Greetings Internet Stranger! When you say, “How’d you like to spend 24 Hours in Nashville, Tennessee?” to most people, they think of waking up the next morning in a whiskey-glazed stupor minus their wallet and plus a strange pair of cowboy boots. But Nashville is more than just guitars, Cadillacs, and hillbilly music.
With 24 hours in Nashville, we’ll dive deep into country music, for sure. But we’ll also feast on gourmet treats in one of the country’s best food cities. Join me and we’ll be sure to find those friends in low places.
24 Hours in Nashville
Where to Stay?
Nashville hotels are much more expensive than I was expecting. But I suppose that’s not so surprising given how popular Nashville is with tourists. It was a little tricky for me to find a hotel that was in a good location and affordable. That’s why I was grateful to the Best Western PLUS Downtown/Music Row.
The location could not have been better, as it was within walking distance of the Grand Ole Opry show at the Mother Church of Country Music. And the price didn’t leave me broker than a hound dog crying in the rain over your cheatin’ heart.
24 Hours in Nashville
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Nashville can get very hot, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours in Nashville
Morning: Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Nashville is good at many things, but she’s most famous for being the world capital of the country music scene. You can’t spend 24 hours in Nashville without hearing some country. I can hear some Internet Strangers out there saying, “But I don’t like country music! I only like this one Icelandic band no one has ever heard of! Waa!”
Nobody cares about your dislikes! You’re not cool because you think something that a lot of people like is really bad! Even if you think you don’t like country, try to keep an open mind during your 24 hours in Nashville and learn a little something.
The best place for a country music novice to start their 24 hours in Nashville is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. It will teach you all about why country music caught on in Nashville. You’ll also be able to listen to all the best country bands. From Willie Nelson to Shania Twain to Merle Haggard, there’s sure to be a country music singer for you. Not persuaded yet? Let me convince you further with…
three fun facts: Country Music
1) how did country music start?
Many people think that country music evolved in the United States from traditional English and Scottish folk music. This folk music in many parts of the South was combined with gospel and blues music from African-Americans to create a unique American sound.
At first, country music was just the songs of the poor, so it wasn’t too popular. That all changed in 1925, when the radio started broadcasting “barn dance” music. These barn dance broadcasts eventually turned into the Grand Ole Opry shows that are so famous today.
I know country music now has a more glamorous image, but I miss the old days with bands named things like the Hackberry Ramblers, the Possum Hunters, The Fruit Jar Drinkers, and The Gully Jumpers. Guess which ones of those I made up? None, sucker! They are all one hundo percent real.
2) who was The first country star?
Sadly, cool bands like the Dixie Clodhoppers have fallen through the sands of time. But country’s first real star was a man named Hank Williams. Despite the fact that he died at the tender age of 29 because of alcoholism and drug abuse, the legacy that he left on country music is indelible.
I can’t imagine it surprised anyone that Williams had a drinking problem because one of his most famous songs is about how sad he is that his bucket has a hole and he can’t buy beer. (Sadly, it seems like it’s more noteworthy if a country star doesn’t have a substance abuse problem than if they do. Maybe singing about whiskey and cheating all day really takes it out of a person. But there will be no cheating during our 24 hours in Nashville. The whiskey is optional.)
3) what about the ladies?
Of course we can’t talk about country music without talking about the ladies. From June Carter Cash to Reba McEntire to Carrie Underwood to Dolly Parton, country music is nothing without women. But perhaps my favorite country singer is Miss Loretta Lynn.
If you’ve seen the Oscar winning movie, Coal Miner’s Daughter, you already know her story. She was married at the age of 13 and had four kids by 19. But she believed in her singing and songwriting talent, and eventually she became the first woman to be voted Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association.
If you haven’t heard her music before, you are in for a real treat. My favorite thing to do in the Country Music Hall of Fame is to turn on “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man”. Then I hide behind a corner and watch as everyone in the place gravitates to the music. It’s such a good song and more people should know it! Just take a listen and see!
24 Hour Treat: The Devil’s Fiddle
My two guilty music pleasures are 80s pop music and country, so by the transitive property, my favorite guilty pleasure album is the soundtrack to Urban Cowboy. And of course the best song on the album is “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band. I know all the lyrics to the song, which is probably my greatest accomplishment in life.
This is why I completely geeked out to see that the Country Music Hall of Fame has one of the black fiddles that the CDB uses to play the role of the devil in the song. In fact I was tempted to smash the glass and attempt to steal it to add verisimilitude to my karaoke renditions of the song. But I don’t think they’d let me back into Nashville ever again if I did that. Also I don’t know how to play the fiddle.
24 Hours in Nashville
Afternoon: Walk Eat Nashville Tour
I love food tours so much. If reincarnation is real, I want to come back as a food tour. It combines my two favorite activities, learning random pieces of trivia and eating foods that are bad for me. Nashville is the kind of city that does everything well, from haute cuisine to fried chicken sandwiches in a weird shack.
