I just got back from a whirlwind trip to the Music City — a place that (before visiting) I mostly associated with honky tonk saloons, cowboy hats and Garth Brooks.
But Nashville isn’t just for the die-hard country music fans anymore (I’m certainly not one of them). Over the past decade or so, the place has been experiencing a renaissance of sorts. Everywhere I looked, there was some type of construction — high-end hotels, hips speakeasies and restaurants. Although, try not to count calories! Apparently macaroni and cheese is considered a vegetable here (at least that’s how it was listed on more than one menu I saw). And while Kevin couldn’t make this particular trip, something tells me another visit to Nashville will be in the works. I had him at macaroni and cheese!
But one thing alone would bring me back –Nashville’s legendary hot fried chicken. Everyone I spoke with had an opinion on which one is the best. Of course, I had to try several (all in the name of research obviously!)… It’s probably a good thing this was a short trip otherwise I wouldn’t have stepped on the scale for months. Without further adieu, here are my top picks for a quick trip to Nashville — covering all the biggies you won’t want to miss.
Hattie B’s Fried Chicken
I’m not sure I could ever eat any other fried chicken again after eating at Hattie B’s. Sure, it’s probably the most famous in town — attracting the most out-of-towners — but there is a good reason for that. Be prepared for a long line out the door (especially if you’re visiting on a weekend). I showed up on a weekday in the pouring down rain – yet that didn’t stop the crowds. After one bite, I could see why. I’m not sure what they put in this chicken, but I was all in!
I ordered the chicken sandwich “medium hot” (aka VERY spicy, I’m a glutton for pain!) and a side of fries and macaroni and cheese (because why not?). I mean, I already have crossed the threshold of healthy eating so I figured I’d do it right. And you can’t find a better value, in total, my meal came out to just $12!
Country Music Hall of Fame & Studio B Tour
The closest thing I’ll come to listening to country music is some Shania and Dolly. But beyond that, I’m not exactly the target demo. With that said, the Country Music Hall of Fame truly blew me away. This should be your first stop in Nashville (unless you’re hungry, then hit up Hattie B’s first).
Admission isn’t cheap but is well worth the cost given the amount of time you’ll likely spend inside. I opted for the $40.95 ticket, which included a stop at the historic RCA Studio B (where Elvis recorded several albums).
The only way to visit Studio B is with the museum (who now runs it). My recommendation is to jump on the Studio B tour first before touring the Country Music Hall of Fame. That way, you have the rest of your day to explore the massive museum (which could honestly take 3-4 hours — it’s that big!). To get over to Studio B, you’ll board a mini-bus to Music Row, where some of country’s most influential producers and music makers have been born.
Studio B was built in 1957 specifically for Elvis. My group, which only had 3 other people on the tour, followed our guide as she showed old video recordings and told stories.
My favorite though was how Dolly Parton accidentally drove her car right into the studio when she was in a hurry. You can still see the outline of the damage on the wall near the parking lot!
Best Caffeine Fix: Just Love Coffee
Not too far from Studio B is a stretch of businesses on Music Row including the comfy Just Love Coffee & Cafe. The coffee is brewed fresh but the brownies are what will bring me back!
The space also includes couches and even a stage where they host open mic nights. It seems like you can’t go 2 steps in Nashville without hearing some music. The shop is open daily from 6:30 am – 7:00 pm.
Explore Downtown Nashville By Foot
With all this eating, I figured I should definitely get some steps in. Downtown Nashville’s commercial district is compact and very walkable. First, explore Nashville’s musical heart along Lower Broadway, known as the “Honky Tonk Highway.” Every day of the week, this stretch of bars blast music into the street from 10 am – 3 am. If you stop at just one bar, be sure to check out Tootsies Orchid Lounge. An institution dating back to the sixties, Tootsie’s has hosted some of Nashville’s most famous musicians including Willie Nelson and served as the backdrop to parts of Loretta Lynn biopic “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
Next, head towards nearby 3rd Avenue and make a stop at the Goo Goo Shop. Created in 1912, the Goo Goo Cluster is considered the very first combination candy bar, meaning it contains several types of candy rather than an all-chocolate bar. Inside you’ll find several varieties and free samples (which I love). The shop also has a great timeline on the history of the bar and Nashville, which makes the stop worth it alone. And if you have time, just across the road, you’ll find the Johnny Cash Museum that also includes a great gift shop.
If you’re looking for a classier drink spot that doesn’t involve a honky tonk, there are many options including the bar at the Union Station Hotel (a converted train station that is now a hotel), the bar at the Sheraton Hotel (with its homage to Elvis) and the very sleek cocktail lounge called Skull’s Rainbow Room. Clearly, Nashville likes to drink!
Get Out of Downtown and Explore Hillsboro Village
One of Nashville’s most walkable neighborhoods, Hillsboro Village has a variety of dining options, an indie movie theater with full bar and coffee shops. I made the trek to try out the late-night cafe called Fido, which reminded me of one of my favorite DC-based cafes called Tryst. It has a variety of coffee along with a full menu offered late into the evening. It is just steps from Vanderbilt University and seems like a popular study spot with a good wifi connection.
And that’s it! Of course, if you have more time, you should really check out the Grand Ole Opry. I can still remember Nashville from a family vacation and visiting the now defunct Opryland Amusement Park. While the park is long gone, Nashville is thriving more than ever. I can’t wait for our next visit!