When it comes to meanderings and exploration, what better place to start than your own town? Knoxville, Tennessee is a quirky little place: equal parts mountain man, sorority girl, hipster millennial, and Southern Baptist soccer mom. Locals (and allegedly one reporter in the eighties who kicked it all off) lovingly call it a “scruffy city.” I find that to be the perfect description.
So, let’s walk through the perfect Knoxville day. Let’s “Knoxplore” if you will. Yes, I am ridiculously proud of that word mash.
9:00am – Start off your day with breakfast at The Plaid Apron. It’s a true “farm to table” experience with locally grown ingredients blah blah blah – more importantly, it is absolutely delicious and you can get a bottomless cup of coffee for just a quarter more. I’ve never had anything there that wasn’t sent straight from the heavens.10:30am – If it’s a Saturday, head straight to the Farmer’s Market in Market Square. There’s live music, food trucks galore, and gobs of vendors selling everything from veggies to soaps to succulents. Any other day, go to Ijams Nature Center. You can spend a few hours on the various trails, do some stand-up paddleboarding or swimming in the Quarry, or explore a little more and find the KeyHole, pictured above. 2:00pm – Head downtown to Market Square and have lunch at The Stock and Barrel. I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve had a lot of good burgers in my life – this is one of the best. And the atmosphere (which I care about more than food if I’m being honest) is top notch. If that isn’t enough to sway you, they also have bourbon. So. Much. Bourbon.3:00pm – Enjoy downtown! Walk through Market Square and up and down Gay Street. Shop at my personal favorite, Rala. It’s chock full of beautiful products from local artists. Nothing Too Fancy has even more Knoxville specific merchandise for the particularly devoted. Head over to the Sunsphere and up to the fourth floor for the free observation deck: you can see all of downtown, World’s Fair Park, and all the way out to the mountains. Yum.
5:00pm – It’s time for beer and the best place for a beer is hands down the Bearden Beer Market. Pick from a selection of their ever-changing but always top-notch menu of craft brews and then hang outside in their backyard playing cornhole or ping pong or (my personal favorite) delightful conversing. If you’re lucky enough to go in the colder months, you can huddle by the fire. Ugh, I’m jealous of you just thinking about it.7:00pm – Knoxville is home to some of the most beautiful music venues and I simply won’t let you leave this scruffy little city without experiencing them. The Bijou is elegant but intimate and I have seen some of my favorite musical acts there. The Tennessee Theater is the most stunning venue. The word “grand” comes to mind. You will be launched back in time and if you’re anything like me, instantly desire a monocle. If you’re in the unfortunate situation that neither place has shows (unlikely, but unfortunately possible) then head over to Scruffy City Hall. They always have a band playing, stained glass windows, and a rooftop bar.
C O F F E E A L W A Y S O ‘ C L O C K: Coffee gets it’s own category. I can only assume that you’ve been experiencing all of Knoxville with a cup of that sweet, sweet joe in hand. Here are the best places to get it: Blue Mason: the coffee and atmosphere are great, the mission is awesome, and the parking lot is large and free. Can’t knock that. K Brew: the coffee and atmosphere are top notch and since moving into a new building, they have parking and seating to spare! (It used to be in a little baby miniature space.) Even if there is seating to spare, the neighborhood around is cute enough that I still suggest exercising your multi-tasking skills by walking, talking, and sipping all at the same time up and down the adorable Historic 4th and Gill neighborhood. Remedy: they are moving and my heart is breaking. I’m sure the next place will be just as lovely but I can’t speak of that now – it’s too soon. [edit: their new location is probably even lovelier than their old one. Great minimalistic but comfy design in one of my favorite areas of town.] Spero: If you find yourself in the westy-westiest part of Knoxville, check out Spero. Five stars for coffee, atmosphere, mission, and abundant parking. It’s in a shopping center so I almost ignored it but trust me, you’ll want to give it a chance. Extra points for Spero because one time I energetically faceplanted in the parking lot and my coffee lid stayed firmly secured on my coffee cup – that wouldn’t have happened at a Starbucks. The Plaid Apron: I already spoke of this. Nothing has changed. Take advantage of the bottomless cup of heaven, my friends.
Of course Knoxville has more to offer. I haven’t even begun to touch on the proximity to mountains, the insane UT culture, or the other delicious places to eat (yes, I moved to Knoxville and almost immediately gained ten pounds. Welcome to the south.) If you find yourself on I40 or I75, stop in our scruffy city, give me a call, and enjoy its gems with me.