If you’re following along, we just left Chicago and are heading down I-90, then taking I-65 due south. (It’s less than an 8-hour trip to Nashville). The drivin’ gets slower, the accents take on a drawl and the tea is sweet, y’all. So crank up the country tunes (for Nashville), the blues (in Memphis) and a little jazz (in New Orleans) and come along…next stop: Nashville. As with all the cities we visit, there’s too much to see and do to capture everything, so these are just a few of our (biased opinion here) musts.
Sure country music put it on the map, but you’ll find all kinds of great tunes in Music City, along with some pretty interesting history and really good eats.
WHERE TO STAY
Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center Just 10 minutes from the airport, the resort offers deluxe accommodations: some rooms have balconies overlooking the solarium; there’s also a spa, golf course, indoor and outdoor pools, cascading waterfalls that you can even take a boat ride through, as well as a host of restaurants. Plus, it’s located next to Opry Mills––Tennessee’s largest outlet and retail shopping mall.
WHAT TO DO
First things first: Grab your boots and hat and go out honky tonkin’. Whether you’re up for seeing live music or watching some line dancing, head downtown to Second Avenue and Broadway, Music Row or The District, as it’s called, once the sun sets for an evening full of entertainment.
Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge A Nashville landmark and home to where many now famous customers got their start. Step back in time, order a cold one and sit back and enjoy the music. If it’s slow, you might even have the chance to go on stage and sing a few with the band.
The Wildhorse Saloon More music abounds in this state-of-the-art, neon-lit facility. Bands, line dancing and up-and-coming artists…there are even private dance lessons and artist auditions. What more could you ask for?
Grand Ole Opry Celebrating 90 years of country music, check out this legendary stage where so many icons made it big. Weekly performances include local artists to international stars.
Can’t get enough country music? Stop by the landmark Ryman Auditorium and take a backstage tour, make a record of your own or take in yet another show. Then make your way to another classic listening venue, The Bluebird Café, where the songwriters perform their signature works.
But there’s plenty to do in the city, other than visiting iconic country music joints. Here are just a few:
Warner Parks Full of open green space, hiking trails and picnic pavilions.
The Parthenon is a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens. It was built in 1897 as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition and now houses a 42-foot statue of Athena.
Riverboat Cruise Climb aboard The General Jackson Showboat (one of the country’s largest paddle-board boats) for dinner, a show and a luxurious ride down the Tennessee River.
WHERE TO EAT
Southern barbecue, cornbread, biscuits and gravy, chicken and waffles, grits, fried okra…the entire South is known for its flavorful home cooking and so many diners and restaurants cater to that fare. If there’s just one place to eat in Nashville, this is it:
Loveless Café Enjoy made-from-scratch goodness like chicken fried chicken, hot chicken (super spicy), fried green tomatoes, cobbler and, of course, the world-famous biscuits.
Just a little over three hours west of Nashville, you’ll be here. It’s a pretty straight shot across the state along I-40. If our last stop filled you up on country music, it’s here where you’ll get a taste of the blues…and barbecue.
WHERE TO STAY
The Peabody Dubbed The South’s Grand Hotel, and a local landmark, at The Peabody you’ll find the famous flock of mallard ducks that waddle the red carpet (on public display twice a day) to swim the fountain in the Grand Lobby. But that’s just the start. Luxurious suites and rooms abound; there’s a spa, a rooftop for parties, fine dining and the famed Lansky Brothers clothing store––where Elvis Presley shopped.
WHAT TO DO
Within walking distance of The Peabody, you’ll find many attractions. Let’s start with the most famous:
Beale Street: When you’re walking in Memphis, you must walk down the storied Beale Street, once home to vaudeville shows, smuggled liquor and voodoo. Now things are more musically focused and you’ll find nightclubs brimming with live music, restaurants and gift shops. At the corner of Beale and Fourth, stop into the WC Handy Memphis Home & Museum and check out where the “Father of the Blues” got his humble start.
Sun Studios: This little brick building is where music history was made. Not only by Elvis, but where Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, B.B. King and Carl Perkins recorded, too. Stop in for a tour then hop aboard a free shuttle bus to Graceland.
Graceland: No visit to Memphis is complete without a pilgrimage to see where the King made his home. Tour the house on the hill, the Lisa Marie airplane and hang out at the radio station that broadcasts Elvis music 24/7 on Siriusxm (Channel 19). Opening next year is The Guest House at Graceland, a 450-room resort, complete with themed suites.
