One night in Knoxville, TN — Tucson for Christmas Trip

We were in Knoxville in mid-December 2023, as part of our Tucson for Christmas trip.

Bugsy walking the grounds of UT
Bugsy checking out the UT campus

Our Tucson for Christmas trip has begun! We’re heading west–I’m typing this from cold, rainy Amarillo, and I hit publish in Arizona! Since we’re rushing out West as quickly as reasonably possible, we replaced our usual first stop of Asheville (only a few hours from our starting point at my sister’s house) with Knoxville, a five-hour drive.

Knoxville is a great addition to our list of options when we’re to-ing or fro-ing out West, especially since we’ve lost Nashville. With a convenient campground, a bunch of breweries, good food, and nice areas to explore, we’ll definitely be back.

Campground

nighttime Airstream on the parking garage in Knoxville
nighttime camping situation

We were pretty excited about this unique campground: the top level of a parking garage at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium and Coliseum. Garage C has full hookups, but we couldn’t park there due to a Christmas event at the coliseum.

sunrise Airstream on the parking garage in Knoxville
sunrise camping situation

The friendly and helpful security staff sent us to Garage B down the street, where we only had a power hookup. We were able to fill water jugs at the civic center to load our freshwater tank enough to last the night.

lonely Airstream on the parking garage in Knoxville
such a lonely Airstream!

We were allll alone out at Garage B, which made us a little nervous at first, but we had a quiet, peaceful night, and like to think the security guard was keeping tabs on us.

Exploring Knoxville

We had two goals for our quickie Knoxville visit: walk Bugsy around the University of Tennessee, and walk ourselves around the greater downtown for a few beers and a couple burgers.

Bugsy and a Smokey statue at UT
Bugsy and Smokey

After setting up the Airstream, we drove a few miles to the University. UT is a nice looking school and a great place for a stroll. Our favorites: finding statues of Smokey, the UT mascot (there’s a statue celebrating each of the eleven Smokeys so far), and encountering Grubhub robots out for deliveries.

walking through lit-up downtown Knoxville
strolling through downtown

We drove home, fed and tucked in Bugsy, and walked fifteen minutes to downtown. We felt safe walking there in early evening, but the route is a bit dark and lightly traveled, so we decided we’d Uber home. The parts of downtown (mostly around Market Square) we saw were charming, especially with Christmas decorations.

Bugsy admiring the boats on the Tennessee River at Suttree Landing park
Bugsy admiring the boats on the Tennessee River

In the morning, while J had a meeting, B and I drove ten minutes to Suttree Landing Park, a delightful little linear park across the river in South Knoxville. We had the short paved path along the river all to ourselves on a chilly morning. Just outside the park, South Knoxville is a cute neighborhood with shops, cafes, breweries, tacos, all the important things.

Eating and drinking

Food

chai pani salad on the road
Chai Pani salad in the car

This doesn’t really count for Knoxville food, but… driving from Burlington to Knoxville, we ordered ahead and made a quick stop in Asheville to pick up a ton of food from Chai Pani! It’s one of our Asheville favorites, and knowing we had long drives ahead, we wanted to stock up on easy, delicious food. We ate Chai Pani meal #1 on the way to Knoxville: Desi salads with paneer!

Abridged burger at Xul
Abridged burger–there are Brussels sprouts in there!

For dinner, we’d targeted a destination from J’s brewery research: burgers from the truck at Xül Beer Co. The Abridged Burger Co truck menu includes a burger with Brussels sprouts, which we both got (one with real meat, one with an Impossible burger) and ohhhhh my so good!

