Where to Explore
Welcome to the second edition of our family’s road trip to Nashville, Tennessee. During our excursions, we not only sought out the best places to eat, but also creative gems that embody the growing persona of this honky tonk town. Some new and some old, ones that come in a whisper and others that are whistled so loud they’ll make your head turn!
Music City is known for its lyrical legacy, but in recent years has also attracted a troupe of creatives of another variety looking to further expand the character and landscape of this town. Thirty-six hours was hardly enough to scratch the surface of what this place has to offer and really begin to understand its spirit. But one has to start somewhere and the remaining part of the Nashville hustle will be there for our next adventure. So whether you are making this a long stay or a short one, make the time to give your support to these local landmarks and businesses.
A Jaunt through the Neighborhoods of East Nashville
Lockeland Springs, Historic Edgefield, East End
As I mentioned in the first edition, we opted to stay in East Nashville for the base of this trip. It is a very walkable neighborhood and if you don’t have any limitations to your mobility, I would highly recommend exploring it in this fashion. I’m of the opinion that the only way to truly get to know a place is to walk it, as you will expose yourself to all of the nooks and crannies that you would otherwise miss if selecting a faster method of pace.
It is hard to believe glancing at today’s density that these neighborhoods were once a bunch of farmland. The arrival of the streetcar led to rapid subdivision and urbanization of the farmland, which increased its desirability due to the improved access to Downtown. After these early stages of urban development, a series of natural disasters (the Great Fire, tornados) shifted the landscape of East Nashville. Unfortunately this resulted in the loss of some historic style homes and businesses, but true to its resilient roots, East Nashville has persevered and these days its popularity climbs as Music City’s urban sprawl continues to spread.
While East Nashville is predominantly bungalow style craftsman homes, the uniformity stops there — as the creative personalities of its residents shine through in the flair of their homes’ exteriors and landscapes. Whether it be a mermaid painted on the side of a home or art hanging from the trees — some being eclectic and others plainly quaint — strolling through this part of town is nothing short of a most pleasant journey.
A Silent Treasure Trove — Nashville Library
615 Church Street
Being somewhat of a bibliophile, I am drawn to any establishment containing a wealth of the literary nature. Books are just lovely objects and even though digitized versions are considered more convenient, I’m far more pleased by the feel and anticipation of turning a physical page. We didn’t realize what was in store for us at the Nashville library and what we found was an architecturally grand building, plentiful in local value — for the past and the present.
Though it lives in the shadow of its famous neighbor, the Ryman, upon entry the library welcomes and entices you to stay for a while with an abundance of natural light permeating its space. A maze of beautiful rooms, even the avid reader will likely be enticed by the aesthetics before venturing forth into its collection of beautiful minds.
- One doesn’t need to have a library card to benefit from the bounty of books. Visit the knowledgable folks in the archives and special collections to dig deeper into local history and writings on Nashville. There is also a room specifically dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement!
- Combine a visit to the library with a visit to the Ryman and save yourself some dough [and time] on parking. The entrance for library parking is located at on Sixth or Seventh Avenues, between Church and Commerce Streets. The first 90 minutes are free with library validation and a mere $1/hour after that
- The handicap (and stroller accessible) entrance from the garage is on Level 4.
- Need access to wifi during your day? The library has free wifi access for everyone.
- Need a moment to disconnect instead? Check the schedule for free yoga classes and meditation sessions throughout the day.
The Soul of Nashville — Ryman Auditorium
116 Fifth Ave North
Dubbed “historically cool since 1892,” let’s travel back in time to a moment in the Ryman’s story before it was home to the famous Grand Ole Opry. This exquisite building was dreamed up and actualized by its namesake, Captain Tom Ryman to be a Tabernacle church for preaching the gospel in a time when Nashville was besieged by “undesirable” habits amongst its citizens. Reaching its potential, it played host to numerous religious revivals from 1892-1904. In the years following Captain Ryman’s death , the structure came under a period of neglect, but was miraculously saved by a smart and savvy business woman, Ms. Lula C. Naff. Not only did she take charge pre-suffrage, but this lady was also a widow and single mother to boot [shout out to all those single mom superheros]! Once she took the reigns, countless legends performed on the Ryman’s stage throughout the 20th century and the venue operated fully in the black. From 1943-1974, the Ryman became the “Mother Church of Country Music” when the Grand Ole Opry took a standing residence on Saturday nights. Despite the departure of the Opry, the citizens of Nashville rallied to prevent the destruction of the magnificent Ryman and after a major renovation it was reopened in 1994 as an entertainment venue for modern musicians to walk in the footsteps of the “greats” of yesteryear being protected as a historic landmark.
