So you’re coming to Nashville for the SEAALL Annual Meeting April 12-14, and you’re trying to figure out how to make the most of your time in Music City. Maybe you’ve been here before, or maybe it’s your first time—either way, Nashville is a vibrant and growing city that constantly offers new and interesting things to see, do, and eat. Here are a few tips for squeezing every possible bit of enjoyment out of your trip!
Nashville has many neighborhoods that each have their own personality. A few highlights that typically appeal to visitors include Hillsboro Village, Downtown, East Nashville, and 12 South, but there are lots of other places worth checking out! A comprehensive look at even just a handful of neighborhoods is beyond the scope of this article; below are a few popular spots along with some of my personal favorites.
Hillsboro Village is located near the Vanderbilt campus, mostly along 21st Avenue. This area has changed a lot over the past several years as fancier retail and dining options have replaced the older favorites along that stretch of road. Parking here can be challenging but not impossible; it’s a short Uber or Lyft ride from the conference hotel. Highlights include Pancake Pantry for breakfast (arrive early, preferably on a weekday, or prepare for a very long wait in line—the pancakes really are excellent though…); the Grilled Cheeserie for the namesake sandwiches along with tomato soup, tater tots, and a milkshake bar; Fido for caffeine and tasty food; and Belcourt Taps for sports on tv/singer-songwriters on stage/a very evocative Crystal Gayle painting near the bathrooms. And beer, of course. If you have time to squeeze in an independent film, the recently-renovated Belcourt always has interesting offerings. Most of their schedule for April has not currently been released, but they are showing concert film Distant Sky—Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Live in Copenhagen at 9pm on Thursday, April 12th.
Downtown is largely centered around Lower Broadway and is home to honky tonks, pedal taverns, and a few hidden gems. Many multi-story bars and restaurants have sprung up in recent years. The rooftop at Acme Feed & Seed offers incredible views of downtown and the river, live music, and a little gift shop of fun local foods and souvenirs to take home. The Goo Goo Shop and Dessert Bar is a little pocket of deliciousness, and located steps away from the Johnny Cash Museum and the Patsy Cline Museum, each a fun way to while away a couple of hours while soaking up some legendary country music knowledge. If you’re planning to check out Johnny or Patsy, take a look at Groupon first; admission to these sites is on the pricier side but there are typically discounts available. Headquarters Beercade offers truly inspired décor and loads of arcade games, most set to free play. A stroll along Lower Broadway will also give you access to too many honky tonks and boot stores to name or distinguish between, but is virtually required for any tourist visiting Nashville. Save yourself a lot of irritation and skip any attempts to park downtown. It is expensive and frustrating.
East Nashville is a sprawling area north of the river. Confusingly, it’s not that far east of the city center but is definitely north; however, there’s already a neighborhood named North Nashville (which is south of East Nashville). Just roll with it. East Nashville is hipster Ground Zero and has some of the city’s most interesting eating and drinking options. One of the most popular attractions is 5 Points, with a variety of bars and restaurants all within walking distance of each other. In that neighborhood, The 5 Spot is a fantastic site for local music; Rosemary has excellent cocktails and ambiance (it also has no sign out front, so you’ll feel like a true insider when you enter what appears to be a lovely older home with a very friendly bouncer relaxing on the porch); and Margot has upscale dining in a cozy and unpretentious environment. Outside of 5 Points, East Nashville breweries Southern Grist and Smith & Lentz have got the beer nerds covered, but if you’re more of a brunch person, check out Marche and the Sky Blue Café. Not walkable but still worth checking out, the Inglewood Lounge is further north and reminiscent of a tiki bar in Twin Peaks. Go to The Bowery Vault for vintage fashion and live music (are you noticing a theme yet?), then head downstairs to The Fox for a spendy but worth-it beverage or go around to the front of the building to visit local dive bar Mickey’s. The East Side’s best burgers are found at The Pharmacy with its beautiful backyard beer garden and extensive tap list, or at Dino’s for no-frills eats in a delightfully low-key setting. Parking is easier in East than in other neighborhoods, probably because of the large area its businesses are scattered across.
