Like a Local
Quirky, under-the-radar highlights only a local could recommend.
Window’s on the Park
This hidden gem tucked inside the Holiday Inn World’s Fair (next door to The Tennessean) is home to one of the best views in the city. In fact, the first thing you see upon entering the stylish downtown lounge are the huge floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the World’s Fair Park, Sunsphere and all – and there’s not a seat in the house that misses it. After drinking it all in, belly up to the large concrete bar for a Tennessean Burger or the Smoky Mountain bacon and onion ravioli and extensive offering of local beer, wines, and spirits.
Maple Hall Bowling Alley
This boutique 11-lane bowling alley nestled in the basement level of downtown’s historic JCPenney building is nothing like your cheesy neon-lit neighborhood alley. Brick walls, blond wood floors, a concrete bar, and brown leather couches give it an urban feel. An added bonus: The drink menu serves Big Lebowski–themed cocktails.
East Tennessee History Museum
Where else can you expect to find Davy Crockett’s rifle, a real log cabin, a stocked corner drugstore, and Dolly Parton’s red dress all under one roof? Only at this museum in the heart of downtown Knoxville that documents 300 years of life in the region of East Tennessee.
Long’s Drug Store
This old-fashioned family-run drugstore and soda fountain has been the place where Knoxville residents have been coming since 1956 to throw back a malt or a cheeseburger, catch up with neighbors, and fill prescriptions. Locals rave about their giant two-dollar milkshakes that features unique flavors, like chocolate-cherry-banana and “Big Orange.”
How to spend 36 hours in Knoxville with The Tennessean as your base camp.
7 p.m. | Dinner at Calhoun’s On the River
Located on the edge of the Tennessee River, this iconic restaurant is known for its wood-smoked barbecue that you can smell before you even step inside the establishment. Tennessee-style barbecue favorites include fried catfish, half a roasted chicken, and award-winning baby back ribs. After, work off your dinner with a scenic stroll along “Volunteer Landing,” the mile-long stretch that hugs the river that Calhoun’s is based on.
9 p.m. | Entertainment at Preservation Pub
You can always expect some kind of entertainment going on in this funky two-story pub with a speakeasy vibe, just under a mile away from Calhoun’s. On the first floor, expect a great selection of eclectic live music – from soul to classic country to dirty blues to southern rock – every night from 10 p.m. until late. If in need of a breather, head upstairs to the second floor, which is a bit quieter, or check out the rooftop bar that overlooks Market Square.
9 a.m. | Coffee at the Empty Cup
The epitome of a community coffee shop, the Empty Cup is like walking into a friend’s living room. Not only are couches of all kinds and cozy nooks spread throughout, but there is a children’s corner decorated in murals for kids to play while parents enjoy a cup or a flight of coffees. The best part? The shop is actually nonprofit – all proceeds go toward creating adoption grants for families in Knoxville and Tennessee.
10 a.m. | Stroll Sequoyah Hills Park
This 87-acre scenic tree-lined park runs along the Tennessee River and features hills, quaint older homes (some that date back to the 1920s), and open spaces – ideal for wandering or soaking up the sun. A nature trail winds along the banks of the river and skirts passed an old Indian mound (some speculate this area, below the surface, is littered with Indian artifacts).
12 p.m. | Lunch in Market Square
After perusing the eclectic blend of stores and galleries in this downtown Knoxville district that is alive with outdoor music and performers, grab lunch at Tupelo Honey Café. The eatery features sidewalk seating, where you can dig into creative takes on classic Southern dishes – like goat-cheese grits and brown butter Brussels sprouts – while you people watch.
2 p.m. | Knoxville Museum of Art
Built on Knoxville’s 1982 World's Fair site, this steel-and-concrete building faced in Tennessee pink marble is the crown jewel of the city. In addition to five galleries and a “Sculpture Terrace,” the museum also features a Great Hall home to a panoramic view of the city and the largest figural glass assemblage in existence.