That’s why I was excited to try the Walk Eat Nashville food tour of Downtown Nashville during my 24 hours in Nashville. Where else can you try both farm to table broccolini sandwiches and historic candies with a very silly name in the same meal? Only in Nashville!
Approximately top 5: Downtown Nashville Food
1) Southernaire Market
One of the themes on this food tour was eating local food. That’s why the first stop was at a place called Southernaire Market, specializing in regional products. We were served bites of their sandwiches like their roasted turkey and their banh mi, as well as their house made potato salad. The potato salad had a fun little kick to it, and our guide explained that the secret ingredient is pickle juice. I’m of the firm belief that pickles make everything better.
The banh mi, which is a Vietnamese sandwich, has become popular in the South because so many Vietnamese immigrants have moved to Southern cities like New Orleans and Houston. Apparently the climate of the Gulf Coast and the climate of Vietnam is rather similar.
I like how The Southernaire used benne seeds on the banh mi because benne seeds are a traditional ingredient in Southern African-American cooking. So there was an interesting bit of fusion going on in this sandwich.
2) Bakersfield Tacos
I was a little confused that our next stop was a taco shop. That didn’t seem very local to me. But our guide Ad explained that there’s a connection between Bakersfield and Nashville. Bakersfield, California is where the Bakersfield style of country music developed. This was the music that was supposed to be raw and honky tonk, as opposed to the shiny, poppier Nashville sound. Because God knows I can’t just enjoy some tacos without there being historic significance behind them.
The short rib tacos with the homemade tortillas were delicious, but our group thought the real treat here was the margaritas. It felt so decadent to have a marg at lunchtime, even if it was a Mini Marg. There was one member of the group–let’s call her Mona Lisa because she reminded me of an older version of Marisa Tomei’s character in My Cousin Vinnie.
Anyway, Mona Lisa ordered a giant margarita on top of the small one, and after that she was definitely the life of the party. Not that I’m complaining! If there’s one thing that makes a food tour interesting, it’s an intoxicated older woman from New Jersey, I always say.
3) The Farm House
At first glance, The Farm House seems like one of those trendy farm to table restaurants you can find all over the United States. But the difference with The Farm House is that the chef, Trey Cioccia, actually comes from a family of farmers. Ad says that Trey never gives the food tour the same tasting twice. For us, we had a fresh broccolini and goat cheese slider. If I had a farm, I might do nothing but grow broccolini and milk goats.
The bonus here was that we actually got to meet Chef Trey and hear about how he sources the finest, US-only ingredients. I think my favorite part of his spiel was when he took out his cell phone and showed us pictures of a pig he had recently been involved in butchering. (Fear not, vegetarians among us. We were not actually required to look at the pig pics.)
4) Kitchen Notes
I was once again surprised on this tour when Ad said that we’d be going to the restaurant at the Omni Hotel for our next bite. Usually hotel restaurants are mediocre. After all, you’re kind of their prisoner if you’re staying there. What if you’re exhausted? What are you going to do? Go outside to eat? Pffft!
But fortunately the restaurant in the Omni, Kitchen Notes, is not an ordinary hotel restaurant. Their burger was voted the best burger in all of Nashville. I imagine that’s because it’s covered with melted pimento cheese. Pimento cheese is a Southern specialty, made by mixing cheese, mayonnaise, and pimento peppers. Also, the correct pronunciation is “pimenno”.
The fries were just as good as the sumptuous burger. Ad said that was because they cover them with 21 spices, including dried seaweed and collard greens. I feel like saying that I’m going to track down all 21 spices, including dried collard greens, and make them myself at home is one of those things that sounds like a good idea while I’m on the road. But once I get home, I’ll never actually do it.
Mona Lisa was especially fond of these fries, but I kind of doubt she’ll remember anything she said the next day. It’s too bad because the food was definitely worth remembering!
5) Goo Goo Cluster
Hot chicken aside, the Goo Goo Cluster is perhaps the most Nashville taste that there is. It was invented in Nashville in 1912, and it is made with chocolate, marshmallow, and peanuts. It is apparently the first “combination” candy in the United States. Combination candy means a candy made with chocolate mixed with something else. So we can all thank the Goo Goo Cluster for the existence of things like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
The Goo Goo business has expanded since 1912, and now you can get Goo Goos shipped to you anywhere in the US. They also make gourmet, handmade Goo Goos called Premium Goo Goos. (I’m starting to feel very silly typing Goo Goos over and over again.) I won’t lie; the Goo Goo is a wondrous beast.
When I was clicking on the Goo Goo website to do “research” for this “blog post”, I was very tempted to order 100 dollars worth of Goo Goos and have them shipped to me immediately. The only thing that stopped me is that I think my doorman might judge me if he sees me getting a large package with the word Goo Goo written on it.
24 Hours in Nashville
Evening: Dinner at The Catbird Seat
You might think you won’t need dinner after that food tour, but we don’t want to waste any eating time during our 24 hours in Nashville. So I suggest you make a late dinner reservation at The Catbird Seat, which is probably the best restaurant in Nashville. (I made a reservation at 8 and I had no problem finishing my entire meal.)
