I knew something was up when I got on the small plane at JFK, looked around, and realized I was surrounded by about 25 giddy, giggling women.
No, they weren’t all together. They were part of several bachelorette parties. And I was also going to meet up with a bachelorette party in Music City U.S.A. Turns out Nashville is the bachelorette capital of the world. Why? I think it’s because it’s a less skeezy version of Las Vegas, with hot men crooning from the stage in intimate, unintimidating venues.
Don’t get me wrong, my two nights and days dancing to country music and drinking beer were an absolute blast. But I’m so glad I stayed two extra days to break away from the honky tonks of Broadway and explore. Nashville has plenty to offer the conscious consumer: locavore restaurants, great shopping, and good cocktails, all with a down-home vibe. I’m pretty sure Brooklyn hipsters stole their style from the non-cowboy side of Nashville – mason jars, beards, flannel – yup, there’s a lot to love.
And I should give a shout out to the ethical, Nashville-based shoe brand Nisolo, who sent over a long list of on-point Nashville recommendations before my visit, and was so sweet to give me a tour of their show room and offices. I couldn’t have done this guide without their help!
Hutton Hotel* – Midtown
Nashville’s most sustainable, this sleek and modern hotel has bamboo flooring and furnishings, guest room lights that turn off when you leave and take your key card with you, a recycling program for paper and plastics, dual flush commodes, reclaimed wood furnishing in the restaurant, dispensed soap, shampoo and conditioner instead of mini bottles, a Tesla courtesy vehicle and electric car charging stations, plus energy efficient construction that includes highest rated exterior glass, elevators, a roofing system, and a laundry water recycling process. I loved my room, which was modern without being cheesy, and comfortable, and the service was excellent. I definitely recommend it!
Hermitage Hotel* – Downtown
This gorgeous, restored historic hotel is heavy on the romance and luxury. My room made me feel like I was staying in a rich southern aunt’s master bedroom, complete with heavy wood furniture, floral fabrics, and an enormous bathroom with a deep tub finished in marble. If you want to get a sense for authentic, old Nashville and its history – this is the hotel where presidents and Al Capone stayed – then this is the place to hang your hat. On top of that, Hermitage donates a few dollars from each stay to local land conservation, and owns a nearby farm.
*These two hotels gave me an editorial discount.
Walk – Nashville residents aren’t so into walking, so you might find yourself walking by yourself down an empty sidewalk once you leave downtown. Carry on – there’s nothing to be afraid of. While Nashville neighborhoods are spread out, once you get into one, everything is walkable.
B-Cycle – Nashville has a bike share program, though it isn’t extensive. It’s best for when you are traveling across the downtown area. Download the app so you can find the nearest station.
Uber – Sad to say this is mostly how I got from neighborhood to neighborhood while I was in Nashville. Honestly, I don’t know how visitors operated before Uber. Taxis are overpriced here, and the neighborhoods are far away from each other.
Rolf & Daughters – Germantown
Everyone agrees that this restaurant is the place to go for an upscale, seasonal meal. A large group of us shared an abundance of delicious plates and sipped haute cocktails amongst locals and a rustic-meets-industrial interior.
Wild Cow – East Nashville
A stereotypical crunchy-hippie vegetarian restaurant, with huge nourishing salads and some excellent nachos that won’t weigh you down. My friend (for whom sustainability is not a priority) enjoyed her lunch with me. In other words, not just for hippies!
Capitol Grille – Hermitage Hotel, downtown
This white-tablecloth restaurant may seem like it hasn’t changed since the days when it was a men’s only club when it comes to decor, but the ingredient sourcing is unabashedly progressive. The vegetables and beef are sourced from their own HH Farms. Here is your opportunity to try Southern style food that has been a bit elevated, like Nashville hot chicken liver pate with local honey and Tennessee chow chow.
Nashville Farmers Market – Germantown
Have you ever been at the farmer’s market and though, I wish I could get a meal right now, instead of just ingredients. Then you’ll love this place. The farmer’s market is outside, and inside is a large local version of a food court, with offerings from local food start-ups, including barbecue, tacos, cupcakes, bibimbap, pizza, and a lot more.
Thistle Stop Cafe – The Nations
This café serves up tea, sandwiches, and economic empowerment. Thistle Stop, as well as the other social enterprise branches under the Thistle Farms umbrella, employs graduates of Magdalene, a residential program that helps women survivors of trafficking, addiction, and prostitution. It’s farther out from downtown than the other restaurants and cafés I feature here, but well worth the visit!
City House – Germantown
This locavore restaurant serves Italian cooking with a Southern flair.
Husk – Downtown
The menu changes daily at this restaurant, which sources regionally.
Avo – Midtown
This vegan restaurant takes a modern, haute approach to their plates, which are free of dairy and eggs. Their bar offerings are organic, biodynamic, gluten-free, and/or additive-free, unless otherwise noted. They work with sustainable businesses and local farms, and offer house-made kombucha and juices.
The Farm House – Downtown
This restaurant uses from-scratch ingredients for its traditionally southern fare, and support local or family-owned businesses. Order freely at the bar, which only buys from distillers and brewers operating in the contiguous 48 states.
