Actually Cool Things to Do in Nashville This Summer
Make the most of it.
If you’ve been downtown on a weekend lately, you are aware that Nashville is officially open for business, and that business is having fun. Fortunately for locals, there’s plenty of summer entertainment spread around town where the crowds aren’t so densely packed, so make plans to get out of the house and experience the best that this town has to offer—namely, anything and everything listed below.
Covering an entire city block between the Ryman and Bridgestone Arena, the newly opened Fifth + Broadway retail and entertainment complex boasts more than 200,000 square feet of shopping, dining and drinking activities, including standalone outposts of some of your favorite Nashville restaurants like Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, Slim & Husky’s, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, and Shake Shack. Retail options range from Ariat, a fantastic boots and equestrian wear shop to Molly Green for women’s fashion to The Nash Collection for Music City-branded apparel and gifts. The gigantic Assembly Food Hall is open to showcase even more local restaurant brands.
After a year when the park was dark, your AAA Nashville Sounds are back in the ballgame, now as the top farm team of the Milwaukee Brewers. The beer is still cold, the Whiskey and Coke Icee at The Band Box bar in right field will still give you a delicious case of brain freeze and the nachos are still buried under a blanket of “cheese.” Oh yeah, and they’ll be playing baseball, too.
Get festive at some big music events
Nothing brings the residents of Music CIty together more than, well, music. Summer brings new opportunities to gather and listen to some cool tunes at events like the OUTLOUD Music Festival the weekend of June 4. Started in 2017 to celebrate LGBTQI+ musical acts, the fest will bring national artists like Japanese Breakfast and Tank and the Bangas to a downtown parking lot for two days of music and love. For a more intimate experience, the Cornelia Fort Pickin’ Parties returns to the former airfield in East Nashville for monthly jam sessions, so bring your instrument and play along while you enjoy craft beer, local food vendors and family activities.
Bonnaroo has been pushed out to the early fall, but the festival organizers are taking advantage of their huge tract of land in Manchester to put on a series of Concerts at the Farm this summer with headliners like Billy Strings, Jon Pardi, and the Avett Brothers if you want to get your feet a little dusty before the big ‘Roo to-do.
Check out a brand new music and food event at the Blended Festival
Just when you thought there couldn’t be anything new in the world of festivals, along comes the Blended Festival, taking place August 13 - 14 at First Horizon Park. Your weekend pass entitles you to live performances by acts like Kaskade and Lil’ Jon, a 100-foot long wine tent for tastings, celebrity chef demos, craft beer and cocktails, art displays, and adult games. It sounds like they really have blended every sort of festival imaginable, so come ready to be amazed.
Start your engines for the Music City Racing Trifecta
Nashville will be a center of the motorsports universe this summer with three big racing events coming to town. The NASCAR Cup Series will return to the area for the first time in almost four decades with the inaugural ALLY 400 coming to Nashville Superspeedway over Father’s Day weekend, June 18 - 20. Some of the past superstars of the sport from the worlds of stock cars and open-wheel racing will compete for the SRX Championship Race on July 17 at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, and the best of IndyCars will take to the streets of East Nashville for the Music City Grand Prix on August 6 - 8. The monster cars will race around Nissan Stadium and across the bridge to downtown as part of the 2.17 mile course.
Get silly in East Nashville at the Tomato Art Fest
Put on your best red and green attire and hit the streets for Nashville’s biggest block party the weekend of August 13 - 14. From haiku contests to parades to cooking contests, the denizens of the East Side celebrate the ‘mater and show off what makes the neighborhood delightfully weird. All are welcome, so if it’s been awhile since you crossed the Cumberland, here’s your chance.
Actually drink beer outside with other people around at Brew at the Zoo
After a year of virtual tasting events that were educational, entertaining, and still vaguely unsatisfying, it’s finally time to get together with your beer-loving friends for a real honest to goodness beer festival. The popular Brew at the Zoo fundraiser for the Nashville Zoo on June 4 will feature more than 80 craft beers on tap plus love music and local food trucks. Getting to stroll the grounds and drink among the exotic animals is a big bonus.
