Hats Boots Apparel on Third Avenue in Nashville is next to the Johnny Cash Museum. It’s one of many places to purchase cowboy hats and boots.
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NASHVILLE — When brainstorming ideas for a girls’ trip to celebrate a milestone birthday, lots of options came to mind.
New York? Too many logistics.
Toronto? Do we all have our passports?
Lake Erie islands? Maybe something a bit more out of the ordinary.
Nashville? Hmm. Nashville.
Known nationwide as a country music mecca, it was evident after only a few hours in Nashville that this city offered so much more.
During the three-day weekend, we experienced a vibrant nightlife, fusion cuisine, and trendy neighborhood boutiques, all enveloped within the twang of an acoustic guitar and a sea of cowboy boots.
Our trip began with an approximately 475-mile trek down Ohio, through Kentucky, and into Tennessee. Although not necessarily a quick trip, the roughly seven-hour drive is easily accomplished with only the areas near Dayton and Cincinnati presenting a possible tie-up in heavy traffic.
After checking into the Hilton (hilton.com/Nashville) in downtown Nashville, we were ready to explore. Getting a hotel downtown is key. Although cabs are readily available, Nashville is an easily walked city, especially for some of its more notable must-sees.
The first stop on any trip to Nashville is the line of honky-tonks along Broadway.
Even in mid-day — before the neon lights illuminate the strip — we got a sense of what this city was all about. One after another, music joints lined up, only interrupted by the occasional souvenir shop or cowboy boot outlet.
Although the sounds of Kenny Chesney covers tempted us to head directly into those places that were already open for business, it was the array of cowboy boots in all sizes and colors that ultimately won. Whether wearing jeans, shorts, or dolled up in a dress, one accessory seems to go with everything in Nashville — cowboy boots. And we wanted them.
Over three days, we ended up in four or five shops and each tried on dozens of boots — everything from plain, brown leather styles to bedazzled, red ones. Despite the earnest effort to look like a local, all but one of us left with nothing.
A must-see in Nashville is the Grand Ole Opry (opry.com), which is only a short drive from downtown. Although the Ryman Auditorium is known as “Mother Church of Country Music,” it’s the Grand Ole Opry that even the novice country music listeners want to see.
A tour of the famous auditorium gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look, including glimpses into the dressing rooms, a chance to see where the iconic TV show Hee Haw was filmed, and a photo on the exact spot where country music’s biggest names entertain the nation. This show can be heard regularly throughout the country on satellite radio, WSM-AM 650, or download the app.
The history of both the building and the stars who have graced its stage made the tour well worth the $20, and a souvenir shop at the exit meant all visitors can leave with a little bit of country music legend.
You’ll find some of the best BBQ in Nashville at the Peg Leg Porker.
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Another place to get your fill of country music is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (countrymusichalloffame.org), just a few blocks away from the honky-tonks. For a $24.95 adult ticket, visitors can view current exhibits featuring stars such as Miranda Lambert and Kenny Rogers.
While you can get plenty of country music history during the day, it is the nightlife that is truly the draw of Nashville. With bachelorette parties as prevalent as the neon lights, the town remained alive with crowds well into the night ... well ... early morning. It’s easy to see why some have taken to calling the city Nash Vegas. And with so many choices to check out, we used recommendations from everyone from friends who had previously visited the city to random locals we met along the way.
One of those places was Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge (tootsies.net). With three floors of live music and walls adorned with memorabilia, Tootsie’s is sure to be crowded. On the rooftop patio, we spent some time checking out the crowds on Broadway from above while listening to the sounds of Tootsie’s bands mix with the tunes coming from other bars along the street.
Of several places we visited, it was Tootsie’s where we thought we might get lucky and find a country star in an impromptu concert. After all, it was behind these violet-colored walls that Willie Nelson was discovered and Taylor Swift has been rumored to drop by.
To really experience the strip, be sure to stop in several places throughout the night. Whether you’re in the trailer park-themed Paradise Park Trailer Resort (paradiseparkonline.com) or the old-fashioned-looking Silver Dollar Saloon (silverdollarsaloon.com), you’ll find music, dancing, and lots of cowboy boots.
And if you don’t feel like walking from bar to bar, see if you can jump on a golf cart taxi. Seriously, it’s a golf cart that will taxi you around. The free service — they work on tips — makes for a fun conversation if not a sometimes scary ride.
The nightlife isn’t the only recipient of a five-star review. The food in Nashville, from modern cuisine to good ol’ fashioned barbecue, was as tasty as it was photogenic.
Some of the restaurants that were recommended to us included M Restaurant & Bar (mrestaurantandbar.com), which offers a menu of contemporary-inspired Southern cuisine with an international flair. On the other hand, Peg Leg Porker (peglegporker.com) is a cafeteria-style restaurant and bar that offers a variety of smoky meats slathered in tangy BBQ sauce.
No trip can be considered a girls’ trip without a bit of shopping. Although there were souvenir shops in which to spend plenty of money — including the Johnny Cash Museum (johnnycashmuseum.com) store — we made our way to a neighborhood known as the Gulch where we browsed through upscale boutiques.
While the Gulch was a bit outside of the center of town and meant a car ride, the area known as Printer’s Row offered shops and bars just off the beaten track.
Once again, we found boutiques mixed in with shops owned by country music icons. But if you’re looking for Miranda Lambert’s Pink Pistols shop, you’ll be out of luck. Although we were able to peruse the shelves dominated by pink rhinestones, the store only had a two-month run in Nashville and closed in late July.
Although we certainly didn’t see it all, our girls’ weekend in Nashville gave us a chance to do a little bit of everything. But we know there’s still plenty more to see and a need for a return trip.
First on that list is a concert at the Grand Ole Opry. And I won’t need a big numbered birthday to make that happen.
If you go:
NASHVILLE: Located near the center of the state, Nashville is an approximately seven-hour car ride or more than a three-hour plane ride from Toledo. The drive will take you south on I-75 into Kentucky, on to Louisville on I-71, and then south into Nashville on I-65.
MAIN ATTRACTIONS: The Grand Ole Opry (opry.com) offers regular tours; however, only limited tickets are sold for each time slot. The tickets ($20 for adults; $15 for ages 4-11) can be purchased at the venue or online in advance. General admission into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (countrymusichalloffame.org) is $24.95 for adults and $14.95 for youth ages 6-12 with special discounts for students, seniors, and military.
The honky-tonks on Broadway offer a plethora of options for music lovers while restaurants provide a mix of cuisine options. For more information about nightlife and food options, go to visitmusiccity.com. For a downloadable visitor’s guide, go to visitmusiccity.com/visitors/tripplanning/visitorsguide.