Travel

12 Eclectic Experiences You Can Only Have in Nashville

There's so much more to Nashville than country music (which we also love).

River Queen Voyages
River Queen Voyages
River Queen Voyages

Funky Nashville may have been the name of an early 2000s band, but even 20+ years later, the phrase rings a little too true in what’s often considered the home of traditional country music. Nashville-AKA Music City-is a hub of creativity perhaps best justified through past and present acts that lived and recorded in the storied Southern town.

But over the past few years, the Tennessee capital has shown its chops and proved it’s on par with other serious, chef-driven spots in the region-and we’re not only talking barbecue. Outside of its storied performing arts venues (you’ve heard of the Grand Ole Opry, right?), you’ll find fantastic food, plenty of natural attractions, and an arts community just begging to be explored.

Get those creative juices flowing-here are the 12 most exciting, offbeat, and thought-provoking experiences Nashville has to offer.

@creaturecamptennessee
@creaturecamptennessee
@creaturecamptennessee

Spend an extremely vibey night at Creature Camp

Ashland City
Early morning fog is rolling across 5 acres of Tennessee forests on a secluded hilltop, just a 20-minute drive from Nashville. You wake to the birds chirping outside your refurbed, 1963 Shasta camper (with orange accents), and lean over to click on 650 AM, WSM, “The Most Famed Country Music Station in the World.” You rise to make coffee in the French press-a major step up from Folgers in some motel room. This is Creature Camp, after all, an art environment built by Nashville-based artists Bret Hunter and Rebecca Blevins.

Outside the camper are the “creatures” that give the campsite its name-a brightly coloured menagerie of sculptures that look equal parts like Nickelodeon characters and something Gaudí could have designed. Maybe you want to chill in the camper and watch VHS tapes on the VCR (remember those?). Or maybe you’d like to take a pottery lesson (the Blevins are more than happy to help hone your skills). Guests can even purchase organic duck eggs produced onsite that they can fry up for breakfast on the camper’s electric cooktop. This is outdoor living at its finest, feeling just rugged enough to embrace the oh-so-secluded nature, yet still equipped with modern (yet minimal) amenities, so you don’t have to rely too much on your childhood camping skills.

River Queen Voyages
River Queen Voyages
River Queen Voyages

See skyline views with River Queen Voyages

East Nashville
On River Queen Voyages, you can “explore” downtown Nashville without your feet ever touching the hot, southern asphalt. Named after a Jenny Lewis record, River Queen Voyages offers kayak tours on the Cumberland River, as well as-get this-the only PEDAL PONTOON PARTY BOAT downtown. Think of this as the aquatic version of pedalcycle or party bike tour (there’s even a centrepiece bar with ice-filled coolers). If you’re looking to do something more interactive than just cruise, embark on a group scavenger hunt-in kayaks.

Of course, you can simply kayak along the coast, opting between an hour-long skyline trip or the four-houte, “Full Bash,” which heads from Opryland on the East Nashville side of the river past sprawling farmland en route to downtown.

Practice goat yoga like the stars

Brentwood
Nashville is rife with celebrity sightings. Many people can say, “I saw a big country star at the Ryman,” but only a select few can boast that, “Moo Moo, the goat that stood on that big country star, also stood on me.” If you’re looking for close encounters of a very cute kind, Goat Yoga Nashville is for you and your crew.

Potential goat yogis can view the barnyard crew on the company’s website, with a photo gallery of which celebrities these four-legged friends have rested on. If you decide to make goat yoga a part of your regular practice-or just want a one-time experience to see what all the fuss is about-classes start at $30 and are available most weekends (and some weekdays or by appointment).