Take a trip to the Caribbean at the Music City Jerk Festival
Cumberland Park near Nissan Stadium will take on an island vibe on July 14 as the annual Music City Jerk Festival comes back to town. The highlight of the event is certainly the spicy cuisine of Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean region, but there will also be cultural demonstrations and live music performances.
Warm weekends are the perfect time to head out to Arrington Estates, Kix Brooks’ winery just south of town. Bring a picnic or buy some snacks and a bottle of wine while you listen to jazz combos and bluegrass bands playing at different locales around the estate. It’s a darned refined way to while away an afternoon.
Go on a mural walkFree
Music City has evolved into mural city over the past few years, and not just the famous ones that tourists love to use as selfie backdrops. The walls of the city are dotted with all sorts of public art projects, including many with historical or cultural significance. Former Thrillist contributor Kristin Luna is the doyenne of local wall art, and she shares the stories behind many murals at her personal blog, Camels & Chocolate. Or if you don’t feel like leaving the couch to discover some fine art, you can always take a virtual tour instead.
Take in some of Nashville’s most iconic sitesFree
Solo walking is still a safe way to explore as long as you maintain social distance, and although Nashville is a hilly city, there are all sorts of great routes around town to discover some local history and get your exercise at the same time. Nashville Sites has gathered some thematic walking itineraries from 1-2 miles that highlight architecture, history, restaurants, and music. Lace up your shoes and head out on a hike!
Discover the OGs of Nashville Hot Chicken
Nashville’s iconic hometown specialty has enjoyed a second wave of popularity in recent years thanks to the national food media (even KFC did a version). But for a true taste of history, you should experience your fiery fowl cooked by the families that have been doing it for decades. Prince’s Hot Chicken is the undisputed king of the cluckers, but don’t miss out on a trip to Bolton’s or 400 Degrees to experience more masters of heat. If you’re still not up for dining out, you can also always place your order via delivery or pick them up to take home.
Stroll 12 SouthFree
Nashville’s most walkable commercial strip is a mile-long stretch of 12 Avenue. South where both sides of the street are lined with fun restaurants, bars, coffee shops and boutiques. There’s also the bucolic Sevier Park at the southern terminus, a perfect spot to enjoy a picnic lunch of your carryout from dining spots like the new Asian hotspot Locust, old reliable 12 South Taproom, or Taqueria del Sol.
Nashville’s oldest movie theater has been around since 1925, formerly housing the Grand Ole Opry from 1934 to 1936. After a major refurbishing a few years back, the theater has been modernized into one the best places to watch a movie in town. Offerings range from art house films to documentaries to new releases. They’ve reopened their two theaters, much to the delight of local cinephiles, so go sit in the dark with some strangers and remember what it was like in the before times.
While the thrilling treetop zip lines are certainly a highlight at The Nashville Adventure Park, there’s actually a lot more to do here than just hang from a harness. There are also rope and cable bridges to cross, axe throwing stations and picnic areas to take a break from the action. It’s a self-guided experience where visitors buy a block of time to experience the thrills at their own pace, or you can hire a guide to lead you through the park.
While the Adventure Science Center is aimed at children, there’s plenty of educational entertainment for grownups, too. In addition to the star shows at the Sudekum Planetarium and permanent exhibits about earthquakes, the physics of light and flight, beekeeping, and virtual reality, where else in town can you ride a colorectal slide through a giant representation of the human digestive system?
They don’t call the Ryman Auditorium “The Mother Church of Country Music” for nothing. It is best known as the longtime home of the Grand Ole Opry, but through the years the Ryman has hosted eclectic musical acts ranging from Bill Monroe to Elvis (both Presley and Costello) to Widespread Panic and Foo Fighters. Seating is still limited at most shows, but they are letting more people in each month to experience the majestic venue live
Soak up some culture at The Frist
The Frist Art Museum is novel in that it doesn’t really maintain a permanent collection of artwork, choosing instead to showcase rotating exhibits of local, regional artists along with major US and international traveling exhibitions. There are some fun exhibitions coming up, including a collection of works by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the most acclaimed practitioner of the Glasgow Style of British Art Nouveau in the late 19th century. The Frist’s YouTube channel also offers archives of lectures, instructional videos, short features and live performances.
