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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
The wall of gold and platinum records at the Country Music Hall of Fame. (William DeShazer for The Washington Post)
The wall of gold and platinum records at the Country Music Hall of Fame. (William DeShazer for The Washington Post)
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Nashville

The wall of gold and platinum records at the Country Music Hall of Fame. (William DeShazer for The Washington Post)
The wall of gold and platinum records at the Country Music Hall of Fame. (William DeShazer for The Washington Post)
  • By Brandon Gee
  • Photos by
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The world has discovered what locals knew all along: Nashville isn’t just a country music mecca — it’s a multifaceted jewel of great food, warm weather, affordable living and music that spans multiple genres.

Following an avalanche of “it”-city publicity in recent years, you probably already know that rockers like Jack White and the Black Keys join country stars in calling Music City home. And there’s the fantastic fact that country-folk legend John Prine and outlaw-country wrecker Sturgill Simpson share a dingy basement office. You may have even heard of our hot chicken.

“A big city that feels like a small town”: These days, that once-common local refrain is heard less frequently, but Nashville’s down-home Southern heart can still be found, especially in its neighborhoods. So get off Lower Broadway, grab a bushwacker to wash down your meat-and-three lunch, and don’t be afraid to dive deep. You can lose the crowds, but no matter where you wander, live music and friendly faces will never be far away.

Meet Brandon Gee

A native Hoosier, Brandon moved to Nashville in 2009 after spending more than two years years as a newspaper reporter/pub waiter/snowboard bum in Colorado. After a brief interlude in New England, Brandon never plans to leave Music City again.

Want to get in touch?

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IN THE ACTION
Downtown
If Music City tourism staples such as Ryman Auditorium, Printers Alley, the Country Music Hall of Fame and honky-tonks are nonnegotiable items on your to-do list, look downtown. You’ll find many options, from $400-a-night, brand-name luxury hotels to Airbnb condo and apartment rentals for less than $100 a night. You can walk to the neon lights of Lower Broadway and tree-lined Second Avenue while enjoying easy access to Germantown, Midtown and East Nashville, close-in neighborhoods that serve as less touristy, but still vibrant, in-the-action alternatives themselves. Find the neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
Sylvan Park
Sylvan Park is a charming family neighborhood with beautiful homes and locally owned bars, restaurants and shops scattered throughout. Murphy Road and 46th Avenue North are the main thoroughfares, their junction the heart of the neighborhood. On the west side of the roundabout lies McCabe Park and the Richland Creek Greenway, a paved trail offering a short loop around the McCabe Golf Course as well as connections to other major bicycle routes. Short-term home rentals such as Airbnbs are the way to go here. (Speaking of the golf course: With 27 holes, it’s usually not hard to sneak in a quick nine without a tee time.) Find the neighborhood.
Neighborhoods