Hula Hoop Nashville
Hula Hoop Nashville
Hula Hoop Nashville

Improve your hooping skills at Hula Hoop Nashville

Woodbine
Remember that captivating hula hooper you saw at your last music festival? You know, the one with the mesmerizing moves and the outfit matching her hoop? After a few classes at Hula Hoop Nashville (which is, surprisingly, the only studio of its kind in the city), that hooper can be you. Similar to yoga, hoop is all about finding your flow, whether that be through Shakira-like dance moves or fire (although you may want to really have the basics mastered before adding an element like flames). And since most of us don’t travel with our hoop the same way we would with a yoga mat, you can even commission your own custom hoop at the shop and receive aesthetic guidance from the knowledgeable Hula Hoop Nashville team.

Get a wardrobe a refresh at Live True Vintage

Old Hickory
I made my first vintage purchase at the tender age of 12 (I still fondly remember that orange skirt with blue cherries and lacy trim.). By now, at the ripe old age of (cough), I am choosy. So when I say Live True Vintage is the real deal, believe me.

Unlike vintage shops in New York or Los Angeles, the racks aren’t picked-over (and the prices aren’t insane). There’s a wide variety of spotless silk lingerie, muumuus, kimonos, workwear, and denim. There’s a section dedicated to jerseys. Graphic tees are grouped by colour. Almost everything is under $50, and the selection is two full rooms full. Do I need to say more?

The Good Fill
The Good Fill
The Good Fill

Kickstart a new sustainability habit at The Good Fill

Five Points
A few years before she moved to Nashville, stylist Megan Gill was teaching cosmetology in Costa Rica. Her relationships there opened her eyes to ways of other countries shouldering the burden of supplying cheap goods to the U.S. Considering how the products she consumed affected the global community became part of her family’s ethos, The Good Fill was born.

These package-free, high-quality sustainable beauty products offer everything you need to keep your body and your conscience feeling good (After trying shampoo bars, you’ll instantly convert.). There’s even a vegan dishwashing block that’s biodegradable and does everything from remove stains from laundry to spot-clean carpets. Could this be our new local replacement for Dr. Bronner’s soap?

Get lost in the stacks at Parnassus Books

Green Hills
The product of author Ann Patchett (of Bel Canto and Truth and Beauty) and publishing vet Karen Hayes, Parnassus is a community centre for Nashville’s literary scene, and continues to rise to prominence thanks to the work of writers like Patchett, Mary Laura Philpott, Tiana Clark, and Margaret Renkl. The store is small-it clocks in at just about 2,500 feet-but still has a transportative quality. A tiny door strung with fairy lights opens up to the children’s section, which is full of kid-lit classics and new favourites.

Phat Bites Deli & Bar
Phat Bites Deli & Bar
Phat Bites Deli & Bar

Dine in an old auto shop at Phat Bites

Donelson
Nashville’s PHAT Bites (Pretty Hot And Tasty) got the thumbs up from Food Network’s Guy Fieri-which is no surprise for locals. Taking over a renovated auto shop covered in graffiti art, costumed manikins, and one-of-a-kind sculptures, this joint is legendary.

In the words of owner Julie Buhler, Phat Bites is all about “fat sandwiches and skinny salads.”

What’s a fat sandwich, you ask? Find out for yourself by trying the Hot and Cold Sweats (sliced sirloin, ghost pepper cheese, caramelized onions, bacon mayo, lettuce, and tomato on a ciabatta hoagie). As for the skinny salad, our pick is the Ninja Star: a Chinese chicken salad with granola, sunflower seeds, and shredded carrots served on a bed of iceberg and topped with raspberry dressing.

400 Degrees Hot Chicken
400 Degrees Hot Chicken
400 Degrees Hot Chicken

Try a “local” speciality at 400 Degrees

Bordeaux
This restaurant is a remix of Nashville hot chicken past and present. Owner and Nashville native Aqui Hines credits iconic Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack as one of her influences, but clarifies that her version is deep-fried with a thicker crust-which are major differentiators.

At 400 Degrees, guests can choose from three tiers of heat: 100° for mild, 200° for medium (classic hot chicken), and 400° for those who can really brave (or stomach) the spice. Hot chicken is a serious staple in Nashville (some even call it a local specialty), and 400 Degrees is known for serving up some of the city’s best-which, along with the angel wing mural outside, are worth the visit for the Instagram pics alone.