As casually high-end as East Nashville is hip, 12 South is a very walkable neighborhood close to Belmont’s campus. It is home to a couple of great yoga studios (https://www.liberationnashville.com/ and http://www.innerlightyoganashville.com/, among others); one location of beloved doughnut shop Five Daughters Bakery, which serves vegan treats alongside its standard offerings and is exceptionally Instagrammable; Sprinkles Cupcakes, where you can get your deliciousness from the Cupcake ATM if you want to avoid the line at the counter inside; and a slew of pricey boutiques, notably local favorite Reese Witherspoon’s shop Draper James where a smiling salesperson will almost certainly offer you a mason jar of sweet tea when you walk through the door. No, seriously. If you feel like your trip to Nashville won’t be complete without some barbecue, you could do a whole lot worse than Edley’s. Enjoy a Bushwacker while you’re there, but no matter how tasty you find it, don’t have that second one unless you’re prepared for a whopper of a hangover. On nice days, Sevier Park is almost painfully picturesque, and is right across the street from gourmet popsicle shop Las Paletas if you need to cool down a bit. Parking in 12 South is generally doable with some patience—check down the side streets and prepare to walk a couple of blocks to get to the main drag.
Pedal taverns are the subject of a lot of local controversy, but they offer an unparalleled opportunity to drink while riding a multi-person bike and yelling “woooooooo!” They’re also a great way to see Lower Broadway without walking the whole stretch. Book early, as these do sell out. The Schermerhorn Symphony Center is beautiful and the Nashville Symphony will be presenting Bach, Mozart & Elgar April 12-14. The Frist Center for the Visual Arts has got something for history buffs as well as modern art enthusiasts right now, as its current exhibits include Rome: City and Empire and Nick Cave: Feat. (different Nick Cave than the one at the Belcourt; that one is an intense Australian rock star, while this one is a performance artist best known for his Soundsuits, which must be seen as they defy description).
Country music fans will want to try to fit in a visit to the legendary Bluebird Café where stars like Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift performed before they were household names. Those who prefer their music more on the indie rock side should make time to check out Third Man Records to pick up some vinyl and maybe even a Jack White sighting. Nashville hot chicken has become a buzzword in recent years, and while locals spar over the best place to try it, the best known is certainly Hattie B’s. Place a to-go order if you want to skip the line.
There are always too many entertainment options to list on any given night, but a couple of standout shows during SEAALL 2018 are The Decemberists at the Ryman, Yo La Tengo at the Basement East, and of course, country artists new and old at the Grand Ole Opry. SEAALL attendees sticking around for Saturday night may want to catch a laser light show at Sudekum Planetarium or enjoy the Nashville Sounds baseball game.
Tennessee is one of the few states that has not enacted a general statewide smoking ban; therefore, quite a few bars still allow indoor smoking. If you are a smoker, this will likely be a welcome change; if you are not a fan of smoke, do your homework before making a special trip to a nightlife spot. Sales tax here is a bit higher than usual (10%) so figure that into your purchases. Karaoke opportunities abound and many of the participants are intimidatingly professional sounding. That should by no means stop you from getting up on stage to take your shot. Nashville has quite a lot of celebrity residents, particularly if you enjoy country music or The Bachelor franchise of television shows, so be prepared to maybe see some familiar faces. A couple of great online resources for places to go and things to do are the Nashville Scene and Nashville Guru. A few other highlights while you're in town include Kid Koala, the Cherry Blossom Festival, and the Rolling Stones exhibit at the Musicians Hall of Fame.
Your 2018 local arrangements committee is happy to offer more specific recommendations as well, so please don’t hesitate to find us and ask questions! We hope you have a fantastic visit to Music City, and we’re excited to welcome you to SEAALL 2018!
Thank you to Andrea Alexander for pulling together this information!