I truly wasn't planning on going back to Nashville anytime soon, but I won't complain about unscheduled travel with a good friend. It was the perfect opportunity to see how the city had grown since my last visit, and share an updated city guide. An updated guide may prove to be especially helpful since Nashville has become bachelorette party central.
My feelings about Nashville are still mixed. It has the reputation of a young and hip city, but as you explore it from all sides you see the full blown gentrification at most turns. It's painfully lacking in diversity, and certain parts of the service industry haven't always been the friendliest. One of the most surprising elements to uncover was a lack of southern charm. When visiting The Grand Ole Opry I was confused as I drove into a huge mall shopping center to get to it. A place held in such high esteem for music lovers had been swallowed whole with a Bass Pro Shop and Regal Cinema steps from where Johnny Cash once sang.
I know visiting a city for a few days doesn't always lead you to the truest depiction of it (uh hello, I live in Orlando). We don't really know how locals live and we judge it for its tangible trimmings and traps. While Nashville doesn't give me "I could live here" feelings, I did enjoy some great aspects of the city this second time around. If you visit out of sheer curiosity or for a woo-girl "Nash-lorette" weekend of your own, here are some helpful tips and places you may want to visit.
WHERE SHOULD I STAY?
During my first trip I stayed in East Nashville and I felt safe, nestled in a quiet residential area that was nearby lots of food and local hangs. This second visit I got an AirBNB near Vanderbilt, and that proved to be a huge mistake. A mistake I rectified by immediately leaving and getting a house back on the East side. I won't bore you with the details, but it involved a large pack of aggressively drunk college guys staying on the same floor as us in our otherwise amazing condo. Being the no-nonsense grandma that I am, I promptly re-packed and left heading to the new AirBNB. It was a cozy bungalow and although some reviewers said it was a "sketchy" neighborhood, I came to find it was a very quiet street that had yet to be gentrified, near a Piggly Wiggly. So it's all about perspective here (and maybe a little low-key racism from past reviewers.). What you should know if you haven't been, is that Nashville is not a large sprawling city, and I never hit terrible traffic, so you can stay a bit off the beaten path and not be far from the action. Nashville has plenty of offerings through AirBNB if you decide to pass on a hotel.
DO I NEED A CAR?
My personal advice would be yes, if you want to explore all sides of the city. If you have plans to stay downtown and party on Broadway and only go a few places you can get away using Uber or Lyft.
All around Nashville you will find metered parking, but some of it is free for a certain amount of time. However, you still have to go to the meter and get a receipt printed for your dash even though you aren't paying. Don't miss those, they can be tricky and you need the receipt.
SHOULD I BOTHER WITH BROADWAY?
It truly depends on what you are trying to enjoy during your stay. You can easily find live music around the city without spending time on Broadway, although at night every single bar and restaurant will have siren songs reeling you in, some with really talented folks. The downside is the aforementioned party goers and bachlorette parties if that isn't really your scene.
We visited Broadway during the day on Saturday which served the perfect balance of my friend getting to experience it, hear some live music, and then get out. Shopping tip: if you get the urge to buy a pair of boots while in Nashville, Boot Barn on Broadway has a large selection with relatively affordable prices compared to other places we went.
Crema was the most hospitable spot we visited, and by hospitable I mean direct eye contact was made. I got the seasonal coffee soda and it was the refreshing, caffeinated beverage I needed in the sticky heat. It was also the coffee shop we stayed at the longest because it did feel more comfortable than the others. If you don't mind sitting outside, they did have a nice patio with a decent downtown view. Also, bonus points to their clean bathroom.
This was my second trip to the Barista Parlor. It's an expansive space if you need a break and don't feel like being on top of other people. The service is a bit slow, it took us about 15 minutes to get our drinks. I got another coffee soda here, but I prefer the one I got from Creama as it was a bit smoother and sweeter. Still a solid spot for a coffee break if you are not in a hurry.
Over near Germantown, perhaps the most uncomfortable vibe we found was at Steadfast Coffee. A drink on the menu I ordered couldn't be served because they didn't have a blow torch (-_-) so I just opted for a plain iced latte because it seemed I had inconvenienced the barista by asking questions. They had a menu that I ignored, but my friend got some breakfast tacos she didn't say much about. We felt very uncomfortable with the sad music and unhappy baristas so we left pretty quickly which was disappointing as I had been told this was a great place. That day, was just not our day I suppose.
I understand that barista culture in this day and age can easily lend itself toward snobby and elitist, or sometimes just completely disengaged baristas; but enjoying brews in cities like Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco has left me wondering, why are they so miserable in Nashville? What's going on kids? It certainly made me appreciate Orlando more.
