Josie Ortega shares insight on making the most of a family trip to Nashville, TN with all of the city’s family-friendly neighborhoods, food, and fun.
As soon as we stepped off the plane, we knew we were in Nashville—the mural photo op with a microphone in the terminal; live music as we made our way to baggage claim.
Nashville is a hot spot for a weekend away, a central location for friends and family from across the United States to meet for a pilgrimage to Music City USA. And thanks to the eponymous TV show and the worldwide appeal of country music, Nashville attracts visitors from across the globe.
In recent years, evidently, Nashville has become THE premiere bachelorette and bachelor party destination east of the Mississippi, where friends let loose visiting Honky Tonks, line dancing, and singing karaoke. When you visit, you’re certain to spot a group dressed in funny bachelorette party duds, biking and imbibing around town on a mobile Pedal Tavern.
As fun as the party scene seems—ahem, or not—Nashville also makes a fun destination for those of us traveling with kids.
Our family lived in Nash Vegas for a couple of years. We love it for the people, the artsy vibe, and because it’s where we welcomed our third baby and became regulars at the incredible Downtown Library Story Time.
There are several great neighborhoods to make a home base for a family visit. You’ll most likely need a car while in Nashville, but it’s great to be in a spot where you can walk to a few restaurants, shops, or the park.
Sylvan Park is our old neighborhood. It’s mostly residential—plenty of Airbnb options—and boasts a solid strip of restaurants, as well as a rec center with a park and nice walking trail, and playground for the kiddos.
East Nashville offers an artsy hipster scene, with plenty of house rental options and good food.
For a recent family wedding, we enjoyed staying in a downtown hotel, where we could walk around and hear the music coming from Broadway, and see fans heading to a Predators hockey game one night and a concert the next. Many of the classic Nashville destinations are there, like the Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium, and Tootsie’s. My son was excited to spot the Johnny Cash Museum.
The Gulch is a recently developed and centrally located neighborhood with tons of shops, restaurants, and hotels within a stone’s throw from one another.
12 South offers a really fun combination of neighborhood houses plus plenty of fun restaurants and stores. While the rest of the family strolls down to Jeni’s Ice Cream, Mom can dash into Reese Witherspoon’s shop, Draper James!
If your family is anything like ours, it’s wise to plan your day around mealtimes and snacks!
Hot chicken is a Nashville classic, and Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack is the original. We like Hattie B’s. [Just DO NOT go for the hottest option!] There’s a little outdoor game area at the Sylvan Park location that’s enclosed and safe for kids.
Monell’s offers a family-style Meat-and-Three Vegetables meal, which makes for a memorable experience. You may find yourselves sharing a table with music industry executives.
Pinewood Social. Make a reservation to bowl with the family and experience the Nashville hipster lifestyle. Plus, you can go at any time of day that will fit into your itinerary: coffee or brunch, lunch, a snack, or Happy Hour for parents. In addition to the bowling alley, there are outdoor games, regular tables in the restaurant, and some comfy seating with games like Jenga.
Bottom line: Do your research to find the excellent Nashville food options that will fit your location and schedule. Talk to people, check Yelp or TripAdvisor.
Several years ago, my parents picked us up from the Nashville airport and everyone was starving. Someone, who shall remain nameless, wanted to stop at the next highway exit to eat at Perkins. (No offense, Perkins.) After some quick online research, we found that we weren’t so far from Marche in East Nashville. There, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast, not in a chain restaurant, and we spotted John C. Reilly wearing a bowler hat.
If you do nothing else, try to visit the children’s section at Nashville’s Main Library Downtown. In a city full of musical talent, I guess it’s no surprise that storytime there is the best anywhere—always hosted with humor by the beloved Library Pete, Mary Mary, and The Professor. There are several storytime options during the week, but on a weekend, you might be lucky enough to go to an original, excellently produced puppet show.
Happily, the grandparents took the kids to enjoy the library’s small climbing wall and fun mini-puppet stage on our last visit. They lucked out and caught a performance of a show written by Old Crow Medicine Show’s frontman Ketch Secor, who was there, and chatted with them, and who was lovely by all reports. (Our kids thoroughly enjoyed it, but they had no idea why their parents were so excited, indeed jealous, of their experience. Only in Nashville.)
To spend some quality time outside, the Parthenon in Centennial Park is a great place to run around. Similarly, Cheekwood offers beautiful grounds, plus fun lights during the holidays. For the history buffs, Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage and historic Belle Meade Plantation are good options.
The columnist “Ms. Cheap” in Nashville’s paper The Tennessean is a good source for family-friendly, budget-friendly picks. Check her calendar before visiting.
Hatch Show Print, where all the classic concert posters you can visualize were letterpressed, is absolutely worth a visit. You don’t even need to buy anything. Call ahead to ask about their free family sessions, where you can make your own small posters.
If you’ve always wanted cowboy boots, here’s your chance. Several shops all around town. Grandma splurged on a pair for each grandchild on our recent trip. First pair 30% off! Second pair 40% off! Third pair 50% off! Photo ops: priceless.
Depending on your style and your family’s capacity, you also might enjoy antique shopping in Franklin and/or vintage shopping in East Nashville. The Goodwill there was incredible.
Whichever part of the trip you enjoy most—the shopping, eating, singing, or just the overall vibe—you’ve got to stop at murals around town to capture family memories.
Maybe you’ll return to your regular life and incorporate more fringe and cowboy boots. Perhaps you’ll sing Johnny Cash, or The Highwomen, as you cook family supper. Maybe the trip won’t change your day to day life. But with these ridiculous, amazing photo ops, your family, like ours, will always have Nashville.