Knoxville – Tennessee’s Hidden Gem
Ok, so Knoxville isn’t exactly hidden considering it’s right off two major highways 40 and 75 and nestled on the Tennessee River on the east side of Tennessee, but it is certainly a gem and there are so many things to do in Knoxville.
Jerry and I were there this past week picking up our plane, a Cirrus SR22. Jerry learned to fly and got his pilot’s license when he was 19.
In 1983 he partnered with a good friend to buy his first plane, a 1968 Piper Cherokee 140, when he was 19 1/2 years old and has subsequently upgraded over the years. Now that we are officially empty nesters, (Carver graduated high school last weekend! Yippee!!! and Egads!!!) our plan is to take a weekend here and there to explore our beautiful country in it. I can’t wait!!! It’s incredibly comfortable to ride in. Not a bit scary and feels a lot like flying a BMW.
While Jerry was poking holes in clouds and getting used to the avionics, I took a couple days to get to know Knoxville. If you are looking for a weekend getaway, definitely put this town on your list. There are tons of things to do in Knoxville! Who knew??? It has a thriving music and arts scene, lively bars, darling shops, dog parks, boutique hotels, and excellent restaurants.
We stayed at the Tennessean Residences and Hotel which is a short walk from Market Square. In fact, if you’re content to stay in the downtown area you don’t need a car. Market Square, Theater District, and the Old City are areas within walking distance of each other. Each of these areas have proprietor owned shops, wine bars, salons, and restaurants. During the warm seasons, you can enjoy an outdoor concert at Market Square as you dine al fresco at one of the many restaurants with outside seating. Or if you’re there on Wednesday or Saturday, make sure you stroll the farmer’s market.
Having a bad hair day or want to spruce up for a night out on the town? Make an appointment with one of the stylists at LOX in the Old City.
The Oliver Hotel in Market Square looked intriguing and has a lovely restaurant (Oliver Royale) with a Nicoise Salad to die for. I was sorely tempted to indulge in the carrot cake with walnut crumble, carrot ricotta, rum raisin semifredo and ginger caramel, but… there was some filming going on outside. I swear it was Darmaris Phillips of the Food Network and I had to get a closer look. Yep! It was her! She was taping an episode of Southern and Hungry. She’s as darling off camera as she is on camera. It was everything I could do, not to run over and Fan Girl all over her.
If you decide to explore this laid back town for a few days, you will not be disappointed with all the things to do in Knoxville. Between the live music in so many of the pubs, the Broadway productions at the Tennessee Theater, performances at the Square Room, tons of shopping, and even more deliriously delicious places to dine.
Things to do in Knoxville – 3 1/2 Day Getaway (2018)
Here’s a sample itinerary for some things to do in Knoxville. The performances outlined below are specific to this 2018 summer, but there are things going on all throughout the year. Check out this Visit Knoxville, TN website for updated information and other things to do in Knoxville.
Day 1 (Tuesday): Drive or fly in on Tuesday afternoon July 12 and check into either the Oliver Hotel or the Tennessean. You get better deals during the week and there are far less wait times (if any) for the restaurants. After check in, walk over to the Emilia for a fresh take on Italian classics.
I highly recommend the frito misto, the octopus, grilled Cesar, and the salmon.
If you like Manhattans, the black Manhattan is excellent.
If you are a late diner, enjoy the concert on Market Square first. It starts at 7PM. Or if you are an early bird (like Jerry and I), meander out to the square post epicurean excursion for an evening serenade.
Day 2 (Wednesday): If coffee is your thing, Knoxville abounds with privately owned coffee houses. Most of them also offer artisan chocolates or gelato too. Personally, I like the French Market Creperie. They have an upstairs loft overlooking the lower bistro. As I sat there working on my laptop, it reminded me very much of nights long ago sitting in a D.C. jazz bar (Cafe Lautrec) watching the tap dancer atop the bar.
One of my favorite things to do in Knoxville is the farmers’ market in the center plaza of Market Square (Wednesday & Saturday mornings). You’ll find more than rutabagas and basil there. I saw craftsmen making wood workings, cottage crafts, artisan cheese, local organic meats, and plenty of plants for your garden. Then enjoy some shopping at the local antique stores and various boutiques. Lunch at the Oliver Hotel Royale there in Market Square. I had the nicoise salad and a rose. Both were excellent.
If you’re game for a pedicure or in need of mane taming (as I often am), check out LOX in the Old City. It’s an easy 10 minute walk from Market Square. If you’ve got time, splurge on a pedicure too. I didn’t have time, but after seeing these chairs you bet I’m going to make time next time we’re here.
From July 10-15 this summer, The Book of Mormon is playing at the Tennessee Theater. I took our son to see it when he was 13. Totally INAPPROPRIATE!!! Bad Momma! Bad Momma! BUT so insanely hysterical. In my defense, I knew it was a comedy, but I had NO IDEA #1 how mature the subject matter was and #2 how incredibly pee-in-your-pants FUNNY it is. I would go see it again in a heartbeat. So, if you can get tickets, go see it. Book of Mormon 7PM at the Tennessee Theater.
For dinner, go to the Lonesome Dove in the Old City. Both the food and the cocktails are excellent. They smoke a Manhattan under a glass they bring to your table. You can also order anything on the menu in portions. It’s an interesting concept that allows you to have a little or a lot of everything they offer. Brilliant!
Day 3 (Thursday): Caffeinate at your hotel or java house of choice. Then peruse the Art Market Gallery, Emporium Center for Arts & Culture, and the Tennessee Historical Museum. These are all within a 20 minute walk of each other. But if your set on driving, there are plenty of parking garages, parking lots, and street parking available. So not to worry.
There are plenty of places to escape the heat for lunch. If you’re in the Theater District at the Historical Museum, pop into Babalu Tapas & Tacos or Nama Sushi Bar depending on what you’re in the mood for. This evening they’re having a free performance of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline & Henry IV Part One at 7PM on the stage at the Market Square. Bring a camp chair! For dinner, see if you can get a table at Cafe 4 there on Market Square. I sat outside and had the strawberry salad, truffle parmesan fries, and the grilled chicken salad. Delightful!
Day 4 (Friday): Time to head home. I’d make one last stop at the French Market Creperie and maybe Union Ave Books. I’m a sucker for cookbooks and various fiction hardbacks. On this trip I found Chef Stella Parks’ new cookbook BraveTart in this tiny bookstore. To commemorate our acquisition of the Cirrus, I just HAD to get it. I absolutely love her! She’s a pastry chef with a passion for childhood commercial desserts like Pop Tarts, Oreos, and Twinkies. BraveTart is all about making these at home from scratch! I became an avid fan of hers about 6 years ago when she was blogging (BraveTart). In fact, her wit and humor inspired me to start Lakeside Table and my very first post (9/11/15) was attributed to her and her recipe for French macaroons!
Jerry and I went to the restaurant where she was diligently working in her “pastry dungeon” at the restaurant Table Three Ten in Lexington, KY (now closed). She came out to say hello and this time… yes, sad to say, I did Fan Girl all over her. (Ugh! I’m so embarrassed!) She was very kind and very gracious. I blame the bourbon and being blissed out on her French macaroons. Totally not my fault.
If you’ve been there or if you plan on going, let me know what you think of the area and if you find any favorite spots. You will thoroughly enjoy this Gateway to the Great Smokey Mountains! There are so many things to do in Knoxville. I was blown away! And I can’t wait to run down there again, and again, and again.