7 p.m. | Dinner at Stock & Barrel
Bourbon and burgers are the specialty of this small wood and brick-lined restaurant. Some 80 different types of bourbon are available from small batch to the most popular brands, while 20 different types of burgers are made from all-natural, pasture-fed meat sourced from a family farm in the neighboring town of Blaine.
8 a.m. | Breakfast at Gourmet’s Market & Cafe
Knoxville’s favorite all-day breakfast joint makes an epic plate of French toast that is a Sunday staple for locals: several thick slices of Italian bread come stuffed with Nutella, soaked in a vanilla custard, and grilled golden brown. Get there as close to 8 a.m., when they open, to beat the rush.
10 a.m. | Check out World’s Fair Park
As they say: Save the best for last. You can’t leave Knoxville without checking out its famous 10-acre park that was built to host the 1982 World’s Fair. Divided into three sections – a festival lawn, a performance lawn, and a lake area – the public park is the place for music concerts, festivals, and special events year-round. If visiting in the summer, be sure to check out The Court of Flags Fountain located on the festival lawn, an interactive fountain that is a wonder to watch (and run through) as it’s enhanced with synchronized music, fog effects, and lighting.
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The Tree & Vine
This independent gourmet store in downtown Knoxville sells teas, coffees, cookware, and artisan foods. But what it specializes in are fine extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars, where visitors are first invited to taste all of their oils before selecting their favorites to be bottled in front of them before purchasing. We suggest the black-truffle garlic-infused olive oil or the blueberry-infused aged balsamic.
Honeyberry Farm Honey Jellies
Instead of pectin, honey is the key jelling agent used in these popular artisan jellies made in Knoxville by longtime local Brenda Camp Hubbell. The result a smoother, more flavorful jelly that comes in 10 flavors, like pecan, rosemary balsamic, peach, cinnamon, and orange blossom. Pick up a jar at the Market Square Farmers’ Market (see next highlight) or at the local Kroger stores while you’re in town.
Market Square Farmers’ Market
Stretching through the heart of Market Square, Krutch Park, and down to Clinch Avenue, this open-air farmers’ market features only vendors from within a 150-mile radius. Produce varies by the season and includes everything from ornamental plants and coffee to pastries and vegetables.
Wild Love Bakehouse
You can see your flakey croissant or sweet or savory galette being made through the large glass wall that peeks into the kitchen prep area of this bright contemporary bakery, featuring wood, white handmade tiles, and clean minimal design. Leave with an artisan pudding, colorful salad, or locally smoked fish sandwich from their grab-‘n’-go cold case.
When simply “seeing” a destination just won’t do.
White-Water Raft the Upper Pigeon River | Smoky Mountain Outdoors
The lower Pigeon may be tame, but the upper is where rafters who want to earn their bragging rights go to dominate Class 3 and 4 rapids. A six-and-a-half-mile trip on this section takes paddlers through 70 rapids of big waves, drops, and plenty of surfing.
Hiking the Best of the Smokies | Great Smoky Mountain National Park
While parts of the Great Smoky Mountains are still on the mend following a fire that broke out at the end of 2016, there are several trails that have reopened, including those centered around Cades Cove, Sugarlands, and Oconaluftee visitor centers. One of the best to check out: Alum Cave, featuring an 80-foot-high cave-like concaved bluff and views of the famous Eye of the Needle, an unusual hole in the rock near the top of Little Duck Hawk Ridge.
Mountain Bike South Loop | Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness
Part of the 1,000-acre Urban Wilderness Corridor, the South Loop section offers approximately 35 miles of natural surface single-track trails. The main 12.5-mile South Loop trail connects parks, neighborhoods, schools, and natural areas for a slew of stopping points along the way.
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A Gemstone Collection Hotel
THE TENNESSEAN Hotel, 531 Henley Street, Knoxville, TN 37902 P: (865) 232-1800