Beer

Here’s my #1 beer guy with his notes:

Out of the 18 breweries we found in Knoxville through our internet research, we picked four that seemed to match our aesthetic and beer selection. Fortunately, they were all within walking distance of one another; unfortunately, one of them, Crafty Bastard Brewery, closed at 7pm on the Sunday we were there, something we somehow missed in our research.

beer flights at Xul
Xül Beer flights

Of the three that we visited, Xul Beer Company was our favorite. It’s located in an old automobile dealership with a front of glass windows facing the street. Inside, there is a beautiful white bar in the center of the tasting room surrounded on three sides by tables and couches. When we were there they had 5 hazy IPAs and six sours, including a guest pour of each type from the phenomenal Resident Culture in Charlotte. In addition to our favorites, they had a porter, a barrel-aged German chocolate cake stout and three lager-type beers, supplemented by a few guest ciders and a guest hard soda. Xul is the first brewery we’ve seen that lists the temperature of every beer on tap – 51 degrees for the stout, 38 degrees for the lagers and pilsners and 42 degrees for everything else. We liked pretty much everything we tried, especially, in Lauren’s case, the peanut butter & jelly sour. We also really liked the smash burgers (topped with brussels sprout shavings!) and fries, confusingly served from a food truck affiliated with Abridged Beer Company, a brewery located in the Knoxville suburbs. 

beers at the bar at Next Level Brewing
beers at the bar at Next Level Brewing

Our second favorite brewery in Knoxville, which L liked a bit more than J, was Next Level Brewing Company. It was approaching closing time and a bit quiet when we went, but we really enjoyed the atmosphere and chatting with the beertender Casey. They had three sours for L, the highlight of which was a marshmallow plum, and two hazies for J, which he found enjoyable enough. We also learned that they allow primitive RV camping in their parking lot, booked through Harvest Hosts; we may try that next time (and learning this spurred us to join Harvest Hosts; let us know if you have favorite camping spots through their program!). 

beers at Pretentious Beer
half-pours at Pretentious Beer Co

We also visited the playfully-named Pretentious Beer Company. Consistent with the playful theme, the taps in this somewhat cramped tasting room are colorful glass artwork and the beers are served in amusing bulbous, but satisfying, beer glasses. They had one sour and two hazy IPAs when we were there; J found the IPA just ok, but L quite liked her mango peach pineapple “triple” (only 6.5% ABV) sour. Overall, we were glad to have stopped by Pretentious as we liked the neighborhood bar vibe of the place.

FOR NEXT TIME – We want to get to Crafty Bastard Brewery next time we visit. We also liked the look of Alliance Brewing, based on our web research. 

Coffee

coffee counter at Honeybee
the coffee counter at Honeybee Coffee

After Bugsy and I walked around Suttree Landing Park, we picked up lattes for the drive at Honeybee Coffee, and adorable neighborhood coffeeshop in South Knoxville. The cafe has lots of space for working or meeting friends, and note for next time: they serve breakfast burritos!

To do

walking the grounds of UT
another one from the UT campus

As previously noted, we want to hit Crafty Bastard and Alliance Brewing.

Xül beertenders’ recommendations: Central Flats and Taps, and a pirate-themed bar across the street from Xül

Next Level beertender’s recos: Ebony & Ivory Brewing, Albright Grove Brewing for more traditional beer, and for next trip to Wilmington, NC, Broomtail Craft Brewing

Next stop on our way west: Mammoth Cave National Park and Bowling Green, KY!

2 Replies to “One night in Knoxville, TN — Tucson for Christmas Trip

  1. We’ve never used Harvest Hosts ourselves, but have gone to wineries and breweries where they’re part of the program. Barrel Oak Winery in Delaplane, VA was one that had great wine, is in a beautiful setting and is very pet-friendly (pups are allowed both inside buildings and out on their patio and grassy areas).

    DH Lescombes Winery in Deming, NM is another one that’s on the way to Tucson depending on the route you’ll be taking. It used to be called St Clair Winery & is the largest winery in New Mexico. The wines were excellent, they’re also pet-friendly inside & out and you’ll have a beautiful mountain view from their parking lot. Shae got their charcuterie plate which cost less than $10 and was great value for how much food you get.

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