[This post is about our first trip to Nashville in mid-2017. Read about our second visit at the very end of 2017 here, visit #3 in October 2018 here, visit #4 in December 2018 here, and visit #5 in October 2020 here!]
Hello! While we’ve been living full-time in the Airstream near Charlottesville, VA, we’ve tried to keep from feeling too cooped up by moving our house somewhere different for several days once a month. After our big January trip to Austin, the trips have been much shorter, so proximity of destinations to Central VA is key. In February we went to Wilmington, NC, the March trip was to Charleston, SC, and April saw us back in our favorite weekend destination, Asheville. In May we ventured a bit farther afield to Nashville, an exciting and fast-growing city full of breweries, good food, and fun times. We loved it and can’t wait to return!
This campground is definitely the strangest at which we’ve camped. It’s basically a huge parking lot inside Fairgrounds Nashville and next to Fairgrounds Speedway (“Greatest Short Track in the South!!”) with first-come, first-served full-hookup RV parking either up the hill close to the buildings, or along the back of the far side of the lot. We chose the latter, clustered with several other campers, backed up to grass and trees, with a view of the temporary, massive display of Chinese lights in the lower field. The place was wonderful for us, because our main city camping goal is to be close to all the city offers, like we were in Austin. Staying a million miles away, as we did in Charleston, is a buzzkill. So, be warned: do not go there expecting any campground amenities, other than hookups. Do not go there expecting peace, quiet, and solitude. You’re camping in a parking lot with a racetrack across the street, a road just down the hill, and occasionally, a mobile police booking station set up 100 yards away. DO go there for a fantastic in-town location, a quirky setting, and a relaxed atmosphere. Note that the RV lot can fill up on flea market weekends, so check the fairgrounds schedule when planning your trip.
Our goals, as usual, were to experience a sampling of Nashville’s culture, breweries, and food. We knew we we’d have a wide variety of breweries to keep us happy, but had no idea that the city has become such a foodie destination, and were very pleasantly surprised with some of our meals.
Nashville is a city of neighborhoods, much like Atlanta (but please please don’t let your traffic get like Atlanta’s, Nashville), so I’m going to put our adventures into neighborhood groupings instead of the usual eating, drinking, hiking, running, etc. Let me know if one format or the other is more useful if you are researching a destination.
Broadway and 2nd Avenue are the main drags through downtown Nashville, and the people-watching there on the weekends is wild–did you know that Nashville (specifically downtown Nashville, it seems) is one of the country’s top bachelorette party destinations?
We recommend these activities in downtown Nashville:
- Walk down Broadway (aka the Nashvegas Strip) and up 2nd Avenue to experience the crazy scene–even during the day, and we saw lots of families during the day. It’s not all bars. But it’s mostly bars, and seemingly every bar has live music, so be sure to stop somewhere for a beer and enjoy a band.
- Go to a honky tonk, specifically Robert’s Western World. It’s about the music, not the tourist scene, and we were told it’s the one downtown honky tonk locals will go to. Be sure to catch the Don Kelley Band there Wednesday through Saturday nights, they are phenomenal.
- Sip an expensive (you’re paying for that view) cocktail at the Westin’s L27 rooftop bar overlooking downtown.
- Visit the Nashville Farmers’ Market for local goods and interesting international lunch options. The market is open everyday, but we visited on a weekday and saw just one produce vendor. We still enjoyed lunch (Caribbean roti for me, Middle Eastern platter for J) and Jeni’s ice cream for dessert.
- Visit the Tennessee State Capitol. Walk around the grounds, read the historic markers, and admire the architecture.
East Nashville is where the young, hip Nashvillians live and/or hang out, so naturally we had to visit. 🙂 We had two of our best meals of the trip there, drank some beer, and went for a lovely run:
- Dinner at Butcher and Bee (which had been recommended to us when we went to Charleston, but we didn’t get there); tied for second-best meal of the trip, with:
- Mas Tacos Por Favor, co-second-best meal. Definitely get the elote (Mexican street corn) and a margarita, and of course I recommend the fish tacos.
- We only got to one East Nashville brewery, Southern Grist, but it was a good one with a laid back space and creative beers that pleased all three of the quite different palates at our table.
- At The Hop Stop we got to try a few more local beers from breweries we couldn’t visit this trip. We really liked this bar.
- Shady, flat run in the woods near the river (but not on the water) on the paved, multi-use Shelby Bottoms Greenway.
This is the fairgrounds’ neighborhood, a mixed area of smaller, older houses and flashy new construction, with a concentration of ethnic restaurants, stores, and businesses stretching down Nolansville Pike. Here’s what we liked:
- The Saturday we were in town was race day at the Fairgrounds Racetrack, and since it was in our front yard and tickets were only $10, we decided to pop in briefly, and ended up staying for three hours. We saw several short track races, which we’d never seen before, and enjoyed a couple beers in the sun. You will want earplugs, and can purchase them at the track.
