their nearby sister restaurant Margot is also a standout. Either way, you won’t be disappointed as both restaurants serve fresh farm to table classic brunch fare. They are also both close to the five points area, an asterisk convergence of streets that have quirky storefronts and a little center of shipping container specialty stores.
Before you head back into Downtown, stop at the East Nashville mural for a 📷 against this technicolor dream backdrop. Today is a day to explore downtown.
Take your pick of museums: the Country Music Hall of Fame (get a Hatch Show print souvenir), Johnny Cash, or George Jones.
You can grab Nashville originated candy, the Goo Goo cluster, at the store across from the Cash museum. Also ,be sure to check out the visitor’s center in Bridgestone Arena, home of the Predators.
If you’re not able to see a show at the Ryman, you can take a tour of the Mother Church. If you’re interested in something non music related
you’re in the wrong town, the Frist museum of art is walking distance from downtown, too. You should do your best Connie Britton impersonation (good luck getting her terrific hair flip down) on the Shelby Street pedestrian bridge from downtown towards the Titans home at Nissan Stadium. It will give you sweeping views of downtown and the famed “Batman” AT&T building. 📷
Music Corner at Centennial Park is a free summertime staple featuring notable bands and food trucks near the Parthenon (📷). Nashville is called the Athens of the South because of this full scale replica of the Greek landmark. Not sure why they didn’t build this in actual Athens, Georgia, but their loss is our gain.
Rest up at your hotel in the late afternoon because you’re gonna need that energy. To prepare for your night on the town, line your stomach with a burger and brew from The Pharmacy in East Nashville. When most people talk about burgers, they don’t usually mention the bun, but this apothecary themed spot makes the best potato rolls that soak up its delicious meat juice run off. The patio is a great spot. Across the street is Mas Tacos, if you’re wanting something more sabroso than yummy for your tummy.
For here you’re going to start your Lower Broad takeover. Like I said, you should do your best to see a show at the Ryman Auditorium while you are in town. Formerly a school, the acoustics are the best I’ve ever heard, and a variety of acts fill those pews to capacity every week, especially the original Opry shows in the winter. Little Big Town, Jason Isbell, Old Crow Medicine Show, Amy Grant/Vince Gill do residencies, but I have seen Alt-J, Death Cab for Cutie, Willie Nelson, Dave Chapelle perform there.
Even if you’re not able to catch a show there, fortunately there’s music bursting out of every bar and club downtown. The classic Honky Tonks: Robert’s Western World, Layla’s, Stage Door, Tootsie’s all feature incredible musicians and singers. Cut a rug line dancing at Wild Horse Saloon, toast some bachelorettes at Tin Roof or go full on messy young club goer at Honky Tonk Central. Be sure to check out Ernie Tubb’s record store and Betty’s Boot Barn for vintage clothes and boots. Acme Feed and Seed has a great performance space, but its star is it’s rooftop bar overlooking Lower Broad, Nissan Stadium and the pedestrian bridge. 📷
Just when you thought you were done, don’t even think about it. The night is still young. Head a few blocks over to get your inner Nashville superstar on at the karaoke bars in Printer’s Alley. When in
Rome the Athens of the South, right?
You will inevitably sleep in on Sunday, you deserve it. And you will inevitably need something to help you get back on your feet. Even though it seems counterintuitive, you need to assault your senses with greasy, spicy food.
My choice for brunch is Chauhan Ale & Masala House. This Indian fusion restaurant by Maneet Chauhan (you’ve seen her dress down chefs on Chopped) reimagines a lot of classic dishes with a South Asian spice profile. Cardamom beer? Tikka Masala poutine? Gulab jamun cheesecake? Haan, haan, haan! Taylor Swift is a fan of this place, and so am I.
Not a fan of ethnic food? I’ve got you covered, head to Monell’s or Puckett’s Grocery for some good old fashioned hearty Southern classics. The Southern, Pinewood Social and Listening Room Cafe are also good options downtown. Sam & Zoe’s in Berry Hill is my pic for a grab and go (best fruit tea and breakfast burritos ever).
As you have not experienced the more natural wonders of Nashville, try any of it’s great trails in Percy Warner Park, Cheekwood Botanical Gardens (entrance fee), Radnor Lake, or stick around downtown and discover Bicentennial Park, the State Capitol, and the Farmer’s Market. For the shopping inclined, head to Opry Mills near the Grand Ole Opry House for outlet shopping.
For your last meal before the airport, head back towards Midtown or Charlotte Pike to Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. This is a Nashville staple that has gotten very popular over recent years (KFC makes a version), and it is fire. There’s different levels of heat, but I would say avoid the “Shut the Cluck Up” if don’t want to carry along a memory of Nashville that lasts for the next few days.
Suggested Souvenirs: Hatch Show Print, anything from the specialty museums, Draper James gifts, goo goo clusters
Must try food and drink: Hot chicken, fruit tea, Yazoo, Fat Bottom or Jackalope beers
Famous natives: Reese Witherspoon, Miley Cyrus. Residents I’ve seen out and about: John Oates, Taylor Swift, Nathan Followill, Vince Gill, Hayden Panettiere, Jack White, Bela Fleck, Ben Folds, Charlie Daniels.
Sports teams: Titans (NFL), Predators (NHL), Sounds (minor league baseball)