Hello, my name is never-stop-explorin’ Lauren and I have a little travel post to share with you. This is first in the series of road trip theme posts and I wanted to start with my most recent adventure – Nashville. Are you dying to travel to Music City? Is it the country music, hot chicken or maybe Very Cavallari that draws you in? It’s none of the above for me. I’ll admit I’m not a country music fan (sorry my heart rests with alternative- pop punk/indie scene) and I can’t handle the heat of hot chicken AND I’ve always been a fan of LC rather than Kristin. (lol) Rather, what drew me to Nashville was the fact that I didn’t know much about it besides the Nashvegas that everyone complains about. Instead, I wanted explore its full and true character and experience its live music scene- which is not limited to country music! Oh yeah- and I needed to do this on a budget. Not so easy, but completely doable. In fact we always travel on a budget, so it’s becoming like second nature. So here it is : my Nashville road trip -full of cool and cheap stuff to do.
Here I introduce my travel companion and road warrior- my husband Adam. He keeps it lively with self-indulgent car karaoke which is at most times annoying but helpful when the hum of tires on pavement is enough to lull you asleep. Yes we’re road trip people. We love to travel and have done so mostly via car . You skeptics out there might wonder why travel by car when planes exist and can get you there faster? Because you can see a lot more than just your destination! You can make spur of the moment decisions and stops and find something wonderful or wacky (that you weren’t even looking for). I live for that kind of spontaneity. Plus often times traveling by car is more affordable than flying and paying for a rental car or other transportation. Gotta save those dollars for beer.
So, we packed our subie (the silver bullet) and headed to Nashy V -as I affectionately called it- and took off from our current home city, Pittsburgh. Along our route we went through some big cities I’d never been to (or through) before – Cincinnati + Louisville. I knew nothing about either city, so I knew we’d have to make a quick stop. We stopped for coffee in Cincinnati, found a cute-but gritty artsy area and drove through the city gawking at the sights out of the window. I make a mental note to check out the city more some other time. We drive through Louisville -again we act as speed tourists, driving through part of the downtown area and taking in the sights. But we agree to just keep driving, as neither of us is hungry after the croissant we ate in ‘Nati. After a couple hours of farm land we see signs for a bunch of bourbon distilleries and I think- duh we’re in Kentucky. There’s Maker’s Mark, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and more. I am delighted.We pass the signs and I look to see how far each are. I wanted to go to Maker’s Mark but we settle on Jim Beam because it’s literally right off the route we’re on. We get to stretch our feet and check out the gift shop. It’s cool – and an easy stop- but it’s nothing to write home about. Although I guess I just mentioned it in a blog- so I’d say it’s worth a written mention. No free samples though.
We head back on our route to Nashville, eager to explore the main attraction on our road trip. We drive through the crappiest highway roads I’ve ever seen (pot holes galore) and a rock hits our new car’s windshield. A small crack has formed in its place. Huge sigh. Along the way we entertain ourselves by making fun at the cars that pass. On the highway there are so many rust buckets and smashed in cars that look like they shouldn’t be alive and running. How does that even happen, I ask I see what looks like a deep velociraptor scratch on the side of a Honda minivan.
We finally arrive in Nashville- well the outskirts. Our hotel is in Goodlettsville- a 20 minute drive from Nashville. We chose this hotel because it was super cheap , rooms were nice looking and was one of the few places available after we found out our Airstream Airbnb canceled (a couple weeks prior to our trip). I would still recommend it as an affordable option – I’ll share that and more in my next post on where to stay in Nashville. Stay tuned next week for that. Now on to the recommendations.
Stuff to Do
When to travel is important in the planning process as it will dictate what you can and should do. My immediate recommendation is to travel late Spring. You may avoid some of the summer crowds and weather will hopefully be decent (though weather in Nashville is somewhat unpredictable). The rainiest season is winter through early spring . We went in winter- March to be exact- because hotels were cheaper, crowds smaller and the timing just worked better for us. And let me tell you it was rainy 3/5 days we went. Temperatures ranged from 40s- 70s. There was a lot of rain (some torrential down pours) and overcast weather. But that didn’t deter us from exploring the area. There is plenty to do indoors here as well. So let’s get to it.
INDOOR recommendations :
- Gaylord Opryland Resort– It is as fancy as it sounds. It’s a resort but its free to get in and you can spend hours here if you really want to. It’s a massive building with a giant tropical forest (real trees and plants) in the middle. On the sides are hotel rooms with a gorgeous, and you can stay here if you’ve got the cash. But why not just park at the mall and walk over here and experience the paradise of flowers, trees, water fountains, restaurants and drinking holes? The Gaylord brings the outdoors inside for you and it’s a welcome escape from the rain. Some things you can do while you are here boat ride around the resort, or grab a slice of pizza, or even beer from an automatic tap. Downstairs there’s a mini arcade next to the water park. Anyone can get into the arcade but the water park requires you purchase a stay package there. Again, lots of options.
