If I Had a Day in Nashville: A Driving Tour of My Favorite Things to See, Eat and Do in Music City

Nashville is my home town, and I’m very proud of the nation’s Music City of its emergence on the national scene as a popular business and tourist destination. I always have loved my home city, and it’s not just for the reasons that many people might guess. Yes, the country music and music scene is unlike anywhere else, except perhaps Austin. Thrillist recently published this article on what real Nashvillians want you to know about our city. But did you know …

Business Insider just named Nashville one of the top 15 cities in the US that is driving the future. The New York Times just covered the “new” Nashville in its “36 Hours In” series. Did you know that health care is the region’s number one industry, followed by book publishing, then travel and tourism? The nation’s largest hospital corporation, HCA, and about 500 spin-offs from it, along with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, create a virtual Silicon Valley of health care in Nashville and its surrounding area.

Nashville was known as The Athens of the South, long before its designation as Music City, because it had more colleges and universities in the 19th century than any city in the South. Nashville still boasts four major universities, including the world renowned Vanderbilt University, and many more private colleges and community colleges.

Nashville is home to some of the nation’s most well recognized politicians including former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, former US Vice President Al Gore, the late US Senator Fred Thompson and current US Senator Bob Corker. That political tradition began with one US President from Nashville, Andrew Jackson.

Nashville has more recording and production studios for music than New York City and Los Angeles.

Because of its casual culture, its trendy vibe, and the celebrities who make Nashville home, Nashville is now often described as “the New LA.” Did you know that Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sheryl Crow, Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, The Black Keys, Jack White, and The Kings of Leon are of those who call Nashville home, or one of their homes?


The city is increasingly recognized by the New York Times and magazines like Bon Appetit as the food capital of the South, turning out more innovative and fresh approaches to food than any other southern city (replacing New Orleans and Charleston). In my opinion, the six restaurants you must try in Nashville if you love fine dining and great food: Husk, Lockeland Table (2013 James Beard nominee), Rolf & Daughters (winner of 2013 Bon Appetit’s New Restaurant of the Year award), The Cat Bird Seat (one of Bon Appetit‘s Best New Restaurants of 2012), and Etch. Biscuit Love is not fine dining, but it was recognized by Bon Appetit as one of the top 50 new U.S. restaurants of 2015 (it’s good, but Loveless is a more authentic experience). Chauhan Ale and Masala House is one of the most interesting and beautiful dining experiences in Nashville.

Three distinctly Nashville bar experiences are a must for drinkers: Patterson House, which is known nationally for its mixology, Holland House (similar to Patterson with $5 cocktails and food on Thursdays), and the famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.

For truly uniquely Nashville experiences that offer southern cooking Nashville style: : Arnold’s Country Kitchen, Jack’s Bar-BQ, Loveless Motel and Cafe, Puckett”s Grocery Store, Miller’s Bar BQ, Monell’s and Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. London’s The Guardian recently published another list of local favorites here. Reviews of many of my recent favorites are on Yelp here.

If you’re more of an hipster type and want the hottest new “hole in the wall” and quality options, this is a great guide. Eater offered these 18 restaurant “musts” for visitors, and Nashville Lifestyles readers voted these restaurants as their favorites in a variety of categories. Bon Appetit named Bastion one of its top 50 new restaurants in America in 2017, and Caviar and Bananas is a new local favorite that I have yet to try.

My Top 10 of Nashville Restaurant “Musts”:

1. Loveless Motel and Cafe for breakfast (alternatives: Biscuit Love or the Pancake Pantry)

2. Arnold’s Country Kitchen for week day lunch

3. Catbird Seat (expensive prix fix but one of the country’s best restaurants)

4. For Ethnic: Epice, Chauhan Ale and Masala House, Virago, Desano’s Pizza, Five Points Pizza, Nama Sushi, bartaco, Mas Tacos Por Favor, The Smiling Elephant

5. Fine Dining: Kayne Prime, Moto, Josephine, Prima

7. Hattie B’s Chicken, or Prince’s Hot Chicken (for the original hot chicken)

8. Martin’s BarBQ

9. Rolf and Daughters

10. Lockeland Table

It’s a great town, so let’s get started on a driving tour of the city. This is designed as a one day tour that easily can be broken into 2-3 days. If you wish to visit individual sites, there is no more convenient way to access Nashville than Uber. Click here for a promo code for $25 off of your first trip.

