On our last roadtrip from Dallas to Austin, Denny and I explored both cities and their outskirts over a six day jaunt. During those six days, we stayed in four different Airbnbs, swam in a natural spring, caught some bands, sampled local craft beers, and ate way too many tacos. We also met another travel blogger whom we’d always appreciated from afar: Jeremy Pawloski, aka America Y’all. Jeremy has a very similar lifestyle to us–spending his weekends in the outdoors, traveling and camping in and around Austin, Texas.
Fast-forward a few months, Escape Brooklyn and America Y’all got together again–this time much less briefly. Thanks to Meet Halfway, a PayPal & Airbnb joint venture to connect friends from opposite faraway places, we all managed to land ourselves in Nashville, Tennessee. The idea behind Meet Halfway is genius: users type in their location, and their friends location, then the website tells you what destination lies halfway along with Airbnb listings in the area. (Psst, there’s also a promotion code on the website to save $50 on your Airbnb when booking with PayPal!)
Anyway, that’s how we arrived in Nashville, Tennessee–to meet our friends halfway–earlier this month. And in true Escape Brooklyn fashion, we figured if we were traveling that far already, we may as well book a second leg of the trip in the countryside. After doing some searching, we decided on Cookeville, TN based on its proximity both to Nashville but also several epic waterfalls. Now, just a few weeks later, here’s our story.
What to Do in Nashville: Shop, Soak in the Country Music Heritage, Explore the Countryside on Horseback
We don’t usually find ourselves shopping so much, but there’s so many unique and cool boutiques in Nashville that it’s hard not to. Starting in East Nashville, there’s a great cluster of stores. Moto Moda was our first stop, and as you might presume from its name, the store combines motorcycle culture with fashion. Owner Jimmy Pru helped us curate the rest of our shopping journey, steering us to some other great shops in the area: Local Honey, a great vintage shop/hair salon; White’s Mercantile, a general store; The Groove, a record shop; and Hello Boys/Good Buy Girls, two vintage boutiques with gender-specific collections. For denim lovers, absolutely don’t miss Imogene + Willie, a premium denim and apparel boutique. The selvedge denim store is beautifully designed and owned by an inspiring power-couple; everything is made in the USA. Once you’re done shopping, head across the street to the iconic “I Believe in Nashville” mural, created by DCXV, a design and apparel company. (There’s several in town, but this one is at 2700 12th Ave South.)
Another favorite was Hail Dark Aesthetics, whose kooky and expansive taxidermy collection was absolutely delightful. Though some might argue it’s totally creepy, we found a lot of it to be cute, humorous, or just downright fascinating. (Because really, how often can you get close enough to a wolf, bat, or elk to really appreciate its beauty–without fearing for your life?)
Last, don’t miss Third Man Records, a storefront for the record label owned by Jack White of the White Stripes, The Dead Weather, and others. It’s very much a multi-functional space, and just as much a museum as it is record store. It’s also homebase for the label’s offices and distribution center, a photo studio, and has a one-person recording studio with direct-to-acetate recording capabilities. After our visit to Third Man, we bid adeiu to our friends from America Y’all and continued our journey.
Of course, no trip to Nashville would be complete without visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame. We spent the afternoon meandering through the museum, whose special exhibit on Sam Phillips was particularly fascinating. (Sam introduced the world to Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Charlie Rich, and many more.) Also notable were the many amazing stage outfits and costumes in the collection; each piece played a role in showing the evolution of country music through fashion design. After the museum, hit the many gift shops downstairs, and take a look into Hatch Show Print, the legendary letterpress print shop created in 1879 and still going strong. You’ll see these posters with bright colors and iconic typography all over the city–and even in the airport.
Nashville’s country music scene is obviously inspired by its connection to the Tennessee countryside. Albeit difficult after a full night of honky-tonking, a horseback ride at Juro Stables takes you through the rolling hills and forest that is so quintessential Tennessee. Their horseback tours take about an hour and a half and only cost $35 a person.
Where to Stay in Nashville: This Midcentury Ranch House Airbnb, Just Outside the City
After a busy morning and afternoon, we headed back to our Airbnb, Mid Century Nashville Ranch Home. Owners Hannah Crowell and James Wilson have done an impressive job with their place, and their love of fashion and interior design is apparent through every detail of the property. Hannah runs an interior design company called Crowell + Co. Interiors, while her husband James Wilson works in fashion both as a consultant but also running Secret Forts. The house is the perfect home for a traveling family, with a great master bedroom and a couple kids rooms including one with a bunk bed. Their kitchen and living room were great gathering spaces, as well as the garage, which had a ping pong table, a couple skateboards and bikes, and its own fridge.
Where to Eat and Drink in Nashville: Farm to Table Fare, BBQ, Honky Tonks, and the Best Dive Bars
With such a big influx of creatives and young entrepreneurs, it’s no wonder that there’s so much great dining in Nashville, and brunch is big here. For two of our three brunches, our group opted for the two locations of Barista Parlor. Housed in an old transmission shop, the decor is an homage to the space’s original use, and clad in vintage motorcycles, American flags, taxidermy and art. Aside from serving up some of the best coffee in Nashville, they also have great breakfast food including egg sandwiches served on biscuits, chocolate waffles, and even their take on cronuts. Their lines can get long though, so for something slightly more casual, check out Crema for a simpler menu, with great avocado toast and coffee. On warm days, their patio is great for people watching. Last, all four of us had heard great things about Biscuit Love, and we all prioritized it as a “must go.” But apparently everyone else in the world did too–the line circled around the block. Our advice? Skip it.
