Everyone should take a road trip at least once in their lifetime. It doesn’t matter where you go, just pick a place, pack a bag – or three – and head out for the open road. As it so happens, I recently got back from my first road trip to Tennessee.
In the wee hours of the morning, my friend, her mother, and I set out for the highway. Nashville is about 10 hours from Baltimore. With coffee, snacks, and audio books on deck, we were ready to take off. Now, if you are a road trip newbie, such as myself, be sure you pack a mini cooler of water, snacks, and chocolate. You know, the essentials. With the long road ahead, you don’t want to have to make a lot of stops for food. The more you prepare, the better off you’ll be.
Day One: Nashville at Night
We checked in to our hotel in Brentwood, TN. This town is only 10 minutes from the downtown Nashville. Our hotel featured complimentary parking, hot breakfast, and WiFi. There was also a pool and 24 hr gym. Since we were staying in Nashville for the longest time, we decided to splurge a bit for comfort.
My friend’s mother had originally set up the trip to Tennessee to meet up with a former co-worker of hers and my friend and I tagged along to check another state off our bucket list. Once we met up with our local host, we piled into her car and headed out for Nashville. Now, I’ll admit, I had my own preconceived notions of what Nashville would be like. However, I was quiet surprised to find Nashville a lot younger than I originally thought. Loud voices and even louder cowboy boots greeted us as we walked down the sidewalks, overspilling with tourists, guitarists, and bachelorette parties.
Nashville is a very happening city. The bars were packed to the gills when we arrived and it was only 7pm. The bar we settled on was a little three story, live music establishment called Honky Tonk Central. And by little, I mean massive. We climbed the towering stairs and pushed our way through the romper clad sorority girls and found a table along the open balcony windows. My friend and I looked at each and said in unison, “It’s so loud”. At least, I think that’s what we said. It was pretty loud in there. After a round of Tennessee beers and mediocre bar food, we bid Honky Tonk adieu and set out to make one more sweep of downtown Nashville. With an over abundance of boot retailers, smelly horse carriages, and neon signs, Nashville is not for the faint at heart. Or weary road traveller. We snapped a few pictures and decided to retreat to our hotel room. My friend and I exchanged weary looks that said it all, “Yep, we’re officially old.”
Days Two & Three: Hey, It’s Franklin!
Now, if you’re a thirty something year old who enjoys quaint shops, good food and a more subdued pace, then Franklin is where you need to visit. Set a few miles southwest of Nashville and Brentwood, Franklin held a charming main street, that featured shops, bars, restaurants, a movie theater and historical site attractions. My friend and I were all to ready for a easy day of window shopping and eating good food.
Our first stop was Puckett’s Boathouse. I recommend trying a local, Tennessee brew and the turkey burger. I also recommend the shrimp and grits hush puppies and eggplant lettuce wraps. As well as the veggie burger and…. you know what? Just pick anything and eat it. It’s all good.
This remodeled old theatre was playing new releases, but looked way to quaint to leave in color. I think the black and white does it proper justice. But Franklin wasn’t all old timey buildings. I literally squealed with delight when I saw the Anthropologie store front across the street. I couldn’t help myself, I had to do a walk through. It was amazing.
Housed in an old pharmacy store, Gray’s on Main is a lovely bar/restaurant with new American cuisine and post prohibition drinks. This was a much better scene for my friend and I than Honky Tonk the previous night. The bartender had selected a lovely mix of big band songs that helped us drift away into the summer night. Although, it could have also been the two cocktails we each had. Tourist tip: the drinks are strong and goooood!
Day Four: Memphis Or Bust
After checking out of the hotel, we walked around Nashville one last time before bidding farewell and booking it to Memphis.
We arrived in Memphis right at sunset. After dropping off our bags in the hotel, we walked to the downtown area and got dinner. Huey’s in Memphis offered good food, reasonable prices, and a fun atmosphere. After filling our bellies, we headed further down to the waterfront area just in time for the most glorious sunset I’ve ever seen.
Memphis has an amazing waterfront area that features a sprawling park, a paved running/walking path and even a little sprinkler water area for kids. It was a nice breath of fresh air to walk leisurely around the downtown area without running into a thousand tourists and their kids. Memphis seemed to have a slightly older demographic, with young professionals going about their daily lives- working, exercising, and hanging out with friends. After a few requisite photo ops, my friend’s mom called it a night early and headed back to the hotel. Feeling revitalized by the sunset, my friend and I wandered up to The Flying Saucer Emporium . With over three pages of beers listed in their drink menu, we were in heaven. After selecting our brews, we half-assed playing a round of trivia. And by half-assed, I mean we sat at the bar and guessed at the trivia questions that were displayed on a screen. How’d we do? Let’s just say we didn’t break any records.
With the night still you, we settled our check, decided to take a look at the infamous Beale Street, to see what all the fuss was about. Tourist Tip: go to Beale Street at night and if can help it, do it when they have a car show. Dozens of vintage cars lined the street as police officers stood by directing traffic and securing the blocked streets.
Even with the car show and summer tourists, Beale Street was not as overwhelming and claustrophobic as Nashville’s main strip. Plus, the live music was better. I’ve got nothing against country music, but the blues and rock and roll take the cake every time. In my humble opinion.
We couldn’t get away from these damn horse carriages. I know people like to ride in them, but they honestly make the entire area smell like shit and urine. Plus, the horses look miserable. Maybe this tradition can fade out? Please?
Day Five: Graceland
On our last day in Memphis, we started early and hit Beale Street and the downtown marketplace to take more pictures. I loved having the freedom to just wander through the streets, no real target in mind.
The afternoon heat began to intensify, so we ended up taking the self guided tour at the Museum of Rock an Soul. If you have the time, I highly recommend it. It’s a bit lengthy, but super informative and just plan fun. Bonus, the music is awesome and the costumes and vintage items are really cool to see up close.
My friend would also probably kill me if she knew I didn’t at least mention the march of the Peabody Ducks. It happens at 11 am and 5 pm. in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel. There, I said it.
If you’re ever dragged (joking, I went willingly) along to watch ducks march from the elevator to the lobby fountain, bring you camera. The Peabody Hotel is a beautiful building take pictures of, so there’s that.
No trip to Memphis would be complete with at least a quick trip to Graceland. Now, I enjoy Elvis’ music as much as the next guy – okay, probably not as much- but I was not going to pay $40 for a tour of his former house. On our way to get my friend incredible vegan food from Imagine Cafe and me the best fried chicken that Uncle Lou’s could offer we took a quick drive by Graceland. Totally worth the $40 each we didn’t have to spend.
If you’re ever in Memphis (and why wouldn’t you be?) please travel to Imagine Vegan Cafe (best vegan black forest cake ever!) and to Uncle Lou’s for some amazing fried chicken. Get the spicy sweet love sauce (it comes in mild and hot). You’re welcome.
Day 6: If You Only Know Jack, You Don’t Know Dickel
On our last day in Tennessee we took a quick detour to the George Dickel distillery. I recommend calling ahead to figure out timing of your arrival. They don’t have the tour times on the website, but the free tour was 45 minutes and the extended tour and tasting was an hour and cost $10. We did the free tour because we weren’t really in the mood to drink whisky at 11 am before a 10 hour drive back to Bmore.
I loved getting to see Tennessee and experience two of it’s liveliest cities. That being said, I’m definitely an east coast girl. The slow pace of the south is nice for vacation, but way to slow for my restless legs.