First things first: a huge thank you to everyone who suggested places I should visit on my journey West. I’m starting to think I need to plan another road trip once I’m settled back in Southern California -- especially since the first lesson I learned on the road is that one evening, or even one day, in a new place is never enough.
Once Blaise and I waved goodbye to Washington, DC, we set sail (figuratively) toward our first destination: Nashville. After four hours on the road, we stopped in Roanoke, Virginia, hoping for lunch at the Historic Roanoke City Market -- the oldest continuously operating open-air market in the state. When we arrived, the market was quiet -- which we learned was because a big storm was rolling in and most of the farmers opted to stay home and guard their crops. Disappointing, but we were able to satiate our hunger with some sandwiches before heading toward Knoxville, Tennessee, where we planned to stop for dinner.
We parked the car downtown, then walked past the bright theater marquees along historic Gay Street and enjoyed a street festival in Market Square. We grabbed burgers and craft-brewed beers -- made on location -- at the historic Downtown Grill & Brewery. While waiting for our table, I studied the old photographs of downtown Knoxville lining the walls and read some of the old framed newspaper articles, which is how I learned about the dreadful curse of the white mule.
I wish we had more time to explore Knoxville, but our eyes were getting heavy, and we had our sights set on Nashville. Once we made it to Music City, we checked into Union Station Hotel -- which is part of the National Trust's Historic Hotels of America program. I can’t imagine a better place to stay in Nashville. The old train station-turned-hotel is a soaring Gothic structure completed in 1900, with an incredible sunlit lobby, spacious rooms, and gorgeous architectural details.
The next day, we explored the city. The sunny weather was perfect for walking around neighborhoods like Hillsboro Village -- home of the restored 1925 Belcourt Theatre, and 12th South -- an up-and-coming neighborhood filled with old Craftsman bungalows that have been turned into funky boutiques and mom-and-pop businesses. I recommend coffee at The Frothy Monkey Coffeehouse, where the caffeinated beverages are delicious and the renovated house makes you feel like you’re right at home.
Centennial Park is also a site not to be missed. At 132 acres, it provides plenty of green space for the people of Nashville (and its visitors) to enjoy. Blaise and I wandered the sunken garden, the walking trails, and the Parthenon -- one of the only remaining structures from the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition.
As the sun began to set, we headed back to Union Station to regroup, then walked a couple blocks through downtown to another Historic Hotel of America, the stunning Hermitage Hotel. We grabbed drinks at the 102-year-old Oak Bar, a former gentleman’s club that feels like it hasn’t changed a bit since the days when men puffed their cigars in the dark, oak-paneled bar, and women were left to order drinks from a small service window near the entrance.
Just around the corner from Oak Bar on the hotel’s lower level is Capitol Grille, a large but intimate restaurant that specializes in sustainable practices and Southern-inspired cuisine. Many of the meats and vegetables on the menu come from the nearby Glen Leven Farm, on land donated by the Land Trust for Tennessee.
Fun fact: the men’s restroom outside the two eateries received the “America’s Best Restroom Award” in 2008. Blaise guarded the door while I went in to explore (don’t worry -- the bartenders encourage ladies to sneak a peek, too), and I was blown away by the lavish Art Deco interior, with its black and green wall tiles, gleaming terrazzo floor, and elegant shoeshine stand. It was all drama, and, I would venture, the most lavish restroom I have ever seen.
Although I considered ending my road trip here -- in Nashville, not the men's restroom in the Hermitage Hotel -- Blaise and I packed up the car the next morning and hit the road again. Next stops: Columbia, Missouri, then Boulder, Colorado.