There’s no menu at The Catbird Seat. You just show up and eat whatever delicious thing they feel like throwing at you that evening. How good is this restaurant? Well as soon as I told my food tour guide Ad where I was dining that evening, he gave me a high-five and said, “You go girl!” High praise indeed!
24 Hour Tip
Getting a reservation at The Catbird Seat is difficult, as it is with many small, tasting menu restaurants. There are only 12 seats, and you sit around the table and watch the chefs prepare your food as you dine. So I recommend making your reservation as far in advance as you can. Also, you have to pay for your meal when you make the reservation.
Again, this is not that unusual for a tasting menu restaurant, but it can put some people off. I think it’s nice because you can just leave at the end of the meal without worrying about the check.
The final unusual thing about The Catbird Seat is that you can’t go in before your reservation. You have to wait outside on the street like a weird spy until the door mysteriously opens and the staff comes to take you upstairs. And with the legal business out of the way, let’s get right down to…
Approximately Top 5: The Catbird Seat
I felt like this tasting menu definitely had a theme, and that theme was the element of surprise. Maybe that’s why they make you enter the restaurant like a spy! Anyway, the chef explained that the corn bread on the left was something that the chefs were experimenting with that morning. They wanted to see if you could make cornbread in the microwave. It was topped with miso butter, which was a perfect salty addition to the sweetness of the cornbread.
The second snack is deep fried chili pasta with aioli. The chef told me this was like a “high class Cool Ranch Dorito”. I never imagined anything being compared to a Dorito at a tasting menu restaurant! That was my first surprise of the evening.
2) Fish sauce egg
The next surprise of the evening was that the chefs prepared a KY Farm hen yolk in fish sauce and served it with wilted local greens. The fish sauce sort of made the chicken egg taste like caviar, which I thought was pretty funny. It gave a whole new meaning to the term “fish egg”.
3) Sunflower seed risotto
Our third surprise of the evening was this risotto that was made, not with traditional Arborio rice, but sunflower seeds. So many tricks up their sleeves! I really think it’s possible that this restaurant is just a front for a ring of Soviet spies.
There was nothing to hate about the black truffles on top of the risotto either. Perhaps the restaurant felt guilty about giving me Cool Ranch Doritos and was trying to prove it was Fancy. Nothing to feel guilty about! Cool Ranch Doritos are some of my favorite junk foods.
This pasta had three surprises for the price of one. The first surprise was that the chefs served the pasta in a piquant cream sauce. I’ve never had a spicy cream sauce on a pasta before, but having tried it here I think more restaurants should give it a go. The only spicy sauce I’ve seen on pasta is the very tomato-y diavola sauce.
The second surprise is that they topped the pasta with scallop flakes. These cut the spiciness of the cream sauce and add some crunch to what otherwise could have been a mushy dish. And the third surprise is that the pasta is made with seaweed. Truly this dish is a Russian nesting doll of surprises.
These beautifully composed little snack was a flawless piece of cauliflower cooked in sake until it almost tasted like a piece of meat. Actually, I think the fat that the cauliflower was cooked in beef fat also may have had something to do with it tasting like meat. The trick here with that the cauliflower was served with a glass of the sake, so you could see how different the sake tasted after it had been cooked.
I think more restaurants should try this. It teaches you something about how cooking can taste the change of alcohol and alcohol changes the taste of food. And who wants to just eat delicious food when you have the option to be an enthusiastic nerd and also eat delicious food? That’s just science.
This is steak. There was no surprise in this dish except that it was an excellent piece of medium rare steak from Bearcreek farm served with morel mushrooms. But maybe the lack of surprise is the surprise! Or perhaps the Soviets have compromised our mission. Abort! Abort!
Just kidding! I remembered the surprise. The steak is served on top of a smoked tofu puree. Usually people eat tofu if they are avoiding meat, so this is the first time I’ve ever seen tofu and steak served together.
After all that rich food, I felt happy that dessert was a relatively simple oval of sophisticated burnt caramel ice cream. I know the surprise is whatever the red powder on the ice cream is, but Internet Stranger, I must honestly tell you that after 7 different wine pairings, I forgot to write down what the red powder was. I promise you nothing but the truth, even if it embarrasses me, Internet Stranger!
8) Ernie Jar
COOKIE! This was my favorite surprise of my 24 hours in Nashville. I never expected a fine dining restaurant to end with a cookie jar shaped like my favorite Sesame Street character. (I identified with Ernie a lot because we were both messy and cheerful.) The chocolate chip and jam cookies inside were delicious, but nothing could match the wonders of the cookie jar.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Nashville, Tennessee
What would you do with 24 hours in Nashville? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Nashville? Is The Catbird Seat a front for Soviet spies? And is Mona Lisa handling her day drinking okay? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Nashville. If you have another 24 hours in Nashville, add this itinerary.