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Eat

BREAKFAST
Crema
In a cafe perched above the Cumberland River on Rutledge Hill, coffee geeks Ben and Rachel Lehman offer not only the city’s best cup of joe but also roasted-in-house beans, gadgets and guidance for those hoping to improve their java game back home. Just far enough removed from the tourist hot spots, Crema bustles with real Nashvillians — professionals networking over breakfast and freelancers and artists toiling on laptops and in songbooks. You’ll wait for your lovingly crafted cup, so look past the quick bites and instead order the avocado toast (smashingly blending tangy goat cheese, spicy red-pepper flakes and savory microgreens).
BTW: If you’re not able to make it to the flagship spot, keep an eye out for Crema coffee across Nashville at other coffee shops (including Meet + Greet), restaurants (including Butcher & Bee) and Turnip Truck grocery stores.
Crema, 15 Hermitage Ave. Nashville, Tenn. 37210
BREAKFAST
Cafe Roze
Opened in 2017 by transplanted New York chef Julia Jaksic, Cafe Roze (pronounced “rose”) brought a new level of style and sophistication to the Rosebank neighborhood of East Nashville. Although Cafe Roze can feel a bit chichi come evening, breakfast (as well as lunch) is more approachable. Floor-to-ceiling front windows, a white marble bar and pale pink tabletops create a bright, carefree atmosphere. Breakfast highlights on the inventive menu include stout waffles; an egg bowl with cucumber and feta bulgur, kale and lemon yogurt; and savory oats with poached egg, mustard greens, roasted shiitake and gomasio (sesame salt).
BTW: If you’re here for a later meal instead and are a fan of “beertails,” order the surprisingly delicious Mandy: draft Miller High Life served over grapefruit ice cubes — simple and refreshing.
Cafe Roze, 1115 Porter Rd. Nashville, Tenn. 37206
LUNCH
Hugh-Baby’s
Inspired by the old-fashioned roadside barbecue joints and burger shacks of the mid-South (the menu includes a Depression-era favorite: the slugburger), Hugh-Baby’s blends a 1950s vibe with touches of sleek, bright modernity. The beef is ground daily, and pitmaster Pat Martin practices Memphis-style, whole-hog smoking. Enjoy the fruits of both on the BBQ Burger, and pair it with a side of hot, crispy shoestring fries and a chocolate shake. Bringing kids? The Charlotte Avenue location has a small playground.
BTW: Can’t get enough of this ’cue? Check out sister brand Martin’s Bar-B-Que. The downtown one has a huge, lush beer garden with games.
Hugh-Baby’s, 4816 Charlotte Ave. Nashville, Tenn. 37209
LUNCH
Arnold’s Country Kitchen
Them’s fightin’ words, but Arnold’s is Nashville’s best meat-and-three — a Southern, cafeteria-style restaurant in which patrons select one meat and three sides from a menu that rotates daily on a weekly schedule. The Arnolds have been serving comfort food made from scratch since 1982 and won a James Beard America’s Classics Award in 2009. The roast beef, fried catfish and pork chops are superb, but it’s the dedication and attention paid to sides, such as slow-cooked greens, that set Arnold’s apart.
BTW: For an after-lunch drink in a more intimate atmosphere, eschew the showy Gulch neighborhood behind Arnold’s and walk east toward Pie Town (via Drexel or Division), where local brewers/distillers include the excellent Proper Sake and Czann’s Brewing.
Arnold’s Country Kitchen, 605 Eighth Ave. S. Nashville, Tenn. 37203
DINNER
Slim & Husky’s Pizza Beeria
Don’t be fooled by the lustrous, white-brick exterior — gentrified this is not. In North Nashville, this fast-casual pizza shop was started by locals who attended nearby Tennessee State University. Inside you’ll find a bustling hangout staffed by neighbors and inspired by hip-hop and R&B culture — from the background music to the decor, which includes prominent display of the lyrics from Arrested Development’s “Tennessee.” Step in line and order sub-shop style, indicating first what size pie (slim or husky) and moving down to select toppings. Consider the Red Light Special, with spicy red sauce, mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes and basil.
BTW: If you’re in a hurry, head down the block and order at the Rollout, a faster, takeout-only service from the same folks.
Slim & Husky’s Pizza Beeria, 911 Buchanan St. Nashville, Tenn. 37208
DINNER
Kayne Prime
Kayne Prime is a stylish chameleon — one part classic American steakhouse, one part multicultural fusion restaurant, with a generous dash of artisanal cocktail bar. It’s pricey, so dress appropriately, but worth it. The family-style serving of starters and sides lends it a jovial, down-home vibe that other high-end restaurants inadvertently suffocate. The service is impeccable, and the creatively prepared, absurdly marbled wagyu steaks scream flavor as they melt in your mouth. Whatever your tastes, order the Cotton Candy Bacon.
BTW: On a budget? The M Street restaurant group includes four other great businesses within steps of Kayne Prime that offer a range of cuisines and atmospheres: Whiskey Kitchen, Virago, Moto and Saint Añejo.
Kayne Prime, 1103 McGavock St., Nashville, Tenn. 37203
LATE-NIGHT
The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club
The Fox refreshingly counters some of Nashville’s other speakeasy-style cocktail bars, dispensing with the pretentiousness while holding on to the sophistication. Translation: There are plush-velvet booths, Art Deco ceiling tiles, old books and really, really good cocktails (plus a respectable beer list), and there is not a secret door knock required to gain entry or an FBI background check on your drinking preferences before the staff decides what you’ll be having. Is it the best Old-Fashioned in town or does it just seem that way because your self-esteem remains intact? Should the Fox still prove a bit much for your taste, walk around to the front of the building and try the dive bar, Mickey’s Tavern.
BTW: Make someone’s day by filling out a postage-paid, wish-you-were-here Fox postcard and dropping it in the mailbox on your way out.
The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club, 2905B Gallatin Pike. Nashville, Tenn. 37216
LATE-NIGHT
Five Daughters Bakery
This sleek, family-owned shop (patriarch Isaac Meek is a third-generation baker) will please health nuts with paleo and vegan doughnuts, the straightforward with cookies and the adventurous with pastries such as the kouign-amann, a.k.a. “the Quinn.” But the 100-layer doughnut, a cronut, is Five Daughters’ bread and butter, and it’s large enough to share. Try the King Kong, with maple frosting and bacon.
BTW: The East Nashville outpost neighbors a Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams shop, in case the bakery sells out before its 10 p.m. close.
Five Daughters Bakery, 1900 Eastland Ave. Nashville, Tenn. 37206
(Nashville illustrator Jin Kim for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. When honky-tonkin’ on the north side of Lower Broadway, skip the lines and enter through rear entrances on Ryman Alley. You’ll see the famous stage-door entrance to Ryman Auditorium.
  2. Indoor smoking is still a thing at many 21-and-up establishments. If breathing, or smelling like, cigarette smoke is a dealbreaker, check in advance, especially when visiting dives, honky-tonks and karaoke bars.
  3. Nashville has excellent happy hours (including an abundance of two-for-one drink hours, or days) that serve as great introductions to its colorful neighborhoods. Search events by date at NashvilleGuru.
(Nashville illustrator Jin Kim for The Washington Post)