I loved Cafe Roze, and not because of the pops of pink and marble table tops. It was just truly a warm and inviting space with a simple breakfast menu that they executed well. We visited on a Saturday morning and the restaurant itself was in the middle of a quiet residential area. It seemed much more like a neighborhood hang than a touristy destination which I believe added to it's laid back atmosphere. Service was fast and hospitable and even though I had a simple breakfast plate and a rose cardamom latte, everything about the experience was sweet and filling.
Completely opposite from the local vibe at Cafe Roze, I found myself in a crowd of people waiting to eat breakfast at Milk & Honey on a Friday morning. The forty-minute wait wasn't bothersome because across the street were large murals to entertain me along with some shops to browse nearby. I'd go prepared to wait if I were you.
Just as we got sat a storm rolled in pushing the waiting crowds from the outside to the cramped inside waiting area. It became quite hectic, and dark inside the restaurant so my photos are extremely limited. What I can tell you is I liked this place far more than Biscuit Love around the corner. The service was great and they got bonus points for having a horchata latte. My biscuit was decent and I got a plentiful serving size for the cost. Would I go there again? Probably not, only because it felt more like a touristy spot which is ok, but it doesn't merit another trip. If you have a large group, they certainly have the room to accommodate you.
Pastaria was a big surprise for me. It was a maybe on my food list, and we made the last minute decision to try it out before we headed to our new AirBNB on the other side of town. Their website says "sorta close to Italy" and while I've never been I'd like to think the Sicilian side of taste buds can gauge bad pasta.
I personally loved my simple dish; Chitarra al Pomodoro (tomatoes, garlic, basil, and grana padano). I didn't get to try Rofl & Daughters which I regret because I read they have a great pasta dish, but I was still quite satisfied with Pastaria. This was another spot outside of what I would consider a tourist zone that was filled with what appeared to be more locals than visitors.
I don't think I've ever seen a bagel shop quite this full. Ok, at Russ & Daughters in NYC things got pretty hectic, but even so, the line at Proper Bagel went outside and every last seat was taken on a late Sunday morning. We placed orders to-go and I got the New Yorker (minus the ketchup). I'll say for a bagel sandwich it was pretty good. Nothing mind-blowing, but it was a solid, quick breakfast option. Had we gotten the chance to sit I may have ordered differently. This location is near Vanderbilt so brace yourself for loads of college students, and if you can, hit them up on a non-peak time if you want to dine-in.
This spot wasn't on my list, but after a failed attempt to eat at Little Octopus in the Gulch neighborhood and a limit on our parking meter, we were forced to make a quick dining decision. Otaku was just down the block so we gave it a try and thankfully had arrived early enough on a Saturday night to be sat right away. We started with the hot chicken buns that were so delicious I was tempted to order more. A nice bao bun, fluffy yet sturdy and crispy fried chicken. I can't compare the ramen to any other spots in the city, but it was pretty solid with a nice broth, and we had great service. The seating is extremely close together so be ready to make friends with strangers while they slurp in your ears.
A failed attempt to dine at Prince's chicken left us sitting in a very expensive parking lot facing another long wait time for hot chicken. I'm not one to stick around very long for food, let alone in the middle of a summer heat wave, so now was the time to use the magic of to-go dining. Sure, experiencing the atmosphere would have been great, but sometimes you have to work smarter, not harder for your food.
I went to Hattie B's website and placed an order that would be ready in ten air-conditioned minutes from the luxury of my rental. The chicken had a delicious crunchy outer skin while the meat remained quite juicy. The medium was not very hot, so if you are wanting to sweat a little, I would go a notch or two higher on the heat scale.
This restaurant was undoubtedly the highlight of the entire trip. Having visited their Charleston location I wasn't sure what to expect because it's a much more casual atmosphere. The Nashville location is an elevated experience that was honestly more exciting than most meals I've had in recent memory. There is something enjoyable about a meal where each dish is cloaked in a bit of mystery because the ingredients are all blended in a way you haven't tried before. An added bonus was getting to sit at the Chef's Bar watching them cook and plate on a busy Saturday night. Below are all the dishes I tried.
- Fire Roated Carrots with coconut, peanuts, and sambal onions.
- Farmer Dave's Melons with cantalope, potato chips, and black lime vinaigrette. A sweet and savory power combo.
- Tiger Style Brussels with green curry, lime, fresh herbs, and crunchy onions.
- Roasted Bone Marrow with ramp butter, everything spice, and sourdough bread.
- Bear Creek Steak with Tennessee togarashi, miso, cucumber, and charred onions.
- Avocado Crispy Rice with Carolina Gold crispy rice, winter greens, peanuts, and serrano chiles.
I know it's not fair to play favorites when you haven't dined at every restaurant in town, but I will say that this meal blew me away far more than Husk did on my last trip. Silly as it may seem, they married an heightened food experience with a very laid back atmosphere. 90's hip hop played throughout our entire meal, people were casually dressed, servers were extremely helpful and accommodating, and the food was outstanding.