A Driving Tour: Beginning at The Loveless Motel and Cafe

Thanks to my reader Victor Paul, here is a Google Map of the locations mentioned below:


Yes, it’s a bit of a drive, and I know it’s early in the morning, but you’re going to thank me. No visit to Nashville is complete without a visit to the charming Loveless Motel and Cafe for breakfast homemade biscuits, country ham, redeye gravy and homemade preserves. Besides, the drive is beautiful too and affords easy access to the lush Natchez Trace Parkway.

From Highway 100 in Bellevue, proceed east towards Nashville. Harding Road will intersect with Highway 100 and stay straight until you reach Belle Meade Boulevard. Turn right and enjoy the ritzy neighborhood of Belle Meade where some of the city’s business leaders and elites live. Al Gore is the most famous resident, but many political influencers call this tony neighborhood of mansions home. The city of Belle Meade is one of the top three zip codes for political donations to both parties in the country. Stay straight on Belle Meade Boulevard until it dead ends in Percy Warner Park. Drive through this beautiful park, take a short hike and return to Belle Meade Boulevard. Turn right on Chickering Pike and make your way through some of the city’s nicest neighborhoods (You might wish to stop at a tourist store downtown and pick up a map of the celebrity homes, as many of the homes of late country stars and current ones are in this area). Take Chickering all the way to Old Hickory Boulevard and turn left.

At the intersection of Old Hickory Boulevard and Granny White Pike, turn left on Granny White Pike, and then right on Otter Creek Road. You will enter my single favorite place in Nashville, Radnor Lake State Natural Area. Imagine Walden Pond, and that’s pretty much what you will experience. Go for a hike around the lake’s loop and return to the car (have some cash on you for parking fees).

Return to Granny White Pike and take a right on Granny White. Take another right on Tyne Boulevard, and then a left on Franklin Road. Follow north, and carefully watch for signs for Curtiswood Lane. Tourist maps can assist you with this famous address where the Governors Mansion is located along with the residences of the late Minnie Pearl, Webb Pierce and the country music legend Ronnie Milsap. Return to Franklin Road and make a left. If you love Thai food, you can’t miss The Smiling Elephant on Franklin Road. I live on a street in NYC known for its Thai, and this is still one of the finest Thai restaurant experiences anywhere. If Thai food isn’t your thing, follow Franklin Road north, and try out the amazing Arnold’s Country Kitchen for southern favorites at one of Nashville’s most recognized “meat and three cafes” (meat and three vegetables, which includes mac n’ cheese as a vegetable). The “12 South” neighborhood along 12th Avenue south of downtown also is one of Nashville’s hottest neighborhoods with excellent food options including The Frothy Monkey coffee house and Epice for the most innovative and delicious Lebanese cuisine I’ve ever experienced in any city.

Once lunch is finished, follow Franklin Road / 8th Avenue to Broadway / West End Boulevard. Turn left and follow to 21st Ave. Vanderbilt University, sandwiched between Broadway and 21st Ave., affords visitors a beautiful stroll of its architecture. Follow 21st Ave. a few blocks to Hillsboro Village. Have some Intelligentsia Coffee or a pastry at Provence, shop where the celebrities do at Posh, and don’t miss my favorite coffee shop in town (along with the hip and hot people) at Fido. Cabana and Jackson’s are two of my favorite places for happy hour or evening drinks, and return to The Pancake Pantry for the other “must” breakfast in Nashville (arrive early to avoid the always existing line).

If shopping is your thing, go south on Hillsboro Road, pass over Interstate 440, and arrive at Green Hills Mall on your right. Green Hills is the “Beverly Hills” of Nashville, and its mall offers some of the city’s finest shopping including Tiffany’s and Nordstrom. If shopping is not your thing, turn left on Hillsboro Road, follow it around the curve near Vanderbilt where it becomes Broadway, and follow Broadway to downtown. Turn left on 8th Ave. to Union Street, and park. Tennessee’s Capitol Building will be in front of you and is worth a visit. The architecture by William Strickland is beautiful, and the nation’s 11th president James K. Polk is buried on the grounds. The statute of Andrew Jackson, “Old Hickory,” on the horse is also located in Jackson Square in New Orleans and in Lafayette Park at The White House in Washington, D.C. From there, take a stop into Nashville’s only 5 star hotel, The Hermitage Hotel, and a quick look inside the beautiful Nashville Library, and walk by the home of the Grand Ole Opry and the mother church of country music, The Ryman Auditorium, on 5th Ave. If time permits, definitely visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Even if country is not your thing, this museum will delight and inform you about American music in an entertaining way (it was also one of my jobs in college).