- Opry Mills Mall – Don’t hate me yet. I know it’s a mall. And ,yes, so far I’ve listed some pretty touristy things to do (which normally I steer clear from) but again it’s a good option if you need something to do while the weather is crappy. This mall is huge and packed with stores, some outlets, a movie theater, a rain forest themed cafe , an aquarium themed cafe and the celebrity wax museum. We went to the wax museum and snapped some pics with fake celebrities. They are very realistic looking-it’s pretty kitschy and they let you touch the figures (don’t pretend you’re not curious what wax skin feels like).
In addition to those two giant options, of course you could do some country music museums or maybe drive to individual boutique shops and shop til ya drop. But, for me I wanted experiences rather than stuff and, again, I don’t have much interest in country music. So , instead , let’s move to my favorite topic : food and drink.
RESTAURANT recommendations :
Heading in to Nashville I knew this wasn’t the time to be on a diet. Fried chicken, donuts and tacos were on my list of must eats while there. All affordable options, all completely unhealthy. But -hey- vacation calories don’t count. Below you will find some AFFORDABLE restaurant recommendations that will give you the best bang for your buck !
- Hattie Bs vs Party Fowl – I’m sure in Nashville there are plenty of options for hot chicken (or just fried chicken for heat wimps like me). The locals probably know the best but as a tourist I gotta go with what I see. Hattie B’s was listed on several best of lists so we decided we had to try it out. It was a rainy weekday at 11 am and there was still a line out the door- good gracious this place is trendy. We went to one in the South Nashville and the decor was very chicken-chic lol. The vibe was southern barn meets modern trendy. It’s a casual dining place so you order at the register and take a seat.They had lots of options including wings, strips, sandwiches and regular bone-in chicken. Prices were really good , like $9 for a meal. It included two sides. My husband got wings, mac n cheese and greens. He said everything but the greens were good. I tried the strips and was honestly very disappointed. It tasted like frozen chicken meat. I noticed the meat in the bone in chicken looked better, so if you do decide to go here don’t get boneless chicken. All in all it wasn’t the best chicken place we’d been to and I’d skip it and go to Nashville’s Party Fowl instead. Hattie B’s is very affordable though so if you want to save those pennies and want a good meal Hattie’s is still on the table. I found Party Fowl to have much better chicken (I even ventured into hot chicken selecting the lowest heat available. It was my max spicy level lol). Party Fowl is different from Hattie B’s in that it is a sit down, waiter-ed experience. The vibe is kind of was a mix between a sports bar and a family place with Instagram-able decor (the Donelson location at least). Prices are around $12-15 for meals, which are worth it because of the portions (big sized!). My husband got Nashville hot and was sweating the whole time ( they aren’t messing around). But what makes the chicken better is the moistness of the chicken – it’s fall apart moist with a nice crunchy coating. My tenders here were perfect with a side of house made ranch that complemented it very well.
- Five Daughters Doughnuts – I’ve never had doughnuts like these and I’m not sure they exist elsewhere. They are huge donuts (around $4.50 ea) and are layered with a buttery richness that sort of reminds me of a biscuit. I tried bites of 4 different donuts (separate occasions) and the vanilla was actually my fave. All the donuts I tried had a layer of filling as well as frosting on top. These again are super rich and filling donuts so I’d recommend to eat just one or else you may need a siesta. We went to the location in East Nashville first and if you go to that location there’s also some shops, eateries and a coffee shop in the same plaza you could check out. The other location we went to is in 12 South and they have more seating and it’s in a walk-able neighborhood ( more on that later).
- Hugh Baby’s – It’s fast food but it’s also a great cheap lunch place to go to. This place is a chain and offers both a drive thru and interior seating. For the west end location the inside atmosphere was like a vintage diner. There was even an adorable area for little kids to play. I ordered a burger , my husband had a BBQ pork sandwich. It was the best fast food burger I’d ever had and he said the same about his BBQ. It all tasted very fresh and was fall-apart moist. My burger was about $4 and meals are around $8
- Holler & Dash – I’ll admit the name drew me to this place. Oh and the fact they serve biscuits here. It was brunch o’ clock and I wanted something that would satisfy both morning and noon cravings. I had originally wanted to go to Biscuit Love but after seeing the CRAZY line I knew I didn’t have the patience to wait. I wanted an easy-going experience so I chose Holler & Dash. The decor inside this place was beautiful and they had plenty of seating and a parking lot in back (yay)! This place is where I actually got my first taste of something healthy in Nashville (lol) – a shaved brussel sprout salad. I added a biscuit with blackberry jam on the side. Both were very good and at a small price tag ( $1.5 for the biscuit, $7 for the salad) . I can’t say these were the best biscuits ever (I know my biscuits ma’am) but they were very good and the atmosphere was just right. I would definitely recommend it!