Another brunch we had was at Pinewood Social, which is probably best described as a “gathering space”–with a bowling alley, bar, restaurant, outdoor pool, bocce ball court, and coffee shop. As predicted, there was a hefty wait, but we were able to kill time playing bocce ball and exploring all the different parts of Pinewood Social. With so much going on, it feels a little like Brooklyn Bowl–don’t go unless you’re cool with crowds.
For dinner, we had great meals at Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant, and Merchants Restaurant. (We also had some great dive bar food too–more on that below!) Puckett’s, which describes itself as a community kitchen, serves up authentic comfort food–BBQ smoked over cherry wood, with a huge variety of sides, and even a few “upscale” dishes. For entertainment, there’s live music just a few feet from your table. It’s loud, rowdy, and delicious. At Merchants Restaurant, a different dining experience takes place. On the casual ground floor (referred to as “down”), the menu offers comfort food favorites such as pot roast, turkey sandwiches and succotash. Meanwhile, upstairs (“up”) the fare is more upscale with contemporary interpretations of dishes like shrimp and grits, and pan roasted chicken. The upstairs atmosphere is also quite different, with exposed brick and candles, creating a much more intimate setting.
As far as the bar scene goes in Nashville, there’s way more than we could fit into one visit–which made barhopping around neighborhoods really fun. On our first night, we did the quintessential Nashville tourist thing, popping into the bars and honky-tonks on Lower Broadway. Though avoiding crowds is second nature to seasoned New Yorkers like Denny and I–who make a point to “escape” them whenever possible– we couldn’t resist the energy on the streets. Musicians were in every front window of every bar, and admission is free everywhere–all the bars ask is that you tip the band. We’d heard from several people (tourists and locals alike) that Robert’s Western World was the best place to consistently catch an amazing show, so we spent a full night there, catching a set by the very entertaining Don Kelley Band.
If you’re looking for something a little more laid back, Nashville is full of awesome dive bars, the oldest of which–and therefore the most legendary–is Dino’s. Lit with Christmas lights and neon signs, the space is lined with bouncy leather booths and tables, some with bar games. Beer is impossibly cheap–like $2 impossibly cheap–and greasy cheese fries until 2:30 a.m. at this late-night favorite. Slightly more upscale, our unanimous group favorite was Crying Wolf, whose beautiful interior, bar menu, pool table, darts and taxidermy clad walls created a perfectly Nashville atmosphere. It also has great pub fare featuring eight types of burgers, with meat butchered and ground in-house. Vegetarians (like us) are sure to enjoy the rest of the menu, with no less than four varieties of tater tots.
Part II: Escaping Nashville to Our Tennesseean Countryside Airbnb in Cookeville
Since we’d already gone as far as Nashville, we figured we should check out the heritage behind country music by visiting the Tennessee countryside. We picked Cookeville not only because it’s close to Nashville–but also because it’s close to so many natural wonders, including one of the largest waterfalls in Tennessee. The drive from Nashville to Cookeville is just under an hour and a half, and pretty darn scenic.
If you’re looking for a unique stay in the Tennessee countryside, it doesn’t get any better than our Airbnb, Stone Homestead Farmhouse in Cookeville. The house was hand-hewn with rock from the property’s quarry some generations ago. Inside, it’s perfectly decorated and maintained by owner Anna Gilbert, author of Home & Hill. Sitting on 280 acres, the stone house is one of a few buildings on a fully functional farm–our nearest neighbors were the cows, just a stones throw from our back door. Firewood is supplied on the front porch of what remains of an old general store, just across the driveway.
Where to Eat, Drink, and Get Outdoors in Cookeville, TN
Okay, so there may not be much of a food scene in Cookeville… but there are some gems! First, don’t miss Ralph’s Donuts, a throwback donut diner which was just voted Best in Tennessee. On a weekday, expect a crowd of older guys sitting around reminiscing the “good old days”; on weekends, soccer moms and kids crowd the shop. Another great spot for breakfast or lunch is Poet’s Cafe, right in the heart of town. We both enjoyed their specialty breakfast bagel, the “Magic Cheese”–an everything bagel with veggie cream cheese, provolone and spicy mustard, pressed. For lunch, our Airbnb host recommended stopping into World Foods, a tiny deli that with quite the international menu–serving up everything from gyros, to Philly cheese steaks, to their delicious by-the-slice pizza. Aside from the deli counter, we were surprised to see their small grocery also carries rather exotic packaged foods, spices and sauces you’d never expect outside a major city. We had their pizza, by far their most popular option, which is regarded as the best in Cookeville. For dinner, you’re best off hitting the grocery shop and making something at the Airbnb house, and enjoying it by the fireplace.
The waterfalls around Cookeville are a major part of the attraction to this part of the countryside. As our Airbnb host Anna put it, you’re a stones throw in every direction to amazing waterfalls here. Our first adventure took us to Burgess Falls State Park. Unfortunately, our time was cut short there–the park closed a half hour before (really early) sunset and we only snapped a couple photos. Our second adventure to Cummins Falls State Park was much more successful, although we were totally unprepared both physically and mentally for the visit–the massive 75-foot waterfall can only be reached by crossing a stream. Barefoot. With water up to your knees. (Though it’s totally do-able, if you’re reading this, please do yourself a favor and bring watercocks!) Though it was more strenuous than we could’ve ever anticipated, the payoff was worth it–we had the waterfall all to ourselves.
From Nashville to Cookeville and Meeting Halfway
…And that’s a wrap! Planning a trip soon? Consider using the Meet Halfway tool–we love that rather than meeting your friends in their home city, or vice versa, Meet Halfway presents you with a totally new area to explore–complete with lodging options–that you otherwise may not have otherwise considered. Having just had this experience, we can’t think of a better way to make some memories, with friends or family, than exploring a new place together.