- From the campground, it’s less than a mile walk to Santa’s Pub, a tiny, smoky bar listed on national Best Dive Bar lists. It was an entertaining stop, but too smoky for us to stay very long.
- Anytime we’re in a town with good Ethiopian food, it goes on our to-do list. We had an early lunch at Gojo Ethiopian Cafe, and while the buffet was good, the coffee was magical.
The Gulch has a high concentration of breweries and restaurants, and is a short ride (or long walk) from the campground, so we found ourselves returning over and over. A couple of the breweries underwhelmed us (Czann’s, Yazoo), but we had lots of good beer and food, and even a workout in the Gulch.
- Tennessee Brew Works was our favorite Nashville brewery, and we visited twice (tried a third time but they closed early) in our six days. They have really good IPAs in an interesting building with good indoor and outdoor spaces, live music, and we heard the food was good.
- Husk is another Charleston restaurant we missed out on when there, so we were happy to walk into the Nashville location for a late dinner and score some seats at the bar. The food was phenomenal and ranks as our #1 meal in Nashville.
- The line for Biscuit Love was stupid long when we first tried to go (don’t go on a weekend) but on our second try the next day we got in and had a yummy biscuity brunch. The sandwich J got was voted best in America by Bon Appetit, and you MUST order the bonuts. (When we aborted our first attempt, we were starving and went to the pub across street for a quite good biscuit breakfast with no wait.)
- The night of our rooftop cocktail we were feeling very fancy and went for sushi at Virago. It was wonderful.
- We love Indian food, and we were excited to discover that there’s a celebrity chef-owned Indian restaurant in the Gulch, and it has the word “ale” in the name. Our favorite dish at Chauhan Ale & Masala House was the gol guppa shots appetizer, a take on pani puri which we learned to love when living in Atlanta (see my Atlanta post for more).
- New Heights Brewery has a tasty IPA, and a cool, kind of industrial-feeling tasting room.
- Jackalope Brewing was founded by women, so it must be good! It’s a cozy place, bustling at happy hour, and we liked the scene.
- We needed to do some work, so chose to work over coffee/tea at Crema, because it’s highly rated amongst Nashville coffeeshops. It was a bright and airy space, great for working, but make sure to have a full charge on your laptop as they don’t have a single power outlet available to customers.
- Wanting to get in an upper body workout, we tried Barry’s Bootcamp (but the best time slot for us turned out to be a leg workout). We thought it was pretty tough, but J said the floor exercises seemed more geared toward women than men (whatever that means!). I had never run backward or sideways on a treadmill before–it’s hard!
We chanced upon 12 South while looking for tacos. On Saturday afternoon, the main drag was packed, and it’s clear that the neighborhood is very popular, but we had such a bad experience with waiting forever at Taqueria del Sol that we didn’t return to see what else was nearby. As we fumed in line watching the incredibly slow processing of customers, we realized our previously high opinion of the taqueria (as I wrote about in my Atlanta post) was from way back before the taco craze took off, and those were the first non-standard tacos we’d had. Now that delicious, creative tacos are everywhere, Taqueria isn’t so special, and that wait just killed the place for us–so much that I have updated my Atlanta notes!
One of my best friends went to grad school at Vanderbilt, but the only thing I remembered about the campus is that the Parthenon is across the street. Yes, Nashville has a full-scale replica of Athens’ Parthenon.
- Centennial Park is like Nashville’s Central Park. It’s huge, with fields and trails and water features and, of course, the Parthenon, which is lovely and random.
- We three started our walk in Centennial Park and crossed the street to Vandy, weaving around the leafy campus. Graduation was the previous weekend, so campus was quiet.
Belle Meade is called the Beverly Hills of Nashville, for its mansions and celebrities. We went there to run in the park and had fun gawking at houses along the way.
- Percy Warner Park is a lovely place for a hilly trail run. Two laps of the Warner Woods loop is about five miles; be sure to take the spur to the overlook for a view of the downtown skyline.
- Nashville’s Whole Foods is nearby, so we hit that on the way home to restock.
Experiences bumped to next trip
So much to do, so little time! The following were either lower on our priority list, or closed when we tried to visit:
- See a show at the Grand Ole Opry? Or is it too cheesy?
- Listen to music at the Bluebird Cafe
- Drink a Bushwacker at Edley’s
- Watch J eat a crazy hotdog at I Dream of Weenie (we tried and failed… warning: they close at 5:00!)
- Admire the view (with a cocktail) from the rooftop at Acme Feed
- Visit more breweries, of course
- Eat at restaurants recommended by a trusted local: Fin and Pearl and Henrietta Red
What else do we need to see/eat/drink/do in Nashville? We can’t wait to go back!