Travel Blog: Nashville Beyond Broadway
In honor of changing up my blog content a bit, I felt it was only right to include some travel posts, the first being my most recent trip to Nashville. This summer, my boyfriend (Robby) and I were really itching to get away. Being college students, we didn’t want to spend a whole lot, and we wanted to do some non-touristy activities. Nashville was an easy choice because living in Chicago, we knew we could do the drive in a day, and Robby being really great at budgeting (a skill I sometimes lack,) figured out we could do a few days of food, lodging and adventure for a great price.
We picked Nashville because of our love of music, our desire to explore, and the positive reactions we’ve had from friends who have traveled there recently. It was Robby’s first time exploring Tennessee and my second, but almost all of what we included in our trip was new to both of us. Though we’re both 21, we avoided the hype of Broadway, Nashville’s main drag, except for a 30 minute detour to grab some gifts for friends.
Overall, we found Nashville’s less-than-hyped corners are really awesome places to spend time. If you stay just outside of downtown Nashville, like we did, you'll find quiet spots on every street but equal amounts of dining and shopping. Though most of what we did was a little bit off the beaten path, we found everything to be incredibly up-and-coming and trendy. It seemed like every spot was trying to be hip, which is an interesting dynamic in what feels to be a vastly busy, glorified suburb.
The majority of our trip took place in intense rain and we even had a couple tornado warnings, so more times than not we found ourselves inside. Still, we feel like we made the most of our time there and did everything on our list! Here’s a guide to all of our favorite places.
Cheekwood is a really beautiful piece of property with endless gardens and a mansion which has been converted to an art museum. I was thrilled to find out that during our visit, many of the costumes from Downton Abbey were on display. Because the day turned out to be rainy and cold, we only explored two of the gardens, The Color Garden and The Japanese Garden, but despite getting wetter than expected, we found the estate to be a relaxing and beautiful detour in exploring some of Nashville's outer corners.
Before our trip, one of my must-sees was the town of Franklin, a small set of streets about 25 minutes South of Nashville. I had been told that it was quaint and quiet, yet trendy and filled with incredible shopping. From the moment we got into town, we were impressed with its charm. The shopping didn’t disappoint, and we stumbled on one of our favorite meals of the trip at Gray’s on Main.
Gray’s is an old pharmacy converted to restaurant. We arrived around 4 p.m., a little bit of an awkward lunch time, and asked to sit at the bar. We were surprised to find it’s located on the second floor, with a small, corner bar counter, spacious floor seating, and an impressive stage and space for live music. No one was playing at the time, but the restaurant’s playlist was notable and we were thrilled to hear some of our favorite songs over some new favorite food.
We ordered some kind of Whiskey and Chai cocktail which was strong but good, bacon-wrapped figs, and a grilled pear pizza. The pizza was by far the best thing we ordered, maybe even on our whole trip. We almost considered driving the half hour back another day for another round. Gray’s food way impressive and the atmosphere was cozy, the walls brick and plastered with old pharmacy papers. It was the perfect rainy day hangout, and a place I know we’ll return to the next time we pass through Nashville.
We made our way to 12 South primarily to check out Reese Witherspoon’s boutique Draper James. We were happy to find a dozen boutiques and two notable music shops, all located on a street with great food and photo opportunity.
Draper James had a preppy, southern vibe. From lots of plaid to t-shirts that said things like “Honey Bun” and “Sweetie Pie,” it was sweet and quaint in a big-town way. The shop did a great job establishing a cohesive atmosphere from painting blue and white stripes around the entire exterior to serving sweet tea to customers.
We found some other favorites just down the street. Robby was excited to find a drum shop called Fork’s Drum Closet with an extensive inventory. I found a shop called Vinnie Louise which seemed to be the only reasonably priced shop in town with trendy, good quality clothing. I bought a purse and t-shirt from them for around $50 and was thrilled to find they have an online shop which is updated daily with new merchandise.
When we got hungry we stopped for a snack at 12 South Taproom which was small but comfortable. We enjoyed the hometown atmosphere and I was thrilled with their music choice, that being a decision to play an entire War on Drugs album start to finish. The concept was something I’d never experienced in a restaurant, but made the meal seem inherently cohesive and comfortable.
Robby had heard about Pinewood on an episode of Parts Unknown and after explaining it to me, we knew it was somewhere we had to visit. The bar/restaurant is comfortable and spacious, but the bonus is that customers can also show up to bowl in a cute and retro bowling alley in the back of the restaurant. The restaurant is the size of a large warehouse, industrially designed, yet cozy. With a large bar in the center and glass windows overlooking the colorful bowling alley, it’s a place that feels constantly busy and energetic.
Bowling at Pinewood was one of our favorite activities on the trip. It had been a while since either of us had gone to a bowling alley, and we quickly remembered how inherently fun it is. With only a few lanes, it’s pricy and hard to come by a spot, but by some stroke of luck the two of us not only found ourselves able to snag a lane, but bowled for free because the employees forgot to log our time. We only spent about a half hour there, but it was an easy spot to relax and enjoy.
Pinewood’s food was great but our only complaint was the unfriendly staff. We felt that every waiter and waitress that stopped by our table was short and uninterested, yet the hostess’ and barista were friendly and warm.
The entire downtown Nashville scene is a little bit overwhelming. We stopped by at 5ish on a Friday and not to our surprise, everyone on the street around us was wasted. While the bars on Broadway weren’t anything we wanted to experience in full, we decided to stop at FGL house to check out its new construction.
The three-floor bar was recently opened by country band Florida Georgia Line and has had rave reviews from the atmosphere to the continuous live bands they’ve got playing at all hours. We quickly caught an early act, a young girl with a guitar, who had an incredible voice and good stage presence. The crowd inside the bar, while as drunk as the scene outside, was calm and comfortable. It was a place we feel we could have spent more time and enjoyed a drink despite the chaos around us.
Ugly Mugs Coffee and Tea
Tucked away in an East Nashville strip center, this spot became our go to within hours of arriving. I was nursing a nasty cold for our first few days of the trip and lived off of their tea. The interior is a modern and cozy hang out and the exterior has a good handful of tables in a quad-like grassy area. It’s a great spot to grab a drink and relax, surrounded by homes and just a few shops.
In total, we spent four days in Nashville. Despite the rain, which kept us at home nearly every night, it felt like a reasonable amount of time to do everything on our list. Most everything we did in Nashville, both of us would do again. There were few meals we didn't like, and we were able to take each day at our own pace. It was relaxing, yet exciting, a vacation that fit exactly what we were looking for in both price and experience.
The coolest part was that very quickly, Nashville didn't feel like vacation at all. Robby had the roads down by day two and very early on it felt like more of a new home than a vacation town. It's a place we felt we could make a home, and that was apparent upon arrival. It may have been, in part, due to the weather, or maybe just the environment, but Nashville quickly became our cozy little home away from home, and for that reason, we're already planning to return.