I would highly suggest making reservations, especially if you are dining here on the weekend. You get to choose where you sit within the restaurant which is also fun. On the weekends you can choose the regular dining room, the back patio, the Chef's bar, or Mezzanine seating which we noticed above us as we dined. Five stars for Butcher & the Bee, no question.
So much hype surrounds this cute and well branded bakery, I'll be honest, I was afraid to go. I hate doughnut disappointments. The flow when you enter their 12th Avenue South shop is a bit confusing as the baked goods are shoved in a back corner of the small shop. When it's busy you can't really tell where the line begins or ends, but despite the brief confusion you are rewarded with flavors like Orange Dreamsicle, Strawberry Matcha, and Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake. We grabbed two doughnuts to-go and took them to the outdoor patio. What I thought was interesting was these doughnuts really felt more like cronuts. They were airy with several layers, not dense or overly bread-like. They were quite moist and sweet enough on their own without the added frostings.
There are three scoop shops around Nashville and I would strongly advise you eat at all three if your stomach can handle it. There are just so many flavors you are going to want to try you need multiple visits. It's how I finally got to try pickled mango, cream puff, goat cheese with red cherries, and gooey butter cake. Jeni is the queen and you should eat all the ice cream on vacation.
Back in East Nashville, the Soda Parlor was an unplanned stop to soothe my sweet tooth, and it was there we found a completely packed shop. It was a fun, well-branded space with a wall of free-to-play arcade games and another area of youthful retail items that are locally designed and printed. Due to the crowds, I was told a signature milkshake would take about 15-20 minutes. Sugar is sugar, so I opted for a $5 float; my choice was the "Freaking Fosters" which was vanilla ice cream and orange soda. It was a simple treat that I could take with me as we headed to more shops. If you are a milkshake or float person this might be a fun spot to make a quick stop.
A quiet Sunday morning at Baked on 8th and we had the entire place to ourselves. What bliss! Instagram trappings aside (neon signs, mural outside, and accent wallpaper) they had a nice selection of baked goods. The case and counter-top were filled with cookies, brownies, various seasonal sweet breads (I got Strawberry), and cakes and pies. If doughnuts aren't your sweet of choice, forget Five Daughters and come here for more variety.
BLUE MONKEY SHAVED ICE
An impromptu stop while doing some last minute shopping on 12th Avenue South (walking into Draper James realizing I am not their core audience) I found the Blue Monkey Shaved Ice truck. The heat was really getting to me and I saw so many colorful cones passing me by, I fell to the pressure and got a small Strawberry Lemonade. What was unique about their treat was how soft the shaved ice was. I'm not sure if they have a different method from other places I've gone, but it was as if someone gave me an iced pillow. If you stroll 12th Avenue South on the weekend I'm sure you'll see the blue truck but they do have a schedule online.
Black Shag is one of those vintage shops that hurts so good. I immediately found ten vintage concert tees I wanted, but they were about $150-$200 a piece, so I ended up wiping away a tear in the soft vintage fabrics and leaving empty handed. If you have the money to blow, I'd definitely go here on your trip.
After coffee in Germantown we found Alexis + Bolt, a boutique with goods for both men and women in a cute bungalow style home. While most of the clothing was on the trendy side, there was a nice variety of goodies including housewares, body products, and men's items. The price points were affordable and the selection was diverse enough to where it was hard to leave empty handed. The shop owner was incredibly sweet and helpful and it didn't hurt her dog was on hand for cuddles while we shopped.
You can find one of these cute flower trucks in the Gulch neighborhood and also on the popular strip of 12th Ave South.
Other shopping areas:
- 21st Ave S between Wedgewood & Acklen Ave
- 12th Ave S between Linden Ave & Kirkwood Ave
- Eastland Ave & Chapel Ave
- East Nashville around Fatherland Street
"It's Gonna Be Ok" Mural Location: Charlotte Avenue and City Avenue
"World Peace Mural" Location: Porter Road & Greenwood Ave - Across from Cafe Roze
Radiate Positivity Location: East Nashville - Clearview Street and 11th Street
"Nashville at Heart" Mural Location: 12th Avenue South and Dallas Avenue
Nashville Color Block Wall Location: East Nashville - Main Street & N 7th Street
"Love Ya'll" Mural Location: 2028 Lindell Avenue
11th Ave South & Demonbreun
Floral Mural Location:12th Avenue South on the Green Pea Salon building
I believe in Nashville Mural(s) Locations: "I Believe in Nashville" murals can be found on 12th street on the side of Edley's Bar-B-Que and the other over in East Nashville near the corner of Woodland Street and 9th Avenue. You will see it on the side of the building as you drive by on your left hand side.
I don't get paid to travel, I just make guides to help others as they explore. All accommodations and food was paid for by me (or split with my amazing friend who is the perfect travel partner). All photos are property of LemonHearted Creative and cannot be used in other digital publications without consent.