As evening begins, have dinner downtown at The Southern Steak and Oyster, a contemporary take on southern food that is reasonable, innovative and trendy. Make a reservation two weeks in advance for one of the most talked about new restaurants in the country at The Catbird Seat. Enjoy the pork bar-bq at Jack’s on Broadway, the fun atmosphere and southern cooking at ACME, or Martin’s BarBQ in Nolensville. Foodies everywhere are raving about The City House or Roff & Daughters in Germantown, just north of downtown, but you will need a reservation. Try out the food scene that is rocking the country at Etch in downtown, or in East Nashville at the French restaurant Margot, enjoy a drink in the biergarten at The Pharmacy, have the burger at the Charleston favorite Husk, or sample California style Mexican at Rosepepper Mexican Grill, Los Taco, or St. Anejo. For sushi in a LA type atmosphere, try Virago in the Gulch, or the nearby Laredo Cantina for Southwestern. To try famous Nashville hot chicken, go to Holland House in East Nashville (half off on Thursday nights) or Hattie B’s Hot Chicken near 21st Avenue and Broadway.

Following dinner, you’re in Nashville, and it’s time to go honky tonkin’. Step inside Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge (made famous by the film Coal Miner’s Daughter) and Robert’s Western World for some real country music. Go line dancing and two steppin’ at The Wildhorse Saloon on 2nd Avenue. For more shenanigans, try out my favorite bar in the US, The Patterson House, where carefully crafted cocktails are fashioned by the now infamous Alchemy Brothers, hear some Bluegrass at the home of bluegrass, The Station Inn, or go dance the night away at the very fun Play on Church Street. If quiet is your thing, there is not a better night in Nashville than an evening at The Bluebird Cafe where you can hear some of the most recognized songwriters of all genres perform their works (you need a reservation and arrive early). Now that’s a solid day in Music City.

If you have 2-3 days to visit Nashville: Take a tour of Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. Stroll the lush jungles and gardens at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. Do some outlet shopping at Opry Mills. Take the kids to a water park at Nashville Shores, or the Wave Pool near Opryland. Read or meditate at the serene Scarritt Bennett Center. Attend a symphony concert at the beautiful Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Check out the latest traveling art exhibit at The Frist Center for the Arts. Drive down the Natchez Trace Parkway. Tour downtown Franklin and drive around the beautiful English-like countryside in Williamson County near Leiper’s Fork. Take back roads and highways to Lynchburg for a tour of the Jack Daniels Distillery (and be sure to eat at Miss Mary Bobo’s). Enjoy the flowers and plants at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens.

Enjoy Nashville, and ya’ll be coming back now, ya’ hear?

This blog entry is part of a larger series of travel articles on Toddbouldin.com called “If I Had a Day”covering New York City, New Orleans, Nashville and Los Angeles.

Todd is available for travel consultation and reservations to these cities and more for a negotiated rate per hour. Todd is a travel writer and Yelp Elite based on his restaurant and travel reviews. If you are interested, please contact Todd at Todd@toddbouldin.com.

9 Responses to “If I Had a Day in Nashville: A Driving Tour of My Favorite Things to See, Eat and Do in Music City”
  1. The Bluebird Cafe provides a rich experience. Highly recommend it.

  2. Robby says:

    You might amend the need to reserve weeks in advance for the Catbird Seat – I think they let you do it 2 weeks out. On the other hand, we got two setas at the end of the bar at the City House without a reservation and had an amzing time!!

  3. You can’t send someone to BookMan and not remind them to stop at ‘Copper Kettle’ next door. Fantastic upscale Southern cuisine. Maria LOVES LOVES LOVES the fried okra.

  4. toddbouldin says:

    Robby, thank you. Chris, highly agree. Waymon, one of the best experiences in Nashville that should be mandatory.

  5. Vonnr says:

    Great suggestions, great directions! Followed to a tee and it felt like an adventure. Thank you!!!

  6. I have an upcoming trip to Nashville, so I found this super helpful! Thanks! Here’s a public Google Maps of most of the place mentioned in the article. Anyone who uses it is welcome to edit it with comments, etc.

  7. toddbouldin says:

    Thank you so much! I am glad you enjoyed it! Next time, I hope you can eat too 🙂

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  1. […] that we could do in one afternoon. I found a great blog article by a fellow wordpressor called “If I Had a Day in Nashville: A Driving Tour of My Favorite Things to See, Eat and Do in Music Cit…. We skipped all the eating and doing on the blog and did all the seeing bits. It is a really fun […]

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