Taste and tour at some local distilleries$
Instead of just hanging out in some bar somewhere, why not actually learn something with the chance to discover a new favorite spirit as part of a distillery tour? Nashville is blessed with some excellent artisan spirit producers who offer tours and tastings to small groups or individuals. The portions are just a sip or two, so you shouldn’t have to worry too much about getting home safely after visiting spots like Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, Nashville Craft Distillery, or Corsair. Plus you can do a little bottle shopping and check a few names off your holiday gift list.
Nashville’s Musicians Hall of Fame in the basement of Municipal Auditorium is the only museum in the world solely dedicated to telling the stories of the musicians who played on the greatest recordings of all time, regardless of the musical genre. Permanent exhibits showcase some of the most iconic musical instruments in history and recognize the talented musicians who played them. Actual inductees to the hall of fame range from legendary guitar pickers to groups that laid down the rhythm and the groove behind famous vocalists. They’ve collected a series of interviews with many of the past inductees on their YouTube channel along with a special “Musicians Hall of Fame Backstage” series that shares many of the behind-the-scenes stories of the museum.
Check out some hotel artFree
A nice byproduct of the recent downtown hotel construction boom is the fact that their lobbies are decorated with some amazing art open for public viewing. The 21C Museum Hotel features more than 10,000 square feet of public gallery space with both permanent and rotating exhibitions of modern art. The new Joseph Hotel integrates fine art into the hotel decor in unexpected places like the tooled leather front desk created by the famous Lucchese boot company and specially commissioned pieces of art like sculptured front door handles, a copper and glass chandelier hanging over the lobby bar and even the carpeting with fun little elements of Tennessee history hidden among the weave. Heck, even the Margaritaville Hotel has a chandelier made out of margarita glasses hanging over the lobby and a giant sculpture of a flip flop that could qualify as pop art.
Operating by reservation only for the time being, the limited capacity constraints at the Nashville Zoo just mean that there’s more room to roam as you walk the paths of the animal habitats, either by yourself or as part of a guided tour. The variety of the residents at the Nashville Zoo is impressive, with almost 3,000 animals from more than 350 different species, and smaller crowds mean you can get up close and personal with exhibits like Critter Encounters, Lorikeet Landing, Shell Station, and Kangaroo Kickabout.
Go take a hikeFree
We could all use some fresh air every now and again, and the city if fortunate to feature some excellent hiking trails close to the urban center. Stroll along a flat paved path as part of Nashville’s extensive greenway system, choose one of the hiking paths around Radnor Lake, or wander around the one-mile loop at Centennial Park taking in changing perspectives of the scale-model of the Greek Parthenon and the new exhibit commemorating Nashville’s role in the women’s suffrage movement of a century ago.
Add some vintage to your closetFree
Aside from the jokes about the “hipster uniform” of typical East Nashville denizens, the neighborhood is home to some of the city’s coolest vintage clothing stores, so it’s an ideal environment for adding some old school style to your wardrobe. Some of the best spots to dig through the clothing bins for concert t-shirts, distressed denim and leather jackets include The Hip Zipper, Good Buy Girls, and High Class Hillbilly. In no time, you’ll be blending in anywhere in Five Points.
Shop for some cool vinylFree
A benefit of living in such a musical city is that many residents possess excellent record collections, and sometimes they have to sell a few to make rent. That means that local record stores are full of fantastic finds if you’re willing to flip through the stacks of vinyl. Jack White’s Third Man Records stocks the latest and greatest of analog music plus some cool guitar gear. For older music, frequent spots like Grimey’s, The Great Escape, Phonoluxe, Fond Objects, Alison’s Record Shop, and Vinyl Tap, where you can also grab a sixer of craft beer to-go.
Go on a campus crawlFree
The reason that Nashville is known as “The Athens of the South” is because it has long been a center of higher education as home to more than twenty colleges and universities. Many of the campuses offer beautiful architecture like Fisk’s famous Jubilee Hall or the Belmont Mansion. Vanderbilt University has managed to maintain plenty of green space aspart of its massive 200-acre campus and the school has been designated as an official arboretum thanks to more than 190 species of trees on campus, including the massive Centennial Oak that is actually more than two centuries old. Relive your college days without having to worry about going to class with a leisurely walk around the grounds.
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