Bite into a punk-influenced vegan biscuit at Guerilla Bizkits

East Nashville
A joint creation of historian-turned-baker Ali Humbrecht and creative director Zach Halfhill, Guerilla Bizkits is a pandemic project that got its start with online orders via the hardcore-inspired website. The bizkit concept has since morphed into a brick-and-mortar shop with two options: fresh or frozen. Go for the straight-edge buttermilk biscuit or the sammy filled with sausage and a slice of cheddar. If you still need convincing, the founders describe the biscuits’s flavour as “somewhere between golden clouds during an autumn sunset and the feeling you get when you see your mom for the first time in a while.” I know I’m sold.

Photo courtesy of National Museum of African American Music
Photo courtesy of National Museum of African American Music
Photo courtesy of National Museum of African American Music

Peruse P-Funk costumes at the National Museum of African American Music

Downtown
It doesn’t get much funkier than the costumes of Parliament-Funkadelic, which are displayed in their full glory at the newish National Museum of African American Music in downtown Nashville. Trace the history of Black music in America from the 1600s to the present in a setting where visitors are actually encouraged to touch and not just look. Take turns producing a record, recording your own voice, and playing games that reinforce the narratives in each section. Every inch of the gallery space is collaged with story, ephemera, records, and costumes-enough variety to strike a chord with each member of your crew.

Timothy Wayne Click
Timothy Wayne Click
Timothy Wayne Click

Go analog at Ernest Tubb’s Midnite Jamboree

Broadway
Country Music Hall of Famer and Grand Ole Opry Star Ernest Dale Tubb opened the downtown Nashville country record store back in 1947, and then, over the next year, launched the Midnite Jamboree show as a way to spotlight young musicians and their latest record releases. The second-longest running radio show, the Midnite Jamboree is
in its 75th year and still records every Saturday at 10 p.m. at the Texas Troubadour Theatre (admission is free). Now back in its original home at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop on Broadway, the show’s spirit remains the same, transporting listeners back to a time when people sat around “listening at the radio” for a wild Saturday night.

Sarah Carter is a writer and country music lover living in Lebanon, Tennessee. Follow her (mostly southern) regional exploits and stories on Instagram.

Travel

Take a Submarine to the Bottom of the Great Lakes

You too can sink down to the watery grave-er, depths.

Gail Shotlander/Moment/Getty Images
Gail Shotlander/Moment/Getty Images
Gail Shotlander/Moment/Getty Images

When the waves of Lake Huron closed over my head as I sank down to the bottom of the Great Lake, I admit I was a little panicky. I definitely thought about drowning. After all, I’d nearly drowned three times in my life.

Though the first two times I was too young to now recall, the third time was in Wisconsin and the sensation has stuck with me. I remember how, as a middle schooler, I got pulled deeper and deeper into a wave pool until every wave sucked me underneath just long enough to choke on a gurgly mouthful of water. Despite kicking and fighting to swim back to safety, I could feel the water overtaking me, bubbling up over my head as I sank down. The pool was choking me, I was suffocating, and the fear of death was right in my face. As you can probably guess, I was eventually saved. Someone noticed and pulled me out of the pool, and that relief was enormous.

But here I was again, as an adult, watching sediment from the bottom of the lake swirl up around me. But this time I wasn’t drowning. This time I was perfectly safe. This time I was in a submarine.

My small group and I were passengers on one of Viking Cruises’ newest itineraries, the Great Lakes Explorer. The expedition allows guests on the Viking Octantis ship to see one of the great lakes from the other side of the surface. Though guests can participate in science-research activities like microplastics research, bird-watching, and weather balloon launches, it’s also just really cool to dive in a submarine. Whether you’re overcoming your own childhood experiences or you’re just an adventurer at heart, here’s what to know about going on a submarine expedition in the Great Lakes.

Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises
Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises
Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises

Boarding a submarine

These are-of course-yellow submarines. Can you guess their names? If you picked John, Paul, George, and Ringo… you’re absolutely right.

The Beatles can go down to about 1,000 feet and stay underwater for eight hours. Each side of the submarine has three very comfortable seats for passengers, surrounded by glass domes that allow optimal viewing at the dive site. It’s a small space (you can’t stand up straight), but you can hardly tell once you’re in the water. The seat platforms swivel so you can look out over the lake floor instead of staring at the pilot and other passengers.

The submarines are equipped with lights, cameras, and some handy claws to pick up anything valuable the pilot sees on the lakebed. They’re typically used as research vessels to take information back to the Octantis’ science program, which works in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA eventually plans to tack instruments to the bottoms of the submarines to get more detailed information about the water, the lakes, and the lakebed.

If you’re like me (that is, both claustrophobic and afraid of drowning), you’ll be happy to know that the subs are awash with safety features. Onboard, you’ll find directions on what to do if the pilot goes unconscious, supplemental oxygen hoods, a big green button to push if the sub needs to surface immediately, and a program that tells the submarine to surface if it doesn’t detect any activity from the pilot. Up above you, the sub is followed by a safety boat with a team that ensures the surrounding waters stay clear and everyone is safe beneath the surface. (So even when the safety boat radioed our pilot, Peppe from Sweden, and said, “You’re a little close to the rocks, but that’s as good a dive site as any,” I decided to trust the marine scientist.)

Photo by Jennifer Billock
Photo by Jennifer Billock
Photo by Jennifer Billock

Sinking down to the depths

Here’s how the dive works. You take Viking-owned Zodiacs (military-grade rigid inflatable boats) to a predetermined dive site that the scientists onboard the ship picked out that morning. For now, the sites will always be in Canadian waters-because Viking is Norwegian, the Jones Act disallows them from deploying subs in the United States. To transfer from the Zodiac to the submarine, you have to hold onto a metal bar, climb out of the Zodiac, and sit down on the edge of the submarine hatch. You swing your legs into the hatch, then climb down a three-rung ladder into the middle of the sub to find your assigned seat.

Once everyone is in the sub, the pilot climbs in, closes the hatch, and then radios to the safety boat to make sure you’re clear to sink. With the all-clear, air is released from outside tanks on the submarine, and thrusters push the entire thing underwater.

For our dive, we went down about fifty feet to the floor of the lake. It had been raining all morning, which stirred up the sediment around us, making everything a mossy green colour that spotlights sparkled through to highlight the lakebed. I saw a few tiny fish and a ton of invasive zebra mussel shells. Depending on the weather and your dive site, you’re likely to see more. But even just exploring the floor of the Great Lakes, something almost no one in history has done before, is an amazing thing.

Sign me up!

If you want to take a submarine dive into the Great Lakes yourself, you have to be a passenger on the Viking Octantis or sister ship, Viking Polaris. As of this writing, no other companies offer passenger submarine trips down into the lakes-especially not in a military-grade exploration submarine that is worth $6 million each. The Great Lakes expedition itineraries start at about $6,500 and can be booked on the Viking website.

Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images

Hike, kayak, or get yourself a cinnamon roll afterwards

What you can see nearby depends on your dive site. On Octantis, the subs went down in Lake Huron and Lake Superior-my dive was in Lake Huron, surrounded by the stunning Georgian Bay UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Canada. Here, you can kayak in the bay, hike through the surrounding landscape, and enjoy a Zodiac nature cruise.

Or if you can, try to take your submarine dive at Silver Islet in Ontario’s slice of Lake Superior. The small community is historic and completely off the grid, and the general store has some of the best cinnamon rolls you can find around the Great Lakes.

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Jennifer Billock is a freelance writer and author, usually focusing on some combination of culinary travel, culture, sex, and history. Check her out at JenniferBillock.com and follow her on Twitter.

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