A Different Beat: Exploring Nashville Beyond Country Music

There’s more to Nashville than music. (Photo: Jessica Festa)

By Jessie Festa

Let me start off with an admission: I actually did enjoy a number of country music attractions when I was in Nashville — I mean, who wouldn’t? It is Music City, after all. The Grand Ole Opry is here. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is here. Elvis’s historic RCA Studio B is here. And of course Nashville the TV is shot here. That said, music is definitely not the only reason to visit Nashville – there are plenty of things to do beyond the typical city guidebook, and it’s these activities that will really round out any trip to this entertaining southern city:

Smell the roses (and sip the wine) at historic plantations

Find peace and plenty of flowers in the colorful gardens at The Hermitage. (Photo: Jessica Festa)

Escape the city with a day trip to Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage and Belle Meade Plantation, both of which have guides dressed in period-specific clothing. At the Hermitage, a National Historic Landmark, you’ll learn about controversial President Andrew Jackson’s lasting impact on America while touring his mansion and colorful gardens. Belle Meade’s history as a premier thoroughbred horse breeding and training institution is astounding. Every Kentucky Derby horse can trace its bloodline back to Belle Meade, and the mansion is full of original artifacts, horse portraits, and racing silks.

What’s more, since Belle Meade was the center of southern hospitality in the 1800s, offering homemade wine to various presidents and VIPs, it’s continued the tradition by opening its winery to the public today.

Bonus tip: In between the two sites, stop at the Hermitage House Smorgasbord for an $11 all-you-can-eat, southern-style buffet with fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, corn, salad, mashed potatoes, gravy, and a dessert bar.

Up your coffee cred with a latte art class

How’s this for coffee buzz: Crema is a café, a roastery, and a school. (Photo: CREMA)

Not only does Crema serve great coffee crafted from small farm-sourced, house-roasted beans complete with latte art, but you can take classes like Milk Steaming, Secrets of Latte Art, Espresso Theory, Intro to Specialty Coffee and Taste and Evaluation, to name a few. Baristas are knowledgeable and friendly as they precisely pour your drink, and bites like black cherry cornmeal scones, avocado toast, and maple praline coffee cake encourage you to hang around longer. 

Drink a coffee cocktail by the pool, bocce-ball court, or bowling alley

Sipping out at Pinewood Social. Such a relaxing afternoon. (Photo: Jessica Festa)

Pinewood Social is one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been to in any city — NYC included. The sprawling social club features two dipping pools, a bocce ball court, a bowling alley, karaoke rooms, and an outdoor area with an AstroTurf lawn, patio chairs, umbrella-shaded tables, and palm trees.

While the food menu is an interesting array of southern-style easy-breezy poolside eats (like mahi mahi tacos with agave citrus coleslaw and fried green tomatoes with buttermilk dill yogurt), this place is well respected for its cocktail program. Personally, I personally went to unwind with a cocktail after 10+ miles of biking in the hot sun.

My local friends all raved about the menu’s two coffee cocktails, which use Crema coffee: the Southern Limerick (seasonal coffee, 1776 Rye, Meletti and heavy cream) and the Easy Like Sunday Morning (a cortado with fernet and demerara). However, I went with (and loved!) the refreshing Bear Witness. The drink is made with Lunazul Blanco Tequila, Aperol, pineapple, lemon, orgeat, and an IPA finish to give it a slight fizz. 

Pinewood Social is an amazing spot to go with friends or by yourself —you can spend a few hours sipping libations and chilling with a book.

Related: The Craziest Gut-Busting Cocktails in the U.S.

Eat dessert 

Be sure to leave room for dessert. The ice cream at Mike’s is homemade and delicious. (Photos: Jessica Festa)

Southern food doesn’t skimp on dessert, and these are two of my favorite don’t-miss indulgences. Amongst the hustle and bustle of Broadway in downtown, you’ll find  Mike’s Ice Cream. Both the ice cream and the cones are homemade in this old-fashioned shop, which is outfitted with small round tables, a cheerful palette of green and yellow, and a bar featuring a whimsical soda fountain mural. You might have to wait in line for a bit to get your scoop of Maple Blondie Walnut, Banana Chip, Nutter Butter, or Peach Sweet Iced Tea, but Mike’s is worth it. My pick: a homemade chocolate chip cookie dough cone with a giant scoop of refreshing mint chocolate chip ice cream. 

Eat dessert again

At Savannah’s Candy Kitchen, you may start with the free samples, but you’re likely to leave with bags of candy. (Photo: Savannah’s Candy Kitchen)

For those on a budget, stop at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen for the free praline samples. Be warned, though: It;s almost impossible to go inside with buying something, as you’re instantly immersed in southern sweets culture through pecan pie, saltwater taffy, gooey turtles, praline cakes, and banana candies.

Related: Get in My Belly! The Perfect Foodie Tour of Reykjavik

Ride a bike for $5

B-Cycle in Nashville. Lots of fun and cheap! Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

One thing I’ll say right off the bat that I didn’t love about Nashville is how you really need to rent a car to make the most of the trip. There’s a Hop On Hop Off Music City Trolley that’s $28 (or $14 for children 4-11 years old), but that doesn’t take you everywhere (not even to the Grand Ole Opry!). There’s no subway system or thorough metro system; instead, everyone uses Uber and Lyft car service apps to get around. 

As a budget traveler, I made use of the Nashville B-cycle program instead. It is cheap at $5 per day and has tons of pickup/dropoff points, but be prepared to sweat your butt off. 

Related: Bike Your Way Around the World: These 7 Cycling Tours Will Blow Your Mind

Find peace and quiet in Centennial Park

Exploring the beauty of Centennial Park. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

Centennial Park is Nashville’s backyard: 132 acres of peaceful greenery. I biked here and discovered a one-mile walking trail, the peaceful Lake Watauga, the Centennial Art Center (you can take art classes here!), a beautiful sunken garden, historic monuments, al fresco art, a band and events stage (so check the park’s event calendar), sand volleyball courts, and a dog park. The park’s centerpiece is undoubtedly the giant replica Parthenon, shown above, used primarily as an art gallery. 

Dine with strangers at Monell’s

(Photo: Monell’s)

As a solo traveler, one of the most fun I’ve had at a meal was dining family-style at Monell’s in Germantown. The all-you-can-eat institution serves lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, and every meal is a social event where you sit at large tables with strangers and, famously, pass all food to the left. No cell phones are allowed at the table so you’ll be forced to make new friends. I ended up having dinner with eight hot guys, sharing stories over watermelon, homegrown tomatoes, biscuits with gravy and homemade plum preserves, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, green beans, meatloaf, fried chicken, beef slices and banana pudding — all for just $16!  

What’s your favorite Nashville experience beyond country music? Please share in the comments below.

More from Jessie on a Journey:

Wanderlust-Inducing Travel Photography

Drink Up! The Best Places To Order An Old Fashioned In The USA

An Ode To NYC Brunch Culture (Delicious Recommendations Included)

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