Do

Third Man Records
Imagine the Weasley twins opened a rock-and-blues novelty store, rather than a wizarding one, in Diagon Alley. That’s Third Man Records, the Nashville-based label of quirky, envelope-pushing rocker Jack White (the Raconteurs, the White Stripes). Check the calendar for live shows, record-release parties and other events, or stop by to peruse the record store and novelties lounge, a music buff’s dream, full of memorabilia, vintage instruments and bygone recording tools.
BTW: A close-up look at the world’s only live-to-acetate recording studio is worth the $20 tour price. Same-day tickets are available in person, first-come, first-served.
Third Man Records, 623 Seventh Ave. S. Nashville, Tenn. 37203
Nashville Zoo at Grassmere
The relatively young Nashville Zoo is not as large or famous as those in other cities, but it’s perfectly sized for a single, enjoyable day. Lush, shaded pathways and air-conditioned indoor exhibits are a great opportunity to stretch your legs and escape summer heat and humidity. You can interact directly with kangaroos within the barrier-free Kangaroo Kickabout and watch caretakers at work in the veterinary center. Be sure to catch the Andean bears and Sumatran tigers, too.
BTW: Have young children? Here’s a secret: The best playground in town is a 66,000-square-foot jungle gym within this zoo (regular paid admission required). Watching reactions when the gibbons raise a cacophony of calls is priceless.
Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, 3777 Nolensville Pike, Nashville, Tenn. 37211
Walk and shop Belmont-Hillsboro
For a college-town vibe, stroll through cozy Belmont-Hillsboro, a walkable neighborhood between the campuses of Vanderbilt and Belmont universities just southwest of downtown. Belmont Boulevard, 21st Avenue South and the area surrounding them are dense with historic architecture, quirky boutique clothing stores, smoke shops, hip restaurants and bars that run the gamut from dives to chic cocktail spots. If you have little ones or are perusing with one in mind, Arcade is a place to start. The toy and children’s clothing store stocks independent and foreign brands such as Grimm’s, a German company known for its colorful stacker toys. House Of, a boutique run by Belmont students, carries clothes from Nashville designers and products from socially conscious labels. The Army-Navy surplus store Friedman’s is an outdoor-enthusiast’s paradise.
BTW: Replace all those burned calories from shopping with a burger and icy draft Budweiser at the unassuming Brown’s Diner, about a half-mile south of Arcade, near the Army-Navy store.
1721 21st Ave. S. Nashville, Tenn. 37212
Finally Friday
For an off-the-beaten path music experience, grab lunch at 3rd and Lindsley in the SoBro (south of Broadway) neighborhood for Finally Friday, WMOT Roots Radio’s free live-audience show, weekly at noon. Finally Friday consistently features some of the best alternative country and Americana artists around — local or touring, established or up-and-coming. You’ll see about four artists over the course of two hours, stand a good chance of winning door prizes and gather intelligence on other gigs worth checking out in the days ahead (at this music venue and elsewhere). It’s the perfect kickoff to a weekend in Music City.
BTW: Sixteen-ounce Goose Island cans are a steal at $3. Musicians typically hang around the bar before and after their sets — don’t be afraid to say hello.
Finally Friday, 818 Third Ave. S. Nashville, Tenn. 37210
Warner Parks/Cheekwood Estate & Gardens
Nine miles west of downtown, Warner Parks provides the best variety of outdoor recreation within the city limits. Highlights include full-moon hikes and pickin’ parties, golf, a dog park, and trails for biking and horseback riding. It’s the largest park in Tennessee and on the National Register of Historic Places. At the north end, adjacent Cheekwood Estate (paid entry) is a pleasure to explore, with botanical gardens and a museum within the Cheek family’s historic Country Place Era estate. Cheekwood’s seasonal festivals make it worth a visit even after the spring bloom. In the fall, the month-long Cheekwood Harvest is highlighted by an outbreak of late-blooming mums, a beer garden and a pumpkin patch.
BTW: Tight schedule? Head straight to the Deep Well Trailhead, off Highway 100, for short but hilly loops through the woods. Time to spare? Enter via Belle Meade Boulevard off Harding Pike to gape at the homes of Nashville’s elite.
50 Vaughn Rd. Nashville, Tenn. 37221
Belcourt Theatre
Broaden your cultural experience of Nashville beyond music with a visit to the Belcourt, a historic art-house cinema complex built in the 1920s. Recently remodeled with upgraded amenities, the Belcourt screens independent, foreign, documentary and classic films beginning around midday, with final showings around midnight. Events include topical seminars, filmmaker Q&As, children’s films and seasonal favorites (“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” in December).
BTW: Fridays and Saturdays can be busy, but other nights you can find smaller crowds and free parking.
Belcourt Theatre, 2102 Belcourt Ave., Nashville, Tenn. 37212
Brandon Gee
A native Hoosier, Brandon moved to Nashville in 2009 after spending more than two years years as a newspaper reporter/pub waiter/snowboard bum in Colorado. After a brief interlude in New England, Brandon never plans to leave Music City again.
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CITY GUIDES