To this day, countless musicians have said that this iconic building has some of the best acoustics for performing their melodies. Still attracting top talent, you may even be lucky enough to catch an upcoming live musical gig. But if not —there is always your imagination — as you walk the brick-walled hallways, you can travel back in time perusing the Hatch Show Print Gallery of various showcased artists and envision what it must have been like to see the likes of Johnny Cash gracing the stage. Being one who is not easily persuaded to explore “touristy” sites, I can say that if you skip anything else on the tourist trail in Nashville, don’t let it be this one. The Ryman resonates the true spirit of Old Nashville.
- Visit in the middle of the week and the middle of the day, there is likely to be no wait. We went on a Tuesday at 1pm, went right up to the ticket counter and got right in for the next tour. Nice and efficient for a big tourist attraction. If you are planning to attend at a peak hour, I strongly suggest buying tickets in advance online.
- The self guided tour is great for those with limited time, but if you have a couple of hours opt for the Guided Backstage Tour where you are provided with an oral history and get to see the dressing rooms of stars such as Johnny Cash and Hank Williams.
- For the aspiring singer in your group, there is an opportunity to record a CD right on the spot in the sound room at the Ryman
- Share the love on instagram @TheRymanAuditorium
On a Search for Star Potential — Bluebird Cafe
4104 Hillsboro Pike
Located in an unassuming strip mall, you would never think here you would find the famous intimate cafe where musical talent flock in hopes of an audition and eventually a big break. Highly respected in the country music industry and immortalized by the movie The Thing Called Love, it is in this setting that songwriters, from a range of genres, christen the audience of the listening room with their original poetic lyrics. Here you will get a unique experience witnessing the creative process of storytelling by and between songwriters and artists.
With two shows every night, you can roll the dice with the limited first-come, first-served seating or secure tickets. Traveling with a baby has its limitations and standing in line for hours is one of them. So we attempted to squeeze in a showing the famous Bluebird Cafe, but unfortunately it didn’t go as planned. However, I chalk it up to reconnaissance, since we did find out some valuable information to share for our next trip and to share with all of you!
- Reservations are not available on Sundays and Mondays (for the most part), that means you are limited to first-come, first-seating. We tried to go on a Monday and most people had lined up for a 5pm door opening between 2:30-3pm in the afternoon. The people who we spoke to were #25 in line for approximately 40 seats. This gives you an idea of how far in advance you need to get there to make the cut off.
- Out of the two nights with first-come seats only, the actual number available at the beginning of the night varies depending on that night (for instance, Open Mic Night can have the least seats since each of the 25 musicians can bring a guest).
- I would highly recommend getting your tickets in advance, which is usually available about 1 week in advance for Tuesday-Thursday showings and Monday of that week for Friday and Saturday night shows
- Open Mic night is on Mondays, which in my opinion would be the day of choice for an inaugural visit
- Writers night is on Sundays, this could also be an opportunity for some diverse exposure
- Children are welcome (including babies)
“The Bluebird is the beginning and the mecca, the end.” —Garth Brooks
Calling all Mercantile Mavens— Where to Shop in Nashville
If you are looking to support quality, local merchants, look no further than strolling down 12th Ave South. Unique boutiques ranging from eclectic to couture are at your convenience. Here is a list of my favorites:
2908 12th Ave South
A modern drygoods store of sorts, White’s offers a wide array of artisan products ranging from upscale clothing and millinery to fine home goods and a diverse assortment in between. There is something beautiful for everyone in this well curated store. Instagram @whitesmercantile
Imogene and Willie
2601 12th Ave South
Beginning as a love story of denim makers from another time, they left a blue-stained imprint on their next generation. Their kindred’s manifesto is befitting as these designers sought to “develop a fit that drew from the past, while incorporating a modern aesthetic.” Housed in an old gas station, you’ll find premium denim and tees, the perfect combination for urban and country dwellers alike. Sign up for their mailing list to get in on monthly community suppers graced by local musicians. Instagram @imogenewillie
Pegasus Book Bus
The wheeled emissary for Parnassus Books (the famous independent bookstore in Nashville), Pegasus is a big ole blue school bus full of literary goodness. Browse their summer reading offerings before or after perusing the other blue next door at Imogene and Willie. Follow @parnassustruck on Twitter for their location schedule. Instagram @parnassusbooks
2306 12th Ave South
Upscale couture intermixed with original designs is the name of the game at Hero. From staples to more abstract pieces, the fashion curated by this boutique will entice you to add something special to their wardrobe. Enthusiastic shop girls will assist you in identifying and hand selecting styles to complete the look you seek. Instagram @hero12south
2302 12th Ave South
Being a lover of all things vintage, I had to pop my head into this little shop of wonders. True to the name, Savant smartly distinguishes itself from the other upscale boutiques along 12th Ave South by offering a palate of the eclectic and esoteric varieties. Its goods swing the pendulum of decades (and maybe even centuries) leaving you only the task to hunt for these treasures. Instagram @savantvintage