Skip : Mas Tacos. I’ve seen this place recommended a million times raving about the tacos but they really weren’t even close to the best I’ve ever had. People raved about the tortilla soup , but I found it to be soup-er bland. (I’m lame) . The worst part is the chaotic atmosphere- which could totally be worth it if the tacos were to die for. However, it really wasn’t worth the incredibly long line and crowded atmosphere – I’m talking concert level crowding – standing inches away from the person in front of you while having to tap on someone’s shoulder to pass through. This place can’t sustain the kind of business it gets.
So I am a beer drinking gal ; I also drink the occasional cocktail and glass of wine (white), but beer is usually my drink of choice so my recommendations reflect that.
- Jackalope Brewing (The Ranch) – I was drawn to pictures of the interior. It’s funky but sterile in a modern almost European way. There’s fake cacti and decor featuring the mythical jackalope and best of all there’s good beer in many different styles. This location had plenty of seating too. I bought a hat and plan to return.
- Tennessee Brew Works (Downtown) – I’m always skeptical of basic sounding places. But, this place has more character than its name. We went for live music and was not disappointed . A cover band was playing there and the place was packed on both levels. The style is very industrial and beer-centric with seats around barrels and two floors of taps serving their beers. There’s also a really nice outdoor space on the top level!
- Vinyl Tap ( East Nashville) – This is exactly what it sounds like- a bar that sells vinyl records. You can peruse the records or sit down around the bar for a drink – they’ve got beer or cocktails so you’ve got options. This place was pretty low-key in the best way – felt like a local spot rather than a tourist destination. This is what I look for when I’m traveling!
- 12 South – Super trendy area that is walk-able. It’s a mix of residential homes and food, bars, restaurants, shops etc. There’s plenty of photo ops here with vibrant murals as your backdrop- you know, so you can tell everyone on social media that you’ve been to Nashville.
- Centennial Park – This park has a really cool building that you should explore – The Parthenon. And it’s free- to visit and park. The Parthenon is a full scale replica of the one in Athens, Greece. It’s really stunning and makes for some great pictures. The park itself is pretty with garden views and cemented walkways that take you around a pond.
- Riverfront Park – Here you can walk along the river in downtown Nashville. You get a bit of greenery in, take pictures of the area and can easily walk to other shops and spots nearby. If its warm and the weather is fair you can rent a kayak or go paddle boarding on the river.
- Rent a Scooter – There’s electric scooters all around this city especially in the downtown area and parks. You download the app to get started and can ride around and zip through Nashville’s sidewalks and street corners. It can be a good way to get around or use it just for fun. It’s cheap fun or transportation. We rode for about 30 minutes and it cost us approx $4 each.
Skip : Broadway – If it is on your bucket list to go to a honky tonk in Nashville then by all means let those neon lights guide you here. It is very lively with a Vegas vibe but parking nearby is a nightmare and costly (around $20). Most places are playing country music but you can find rock or other styles of music here – it’ll take a little searching. I can recommend Tin Roof – they were playing covers of 90’s light rock when we went. They also have two stories of bars and rooftop seating. Their vibe is more dive-y than country. But, Broadway street as a whole doesn’t offer much more than those honky tonks (from what I could see) . If you’re in to live music there’s plenty of other areas and bars that offer it!
Nashville is a youthful city with a good energy – placing high value on art and music. There’s no hustle or bustle here -the walkable areas are of course more congested but most things are spread out. It does NOT have a big city feel. It feels very southern to me ; it’s laid out sort of like Charlotte but still maintains a sense of character more so than any North Carolinian city. It has an identity -and I love that in a city.
After taking it all in (in the 4 days that we were there) -the rainy weather and the sunshine- the Broadway bars and the local spots -I have to say: I love Nashville. The city has a lot to offer and is complex at its core. It balances the grit with trendy photo-worthy places as well as high rises mixed with a country /spread out feel. It doesn’t feel extreme in any way though. Rather, it lends an ear to all styles. All in all I had a great time here, despite the rain and can’t wait to go back.
I hope you enjoyed my run down of recommendations of cheap and cool places to go in Nashville. There really are a lot of options of things to do and what to see, more than what I listed – you just have to explore. However, if you get stumped while in Nashville, why not ask around? The locals love giving you suggestions. People are generally friendly in Nashy V (but bad drivers lol) .
Stay tuned for more suggestions on where to stay. Lodging can eat up most of your budget if you don’t know where to look. Will be posting next Thursday and every Thursday from now on! If you’d like to follow my blog for travel guides, DIY tutorials, and self help articles please subscribe so you can stay in the know!