In the mood for sports? Just off of Beale Street, you’ll find two arenas: The FedEx Forum hosts the Memphis Grizzlies and the University of Memphis men’s basketball team, and AutoZone Park is home to The Memphis Red Birds (St. Louis Cardinals’ farm team).
Memphis is also home to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. On this enormous campus, doctors from around the world conduct groundbreaking research and treat children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Visits and tours are available with advance notice.
WHERE TO EAT
Memphis is a barbecue town, and again, if we were forced to go to just one place, we’d pick:
Charlie Vergos Rendezvous, or simply Rendezvous, is a place for authentic Memphis-style BBQ. Located down an alley across from the Peabody Hotel, you’ll find the dining room in the basement. The restaurant itself isn’t fancy (red-and-white checkered vinyl tablecloths), but boy, is it good. It’s been a local tradition since the ‘40s, with a list of longtime staff members who’ve served up favorites for more than 30 years. Want to preview a taste or take home a souvenir? Sauces are sold online and ribs are available for shipping.
Just a little under 400 miles due south, you’ll find a city unlike any other––a diverse melting pot of cultures full of festivals, spicy fare, ghost stories, plantations and more. Where the mantra is “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” (Let the good times roll!)…we welcome you to The Big Easy.
Hotel Monteleone: Here you’ll find luxurious accommodations, located in the famed French Quarter and steps away from Jackson Square, Bourbon Street, the French Market and the Riverwalk. Just off the lobby is the grand rotating Carousel Bar & Lounge, a favorite spot for locals and tourists to grab a drink and a spin on the 25-seat merry-go-round. The hotel has also welcomed famed literary guests such as Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Anne Rice and John Grisham. It’s also rumored to be haunted.
WHAT TO DO
If you stay in and around the French Quarter, many attractions are within walking distance. But if you want to venture out further, take a ride on the locals’ favorite form of public transportation: the streetcar, operated by the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority.
French Market: Six blocks of shopping! You’ll find everything here from beads to baskets, a farmer’s market, food court, souvenirs and more.
Swamp Tour: Ride through alligator-infested swampland on an airboat and experience true Cajun country.
Mardi Gras World: Ever wonder what it takes to put on the Mardi Gras parade? It’s a year-long creative process! See how the floats are constructed and where they’re housed.
Bourbon Street: Not just a party street during Mardi Gras, this colorful avenue is home to world-famous bars, jazz music and restaurants. Stop into what is supposedly America’s oldest drinking establishment Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, named for the infamous pirate Jean Lafitte. Throw on some beads, grab a signature hurricane in a “go cup” (open container laws do not apply here) and keep walking…you’ll fit right in.
Plantation Tour: Just outside of the city sits Oak Alley Plantation, an historic home flanked by magnificent 250-year-old oak trees. Set aside a day for this––it’s a five-hour tour, including travel time.
Hurricane Katrina Tour: If you’re up for a more recent historical tour, this bus takes you where the eye of the storm hit. Witness the rebuilding and reshaping of the Ninth Ward and areas hardest hit by this catastrophic storm.
The National WW II Museum: Paying tribute to the brave men and women who fought and were stationed around the world, the five-building campus features exhibits, galleries, tanks, airplanes, the Higgins PT-305, and interactive shows featuring big band music.
The Garden District A streetcar ride away, you’ll find tree-lined streets and well-maintained antebellum homes—worth a leisurely stroll and tour.
The Tobasco® Tour: If you’ve got the time, 140 miles west of New Orleans lies Avery Island, home to the famous Tobasco® hot sauce factory. See the pepper fields, the factory and sample the spicy wares.
This is a tough one. Almost every place offers culinary delights from well-known chefs. From fast-food po’ boys to the chicory coffee and powdered-sugar-coated beignets at Café du Monde, we’re going to have to say you’ve got to try:
The Gumbo Shop: At this affordable, and award-winning restaurant, located in Jackson Square, you’ll find classic New Orleans fare with a heavy leaning on seafood. Start off with French bread and gumbo then step out of your comfort zone and try the Creole Combination Platter (shrimp creole, jambalaya, red beans and rice) or the Crawfish Étouffée. As you walk around after your meal (no doubt, you’ll need to) stop into one of the many sweet shops for pralines – a caramel and pecan specialty.
Stay tuned, we’re heading West next…