Graze – East Nashville
This vegetarian restaurant really knows its way around seitan and tempeh.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream – 12 South, Downtown, East Nashville
Find seasonal flavors like wild berry lavender, churro, and sweet potato eclair at this southern staple.
Steadfast Coffee – Germantown
Along with good coffee, this hipster-y café has full kitchen for a hot breakfast.
CREMA – Downtown
Serves coffee sourced from “farmers we trust.”
Flying Saucer – Downtown
Go here for an excellent craft beer and live music.
Bastion – South Nashville
This relaxed cocktail bar looks like it could be in Bushwick; it’s a converted garage with white washed walls, wall art, and parlor games. Pick one off the menu, or choose between an old fashion-, sour-, or buck-style cocktail from one of the friendly bartenders.
“Speakeasy” type bar with some great unique drinks.
Nisolo – North Nashville
Stop in the Nisolo showroom to pick up a great pair of Peruvian-made shoes or jewelry, but also get a behind-the-scenes look at how this fair fashion company operates – the headquarters are right in the back.
Wilder – Germantown
The majority of this store’s objects are made in the US – including a lot of Nashville items – except for items made in Japan or Indonesia. Pick up pillows, magazines, jewelry and geometric incense holders.
Batch – Germantown
This store has gathered some of Nashville’s best gifts and treats together: candy, coffee, cocktail mixes, plus jewelry, soaps, leather goods, and more. A true souvenir shop.
Poppy and Monroe – Germantown
Even if you’re not in the mood for a non-toxic manicure, facial, or sugaring at this fresh and and feminine salon, you can still get some serious beauty shopping done. The shop features green beauty favorites like Kari Gran, Aila, Antonym, LVX, David’s natural toothpaste, Ilia, Suntegrity, RMS, Herbivore, Captain Blankenship, and Odacité.
This denim company started in Nashville, but outgrew its roots and now manufactures in LA. You can still find that country American vibe, with everything in the refurbished old filling station made in the USA, except for the Aesop soaps.
Across the street in another refurbished filling station, this southern store features a mix of American-made and imported items – so make sure to ask! Find items like cedar incense, vintage-y toys, flannel shirts, candles, leather bound books, plus nontoxic skincare from Ursa Major, Herbivore botanicals, and Coola sunscreen. I grabbed myself an American-made wool poncho.
Sisters of Nature – East Nashville
This clothing and antique store has a kitschy, feminine aesthetic, and nothing but ethical wares.
Hey Rooster – East Nashville
Get made-in-Nashville, artisan food stuff and home wares to take home with you.
Two Son – East Nashville
Growing bored with the country, southern aesthetic? Find Ace and Jig, Nudie Jeans, Nu Swim, Amo Denim, and Maryam Nassir Zadeh at this minimalist and modern clothing store.
Local Honey – East Nashville and 12 South
Find vintage, rockabilly fashion, plus locally-made accessories. Both locations are also a hair salon, in case you need a trim?
Elizabeth Suzann is famous in the ethical fashion set for her gorgeous, flattering designs. If you email ahead, you might even be able to get a studio visit. I tried myself, but they were in the middle of a busy few days and couldn’t accommodate me. You should try, though!
Not like I need to point this out, but Nashville’s live music scene extends far beyond just Broadway, though that is a great place to start. I’ll leave this to others who are more knowledgeable than I! (Literally, look anywhere but here for this info.)
Country Music Hall of Fame – Downtown
OK, so maybe the history of country music is a tad bit whitewashed here. (Controversy? Never heard of it) This is more a promotional effort than a museum coming to terms with history and context. But the design of the museum itself is soaring, and you can still learn a lot about the history of country music, which actually had its origin in black folk music, plus heavily collaborated with counterculture musical icons in the 70s, before being co-opted by hyper-conservatives today as the music of real white America. (Oops, did I just get political there? This is a New York blog, so deal with it.) At the very least, the stage costumes are fun! You could spend a whole day here, if you are prepared to read all the thousands of plaques. Or you can just do a quick walk through and skim the information before heading off to listen to the live thing.
Bicentennial Mall – Midtown
Learn about Nashville’s history by taking a leisurely stroll along the engraved walls lining the park, then pay a visit to a full scale replica of the Parthenon. Yeah, weird, I know. But that’s what you get when cities have bicentennial celebrations: weird, incongruous, beautiful, permanent stuff.
Frist – Downtown
You can look at the few exhibits at this small contemporary art museum in less than two hours, which take a close look at a particular medium and era. The day I visited, it had antique Italian cars, a small painting exhibit from one artist, and an exhibit on Newcomb pottery, which was created by a school of women at the turn of the 19th century. Though not challenging, the exhibitions were edifying and aesthetically beautiful, which is all I ask for.
Pedestrian Bridge – Downtown
A nice diversion if you have time. I walked to the top to watch a large barge filled with coal churn down the river, then walked back down.
Cheekwood Gardens – outside Nashville
More than 30 minutes outside Nashville, this botanical garden is worth a visit if you have an extra half day and need to recuperate after a big night out downtown. The gardens are rambling and well kept, and the art exhibits inside the house are interesting enough to merit more than an hour of perusing.
Terumah also has a conscious Nashville guide with more great places to hit.